In 2013, Simogo gave us Device 6. Anna’s dark, brain-bending quest for answers is still the gold standard I measure text-heavy puzzle / adventure games by. Device 6 tells a grand tale, but it’s more than that. Its puzzles make fantastic use of audio clues, visual cues, and even mobile devices’ automatic screen re-orientation. It’s not always a straightforward experience and it has its moments of frustration, but I still consider Device 6 a must-play for adventure game fans.
Able Black from Scott Leach is another mobile puzzle / adventure game that wraps a character’s existential crisis around puzzles and rhetorical questions. In some regards, it’s far more straightforward than Device 6. For one thing, the game’s text is literally presented in orderly paragraphs, whereas Device 6 forces you to “follow” Anna by turning your device around and upside-down.
In other ways, however, Able Black is a murky journey. Its main story is good, but to work through it you need to stop and solve puzzles from time to time. More often than not, I found myself asking “Well gosh, how am I supposed to know that?”
Maybe I’m not a clever person, even though Mr Rogers and Mr Dressup ate up hours of public air time to assure me I was a bright child. Maybe I give up too easily. Maybe I’ve gone soft in this era of walkthroughs. But I’ve been playing adventure games since I learned how to type “LOAD “*”,8,1″ on the family’s Commodore 64. So I can confidently say I’m either missing something major, or the puzzles in Abel Black need some fleshing-out in the clues department.
You play through the game as a recently-activated android named Able Black. Black needs to pass his “citizenship test” before he’s allowed to mingle with and serve humanity. Thing is, he has questions about his own existence and his purpose, but answers from his assistant AI aren’t forthcoming — not until he can pass the citizenship test, that is.
The citizenship test is where Able Black’s puzzles come into play. The game offers different difficulty levels, and lower difficulty levels give you clues if you come up with a wrong answer. I found the clues helpful in some instances, but not so much in others.
One puzzle, for instance, is based around a rhyme about a spider who has a bee, moth, and butterfly in her web. The verse indicates that something needs to be counted, but offers no leads on what that something is. I thought I was supposed to add up the bugs’ wings, legs, or eyes — all of which buzzed negative.
Finally, I reached out to Scott Leach himself, who kindly provided me with a walkthrough (turns out you’re supposed to count the letters in the insects’ names). I resolved not to use the walkthrough unless absolutely necessary, but it became necessary more than once because of some puzzles’ vague clues. Visual puzzles involving images in keys and on blocks turned out fine. The word puzzles were another story, with some of them stumping me as badly as the aforementioned spider riddle.
Again, maybe it’s my problem. Maybe the puzzles in Able Black are easily cracked by someone who tends to think outside the box more (not me), and even if that’s not the case, maybe others can make better use of the game’s clues than myself.
Able Black still tells a good story, albeit a short one. If you’re into tales about robots with identity issues (and who happen to like Nintendo), Able Black is worth rifling through. And if you get stuck on the puzzles … well, again, we live in the age of walkthroughs and easy answers.