80 days screenshotI’ve been wanting to write about digital aesthetics for a while (and my brain relaxes and becomes more creative when I play), so I dedicated my holidays to give two celebrated storytelling apps a try: 80 Days and the Lifeline Bundle.

They share a similar attention for storytelling, with one significant difference: while 80 Days is mostly strategic, with an extremely efficient cosmetic storyline, the Lifeline series (Lifeline, Lifeline Silent Night and Lifeline 2) is all about dialogue and choice.

In 80 Days we have to design the best route around the world, with the twist that the classic novel by Jules Verne Around the World in 80 Days is revisited in a steampunk key, with airships and moving cities and fascinating bizarre geopolitics. The rules of the game are not immediately clear, so it takes some trial and error to understand the game mechanics, but has the clear merit of bringing the storytelling of mobile gaming to an entirely new level.

As both a literature enthusiast and a gamer, I believe that videogames can be a form of art; an extremely complicated one, which explains why it can be so hard to achieve an artistic quality. Lifeline takes the storytelling atmosphere of 80 Days and injects it with extra emotional appeal by simulating a real-time conversation with a distant individual in need of our help.

Protagonist of Lifeline and Lifeline Silent Night is Taylor, a science student who has crash landed on a distant moon. The only connection he has managed to somehow establish is with you, and although you can set the app on “fast mode”, he will talk to you in real time – so when he is sleeping, you will not hear from him for hours. He is funny and endearing, and it’s easy to grow attached to this modern-day Tamagotchi (I found myself saying “Oh no, I killed my astronaut” quite often).

Another distinctive element is that Lifeline is optimized for smartwatches as well as mobile phones, and the fact that the app is purely a text adventure is well masked by the cunning simulation of interstellar transmission. The story and atmosphere are full of pop references and sci-fi tropes that are juggled with originality and irony: expect somewhat of a crossover between The Martian and Alien.

Lifeline 2 is different – here our protagonist is Arika, a contemporary blood mage. We find a fantasy-horror setting rather than a sci-fi horror environment, which is somewhat more focused on conversation than actual choices. It is harder to kill Arika, but the extreme chattiness of the story makes it less enjoyable to play repeatedly.

A great thing about 80 Days is that it comes with an amazing bulk of content and possibilities (and studied graphics and animations), which provides the app with a long lifespan; Lifeline is more skilled in getting you involved in your hero’s storyline.

If videogames can be art, both deserve to fall in the category.

(If you are into faster, arcade-like games, take a look at my post on Colliderscope!)