Review: 80 Days (Android)

It’s hard to call 80 Days a “game” in the normal sense of the word; it’s much closer to an “illustrated interactive novel” or a “digital choose-your-own adventure book.” It’s a lot like reading The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle if author Hugh Lofting stopped every few paragraphs to ask you what you’d like protagonist Tommy Stubbins to say next. It’s an interesting concept for sure and a fantastic format for mobile platforms, but the game does lack variety in a few ways that could have made it a classic.

80 Days is a visual novel based on Jules Vernes’ Around the World in Eighty Days and casts you as Jean Passepartout, a French valet to nobleman Phileas Fogg, as Fogg attempts to circumnavigate Earth in 80 days to win a bet. You’ll start in London but where you go from there is up to you. The game’s world is massive, allowing 150 different cities to be visited on the far reaches of the globe. As you navigate menus and make choices, the game is always counting down; 80 days isn’t really all that long, and you’ll need to take the time limit pretty seriously if you actually intend to win that bet. You’ll see other players’ progress against your own as you plan out the next step of your journey. Even though you’re technically racing them, it’s nothing that will actually affect your game directly, but it’s neat to have a frame of reference to see how far other players have gotten and in how many days. It’s a little like watching the ghosts of other players fighting in the same area as you in Dark Souls; you can’t interact with them at all, but it does wonders to make you feel like you’re a part of something larger.

The “gameplay” of 80 Days largely consists of dialogue choices that will affect what travel routes between cities will be open to you, figuring out which items to buy in cities that will be valuable later, and planning your route; that’s all. The bulk of the time you’ll spend circumnavigating the world will consist of reading paragraphs of narration by Passepartout as he chats with strangers, tends to Fogg, or comments on the world at large. Most of the choices don’t have a tangible gameplay consequence, but since the game is entirely narrated by Passepartout, there’s an element of defining what you want him to be like and how he should react to situations as they come up, and it works well. My Passepartout led a mutiny to take over a ship sailing across the Pacific, and even though he continued on with Fogg’s wager, a part of him wishes he had stayed to become a thrill-seeking pirate captain, sailing the seas and overtaking ships; your Passepartout not only might handle that situation differently, but he may never even encounter that ship at all. It is entirely up to you where Fogg and Passepartout go, and that affords the game nearly endless replay value.

It’s a fantastic idea that plays out sort of like FTL: Faster Than Light without the combat. There’s no real gameplay hook here, and that’s going to turn off some players who might want a deeper, more engaging experience. You’ll manage limited funds on your journey, sure, but the main mechanic for earning money is to simply buy items from one city that are valuable in a few other specific cities, so you’ll essentially plan out your journey trying to move from one marketplace to the next to keep yourself afloat. You can borrow money from the bank, but it takes time and will quickly land you in debt, which didn’t seem to have a huge gameplay detriment beyond the stats that display once you finish your journey. The market hopping game is vital, but not especially fun or satisfying since it’s essentially just a menu option that adds additional stress by dictating where you’ll need to go next as opposed to which cities you might’ve wanted to journey through on your way back to London.

Some interesting scenarios occasionally pop up in specific cities or during travel, like revolts, military occupation, or that mutiny, but the game could use more of it because the majority of cities you go to follow the exact same formula: arrive, check the market, explore, get a hotel, leave in the morning. Your nights in a city always have the exact same handful of choices each time, asking if you want to tend to Fogg, make a little money, or take a walk, which itself only has maybe three different outcomes. For the most part, the game does a great job reacting to your choices since it’s primarily text-based with some flavor imagery in the background, but it gets a little tedious by the end once you’ve seen all the different ways most cities will play out. You’re only ever scouting for trade routes, buying and selling items to make money, or having conversations with people to figure out more trade routes and items to buy and sell. Though 80 Days only aspires to be an excellent visual novel, it will leave some players wishing for the kind of variety and true randomness that made FTL so special.

Closing Comments:

80 Days is more interactive than a book, but less than a video game; it’s the choose-your-own adventure book that you always wanted as a kid. Its writing is pretty sharp, even if the concessions 80 Days makes to add some semblance of player agency would make it a fairly dull book on its own, but as a visual novel on your phone, meant to be played in small chunks throughout the day, it’s very well-written. 80 Days is a killer concept that is engaging more often than it isn’t, and by the end of your first journey, you’ll be planning how differently your next trip around the world will be, even if it might end up playing out a little too similarly to your first.