Imagine if Hogwarts was smaller and made you do homework and you’ll get The Academy.
Release Date: 19th June 2020
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure, Mystery, Indie
Platforms: Windows PC (Steam), Mac OS, Android
Reviewed on: Windows PC
Game Supplied by: Publisher
When I became a game reviewer, I thought that the days of math and history class were behind me. Long gone were the hallways filled with lockers and bathrooms filled with graffiti, the sniggers of frenemies and the smell of cafeteria food. But alas, when I was sent a copy of The Academy to review, I happily installed it on my PC and then spent 15 minutes staring at the first riddle knowing I was completely out of my depth. After crying silently into my keyboard, I ended up phoning a friend, sharing my screen, and solving riddles together. It was a great opportunity to bond over our shared love of puzzle-solving.
The Academy is a boarding school for elite youngsters with an IQ of what must be over 9000. With its grandiose style and looming statues, it’s clear that your parents paid a hefty fortune for you to attend. With classes to focus on, textbooks to read, homework to complete and new friends to make, your time will be filled with over 200 puzzles to solve to get the highest grades at this esteemed academy. Although, under this majesty, there’s a dark secret looming: Starting with the mysterious disappearance of a professor, it’s up to you and your companions to solve riddles and find clues to unearth the unknown.
The idea behind The Academy is a mix of Professor Layton meets Hogwarts and private education. It’s unclear which universe the game is set in as when the game starts there is a lack of magic in this Academy. The classes that you attend do not have any technology in them that is expected of in the modern day. There are hints that technology exists from some of the riddles, but it’s not used by the main characters. The lore feels a little unclear as what kind of universe this is set in and it makes the game a little confused. It’s doesn’t detract from the gameplay, but it did raise some questions initially as the animation style is reminiscent of early Harry Potter games.
The art style of the game is different than other puzzle indie games that I have played. I was expecting a 2D animated style, but the 3D graphics allowed me much more scope to explore The Academy, which I enjoyed. The colours are vibrant and clear, and the lighting is simple and not too overpowering. Each character has its own model, and the animations when they talk are nice to look at. After a while though, the animations became a little bit repetitive. During my time in The Academy, the splendour of the building and the enjoyment of friendly company started to lose its charm. With its fixed 30 FPS and basic rendering of textures there weren’t moments where I just stopped and marvelled at the scenery, apart from watching 2 NPCs dancing worse than most Fortnite characters, which gave a bit of a giggle.
Throughout the game, you meet certain NPC’s that you can talk to. Each one has its own character trope, such as the bully, the cute newspaper editor, the nerd who’s bullied and the obligatory ginger best friend. You play as Sam, a rather quiet and subdued main character with no backstory. Throughout the game, it becomes clear that Sam isn’t an active character in the game, but more a vessel for you to play the game through. He has no distinct personality, not influencing any of the environment or activities that are happening around him. It gives a certain separation to the game and didn’t allow me to immerse myself fully into it. Some players may enjoy that separation as they may not enjoy RPG’s, however, the ability to sense that the characters are talking directly to you as a player could provide a certain charm.
The gameplay is the main pull of this game, if you enjoyed the puzzle style of Professor Layton then you’ll enjoy the gameplay of The Academy. With over 200 puzzles spanning from simple logic puzzles to in-depth history and geography puzzles this game will leave you scratching your head. Within the first half an hour of playing the game I became so stuck on a puzzle I screen shared with a friend and we ended up playing the game together. This made the game a lot more enjoyable as we ended up making the game into an almost co-op style riddle-solving adventure. I think if I was playing this alone, I could’ve become a bit bored a bit quicker.
Riddles are presented to you simply as one question that you must answer on a separate piece of paper. Some are obvious and quick to solve whereas others will leave you slightly dizzy. Luckily, you do have the option of eating a chocolate bar (which is the game’s hint system). Most of the time the hints are more of a motivator than an actual hint to the puzzle. A lot of times I ended up cheesing my way through the puzzles by clicking on random answers until the correct one showed itself, with no idea on how I did it!
The gameplay outside of the puzzles becomes slightly laborious over time, where the main incentive is just roaming around The Academy to try and find the next puzzle. Yes, it progresses the story but all in all the story becomes quite bland. The only pull to keep playing is the next riddle or puzzle to complete. There are other quests outside of the main storyline, but they don’t feel like they add any meat to the bones of this game. I feel like with a little more time the storyline could have been more original and less of a Harry Potter rip off.
The sound design in the game is minimal, but that’s what is to be expected of a game of this type. I don’t want big orchestral scores in the background whilst I’m trying to concentrate on solving riddles. The soft music that doesn’t loop too often and simply sets the mood goes hand in hand with the style of the game.
The Academy started off with a great idea; Professor Layton attends Hogwarts sans magic. With its intricate and compelling riddles and mystery, it could be a good game with a little bit of tinkering. Chuck a little bit more weight behind each character and throw a dash of creative writing flair and individuality into the storyline and The Academy would be given plus marks. For now, though, it’s simply earned a passing grade – no merit or distinction for this game.