The Academy: The First Riddle claims to be the inspiration child of Harry Potter meets Professor Layton, but after several hours of charming exploration and some truly mind-bending puzzles I’d be more inclined to compare this to Ben Gleib’s game show, Idiotest. If you’ve never heard of the show this might sound like an insult, but Idiotest is a very clever gameshow that tests contestants’ awareness and observation skills more than book and school smarts. The Academy assembles more than 200 puzzles and riddles, presenting them as classroom learning exercises, pop-quizzes, exams, and even extra credit. It also turns everyday life at a private school into a series of impromptu puzzle events.
You begin the game with the receipt of your acceptance letter to The Academy and it’s just a short bus ride to the front steps to begin your orientation. You might want to chat with the old man by the door selling candy bars. Apparently chocolate stimulates the brain and each bar will grant you 10 hints to help with solving future puzzles. Once inside the main hall you’ll need to find your desk, watch a short introduction film, and take an admission exam – but I thought we were already accepted? No worries; the exam is only a single question – two if you count the bonus question, and what appears to be some extreme math turns out to be clever logic and awareness puzzles instead.
The sheer amount and eclectic array of puzzles are the main attraction to this charming game with brainteasers that will appeal to young and old of all knowledge levels. This would make a great family night experience as the mix of puzzles and tests versus adventure and exploration are fairly balanced. It seems just about any activity can be turned into a puzzle from unpacking a suitcase to mending a broken pencil. Things get really interesting once you start attending actual classes with real subjects and simplified textbooks with chapters and reading assignments.
Naturally, there are plenty of extracurricular activities to engage in between and after classes along with some interesting side-stories like a missing history teacher and what’s up with that giant bear rampaging down halls and in the courtyard? The Academy is full of mystery and secrets and it’s up to you to uncover them all. Thankfully, you’ll have the help of several student and maybe a few helpful adults including your teachers and the always-suspicious cop who will have you doing most of his job for him.
The presentation for The Academy: The First Riddle is a bit odd with a budget feel and AAA appeal. I’d swear the game had some roots in mobile gaming; this feels like something I could easily play on my iPad with the proper controls. The graphics are simple low-poly, medium textures, with simple yet distinct character models. The 3D environments of the Academy are nice enough and will certainly delight younger audiences, but older gamers are probably here for the puzzles which are fantastically presented and pleasing to the eye. The sound package is mostly some thematic music that plays in the background – you might want to lower volume as the default mix is a bit overbearing. There is no spoken dialogue so prepare for a lot of speech bubble reading along with your textbook assignments.
Controls were problematic. The game supports a gamepad but the default settings are way too sensitive for the analog sticks making it nearly impossible to walk or spin the camera reliably. You can go in and lower the settings but then the cursor is too slow during the puzzle parts. I ultimately used a lowered sensitivity gamepad for exploration and switched to a mouse for solving the puzzles. The mouse worked nicely, especially with the optional toolkit you can use to help solve puzzles by drawing and erasing right on the screen. You can also use a keyboard and skip the gamepad entirely.
The Academy: The First Riddle is a fantastic prep school, and with a tuition fee of only $20 you won’t find a more entertaining, enlightening, and educational game for your investment. You might not graduate ready for Harvard or Yale, but you will certainly come out with a much broader sense of awareness, increased analytical skills, and a fresh perspective on life and the world around you. School may be out for the summer but your life at The Academy has just begun.
You can watch our gameplay video of our first day at The Academy, but there will be SPOILERS for all the puzzles that day.