Find a Card, Any Card

PROPE, headed by famed Sonic the Hedgehog programmer Yuji Naka, is finally getting its feet a little more wet in the waters of iOS. What PD -prope discoverer– (Out Now, $2.99) makes patently clear is that PROPE carries promising heft in the technical department, and they could easily go far on this platform. PD‘s content, on the other hand, proves a hit-or-miss experiment that’s creative but unlikely to get anyone excited unless they’re die-hard casual adventure or logic puzzle fans.

PD flings the player into a gorgeous world but with little context aside from a quick explanation of its interface. Worry not, figuring out what the heck you’re supposed to do is part of the game’s charm, and it’s designed so that after a few minutes of quizzical head-scratching, the player will understand that his or her goal is to hunt for cards that unlock gates leading through the game’s small collection of environments. The sole clue the player has to work with regarding the cards’ positions are a set of pictorial glyphs; they’re completely nonsensical at first blush but gradually become crystal clear as the player explores each environment.

My greatest fear while wandering the tranquil emptiness of PD‘s opening courtyard was that this would be all there is to the game: no story, no other objects to interact with, nothing else to do besides rinse and repeat in each new environment. My suspicion was borne out in truth, but I must admit I had an enjoyable time figuring out the meaning of each glyph, and can see where this sort of gameplay would be right up a puzzle fan’s alley.

There appear to be four puzzles total in PD, with the last twisting things a bit: rather than having to hunt down objects, it becomes the player’s turn to tell the game where a series of objects lie. Things take a surprising turn in the finale, as three wrong answers result in the player’s death! But that’s not the most eerie thing that happens; a Game Over is nothing new after all. What’s eerie is the order of events attached to this last puzzle. First, the player dies. Then the player receives instructions about what they were supposed to be doing in that final puzzle. To top it off, the player is then sent back to PD‘s title screen with no way to re-try that last puzzle and witness the game’s conclusion — PD does not save player progress! To say the least, this will prove an unwelcome game design quirk even within the niche audience who will enjoy it up to that point.

I recently gave Captain Slobber a pass on lack of auto-save because it lasts no longer than fifteen minutes on average; multitask alone can suffice in that situation. PD, on the other hand, can last a good hour or two depending on how quickly the player learns to interpret its hieroglyphics, and each playthrough randomizes card locations so that the process always remains fresh. The possibility of sudden death at the very end – especially when the player has no clue what’s coming up or how to avoid it – is simply poisonous under these circumstances, and takes the PD experience down several notches.

To PROPE’s credit, PD‘s Unreal Engine interface felt perfectly natural to me — it’s helpful to think of PD as the flipside of the recent Dream:scape, another experimental game that drew me in on the merits of its content but tripped up a bit in interface execution. Like Dream:scape, PD offers the player a left-hand virtual joystick for movement and a right-hand joystick for camera shifting. Whereas Dream:scape takes a chance on a movable left-hand joystick that pops up wherever the player’s left thumb lands, PD cautiously keeps it in one place and benefits for it. What PD shares with Dream:scape is an occasionally unsteady frame rate, though I noticed it comparatively more often here. Like myself, my iPod Touch 4 has a tendency to choke up a bit at the sheer beauty of PD‘s outdoor environments.

Screenshots do justice to the atmosphere of undisturbed tranquility the player feels in PD. Given its impeccable architectural beauty and some creepy coffins lying around the depths of PD‘s castle, I couldn’t shake the feeling that PROPE would do well to make their next game a murder mystery set in a medieval German town beset by vampires. And dare I suggest zombies? It’s iOS, after all! But for now, and for better or worse, a soothing light piano track gives PD all the oomph of a quaint afternoon at Casa Loma.

iFanzine Verdict: If not for a bizarre and poorly designed turn of events in its last moments, PD could have struck it off very well with casual adventure and puzzle fans despite its ultra-light approach to content. Should an auto-save happen to be implemented in updates, consider it worthy of an extra half star and recommended to casual puzzle fans who are willing to plunk down the purchase price for something simple but highly creative.

[xrr rating=2.5/5]