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The Act Review: Artistry Trumps Gameplay In This Stylish Interactive Cartoon

With The Act, React Studio and Chillingo try to deliver something original and unusual to the App Store. It isn’t another Angry Birds clone, or another tower defense game, or yet another Temple Run rip-off. It’s an animated adventure; its closest App Store counterparts are the ports of Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace. And while the results are not perfect, it’s still a charming play experience.

The Act hearkens back to those aforementioned Don Bluth arcade classics, as well as some of the 1990s CD-ROM games that were akin to playing through cinematic productions. In it, you play Edgar, a window-washer who gets into come crazy animated shenanigans as he tries to save his brother from unnecessary surgery. Throughout the game he must dodge security guards, blend in with doctors, and woo a beautiful young nurse. The whole thing plays out in the style of an old-school cell-animated short.

The level of animation in The Act is incredible. The artists clearly studied the way classic animation from the likes of Warner Brothers and Disney depicted characters and movements, and the result is something fun to watch. There’s not a lick of dialogue in the game; everything is done through gestures and emotes, and it’s a testament to the skill of the animators that it all works well as a narrative. Even during parts of the game where I had to replay scenes over and over, I kept noticing little details in the way characters moved or held themselves that impressed me.

In fact, I had to pay attention to the little details, because that is where the game is played. As Edgar wends his way through the story, you take control during action segments. These little scenarios are the heard of gameplay in The Act. It’s all about timing and degree. Sliding your finger left or right changes the degree to whcih Edgar acts and reacts — slide too soon or too far and Edgar does something inappropriate, or slide at the wrong time and he might miss an important cue. Is the nurse smiling? Okay, turn up the charm. Uh oh, she’s frowning! Dial it back. That’s how The Act is played. It’s fun to try and get things just right, to be rewarded with the next bit of animation.

That said, this isn’t really much of a game so much as it is an interactive short film. I didn’t count them exactly, but there can’t be more than a dozen “levels” in this game, and each level is essentially one timing sequence challenge long (except for one chase scene, which boils down to a handful of Temple Run-esque dodging moments). In addition, there’s almost no replay value, except if you want to play out the story again. You’re not getting a lot of bang for your gaming buck.

Further, the controls themselves are spotty. It’s very hard to precisely control Edgar’s level of reaction when there’s no clear gauge for how much motion will affect things, or when small gestures seem to go unread by the game. Luckily, there’s no real penalty for failure; the game rewinds to the beginning of the sequence and you try again. And you’ll need to try again, sometimes because of the imprecise controls.

I’m glad that Chillingo gave The Act a chance. It’s far from a perfect game, but it’s so different from anything else in the App Store that I think it’s worth the asking price just for the experience, even if the gameplay moments don’t always hold up.

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5.

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