The Fugitive Diaries review: breaking out of jail is fun!
C. Custer | On October 11, 2013 at 1:00 pm
One of China’s most-played iOS games right now is The Fugitive Diaries, developed by Beijing Moloon International. It’s a jailbreak puzzle game that’s available in both Chinese and English, with the chief difference being that the English version costs $2 while the Chinese version is free but supported by a few ads and microtransactions. The Chinese version also has a different title — 三笨贼 — which translates loosely to “three dumb thieves.” For the purposes of this review, I played the Chinese version of the game.
Gameplay: puzzle-solving and sneaking
The Fugitive Diaries feels a lot like Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine, and it’s not just because the share the crime theme. Like Monaco, The Fugitive Diaries gives you a team of characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Like Monaco, it asks you to navigate your way through levels using a combination of sneaking and puzzle-solving to find the exit. Unlike Monaco, though, The Fugitive Diaries is a 2D side-scroller that also throws a healthy dose of platforming into the mix.
Your three characters (they’re called Moth, String, and Bear in the English version) each have their own specialties. Moth is tiny but fast and jumps high; String is skinny but tall and can reach objects Moth can’t, and Bear is fat and slow but able to push heavier objects. Each level of the game starts with your characters together, and it has to end with them together on a designated platform on the other side of the level. Getting there usually entails pushing boxes around, finding hidden items and switches, and hiding in closest while waiting for patrolling guards to get bored and fall asleep. If you get spotted, you’re dead.
It’s a clever (if not wholly original) concept, and it’s executed pretty well here. However, I do have a few minor complaints. The first is that it starts off too slowly. The Chinese version of the game splits the levels into two sections, a “jail” section and a old west-style “town” section. The town section is more challenging, but the jail section is almost painfully easy until the very end, and you’ll probably get through the first half of the game in just 20 minutes or so. Luckily, the game gives you lots of reasons to go back and replay levels to be sure you’ve gotten all the hidden items and beaten every level’s speed records.
My other complaint is that it can be buggy and the controls aren’t great — a lot of the time I spent bogged down in levels was because I had to try a jump five or six times before my character would actually land on the platform instead of getting stuck on some invisible geometry just in front of it. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s pretty frustrating.
Graphics and sound: pretty, but not too pretty
The Fugitive Diaries has a great cartoony style that feels unique and fits into the game’s overall vibe very well. The levels aren’t very thoroughly decorated, especially in the first half of the game, but that makes sense given that the characters are in a prison. The old west levels in the second half look great, but because there’s more set dressing it can be a little bit harder to tell which parts of the game are things you can jump on and which parts are just scenery. A little more effort to differentiate the two would have been great.
The sound is also good but not great. The game comes with several pieces of music that fit the fun, sneaky criminal mood perfectly, but they get old pretty fast because you hear them over and over again with each level. The game also has some sound effects, and what’s there is good but it could use a bit more. The characters movements, for example, are totally silent. It’d be more immersive if you could hear some footsteps and some kind of sound to indicate when they’re jumping around or knocking things over.
The Fugitive Diaries actually does have a bit of a story and its own sense of humor. Many of the levels begin with a bit of dialogue (just text on the screen) between the characters, and while it often serves as a hint about how to handle a new kind of puzzle in the level, there’re a few chuckles mixed in there, too. It’s not the sort of story anyone’s going to write a graduate thesis analyzing or anything, but for a mobile game it does better than most.
Although it stays easy for a bit too long, The Fugitive Diaries is a worthwhile excursion for fans of puzzles, platformers, and jailbreak stories. It does require a certain level of patience — if you demand precise controls from your platformers this isn’t the game for you (but probably neither is any other mobile game) — but most of the time it’s a fun little adventure, and you’ll probably find yourself heading back to jail a few more times so you can escape all over again.