Inspired by the Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days, 80 Days is a choose-your-own-adventure game. You play as Jean Passepartout, the recently employed valet of English gentlemen Phileas Fogg who wagered that he could travel around the world in 80 days. As Passepartout, it’s up to you to pack Fogg’s bags, plan his itinerary and manage his belongings throughout the journey. Developed by British studio inkle and written by Meg Jayanth, 80 Days drenches Verne’s novel in feminist steampunk with a twist of romantic orientalism. Originally published on iPhone, 80 Days was ported to Andriod in late 2014 and eventually arrived on PC/Mac in mid 2015, this review was played on desktop version. 80 Days’s excellent writing, vibrant art and unique gameplay combine to deliver a polished game that comes highly recommended.
As typical for a mobile game, the gameplay and interface of 80 Days is simple and straightforward. There are 3 basic elements; managing Fogg’s inventory, choosing travel destinations and conversation branches. Fogg’s inventory is introduced at the beginning of the game, with your first task to pack his suitcase before embarking on the journey. Most items are tradable goods, bought in hopes of selling for a higher price at markets abroad. Other items though can better equip Fogg to handle the discomforts of travel or allow Fogg to negotiate cheaper travel arrangements in certain locales. Selecting a travel destination is simple enough, merely clicking or touching the desired location on the map, but each potential journey comes with caveats for you to assess including price, travel time, departure time, mode of transport and journey comfort. Often your choice of destination is also influenced by what luxuries you’re hoping to offload in particular cities too, leading to detours or considering alternatives that are not the cheapest or quickest route. Actually discovering what travel options are available or where certain items are in demand is done through in game conversations with characters in and between destinations. Choices made during dialogue scenes can have unintended consequences, for example, without spoiling anything, choices I made while on a train in Siberia resulted in Passepartout and Fogg being thrown from the train and having to travel on donkey through Mongolia. The intwining of these three simple mechanics results in a richly layered game experience that often leads you to make unplanned adjustments to your itinerary.
Depending on how quickly you read, the game can be completed in a few hours, but a single playthrough will only cover a tiny fraction of the enormous 750,000 word script and the sprawling unexplored routes on your map will nag you to play again. 80 Days shows what can be acheived with intellectual property in public domain. If you choose, you may follow the course taken in the book, where Fogg is mistaken for an international jewel theif in Egypt and must flee to India. Or, you can deviate immediately and travel through Siberia, or Africa, or even go the short way around the world by heading north to Svalbard and crossing the dateline at the North Pole. 80 Days extensively re-imagines the world in these alternate routes; portraying Haiti as a regional power in central and Latin America due to the economic success of their flying machines and the Zulu Empire as a military powerhouse, defending the African continent from colonisation. Even following the same route, but making different choices, results in different outcomes, inviting players to experiment. Some routes have self contained stories; love stories or murder mysteries for example, and players should feel compelled to try again if they were unsatisfied with their negotiated outcome.
“positive or exceptional caricatures are still caricatures”
Jayanath’s script has been praised for its progressive politics and inclusivity, particularly the portrayal of unremarkable, working women. Jayanath set out to write a script that brought in people from the margins and succeeds brilliantly. Throughout the game you’ll encounter characters from the full spectrum of human diversity – poor, rich, women, men, black, brown, white and often a combination therein. These characters work so well because of how unremarkable they are, with no fuss is made over gender, race or sexuality. This normalises characters representing marginalised groups that would typically be stereotyped, othered or silenced. In contrast, there are some depictions of culture which present a romanticised view of non-Victorian cultures that over emphasises how exceptional and wonderful and magical they are, a form of orientalism. It seems strange that a script which succeeds so well at normalising women and working class people would other certain cultures this way. Without wanting to spoil or taint the game for anyone, of the portions of the game I’ve experienced this is most pronounced in the events that unfold at the North Pole and was the only time I cringed while reading the unfolding story. Jayanath set out to deconstruct the colonialist discourse which underpinned Verne’s original novel but in doing so created a few problematic, romanticised depictions of the orient herself. However much the fantasy steampunk – or Victorian futurism – setting allows a creative reimagining of cultures, positive or exceptional caricatures are still caricatures.
I’m being very critical though, overall it’s an extraordinary script that accomplishes so much more than most games even attempt.
Overall, I give 80 Days my strongest possible recommendation for anyone who plays games for their narrative or wants to experience a unique game concept that works. The gameplay is accessible, multifaceted and replayable. The artwork is unique and beautiful. The writing is entertaining, progressive and intersectional. Aside from my self-indulgent post-colonial theorising, the only real criticism I can level at the game is that it crashed to the desktop a few times on me, but automatic saving after each and every action means anguish is minimised. Maybe the Windows or iOS build is more stable, I played on Macintosh, because Macintosh gaming is a real thing I swear.