Dark Light

When I think back to school life, I remember the times I played Beyblade on the teacher’s table or TRON: Disc Wars with a frisbee stolen from the sports room. Studies were the last thing on my mind. However, my school was big enough (or I was small enough) to create an aura of mystery about itself with the rooms and places we weren’t allowed to enter without permission. We used to think the skeleton locked inside the Biology Lab awakened at night and haunted the corridors. We used to think we could find Chemical X inside the Chemistry Lab and make our own Powerpuff Girls. Heck, we even used to think there was a troll living under the staircase leading from the main building to the canteen because there was always a locked gate with ‘High-Voltage Keep Away’ written on it! Sigh, those were the days, and I thought I could reminisce about the past by playing The Academy – The First Riddle.

More like diminish it with such a lazily designed school emblem

Story & Narrative

As Sam, you are invited to Arbor’s most elite boarding school simply called The Academy. Founded by some Baron in the medieval times and acting as a repository of immense knowledge (or so they say), you’re excited to turn over a new leaf in your life. After fixing a guy’s broken pencil and taking the entrance exam consisting of only one question, you are admitted. But it’s not all sugar and cakes because a reputed professor has gone missing and part of the school has turned into a crime scene.

Even though the crime has literally nothing to do with the students’ career, Sam and his annoyingly underdeveloped friends decide to play detective instead of focusing on their studies. And that’s when the game becomes a mish-mash of Sherlock and Harry Potter.

Not gonna lie, the main menu has good art-style

But first, let’s talk about the clichéd, bland, and awkwardly animated characters that plague the very restricted play areas. From the first glance, it’s apparent that the devs drew major influences from Harry Potter for the MC and NPC traits. You’ve got the mute and ever-smiling Sam, the timid and clumsy Dom and the nosy Maya. Just like any other school-based narrative, there’s an obligatory bully with a punk hairstyle and his usual victim, a chubby guy. Then there’s the stern headmistress, a gym teacher straight outta the military, a strict teacher, a nice one, and other archetypes you could find at ‘Hogwash School of Might and Magic’.

Smile for the camera, even if it is not there

Sam rarely has anything to say (kinda like Alcatraz from Crysis 2). It’s always the NPCs that babble at him with rampant overacting that’s bound to make you cringe. In a game loaded with cheesy dialogue seemingly written by a middle-schooler, there are no dialogue choices and you’re forced to play the errand boy. Things just happen to Sam without any practical input from him other than solving puzzles to drag the mundane narrative further.

Translucent bears that come out of nowhere, hooded figures in black (and yet you can clearly see their amateurishly drawn faces), mysterious fog triggered by shattered artifacts – none of them excited me as much as the made-up (or was it?) troll that lived underneath the staircase in my school. After playing school-based games like Bully, Harry Potter 3 and even Life is Strange, the narrative in The Academy is just bland and uninspiring at best.

Solve only one question and get admitted to a ‘reputed’ academy

Gameplay and Mechanics

The primary gameplay involves looking for clues and solving a myriad of puzzles even for the most mundane of things. You will also have to attend classes where you’ll be asked only one question which will be in the form of a puzzle. In addition, you’ll have to look for clues regarding the professor’s disappearance by solving more puzzles. Sometimes the NPCs will ask for help in the form of side quests and you’ll help them by, you guessed it, solving more of the poorly designed puzzles. Poorly designed because they seldom pose any challenge and are not rewarding in the slightest – no XP, no ten points for Gryffindor, nothing.

Adding salt to the wound are the optional bonus puzzles that fall under the same unrewarding curse. This is nothing but a badly planned design choice. I mean, why would anyone bother to solve the bonus puzzles if the player doesn’t have any incentive for doing so? What’s worse is that both the primary and optional bonus puzzles appear on the same screen and that becomes quite confusing at times. You can reveal a hint by eating the Smart Bars (hence the title – Eat, Get Smart) but the hints are like “go on, you can solve this” instead of something that would actually help you solve.

I had to look twice to guess which page the question was referring to

The Academy puts some effort into world-building and somewhat succeeds in it. You can learn about the Academy and its founders’ history in the various wall hangings, solve additional puzzles in the Arbor daily, or just do the collectible side-quests like finding lost books or photographing students like a creepy stalker. However, just like the collectible-gathering in Ubisoft games, these are tedious at best and accomplish nothing other than stretching the playtime. And this is considering the fact that the play area is ridiculously miniature for a so-called ‘prestigious’ Academy. Even the Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban game that came out in 2004 had far better exploration and tons of secrets to find.

My school was far bigger than this and it’s not even that popular

Visuals, Performance, and Sound

It seems as if The Academy was initially planned for mobile platforms alone because the visuals reek of absolute mediocrity. Even the free assets in the Unity Store have better textures. What’s worse is the fact that the game is locked at 30 fps. Couple that with the clunky facial animation and the character animation – especially the two girls dancing the crappiest dance imaginable – and it outright shatters any modicum of immersion that the game attempts to deliver. When the NPCs speak to you the camera goes first person similar to Fallout 3 and the Deus Ex games, but that also forces you to watch their awkward, cartoony heads bobbing around all over the place.

Speaking of performance, there are minor glitches like the “Hold Shift To Run” pop-up getting stuck on-screen irrespective of the scene playing, and the game freezing when trying to view a portrait on the wall from an angle (I had to force-quit the game to fix it). Apart from that, no other issue was observed except the obligatory fps lock.

My 10-year-old self could build better contraptions with Lego blocks than this Noddy-like abomination of a chariot

It seems the guys at the sound department took ideas from the most generic soundtracks they could find from Pogo and Disney. For a guy who preferred Hannah-Barbara cartoons over others, the music in this game is serviceable at best and mocks your taste at worst. In fact, half the time I kept the music on mute. But sadly, this maneuver revealed other flaws of the game like the lackluster ambient sounds. Even if you find other students in your vicinity, you cannot hear them nor the sounds of their actions, probably because there is no voiceover in the game. So, all you’ll be hearing are your own footsteps.


The Academy: The First Riddle is a mess of ideas thrown about. The mundane story, wooden characters, amateurish dialogue, and dimwitted puzzles all bog down the experience severely. You may find the game adequate to play on mobile devices but keep away from the PC version.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts