Rick Riordan’s tales of teenaged demi-god Percy Jackson’s adventures are a big hit in America. Following the success of 20th Century Fox’s adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief to the big screen, it somehow seems fitting that the Percy Jackson series makes a break for the UK market too by becoming one of the latest additions to the EA interactive books family.
Initially aimed at those who have some familiarity with the series, FLIPS Percy Jackson has the advantage of being able to offer all five books (plus bonus material) in a package that, even including the DS console, fits in a pocket much easier than a single book. The bonus materials include The Demigod Files, an extra book by Riordan, and Tales of the Greek Heroes, written by Roger Green and split into five volumes, plus numerous character interviews that provide even more insight to the unique take that Riordan has on Greek mythology, making FLIPS Percy Jackson the more appealing package to someone considering delving into Percy’s adventures.
The books revolve around the title character, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, who just so happens to be a son of Poseidon, Greek God of the sea. So much for a quiet life. Things begin to get more complicated as Percy finds himself caught up in the petty squabbling of the Gods and along with fellow demi-god, Annabeth, and his best friend and ‘keeper’, Grover, undertakes a variety of tasks that see Percy dealing with many aspects of Greek mythology that have been transposed onto the modern world.
The first time you load up the title screen, the game insists that you complete a tutorial that teaches you how to read the books and navigate the menus. Whilst the tutorial seems overtly patronising at first, you soon realise its value in being able to get through everything smoothly without having to take wild stabs at the touch screen with the stylus in the hope of getting something to happen.
Once you have successfully navigated the menu (there is only one – everything is shown as one long list) and selected a book to read, flipping through the pages becomes incredibly simple. To turn a page forwards, simply drag the stylus from left to right on the touchscreen, and vice versa to go back a page. Using Left and Right on the D-Pad will produce the same effects.
Handily, the game will remember where you are up to within each story and bookmark the page, providing you with a prompt the next time you select the book asking whether you wish to start reading from the beginning or pick up where you left off.
The text is surprisingly easy on the eye, and doesn’t leave you with a rattling headache after a few hours, which is quite an achievement considering the size of the screens that you are reading from. That being said, however, scaling a book down onto screens much smaller than the average page size means that you end up with a page count that numbers in the thousands, rather than the hundreds.
To counter this, the game tries to introduce elements to make the experience a bit more interactive than just turning a page now and again. Certain phrases have been turned into links, which when clicked on, display facts that range from facts of legends to general knowledge. Coins can be collected from the pages of each of the five Percy Jackson books by tapping them with the stylus; once all the coins have been collected from each book (and if you miss picking up even one, it becomes a nightmare to go back and find it) a piece of the bonus material will become unlocked. These coins can then also be used to buy entries in the Bestiary (a journal containing the details of mythic creatures that Percy encounters along his travels) or entries from the Family Tree, showing how the Gods are interconnected and how the demi-gods fit into the grand scheme of things.
Occasionally, animations appear on the pages, at first appearing to have no connection to the story, not helped by the fact that the image quality means it’s sometimes hard to tell what the animations are meant to be. Only after you see bats flying across the page right before you come across the same thing happening within the text do you realise that the game is trying to replicate events in the story.
The closest the game gets to multiplayer is being able to share selected chapters with other DS consoles over a wireless connection. Doing this unlocks the Weapons Guide and Tales of the Greek Heroes Vol. 5 books, and is the only way to access these books, which puts those who do not connect to other systems at a disadvantage.
While there are obvious advantages to having the entire Percy Jackson series all on one DS cartridge, the game lacks the pull to keep all but the most dedicated readers with it until the end. An effort is made to keep some interaction between the reader and the story, but collecting coins and clicking on links that give you facts pulled out at random wears thin after a while. Despite the game’s best intentions, it soon becomes clear that FLIPS Percy Jackson is just a book with a simple ‘collect for reward’ system, and that’s just not everyone’s cup of tea.