Free iPhone Game Review: Sinbad by Rebellion

dance off

Sinbad is a game on the iPhone. Maybe it is on other phones as well; I don’t know.

The game is free.

The game starts with an unskippable cutscene.

In the game, you play Sinbad. Sinbad looks a lot like Disney’s Aladdin. He also sails a ship without a name, and he is always barefoot for some reason. Your goal is to sail to different places and gather pieces of ancient relics for a mysterious stranger. Presumably this will save the world and stop evil.

One of the things you do in the game is upgrade and maintain your ship. The other thing you do is run around levels fighting bad guys.

None of the enemies are whales.

None of the enemies are whales.

SAILING

You can sail to different locations and at each location you can play a level. The game calls levels, “quests”. In each quest you gather coins, crystals, and pieces of relics. If you revisit a quest you can replay it to get more coins, crystals, and pieces of relics. Initially, you can only travel to some locations, but more unlock as you collect relics. You have to replay levels multiple times to gain enough relics to progress in the game.

You can select your next location through a world map. The map is two dimensional and looks like one of those olde-tyme maps. The map has drawings of sea monsters and ships, which are animated. Three dimensional clouds and seagulls fly above the two dimensional map, casting their shadows down on the parchment. There are many islands on the map. One island is a volcano and it protrudes from the map, spewing smoke. I suspect that it is the location of the final showdown because it is, essentially, the only three dimensional island on the map, and because it is a volcano.

volcano

It is worth noting that you do not see any other ships in the game. You don’t even see any ship wrecks. It is entirely possible that your ship is the only one in existence in this world.

There is one natty raft in an underground river, but that's the only other vessel you ever see.

There is one natty raft in an underground river, but that’s the only other vessel you ever see.

Your ship has a health meter, which probably represents something other than health, and which depletes the more you sail. You can repair your ship’s health meter by having your crew perform certain tasks aboard the ship, such as swabbing the deck or sitting in the crow’s nest. You have to purchase upgrades for your ship to have more tasks for your crew to perform.

Tasks take anywhere between fifteen minutes to three hours to be completed, in real time. One task is to caulk the side of the ship. The crewman hangs on a rope and caulks the same square foot for three hours. I don’t think he’s done a good job, so once he’s finished I immediately tell him to do it again. He goes back and continues calking the exact same spot.

Tasks can be completed while the game is off. If a task is completed when you’re not playing, the game will send you notifications about the completed task the same way you get notifications about texts or missed calls. You can turn this feature off in your iPhone’s settings, but not from the in-game menu.

When you assign a task to be completed, Sinbad whistles and points, then a crewman goes to the task and starts doing it. Sinbad often points in arbitrary directions, such as out to sea, when assigning tasks.

Sinbad commands his crew to "LOOK!"

Sinbad commands his crew to “LOOK!”

One “task” you can purchase for your ship is “grog rations”. Barrels of grog appear on your ship. You can assign a crewman to “do” this task. He does not distribute grog to his shipmates. He drinks the grog himself and he doesn’t use a cup. He leans over, dunks his unwashed hands into the barrel, lifts the grog to his mouth, and slurps it up. Then, he wipes a grimy, Arabian forearm across his mouth with a smack of his lips.

grog slurping

He does this for forty five minutes straight, in real time. He does not die of alcohol poisoning; the amount of grog in the barrel does not change.

Sailing between destinations also occurs in real time. However, you can skip portions of the journey by using energy. Energy automatically recharges, in real time, after you use it. The amount of energy needed to skip ahead increases when your ship’s health bar is low. You can recharge your energy faster by purchasing one of three genies for your ship. The genies appear as magically glowing vases; you never get to see the genies themselves. In the game, genie is spelled, “djinn”.

Assigning tasks also uses up energy. It is not explained if this energy represents the ship’s energy, the crew’s energy, or Sinbad’s energy.

Because you don’t always have energy to skip ahead, sometimes you have to let your ship sail to its destination in real time. This encourages you to turn off the game and go do something with yourself.

Get out into the sun and fresh air; eat something healthy.

Get out into the sun and fresh air; eat something healthy.

QUESTS AND ENEMIES:

When you arrive at a destination, you can do a quest. The game informs you that you can pay Gunnar to do the quest for you. Who is Gunnar?

Each level, or quest, is predesigned for each location. There are three different environments: arabian town, desert with ruins, and abandoned crystal mines. Each type of environment has its own type of enemy: town guard, desert skeleton, and cave bandit.

As you run around a level, tapping jars and chests to gather treasure, you will eventually trigger a group of enemies to appear. Sometimes there are two groups of enemies, but usually there’s only one group. When you defeat the final group, they leave behind a treasure chest, which sometimes contains a piece of a relic.

Enemies appear in a puff of purple smoke, even town guards. I do not know if the town guards are humans or phantasms. The few towns folk that you see do not seem to notice the appearance of the guards, nor do the town folk seem perturbed when you kill them. If these town guards are not humans, but some form of sorcery, then where are the real guards?

There are skeletons in the desert which make a sound like an alien motorcycle revving up. They wear armor that is different from the town guards.

skeleton kill 2

kill guard

In the abandoned crystal mines there are bandits. When they die, they make the same sound as a town guard dying. When they are about to attack, they make the same sound as the skeletons. The narrative behind this is never made explicit. Does it mean that the bandits are part human and part skeleton? Did men and skeletons consumate their forbidden love to create a hybrid race that is shunned from desert and town, and must seek sanctuary in the neutral lands of the crystal mines? These questions are never answered; all we have is our imaginations.

Everyone wields the same type of sword. There is no blood during combat.

Enemies attack one at a time, essentially. You tap on an enemy to fight him. Parrying, attacking, and dodging is done automatically, without the need for you to interact. Usually, a random enemy you are not fighting will get yellow lines above his head and make an angry noise. This means he is about to attack you.

combat

If you tap on him, you will intercept his attack and do a lot of damage. If you don’t, he will do damage to you. If you tap on an enemy who does not have yellow lines over his head then he will block your attack. Sometimes the enemy you are fighting will get yellow lines over his head, but since you are already fighting him, tapping on him doesn’t do anything.

Sometimes, the enemy you are currently fighting will get red lightning bolts around his head. In this game, this does not mean his spidey senses are tingling. I think it means that this enemy can be insta-killed, but it’s hard to tell since by the time the red lightning bolts appear, the enemy is so low on health that he can be killed in one hit anyway.

LEVEL DESIGN

The environments are very detailed and sometimes picturesque. The visual artists put in a lot of work into these levels. You cannot interact with the environments, you can only look at them as you run past.

crystaldeep mine

Each level has multiple paths. Each time you play a level, you take a slightly different path. The only thing to be found on the paths are vases and chests filled with treasure; they appear randomly. All paths ultimately lead to the showdown with the enemies. By the end of the game it becomes clear that each level with the same environment is the same level. I.e.: every desert level is, in fact, one level with a different starting point and a different ending point.

Sometimes, the area where you fight enemies has a mosaic on the floor depicting some ancient hero fighting a monster. I’ve noticed one with Hercules fighting the Chimera. I’ve noticed another that seems to be an Aztec hero fighting an enormous tarantula, but I am not familiar with this legend.

tarantula

chimera

If this were any other game, I would expect these mosaics to foreshadow some sort of boss battle, but in this game I think they are purely decorational.

The desert region has ancient ruins scattered here and there. It reminds me very much of the desert region in Diablo 2; even the vultures sound like the vultures from Diablo 2.

Actually, the desert level reminded me of Diablo 2’s desert region quite a lot.

statue in sand

statue in sand diablo

In the town/city region you walk through arabian inspired streets, with market stalls, fountains, and crates. You can see arches and patios on the roof tops of buildings.

patio roof

When playing a city level, you can randomly start on the rooftops or on the streets. There is no way to dynamically switch between elevations. Running across the rooftops is much more satisfying than running around the streets, for purely arbitrary reasons.

running on rooftops

The ambient noise in the city sounds like a crowd of people haggling in a marketplace, but there are only one to three people in the entire level (aside from phantom guards). Logically, there should be one merchant per every one stall, plus customers. The ratio is more like one merchant per thirty stalls. I saw one merchant standing in front of his stall, nodding his head as though talking, waving his hand towards his goods and wares. It was like he was addressing a crowd, but there was no one there, not even me because I was up on a roof.

A merchant tries to sell his domesticated roaches to no one.

A merchant hawks his domesticated roaches to no one.

At some point during these levels I thought to myself, “Hey, this really reminds me of Prince of Persia.”

crystal pit 2

The crystal caves are filled with enormous blue crystals growing from the rock. These crystals are not to be mistaken for the crystals you can use to purchase things, which is probably why the latter are called “gems” in the game. But, I’m going to call them all crystals, because I feel like it.

The caves are riddled with the wood structures of an elaborate mining operations. There are ladders, lanterns, barrels, wheelbarrows, pulleys, hoists, bridges, docks for underground rivers, multileveled scaffolding, and support structures to keep the ceiling from collapsing. Crystals, ready to be mined, are everywhere, scattered around or still imbedded in the rock.

crystals 2

There are no people anywhere. What happened to the miners? Why aren’t they still mining the crystals? Maybe crystals weren’t what they were mining for. Maybe they were mining something else, which we never see because they mined it all out. In one way, it makes sense that the blue crystals were never the miners’ goal. Nowhere in the rest of the game do we see, for example, windows or statues made out of blue crystal. No one seems to have used it for anything. But then, in the mines, I can clearly see wheelbarrows filled with blue crystals and pulleys hoisting piles of crystals out of deep mining pits. So, I don’t know. Maybe these aren’t even mining operations. Maybe the people were trying to bury the blue crystals, because they were evil or something. It still leaves the question of what happened to the people? Why did they stop what they were doing? The story never explains. I guess, maybe the bandits had something to do with every single crystal mine on the planet being abandoned.

Sometimes in the mines you’ll see some pool of water with electric “tentacles” dancing above it; maybe these electric lights have something to do with why the mines were abandoned.

BUYING STUFF

You can use coins and crystals (not the ones from the mines) to purchase upgrades for your ship. These upgrades will either give an extra task for your crew to perform, or will slow down the depletion of your ship’s health bar.

You can use real money to get more coins and crystals, but I never do that.

Some of the upgrades include getting extra sails for your ship, changing the color and pattern of the sails, changing the color of the hull, getting a new anchor, and animals.

You can buy animals such as sharks, a parrot, a monkey, rats, or a kraken for your ship. The game assures me that the rats are somehow beneficial to the ship and asks for two thousand coins to buy them; I’m a little skeptical, so I don’t. The kraken shows up as  giant octopus tentacles, not far from your ship, waggling above the sea. I don’t know how this is supposed to improve the maintenance of the ship, but apparently it does.

kraken

I try to decide what color to paint my hull. I can’t decide and realize I need to figure out what color sails I’m going to get, first. I end up getting some black junk sails and a red hull, because I’ve decided that Sinbad is going to be angsty.

Many different upgrades are mutually exclusive, but have the same beneficial effect. For example, there are many different shapes and colors of sails, but they all have the same benefit to your ship. The result is that you don’t feel the need to buy every single one.

I buy some flags to flutter from my masts. They flutter in the wrong direction, as though the ship were sailing backwards.

I have Sinbad stand on the prow and I noticed that, by default, there are dolphins diving in and out of the waves. I can hear them chittering playfully.

dolphin

You can use crystals to pay Gunnar to do quests for you. I still have no idea who Gunnar is, but I decide to give him a shot. Gunnar looks like an old, stubbly white guy. He informs me that he can complete my level for ten crystals.
gunnar

TEN CRYSTALS? Are you kidding me, Gunnar? That’s half the price of a kraken, or one fifth the price of a monkey. You sure have a lot of nerve lounging around my ship doing nothing, asking for ten crystals to do a level. Anyway, I give it a shot. Afterwards, Gunnar informs me that he’s found some coins, but hasn’t found any relic pieces nor has he found any crystals. I bet he did find crystals, but kept them for himself.

By this point I was experiencing a glitch in which I couldn’t get any more crystals, except when I leveled up. So, aside from being a dick, Gunnar was also a waste of crystals.

You can also spend crystals to instantly find out where a piece of a relic is located. If you don’t do this, you just have to sail around the world hoping to randomly stumble upon a relic piece. I chose this option and an unnamed girl with short, black hair informed me that she’ll locate a relic piece for the cost of one crystal.

relic rogue

I have no idea who this girl is, but she’s more reasonable than Gunnar so I like her already. Her face appears next to the location where a relic piece will be found. She only appears at one location at a time, so if you use here services multiple times in a row you just have to memorize where all the other relic pieces had been revealed.

As you put together relics, more locations are unlocked. They are all the same three environments and same enemies. There are about 21 relics. Each relic needs 3-6 pieces to be completed, but most require 4. After you find 10 relics (about 40+ quests) you have unlocked all locations on the map. To unlock the remaining 11 relics (44+ quests) and beat the game you have to keep replaying all the previous levels.

THE END
I never did beat the game. I unlocked all the locations and purchased everything I wanted for my ship except a genie. There didn’t seem to be much reason to keep playing.

In the end, it turns out that the volcano island is not the location of the final showdown. It is just a regular level. The level does not take place inside a volcano, it takes place inside an abandoned crystal mine.

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