I received a response from my review of A Blind Legend asking me to take a look at another audio game, Audio Game Hub available for iOS, Android, and Microsoft Windows (from the official website). This game has a somewhat confusing name and when I first received the request I wasn’t sure if I was being asked to review a game or an app/website that collects a list of audio games (which, by the way, does exist); the app is in fact a collection of eight arcade-style games adapted for playing by sound.
Although it’s been a long time since I played A Blind Legend and, consequent to my BIID going away, I no longer have much of a personal interest in audio games, I nevertheless decided to take a look (figuratively speaking) at the Android version. I’ve played each of the eight games and while I’m not going to give a full review for each there are some general aspects that I would like to comment on.
The menu navigation is pretty much the same as A Blind Legend: swipe left and right to choose options, double-tap to select an option. There are a few differences though, but fortunately the app includes a built-in tutorial for navigating the menus which launches automatically the first time the app is opened (and a warning to disable any screenreaders – two things which were noticeably lacking from A Blind Legend). The menu options are read out in a clear male voice.
The controls for each game differ, although there is again a tutorial mode to explain the controls. This time, however, the tutorial must be launched manually, and once completed drops the player straight into the game without any warning or notice, which I found confusing as typically a tutorial either returns to the game menu or makes it clear that the actual game is now starting. The tutorials themselves, for that matter, don’t offer much chance to practice the controls and consist of nothing more than a voice reading out the available controls and then saying “try this now” (which in reality means “bump the screen by accident in any way you want and I’ll move on”).
The app also includes four global navigation items located in each corner of the screen, which allow the player to return to the previous page (or exit the game in progress – progress is automatically saved), change the settings, hear information relevant to the current page (which works in games too, and reads out the game status such as score, number of lives, etc.), and toggle the “visual aids” (more on this in a moment).
One thing which was a significant issue with A Blind Legend was that I kept bumping the device’s home button and exiting the app while playing; this app disables the navigation bar on devices with a software-rendered navigation bar so this doesn’t happen, although devices with a hardware navigation bar (where the navigation items are physically printed on the phone below the screen rather than being drawn in software as an overlay on the screen itself) may still cause issues for players – in general I wouldn’t recommend a device with a hardware navigation bar for a blind user since there is usually no way to find the buttons tactually and it is very easy to bump them, whatever you’re doing.
There is also a “visual aids” feature which I haven’t tried but which, according to the few screenshots that I’ve seen, places coloured circles on the screen to show where to tap or swipe; unfortunately this may give sighted players or players with partial sight an advantage in the time-based games.
My main criticism in this area is the informational messages between each round of a game – they’re long and there’s no way to skip them. I’m sure there are many players who would appreciate them, but I, and I’m sure many blind people, am practiced at keeping track of things in my head, so I don’t need to wait while my score is read out to me when I already know it. It should be possible to skip the messages if desired by tapping, swiping, or performing some other gesture on the screen.
The games have a lot of sound. A lot more sound than I expected, in fact, and the sound is of a surprisingly-high quality. Each game has appropriate ambient sounds and (somewhat cliched) voice acting to match the theme of the game, in addition to the sounds in the gameplay itself. Stereo panning is used almost everywhere to provide positional or navigational information. The ambient sounds can sometimes get in the way though of important details in the gameplay sounds, although the volumes of the ambient, voice, and gameplay sounds can be adjusted separately so one could always turn the ambient sounds down if they’re struggling to hear the more important sounds – remember that the settings menu can be accessed even during a game.
Despite the good voice acting, the voices unfortunately sound like those old automated telephone systems where each word or number was recorded separately and then played in succession with no attempt to match up the intonation into a coherent-sounding phrase. I much preferred the voice acting in A Blind Legend, which had no such issues much to my surprise, and I’m sure this will be boring or even tiring to listen to when you’re listening to screenreaders and talking appliances all the time.
I’m not going to go into detail on each game, but they’re described as “arcade style” and the truth is that most of them are pretty cliched. They’re fun nevertheless, and blind players who’ve never had the opportunity to play games like this before may still appreciate it, but apart from the interesting adaptation of these games to an audio-only environment there wasn’t much to stimulate me here. Here’s a list of the games:
- Slot machine – pull the handle to spin and win coins, you can change how much you want to bet on each spin and there are different payouts with different odds (casino-themed sounds)
- Archery – listen to the target and try to shoot when it’s the loudest, the closer you are the more points you get (forest-themed sounds)
- Hunt – try to shoot moving targets with a bow (same sounds as the archery game)
- Samurai tournament – try to tap before your opponent (Japanese-themed sounds)
- Samurai dojo – try to tap more times than your opponent (same sounds as the samurai tournament game)
- Labyrinth – navigate out of a dungeon-themed maze by listening to the loudness of a beacon at the exit (dungeon/castle-themed sounds)
- Memory – match pairs of animal sounds (farm-themed sounds)
- Blocks – stack groups of matching packages into four columns, each type of package has a different sound (warehouse-themed sounds)
Despite the lack of originality in the games, each game had significant replay value due to the randomly-generated nature of the content. Aside from the labyrinth, however, I was unable to reach a “completion” point in any of the games; I suspect that the slot machine, hunt, and blocks games don’t have any form of “completion” and continue until the player loses, but it was implied that the archery and samurai games did complete. The games were not too difficult to get the hang of after a few tries, although there is no way to make the games more difficult so advanced players may get bored.
Considering how independent each game is from the others and how tightly-themed the sounds within each game are, I don’t quite understand why these games have been released as a single app. From a marketing perspective, I would have preferred to see each game packaged as a separate app. Imagine opening, say, the memory game and hearing cliche country farm music with a cliche cowboy voice – that would be far more engaging than the bland menus that one navigates through to get to the game, only to be returned to said menus after engaging in the farm-themed game for just one or two rounds. As it is, each game feels too small, and the app feels like a somewhat-random collection of games thrown together in no meaningful way. Furthermore, packaging each game separately would make it easier for the developers to add more games to their product line (it wouldn’t require updating one single app every time a new game is added), and some games could be offered for a small fee or have additional levels unlocked with an in-app purchase, just like similar games for sighted players are.
The app was generally well-made and didn’t crash or have any other significant glitches, however there are a few issues that I experienced playing some of the games:
- I disabled vibration in the app settings but the device still vibrated at various points in the game.
- The “tutorial” for both the archery and the hunt games instructs the player to “swipe down” to pull the bow, although in reality this doesn’t work and the player is actually required just to hold their finger near the middle of the screen.
- The archery game’s “tutorial” also instructs the player to listen until the target sound was in the centre; although the app makes extensive use of stereo elsewhere, this is the one place where it is disappointingly absent, and my experience was that the target sound just got louder and quieter without moving from left to right in any noticeable way.
- The memory game lays out the boxes containing the animals in a grid. This makes it incredibly difficult to find the correct boxes even when one knows which box to open (I often opened a box different to the one that I intended to open), especially as the number of boxes increases (this probably works better on a tablet) and as boxes start disappearing. There is also an issue with the way that the controls for the grid are implemented: the “cells” of the grid don’t touch, so if I have my finger on (for example) the box in the upper-left corner and slide it directly to the right, there’s a “dead zone” where no box is selected before I reach the next column of boxes (the same applies to rows) – this may be intended to avoid the finger slipping to the adjacent box and causing the player to select the wrong box, but it makes it very difficult to find the boxes especially when there are only a few remaining.
- The left and right swiping in the blocks game isn’t sensitive enough. While swiping elsewhere in the app is pleasantly sensitive – picking up every swipe without any incorrect movements – the blocks game, where fast swipe detection is the most important, missed many of my swipes causing packages to land in the wrong columns.
Nevertheless the games are still playable and enjoyable at that.
This isn’t the next big step in audio games like A Blind Legend was. It doesn’t provide the same polished experience. It doesn’t offer the same level of immersiveness. It doesn’t aim to bridge a gap between sighted and blind players the same way that A Blind Legend did. But there’s one thing that it does perfectly: it provide the same kinds of “silly” mobile games that sighted people take for granted to blind players, right down to the themed background graphics and funny fonts. This isn’t the kind of game that you sit down on the couch to play like A Blind Legend was; this is the kind of game that you play on the train to work. This is the kind of game that I would have played on the bus to college in the days when I used to pretend while travelling to college, had it been available then.