The Bard’s Tale, along with Ultima, is about as old school as old school gets. Though the iOS game does include the original trilogy, the main game is actually a remake of a remake. Released back in 2004, this is a more modern take on the series, focusing only on the eponymous Bard.
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The game is available for both Mac and iOS, and the games are pretty identical. The controls are obviously different, but these games even look the same. It doesn’t do much to push the Retina display on the new iPad, but it doesn’t look too bad either.
As far as gameplay goes, Bard’s Tale is a pretty standard hack and slash RPG. What makes it stand out form the crowd of games is its meta-humor about RPGs: the Bard argues with the narrator, townsfolk sing songs of your impending doom, and there’s a comic take on nearly every RPG trope in the book. You have to admire games that can make you laugh; it takes good writers to pull that off.
The iCloud promise
The Bard’s Tale is one of the first games to take advantage of iCloud to sync saved games between devices, including the Mac. Well, in theory, as the Mac side doesn’t seem to work.
In the game you simply toggle on the iCloud save function in the options and you should be able to save a game on your iPad and just pick it up on your iPhone and resume the game where you left off. You’ll need to wait until the background iCloud sync completes to see your save update.
The big problem with the Mac is that you don’t even get the option to turn it on. I installed the game on my MacBook Pro and my iMac and in both cases I could not enable the option. With some quick web searches, I found a few other people having the problem, but no real solution. I filed a support ticket last Sunday, and apparently there was a change on Apple’s side that disabled the function. It is expected to be re-enabled in a future patch.
Laughing and stabbing: medieval humor
This iteration of The Bard’s Tale relies primarily on humor for its storytelling, that and playing up the musical aspects of the Bard. In the first town, you get a rousing drinking song that’s a tribute to the inventor of beer. The towns are full of odd characters that riff on RPG stereotypes.
The Bard plays his lute to summon a variety of creatures. It’s pretty much his only MacGuffin in this story, as he travels around looking for new spells along the way. It becomes clear that the Bard has been to most of these towns before, leaving a trail of felonies and broken hearts. He’s pretty much Han Solo with a musical career. It helps that he’s played by Cary Elwes.
The game offers you the choice to be either angry or nice in conversations, but the Bard is usually quick-witted in either choice. In some cases the choice is an aesthetic choice, while some NPCs will only respond to a certain demeanor.
Summoning: If you don’t have friends, create them
The various summoning spells are what separates The Bard’s Tale from most action RPG’s. The summoning creatures join your party, and have different abilities. (You get a dog early on that stays with you the whole game.) As you buy new lutes you can summon additional creatures.
You get new songs for new creatures as you go through the quest. Though to get all of them you’re going to have to search for chests scattered around towns. Each of the summoned creatures stays with you until they’re either killed or you summon a different creature.
The creatures break down into different types: utilitarian, defensive, attacking, and elemental. Those may not be verbatim as to what’s in the manual, but you get the idea. The summon songs you get in the quest usually line up with an effect you need in the upcoming area.
This game has Cary Elwes and some great comedy writing. That should be enough for most people to have bought this game before they got to this paragraph. The iCloud syncing is a nice feature, but Mac players are left out in the cold until InXile releases a patch. Though this is yet another port in light of iOS and Mac gaming’s increased popularity, it’s still worth your time if you missed this the first time around. The iOS version of the game is $4.99 and the Mac version is $9.99 in the App Store.