Doctor Who’s latest venture into the world of video games succeeds in being the one thing Who should never be: boring
Doctor Who has had a distinctly rocky relationship with video games over the years. There have been highs and lows, with quite possibly more of the latter than the former. The show sits in a difficult position. On the one hand, it’s a big enough brand to make attempts to exploit it through games licences irresistible. But on the other it’s not quite big enough to justify those games having huge development budgets. It’s also been challenging for successive games companies to reflect the Doctor’s unusual nature as a hero. After all, there’s typically little call for characters who use their brain and hearts to find solutions. The format has traditionally been better suited to those who blast away at problems. The latest entry in this virtual rollercoaster is Doctor Who: Lost in Time, a mobile game available for Apple and Android devices from East Side Games.
The relentless, seemingly endless, loop of tapping your screen will give you new sympathy for the Twelfth’s Doctor predicament in Heaven Sent
Unfortunately, having worked through the first hour or so of gameplay, Blogtor Who has to say that Lost in Time is definitely a low point in Who gaming. Its cardinal sin is perhaps being the one thing Doctor Who should never, ever be: dull. This is essentially an energy mining game that feels like it can’t be a million miles away from whatever the ‘Crypto Kids’ app in the movie Glass Onion actually was.
Basically, you tap repeatedly on one part of your screen until you’ve built up enough energy. Then you spend that energy to tap on a second part of the screen a couple of times. Then you’re back to tapping on the first bit some more. Once you’ve been through that cycle enough times you get the cool new experience of tapping on a third part of your screen, before beginning again with tapping the first spot some more. All in a loop that seemingly expands into infinity as new areas of the board open up. But all, fundamentally, coming down to endless repetition of that that tap-tap-tap — tap-tap — tap-tap-tap — tap-tap – tap loop. Before long, you may find yourself muttering away about “one hell of a bird” to yourself.
Although the gameboard itself is cheerily cartoonish, the style illustrating the very basic storyline is visually unappealing
The game also comes in heavy and hard with suggestions to make in-app purchases. These increase the automation and productivity of your various energy mines in return for real money or for watching ads. As entertainment, the overall experience is a little like someone trying to persuade that digging coal out of the ground with your bare hands is a fun time. Then once you’ve been at that for a while, they offer to lease you a pick axe. And, as with that scenario, playing Lost in Time it’s hard to escape the feeling that for such mind-numbing, monotonous work someone should be paying you.
The whole thing is wrapped up in a very perfunctory storyline. The TARDIS has broken down, and at the same time huge parts of the Doctor’s memory have vanished. She reaches back in time to recruit her former selves on a mission to transmit energy to the TARDIS in the hopes of getting it moving again. Each Doctor and companion team operates from a different location, like the classic UNIT lab, Skaro, or the Panopticon. But each is fundamentally charged with the same familiar energy mining duties, simply giving you more space to scroll over looking for the next place charged up enough to tap-tap-tap.
Lost in Time’s game mechanics encourage you to spend real money or watch ads effectively to not have to spend as much time playing, which seems more like the definition of a ransom
Along the way you collect Kerblam! boxes containing representations of various characters like UNIT’s Sgt Benton who enhance the speed of mining at the relevant location. The notion of collecting characters to build your power set will be familiar to anyone who played the vastly superior Doctor Who Legacy game, but there the similarities sadly end. The new character designs and background art throughout are basic by comparison. Nor is there any nuance and thought put into their abilities. Design wise, in fact, it’s only in the main board, with its jolly looking cartoonish versions of familiar locations that there’s any real spark of life here.
But worst of all surely is the loud alert Blogtor Who got at 7am this morning, reminding him that he hadn’t played Lost in Time yet. Yes, that notification can be turned off in your phone settings. But why do that when it’s faster, and much more satisfying, to simply uninstall it instead?
As mixed as they are, few Doctor Who games have succeeding in missing the show’s essence as completely as Lost in Time
No two fans can agree on the exact golden formula that makes Doctor Who so special. But high on the list has to be its ability to take you away from the drab and ordinary real world to strange and exciting lands of adventure, and the Doctor’s instinctive sense of fair play. With its monotonous gameplay and heavy leaning into in-app purchases, Lost in Time fails to live up to both.
Doctor Who: Lost in Time is available through both the App Store and PlayStore