Avo is the first bit of media from British company Playdeo, whose lofty introduction describes the things they’re creating as ‘television you can touch’. A lot of the general buzz around Avo has described it as augmented reality with prerecorded video, which seems apt. Told over eight short episodes, Avo is a lightweight mystery that befalls the quirky scientist Billie and her sentient ambulatory avocado, Avo. The player controls Avo, walking the stubby-legged fruit around and picking things up while Billie explains the situation and tells you what she needs. At its core, it’s a typical adventure game mechanically – walk around, pick things up, bring them to a place. But it’s all done seamlessly in this fully video-based real setting.
“Seamless” is kind of a strong word, I suppose. While exploring, the video is simply short loops of, say, Billie working at her desk in the background. There are still cutscenes, but because you’re already in the world and bound to preset camera angles, they just kind of… happen in place. So despite there still being two distinct modes, they do blend together in a fairly seamless way. The story is cute and simple, there are fun nerdy jokes scattered throughout (I had a good chuckle at Billie’s large cardboard box labelled ‘Klein bottles with moebius strips inside’), and the core mechanic works well. Avo is enjoyable and potentially worthy of recommendation, albeit with some caveats.
The other weird thing to me is the matter of the beans. Beans are scattered throughout the game. They serve three purposes: they give you an idea of paths you’re supposed to explore, they make Avo move slightly faster for some reason, and they are also the in-game currency to buy the episodes. While I suppose you could simply replay each episode a ton of times and collect enough beans to get the next one, doing so would be wildly impractical. Episodes cost 1,000 beans, and there aren’t hundreds (much less a thousand) of beans scattered throughout any given level. Which makes sense, Playdeo wants you to actually spend money on the game. For this, I do not blame them, and I do not think the game is overpriced (the bean bundle at $6 will get you through the whole thing). I do think that forcing it into this free-to-play framework is just weird. Awkward.
Many negative reviews on the App Store are from folks who don’t want to pay and actually are going the bean-collection route. The alternative that they would prefer is lowering the cost of the episodes. I mentioned that I don’t think the game is overpriced. I do think that the complete undervaluation of mobile apps means that a great number of people will think it’s overpriced. Especially since it’s much more of a story than it is a game. I think these are challenges that Playdeo is going to need to overcome. First, either ditch free-to-play or come up with a far less clumsy approach to it. Second, make the content more of a game and less of a poking-the-television. Avo largely feels like a proof-of-concept. As proof-of-concepts go, however, it is an incredibly charming one. And I would still recommend it as an experience for folks who are comfortable with the data collection.