Rebuilding Riverdale In “Archie: Betty or Veronica?”

Friday, July 19th, 2013

One of the earliest comic books I can remember reading was an old dog-eared copy of something called Archie’s Jokes.  It was filled with page after page of short comic strip-type gags all centered around a group of small-town teenagers.  I had no idea who these kids were, and I didn’t think the gags were very funny, but for some inexplicable reason, I found myself strangely attracted to the title.  It struck just the right combination of hokey and homey that I never even knew I wanted.  After a few years, I discovered that Archie and his gang were also featured in many other comic books which I started collecting.  Once I got started all those years ago, I just could not stop.  I have amassed quite the collection now.  I’ve grown to love the small town of Riverdale and all of its inhabitants.  In fact, there’s a part of me that’s always wanted to live in that kind of town (well, I already live in a small town, but still, Riverdale is an idealized small town).  I now have my chance to do just that with the release of the new interactive iPad game “Archie: Betty or Veronica?”

The storyline behind the game borrows a lot from another game, “The Simpsons: Tapped Out,” which I did try out for a few days before I lost interest in it for many different reasons.  In both games, the small town at the center of the franchise (Riverdale for Archie, Springfield for The Simpsons) is devastated by a huge disaster (a tornado hits Springfield, but the source of Riverdale’s destruction has not yet  been revealed to me).  The town mayor, for some strange reason, doesn’t want to take responsibility for the cleanup effort and runs away, along with most of the rest of the town’s residents.  It’s up to the few remaining citizens to clean up the mess, rebuild all of the town’s structures, and bring everyone else back so life can go back to normal (or unusual depending on your point of view).

The primary task you carry out is to send Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Ms. Grundy, (the homeroom teacher), Mr. Weatherbee (the principal of Riverdale High), Pop Tate (the malt shop owner…say, how come Riverdale still has a malt shop in 2013?), and the other Riverdale citizens off to perform various tasks ranging from cleaning up trash to restoring buildings, along with a few oddball jobs for good measure such as getting Moose Mason (the muscular strong guy) to perform an eight-hour shift at the malt shop.  All of these tasks take various amounts of real-world time to complete, anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.  You can either wait for all of the timers to tick away on their own, or you can use the game’s “premium” currency, “kisses,” to “speed up” the timers and finish tasks immediately.  (You can also spend a few real-world dollars on kisses if you want to, but I don’t think I’ll be spending my hard-earned cash on this!)  I have spent the majority of my time with the game thus far simply waiting while doing more productive things including writing, visiting with family and friends, and, of course, reading Archie comics. 

The game helps immensely in this department with the inclusion of a “comic shop” which contains the short comic strips used to tell the game’s story as well as reproductions of the first appearances of Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the rest of the game’s characters.  I read some of these origin stories while I was waiting for one of the timers, and I found it fascinating to compare the early versions of these teenagers with their modern counterparts in the game.  They certainly have changed a lot over the years!

I like the graphic style the game uses to portray the characters and their town.  It looks very much like the Archie comics come to life, a touch I greatly appreciate.  The tasks are also fairly entertaining in their own way, considering they are mostly limited to just descriptions of what is going on.  I just think there’s a bit of charm to sending Archie and Betty off to have date number 157 at the malt shop (Only 157?  Surely you jest, game!).  There’s also a bit of strategy involved in determining which characters you want to do different tasks.  All of the characters are divided into different types (Moose is a jock, Betty’s an artist, Dilton’s a geek, etc.) and using certain types with particular tasks can slightly reduce the amount of time it takes to complete them.  So far, my experience with this system has been a bit limited, but hopefully as I unlock more characters, its nuances will become more apparent.

The only thing I don’t particularly care for about this game is the parts of the story where you need to make arbitrary choices between two different tasks offered to you by two different characters.  The title of the game, “Betty or Veronica,” also hints at one of these choices.  You have to first choose between restoring Betty’s house or Veronica’s mansion.  I don’t really see the point, considering I ended up doing both tasks in the end.  It’s not like there’s some tangible reward for picking one choice over the other.  They both ended up rewarding me with a relatively useless decoration for your town, and it doesn’t feel to me like they have much of an emotional or narrative impact on the overall story, so they end up feeling as meaningless as Archie’s inevitable choice of which girl he wants to spend the rest of his life with, a choice which he’ll most likely never be able to make (at least in the mainstream comics, anyway; there is a series called “Life with Archie” which looks into alternate universes in which he marries either Betty or Veronica, so if you want to explore those possibilities and are in the mood for some great, thought-provoking comics, I say go right ahead!).  Will the choices even matter in the end?  Only time will tell.

So far, my experience with “Archie: Betty or Veronica?” has been extremely similar to my time reading Archie’s Jokes.  The jokes the game has presented so far are a bit hokey to me, but together with the small-town atmosphere and the timeless characters, it becomes a satisfying blend of classic visuals with modern technology.  I want to see the quest to rebuild Riverdale to completion while also seeing what other characters or locations pop up along the way.  Just like Archie’s teenage life, every new day with this game brings some new discovery and there’s some decent variety.  The only thing this game’s missing is a cup of “Sugar Sugar,” but so far, so good.  It certainly does make my heart go “Bang Shang a Lang!”

Do you like Archie comics?  If so, who are your favorite Archie characters?  Any fond memories of reading Archie comics?  Let me know in the comments.