The Academy: The First Riddle Review (iOS)

Game: The Academy: The First Riddle
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
System: iOS, Android, Steam. Coming to Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One later this year.
Developers | Publishers: Pine Studio | Snapbreak Games
Price: USD iOS $3.99$6.99, Android $4.99$8.49, Steam $19.99 |UK iOS £3.99£6.99 
Age Rating: US E | UK 9+
Release Date: June 19th, 2020

Thanks to HomeRun PR for providing us with a review code

Like most people of my generation, I often daydream that a letter had been delivered by owl on my twelfth birthday and I’d been whisked off to Hogwarts. Alas, no platform 9 ¾ for me! But it hasn’t stopped me from looking for that next book or game that provides a feeling of being transported into a world of adventure and mystery, preferably with a cavernous school as the primary setting. When I saw The Academy: The First Riddle described as a Harry Potter/Professor Layton inspired game, I was IN. Does it live up to expectations? It’s complicated…


The Academy: First Riddle classroom
I hope you read the assigned chapter. There will be a test!

You play as Sam, a boy who gets the letter we all crave inviting him to apply at Hogw… er… the Academy, a school started by a legendary figure known as Baron Holloway. Sam arrives at the Academy to take an admissions test, and is immediately offered a chocolate bar. At this school, chocolate bars help your concentration. Of course, this immediately endeared me to this school.

During the introductory chapter of this 3-chapter game, you meet some of your classmates. Notable among them are Ro…excuse me, Dom, Maya, and Tucker. It’s a good thing you’ve found these companions because while you sleep in your dorm, a mysterious hooded figure breaks into the school. This kicks off a series of strange and possibly magical problems that you and your new classmates will have to solve.

Overall, I found the story to be so-so. Some sections held my attention very well, some not so much. I feel the characters are forgettable but stayed very interested in the history of the Academy itself. However, the story is mostly there to facilitate the main focus of this game: puzzles!

What I loved

portrait of historical figures in The Academy: First Riddle
You learn a lot about these two in your classes.

Boris Barbir of Pine Studio is quoted in the promotional material as saying “…the school is greatly inspired by Hogwarts, but it’s also inspired by the architecture of our city, Zagreb.” Zagreb is the city in Croatia where Pine Studio is located.

I believe they succeeded in creating a world that feels like it has existed across the ages. The combination of such touches as the art and artifacts on the walls all over the school and the two-page chapter you read before each of your classes give the impression that the Academy has a real history.  This is one of my favorite aspects of the game by far.

There’s some sort of randomization in the exact location of characters. I discovered this when I encountered a bug (discussed below) that had me play through the same section on both the iPad and the iPhone. A particular character you needed to talk to was located in an entirely different section of the room! I thought having that sort of randomness is a nice touch.

Backpacks are helpful

textbook example in The Academy: First Riddle
This is very hard to read on the smaller iPhone screens, but it adds so much to the experience.

The backpack lets you know what’s on the schedule for the day (classes and otherwise), read your textbooks, see and revisit previously discovered puzzles, and look at your collectibles. Among the collectibles are diary fragments written by Baron Hollaway and other assorted fragments. There are the results of a slightly strange mission to take photographs of all your classmates (strange in that the classmates never pose so you end up with a weird assortment of candid shots), as well as a badge and wardrobe collection. Unfortunately, even though I’ve completed over half the game, I didn’t see an explanation on how to earn either of the latter two sets. I will add my standard disclaimer that it’s always possible I missed those explanations somehow. A shame either way, since I generally enjoy in-game collectibles. 

Graphics and Music

I am happy with the graphics. No complaints here, other than the lack of zoom discussed below. I was particularly impressed with the dust floating in the air. It was such a realistic touch for an ancient school building.

The music was mostly appropriate, if repetitive. There was one point where the music was too happy for the story section and another section where it mixed happy and intense music. They were playing directly over each other. Unsure if that was a bug or not, but it was very strange regardless of intention.


The blue dot leads you to your next goal. Question marks (not pictured) show you where you can find puzzles.

The left half of the touch screen is your joystick, and the right half allows you to rotate your view. It took some adjustments to the sensitivity settings on my phone, but once I got that sweet spot this worked very well! You can also tap once to move to walk to an area on the screen, or twice to run to it.

The tap method of moving was questionable, due to often tapping the wrong area by accident. For the most part, I wasn’t playing on an iPad, so I’m sure this was at least partially due to my screen size. 

Loading screen takes a bit, and for some reason, this game doesn’t have rotation. So if you flip your device, it won’t flip the game. Thought this might be a settings issue, but I couldn’t get it to work if it is. This is annoying if you have your phone plugged in, but not a big deal otherwise. 

iPhone vs. iPad

The larger iPad screen works wonders. Some of the puzzles are very difficult to see on the iPhone screen, or at least my version (6S). In fact, some of the puzzles are nearly impossible to view on a screen that size, and the app does not appear to have a zoom function. Now, you COULD screen cap the picture and zoom using the photos, but that is a ridiculous workaround.

Your mileage may vary, because the weight of some iPads may be a deterrent to navigating with the joystick option that works so well on the iPhone. However…

For now, don’t choose the iPad version!

I encountered a game-breaking bug when I tried the iPad version, where the screen went black during a key puzzle. There are also some severe issues with moving Sam around. This is something the developer is working on. This is very disappointing since the iPad appears to be the ideal option for playing this particular app if it were functioning correctly.


This app has them. As of this writing, the developer knows about the bugs and is working on them. As mentioned above, the iPad version was so buggy it was nonfunctional when I tried it. Furthermore, there was a problem when I went back to the iPhone version since it briefly mixed where I left off on the iPad version with where I left off on the iPhone version. That was extremely confusing, as I started back several days in the chapter I was playing, but with the same level of completion that I had from the iPhone in place. I finally just put Sam to bed a bunch of times in a row to advance to where I should have been. An easy fix to an issue that initially threw me for quite a loop!

I ran into one bug on the iPhone version where a character was marked as having a puzzle when he didn’t, but I haven’t encountered any game-breaking bugs in this version.

Not a bug, but I did note a few misspellings. 


Each puzzle is presented in two parts: The main puzzle that you need to complete to advance (if it’s considered a key puzzle) and a bonus puzzle. The bonus puzzle awards you a fragment collectible if you solve it.

These puzzles are not Professor Layton, I can tell you that. Some of them are quite simple. Personally, I don’t find that a problem, but it is certain to annoy some players.

They do provide ways to draw on the puzzle as you work it out. I always find this a helpful tool.

One quandary I have is that there’s a strange lack of stakes in many of the scenarios. There are some puzzles that are key to progressing through the story, but not all. Every puzzle gives you 10 initial tries. If you fail, it just resets. So the stakes are unusually low. If you can’t solve the puzzle, it never tells you the answer. It just keeps resetting your guesses.

Chocolate bars give you hints, but you can only use one hint per puzzle. I found myself missing the leveled hints in Professor Layton.

The final nail in the coffin…

What really broke the game for me is that there appear to be errors in the puzzles themselves, or at least a wide margin of error. One example was a puzzle where there were two correct answers in the image, but since one was considered part of the background it didn’t register as correct. The ones below are examples of more serious issues.

problem puzzle 1 in The Academy: First Riddle
This puzzle has duplicated two possible answers. It even duplicated the numbering.


Problem Puzzle 2 in The Academy: First Riddle
This one asks you to find the cost of getting between two locations that aren’t listed.

I can’t look past such major errors in a key element of the game, no matter how much I may enjoy the premise.


When I started The Academy, I was completely engrossed. My first impression was that this is the type of game I’ve always wanted to play in the Harry Potter universe. Attending classes, solving problems with your school buddies, and fighting an evil you can’t quite name; it checks a lot of the boxes I always wanted to see in an official HP game and never got in a way that landed home.

Unfortunately, due to the bugs (primarily on the iPad version), issues with reading the screen due to no zoom option (iPhone 6S issue), and the sometimes shaky or error-riddled puzzles, I can’t recommend the game at this time.

This is really quite sad, as my first impression was so good I was considering the highest rating. However, after playing up through the start of chapter 3, I had to put it aside as the broken puzzles are really discouraging. I am sincerely hoping to hear from the developer that they’ve worked out some of these issues. If they let me know it’s fixed, I plan to be back to finish chapter 3 and update this review accordingly.

Frankly, if this game is fixed then I’ll be rooting for more content! The Academy would look amazing decked out for the holidays, and with the historical backstory they’ve created I’m sure they can keep this world going.

My rating below reflects the current state of The Academy, but I’ll be back to update if I hear of improvements.

My final rating: I’m not sure 


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