March was supposed to be a quiet month. With so many new casual game releases these days, it's hard to keep up with them all, so we decided to scale back our coverage to only those games truly worthy of an adventure gamer's attention. No more fringe games with only marginal adventure content, and other than a few rare exceptions of note, no more lousy games introduced just to tell you not to bother. (If you don't read about them here, you don't need to know!)
So naturally, with this newfound commitment to ruthless discrimination, we ran smack dab into the busiest month since we began the Casual Collection series. D'oh! But more work for us means more play for you, so there's lots to choose from this time around. If you can't find something that interests you among the ten games featured this month, you just aren't looking hard enough. That won't be a problem, though, right? After all, if there's one thing casual adventure fans know how to do, it's to keep searching until they find what they're after.
Guardians of Magic: Amanda’s Awakening
For those who are burning out on hidden object hunts (or just yearning for more variety) and wishing there were more games like Drawn: Dark Flight, look no further than HitPoint Studios’ Guardians of Magic: Amanda’s Awakening, a casual adventure that shares more than a few things in common with Big Fish’s painterly series, though this time it’s the young damsel doing the rescuing. Amanda Reese was born into a magical family, but she was always far more interested in science and technology than spells and potions. Now, however, she’ll need to master both. Following her grandfather’s passing, Amanda learns about the Guardians of Magic, a group sworn to protect the magical realm. With his death, it’s left to Amanda to safeguard it from the machinations of her former mentor, Dr. Magus, who has personal motivation driving his anti-magic crusade. In order to succeed, she’ll need to piece together the scattered parts of two unique devices, transporting herself magically into a series of paintings of other times and places to find them.
Though you’ll collect many objects on your journey, this is not a hidden object game – at least, not in the traditional sense. All required items can be found in their natural environments as you explore, though you won’t necessarily be able to see them at first. Some objects and creatures can only be seen by assembling the “Clockwork Bubble-Blower”, and accomplishing that will mean learning some magic first. There are four spells that will aid you in your travels, including teleport, fire, freeze, and spark. Casting a spell is as simple as tracing its unique shape onscreen with the mouse (and rest assured, the system is very forgiving of unsteady hands). Some spells can only be used at particular places like teleport points, while other spells turn the cursor into a magic wand imbued with that current power for a short time, or until canceled if you change your mind. Spells are used in logical ways: fire lights torches, sparks start machinery, so while this doesn’t add significantly to the game’s complexity, it’s still a welcome variation from the norm.
There isn’t much that impacts complexity here, as Guardians of Magic is a fairly easy game, at least at first. Along with a handful of intuitive inventory puzzles, you’ll encounter a series of recurring puzzles and minigames in the form of locked boxes. You’ll solve sliders, jigsaws, and tangrams, balance weights and play Concentration, among other tasks, each getting progressively more difficult the further you get. You’ll need to overcome more organic obstacles as well, like dialing in a specific gas pressure, redirecting lasers, and lighting torches in a riddle-based sequence. (Well, organic in a magical world, anyway.) Other tasks need a very marginal amount of hand-eye coordination, like timing clicks on a slot machine or playing a slow-moving game of Whack-a-Mole, but there’s nothing that should discourage even the least dextrous player. One more repeated activity is finding and tracing constellations through a telescope, though the game literally prevents you from making a mistake. If you do need help, a skip option exists for the standalone puzzles, a journal records all relevant notes and spells, and an imprisoned witch named Mera will offer clues available in the current scene (if any) by clicking her crystal ball icon.
While certainly not difficult once you have what you need, solving puzzles often involves travelling back and forth between “worlds”, each of which has a handful of screens to roam. Beginning in the real-world rural home of Amanda’s grandfather, you’ll soon find yourself in the Guardians’ Ritual Hall hub, with access (once unlocked) to dreamy forests, a scenic ocean beachside, a stone castle in two different eras, and a rain-drenched abandoned carnival, where you’ll begin to understand the reasons for the current anti-magic crisis. There’s very little ambient animation, but the artwork is done in an attractive hand-painted style that suits the whimsical nature of the game very well, with even more cartoon-like character portraits displayed during cinematics and conversations. There is no voicework at all apart from key cutscenes, and very little commentary is offered by Amanda, but you’ll learn additional background through discovered news clippings and videos. The music provides a pleasant backdrop to the action, offering a touch of fantasy in its mix of flutes, strings, and even xylophone, thankfully without falling back on ye ol’ standard medieval themes. You won’t be dazzled by the aesthetic design, but it’s a charming presentation that’s a pleasure to explore. You may breeze through the puzzles (with a little magical help from the other elements), but if you’re looking for something casual that isn’t bloated with hidden object filler, don’t snooze on this magical lite adventure experience.
Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart
In Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart, Edwina Margrave is finally returning to the village where her parents mysteriously died fifteen years earlier. Upon her arrival, she is welcomed back to her childhood home by Elize Thorn, the nanny who cared for her in her youth. An old letter reveals that her parents were investigating the lore of the severed heart, according to which anyone who murders another person shall forever haunt the mortal world as a remorseful spirit. Edwina must unlock the five magical barriers called shadowlocks scattered around the heavily fortified but now abandoned village to unravel the mystery of what really happened to her parents. But when the only other living person around also claims to be Ms. Thorn, Edwina is forced to grapple with the rapidly blurring lines between the real and the supernatural, confronting a truth that’s not only unbelievable, but also rather unpleasant. Fortunately, this ghost story remains grounded in reality, and at the end of four-odd hours it emerges a rare winner in a genre that all too often forgets to add a touch of heart to the procession of shiny screens cluttered with random artifacts.
This third game in Inertia Game Studios’ Margrave series features the detailed, hand-drawn art that’s now a casual game staple. The rural locations include Ms. Thorn’s cottage, an orchard, a barn, a ruined church and the dilapidated village, though they aren’t all uniformly spooky; some are calm and some even pleasant. Animation covers the usual falling leaves, dripping water, and fluttering butterflies, but some small touches like a torn lace curtain flapping in a shattered window and a strangely huffing-and-puffing water pump add subtle drama. The music loops are well-adapted to the moody setting, and the songs – the title track and another ditty sung by a ghost trio of a cat, a bird and a squirrel, pleading the case of a girl driven insane by remorse – are unique and entertaining. The most appealing aspect of the production, however, is the extensive use of voice acting. Every character, living and dead, human and animal, speaks aloud in varying British accents. Edwina’s voiceover is stellar and allows her youthful personality to shine through, ranging in tone from irreverent to shocked and distraught when her world begins to crumble around her. Her comments on interactive items and situations enliven the game, and often add an unusual dimension to many scenes by her descriptions of how they smell.
This game is more an actual adventure (albeit a lite, linear one) than the series’ previous two straightforward hidden object excursions. The nine hidden object screens here are spread sparsely across the game world, and each is used twice, yielding an inventory item per search. The attractively-animated standalone puzzles include jigsaws, pattern matches and variations of the pipes game. None are difficult, and several are repeated many times, such as playing the piano from sheet music and divining the names of characters using Edwina’s dream cards – an unusual and creative minigame based on matching geometric symbols. One puzzle demands a bit of hand-eye coordination to zap ladybugs with animated birds. The inventory-based puzzles, however, form the backbone of the game, requiring forty-odd items to be collected and used. Objects can remain in inventory for hours, and you’ll often need the sketches Edwina makes of unusual patterns to use them correctly. Unfortunately, the game is marred by an awful amount of mindless backtracking, as hidden object screens and collectable items may be activated anywhere and anytime, with zero indication. This can give the impression of being stuck without ever encountering a real problem, and hinders the otherwise logical gameplay to the point of irritation.
The Collector’s Edition includes a bonus segment, "The Blacksmith’s Revenge", in which Edwina returns to the town after two years to break the curse of the severed heart, which Cyclopean blacksmith Oban has cast upon the village in retaliation for the murders of his wife and daughter. This short but well-designed extra comprises more of the same kind of gameplay, including a variation of the shadowlocks puzzle and a challenging new edition of pipes, plus a useful inventory companion for Edwina named Afi. Most importantly, it also offers a bittersweet end to the story with the timeless messages of love and forgiveness. This chapter doesn’t add anything to the storyline of the main game, which stands completely on its own, so those who choose the standard version won’t feel shortchanged in any way. Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart falls just short of achieving true greatness due to some repetitive puzzles and annoying backtracking, but its ambition and effort to break the glass ceiling between hidden object and traditional adventure games is obvious and well-appreciated. As such, it’s highly recommended for any connoisseur of the genre who’d like to rediscover the pleasure of playing a supernatural tale well-told.Continued on the next page...
Platform(s): iPad, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): iPad, Mobile (Other), PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC