It may not be a riddle wrapped inside of a mystery inside of an enigma, as the saying goes, but Casual Box’s Age of Enigma: The Secret Of The Sixth Ghost does present adventure fans with plenty of conundrums. A wide variety of fun puzzles, immersive sound work and music, and an assortment of different cartoon worlds to explore combine to produce an entrancing lite adventure. While the diversity of scenes and styles at times doesn’t suit the spooky theme of the game, Age of Enigma provides casual adventure fans with a short but great-looking ghost story that’s a pleasure to play through.
The opening cinematic reveals that Ashley, a medium living in a post-apocalyptic world, has been having nightmares about a decrepit house burning against a night sky. Then a mysterious envelope is slipped under her door from a group calling itself the Fraternity of Mediums, rather cryptically containing a floor plan from the house Ashley has been visiting in her nightmares. Along with her trusty dog Isaac, Ashley will have to find out why these dreams are haunting her and what this mysterious group is all about.
Upon your arrival, you look up at a diluted blood-red horizon framed by mangled skyscrapers. Zeppelins roam the sky with searchlights amid the sound of police scanners and the wind whipping, adding to the feeling of a world in chaos – an atmospheric opening that promises dark things to come. However, this spooky mood is rather hit or miss as you progress, as much of the game’s artwork doesn’t follow the same grim atmosphere. Characters and many of the scenes are drawn in a simple, bright cartoon style. The game also injects some traditional casual game sound work, such as a cheerful tinkling when you pick up an inventory object. The vivid colors and sunny sounds serve to lighten the mood periodically, making the experience feel inconsistent and somewhat random in tone.
The benefit to the wide variety of art styles, camera angles, sounds, music, and themes is that the adventure always feels fresh and interesting. The house that you explore, with its rickety furniture, tumbled-down staircase, and anti-ghost propaganda displays (in this world, the government is burning down houses in an attempt to get rid of ghosts), is only one window into this enigmatic world. You’ll ultimately attempt to help five separate ghosts haunting the house (the titular sixth ghosts remains a mystery until the end). Each ghost, only connected to each other by their presence in the house, has some unfinished business from their previous lives that you need to help resolve by temporarily assuming control of them and reliving their relevant memories. You’ll meet a Japanese woman with long disheveled hair who has settled in the house’s cellar sobbing in a corner, an Incan warrior thirsty for blood, a pirate looking for lost treasure, a monk haunted by a demonic force, and a pharaoh in the tomb of his gods.
Each ghost whisks you away to a completely different world with its own distinctive style. To help save the Japanese spirit, you’ll enter a world full of pink cherry blossom trees and encounter the concentric circles of a soothing Zen garden. When attempting to aid the Incan fighter, you’ll find yourself among terraced jade green mountains, a verdant backdrop to an altar pooling blood. And a trip through hell is psychedelic and surreal, with corpses hanging from a tree gaping in horror at neon green geysers shooting from spikey volcanoes.
During cutscenes, the camera will rocket you on a roller coaster ride through tunnels and up and down floors of the house. Rounding out the imaginative artwork are terrific ambient animations, with ghost (instead of police) lines fluttering in the wind at a ghostly crime scene and moths beating themselves against naked light bulbs. Though there’s never any real danger, be careful where you peer as you explore; you never know what spooky sight will greet you suddenly, making you catch your breath. Click on a grand piano and a smoky, crazed specter with wild swirling hair wails away on the keys only to disappear again. When the Japanese lady writes you a letter, she floats to a dark corner and squats to pen her message, a disturbing image approaching insanity.
Nicely complementing this artwork is top-notch sound and music. Here you won’t just find the expected creaky floor boards and squeaky door hinges, regular staples in the haunted house genre. Tortured souls moan in the background as you investigate, only to fade out as the thud of a heartbeat pumps up into the foreground, while goats bleat in the background of a Middle Eastern scene. Layered behind the ambient sounds is appropriate music that matches the themes of the different worlds. Incan pan pipes with their throaty sighs fill the air when you visit ancient ruins, Japanese zithers keen against deep bells as you explore a pagoda, and guitars and choral voices infuse a light-filled monastery. There is a nice amount of voice acting, as well. Ashley is charismatic and brings energy to her medium role. The other major actor, Nathan, your guide through this spirit world, has a gravelly voice that warns of danger. The other ghosts you meet won’t speak but will shriek, moan, and whisper as they try to tell you about their past traumas.
Age of Enigma isn’t all atmosphere, however. There are plenty of fun puzzles to play through as you discover the mystery of this haunted house and the reason you were called to investigate it. The majority of challenges you’ll encounter are fairly straightforward inventory puzzles. You’ll have to acquire objects to make your way around the house, items that will help you light dark corridors or bypass destroyed staircases. Additionally, you must find items or complete puzzles to help the five ghosts that you meet, whether it’s looking for a pirate’s buried treasure, exorcising a poltergeist for a monk, or trimming a tiny bonsai plant for the Japanese ghost. On the game’s more difficult level, there are no hotspot sparkles, but you’ll still have access to a journal and hint guide, which provides fairly explicit “hints.” The easier casual level gives you less freedom to roam around the house, blocking off access to all areas of the house except for the rooms you’ll need to investigate for the next step in your adventure.
On both difficulty levels, the game’s many logic puzzles offer a skip button, but you’ll also get two “jokers” per puzzle. These jokers allow you to make a puzzle easier to solve rather than simply skipping it altogether. For example, if you encounter a pick-up sticks puzzle and have a hard time completing it, rather than bypassing it entirely, you can click on a joker to reduce the number of sticks you must disentangle. Another thoughtful user interface element was integrated into a particular puzzle involving identifying the correct color combination for a series of stones: If you are colorblind, you have the option to find the right sequence of shapes rather than colors, which is something I haven’t personally seen in a game before.
As its title implies, this game certainly doesn’t skimp on puzzles, and you’ll encounter quite a few that are well integrated into the environment, such as attempting to catch a crab skittering across the sand (this does not require an immense amount of dexterity or speed) or searching for items underwater before you run out of breath (time). However, toward the end of the game you’ll encounter a series of similar memory-type puzzles that slow down the game entirely and become quite frustrating when they begin to repeat. Rather than building to a tense climax, you’ll find yourself studying grids for a limited time and then remembering where certain objects were placed. Sometimes these memory puzzles are used for what should be purely organic activities, such as looking for ingredients and then combining them in a certain order for a recipe. Rather than… oh, I don’t know… picking a flower to collect it, you have to solve a memory puzzle to obtain the needed ingredient. When you have to look for ten different plants, the thought of possibly having to solve a memory puzzle for each plant can be daunting.
Once past this bit of unfortunate padding that runs the total play time to three hours, the finale proves satisfying and hints at more adventures for Ashley. The story moves even farther beyond typical ghost stories by introducing a larger world with sinister government initiatives against the paranormal and powerful spirit workers banding together in rebellion, which offers plenty of room to develop the series in intriguing ways. While the drastically different artwork and settings of this debut make a puzzle of the ghostly theme at times, its diverse gameplay, eerie soundscape, and a wide range of imaginative imagery make Age of Enigma: The Secret Of The Sixth Ghost one conundrum you’ll really want to try to solve.
|Download||August 1 2011||Big Fish Games|
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