For a while it looked like September was going to be a light month of lite adventures, but then the deluge came and the kids weren’t the only ones back up to their eyeballs in homework. But work for us means fun for you, with plenty of choices to make. You may want to find out what happened after “The End” of a couple popular fairy tales, confront more demons, vengeful shamans, and wicked witches than you can shake a broomstick at, travel through time and towns to restore trapped souls, and live through a pair of deadly survival games. But which to pick? You don’t want to find yourself up Maple or Agony Creek (or that other one) without a paddle, so read on for the straight goods on the latest month of hidden object adventures.
Page 1: Mystery Legends: Beauty and the Beast, Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek
Mystery Legends: Beauty and the Beast
by Robin Parker
After previously taking on Sleepy Hollow and The Phantom of the Opera, pixelStorm now brings us the third instalment of the Mystery Legends series, Beauty and the Beast. Set after the events of the original story, Belle has saved the Prince from his curse, but another setback has affected the life of the happy couple. The same wicked enchantress who cursed the prince in the first place – still feeling sore from being scorned the first time around – has now entrapped him in stone and broken his soul up into five crystal shards, which she then scattered throughout the land. As you explore many fantastical scenes, solving puzzles and scouring infrequent hidden object scenes as you go, you will meet a variety of friends and foes who will act to both help and hinder your quest.
The traditional fantasy setting is a nice change of pace from the earlier mystery legends. This isn’t the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, however, presented much more in the vein of the Brothers Grimm, with shadowy figures in the distance and dangers lurking down every rabbit hole – and let’s not get started on the spiders (arachnophobes be forewarned). One moment you’re experiencing enchantment and wonder in a fairytale forest or a quaint little cottage, and the next you’re surrounded by a much more foreboding atmosphere, even coming face-to-face with the evil enchantress herself. The animation and visual effects are impressive, and the character models are drawn in a very detailed realistic style.
The music and sound effects add to the mood as well, with a good variety of themes preventing the common need for annoying repetition. Other sounds consist largely of atmospheric background effects and lots of magical sparkles and twinkles that you might expect from a fairytale. Although not used for every line of dialogue, voice work does feature extensively and it is all top notch – the enchantress is genuinely unlikeable and the pain of the prince feels all the more real through his convincing portrayal.
This game does feature a smattering of hidden object scenes, but in the balance this title leans more toward lite adventuring than item scavenging. The HOG scenes are in keeping with the regular in-game graphics, but it can be difficult to locate some of the listed objects on a crowded screen. None are interactively hidden behind other objects like in some games, but their small size can make them a little unclear. You’ll spend more time solving a fair number of traditional one-off puzzles like sliders, jigsaws, rotating puzzles, and arranging themed grid rows without any repeat images. These vary quite greatly from the very simple – spinning tiles around until they all face the correct way – to reasonably challenging. One requires guiding a knight to his castle along metal tracks, hitting every junction on the path but without passing any twice. Whilst not fiendish, it is the kind of puzzle that exercises the brain a bit more to strategise rather than just being trial and error. No puzzles will stump experienced players for an extended period of time, but a slowly charging skip button is available, even on the hardest of three difficulty settings.
Most of the other objectives feel more like multi-layered obstacles than simple fetch quests. For instance, to fix a broken ventilation pipe you need to fish the valve out of a pond using a net you’ve acquired elsewhere, and then still need to find the settings somewhere else before getting the pipe working correctly. This type of sequence does involve some backtracking, but in retracing your steps you are looking for particular items (some of which only become interactive once you begin a particular puzzle) instead of simply seeing if previously visited HOG scenes have become active once more.
There is an in-game map which also acts as a vague hint system, as it highlights any areas that have immediate objectives linked to them. Unfortunately, you cannot use this map to jump to those areas directly. The hint function highlights any area of interest on the current screen or indicates you’ve done all you can for now. The recharge time for hints seems particularly long, but the map alone will usually be enough to point you in the right direction. The Collector’s Edition includes a strategy guide as usual, but this one only gives you information on the current puzzles and objectives – even hiding hints until you click on them.
All in all, the main game weighs in at around five hours of gameplay, with the Collector’s Edition bonus chapter adding almost another hour to that total and wrapping up all loose ends in a more satisfying way. At the end of the main game, the enchantress still lingers after an epic battle, but the bonus chapter lets Belle and her prince finally get some closure on the rivalry. It also includes more action and “fight” scenes than the main game (albeit your adventure-style, puzzle-based variation, not a twitch and reflex affair). Add to that the fact that you can unlock the original novel to read after a successful playthrough and there is plenty to keep you busy, fully entertained while you’re at it. In fact, there is very little of the “beastly” side to either version of this title, which offers far more beauty to admire in both its structure and setting.
Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek
by Shuva Raha
A sleek cinematic follows a terrified woman as she flees through a storm-swept forest, chased by a faceless malevolent entity till she finally collapses on the outskirts of the titular fictional town in Vermont, USA where Artifex Mundi's Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek is set. The game starts as she regains consciousness, but not her memories – she recollects nothing that explains her precarious predicament, or the blood on her hands that isn't her own. The settlement hasn't weathered the storm any better, reduced to a messy heap of shattered housing, fallen trees and short-circuiting electric poles in the aftermath of the tornado. The damage, however, has also shaken loose secrets long buried within walls and under floorboards, and the cluttered wreckage is ideal for some riveting sleuth work, hidden object searches, and puzzle-solving.
Some handy clues soon help our amnesiac protagonist discover the basic facts: she's a detective who was investigating the disappearance of a teenager, the latest of several young women gone mysteriously missing from the area over the past eight decades. It's up to you to scout the inexplicably abandoned town and its surroundings, which include a guesthouse, a chapel, some disheveled homesteads, a gas station, the nearby hiking trails and a sinister church. Only by piecing together the scraps of evidence – photos, newspaper articles, reports from past investigations – can you hope to solve the case before the evil consumes its newest victim, and likely you too.
But Enigmatis guards its secrets closely and yields no easy answers during its six-odd hours. You're quickly drawn into a flurry of macabre discoveries, and suspicion veers between human cult and criminal adversaries, and supernatural ones like ghosts. Each assumption is backed by plausible evidence, and debunked rationally as more clues are unearthed. The quest is led systematically by the detective, but you're not relegated to mere mouse-driving: the collaborative gameplay allows you to analyse the leads and work out the correlations between them yourself.
The investigation favours inventory-based activities and object hunts over standalone puzzles. Searching the fourteen hidden object screens thrice each is repetitive, but not overly tiresome due to the stylish art. Some lists have an object or two which require minor interactivity to find, and in an annoying oversight, these hotspots remain active even after resolution, continuing to sparkle for your attention even during later revisits. Inventory quests are well-integrated with the plot and yield not only useful tools but clues and pieces of puzzles as well. Rewards are sometimes disproportionate to the effort required, like a convoluted excursion spanning hours to uncover an object of only mechanical value, but such missteps are rare.
There are fewer than a dozen logic puzzles, but quality trumps quantity, and each beautifully illustrated challenge, be it a jigsaw or a pattern match or a lock to be picked, is entertaining to solve. In an ongoing drag-and-drop puzzle that lasts throughout the game, you pin evidence items onto a wall and group them to either clarify the dilemmas or create more avenues for investigation. Mistaken links aren't fatal, but deducing correctly on your own provides a genuine sense of accomplishment.
Progress is linear, with only a couple of activities to do at a time. Your current objective is listed in a journal, which helpfully documents your observations according to related events and connects each goal to its specific set of clues, eliminating the usual pain of rifling through scores of pages for smidgens of relevant information. A map is drawn out as new areas are revealed, and on the easier of two difficulty settings it marks out locations with pending activities. Exploration can still be irritating, however, due to an unnecessarily complicated town layout (a large portion of which can only be reached by rappelling down from a balcony and crossing many derelict yards), and the order of quests, which force you to make this and other lengthy trips again, and again, and again.
Based in the verdant Appalachians, Maple Creek is predictably scenic, and the richly coloured, tastefully drawn screens showcase this appeal, albeit in a dark, gloomy way. Snooping around endangers you to some gasp-worthy moments, and the game consistently sustains a creepy tension. This undercurrent of terror is augmented by the soulful piano-and-cello soundtrack and ambient noises like the creaking of damaged buildings, tolling of church bells and the pounding of the protagonist’s heart. Some segments are voiced, like the animated cutscenes and certain conversations, and the performances are competent, barring one character whose weird hamming grates on the nerves. The onscreen text itself is crisp and easily understandable despite a few typos.
The main adventure wraps up with a cliffhanger that paves the way for a sequel, while the Collector’s Edition bonus play provides a prequel set decades earlier. The hour-long extension traces a past investigation into the case, and ties up some crucial loose ends of the main game even as it tears apart its unpleasant yet somewhat acceptable explanation with a centuries-old secret that ups the ante for the next episode by several notches in one fell swoop. Maple Creek of yore is depicted in hazy, rose-tinted shades, and it's delightful to compare the town then with its current iteration, though it has barely evolved over time. The music is sweeter – soothing almost – but the sense of doom is no less oppressive as you uncover clue after morbid clue. The gripping story bolsters the chapter’s easy gameplay, which features an abridged environment, basic inventory quests, five well-designed but simple puzzles, and five hidden object screens again visited three times each. And though you already know the ill-fated conclusion of the case, the finale is nevertheless gut-wrenching to witness.
A casual adventure that keeps you guessing till the end is rare; rarer still is a CE expansion that thickens the plot instead of scraping out a few extra minutes of play. Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek is a fabulously extruded mystery, and the bonus chapter is essential if you wish to learn the real secret (and trust me, if you like tense, twisted tales, you will). A few more, and tougher, puzzles would have upped the overall challenge, but the unsettling creepiness of the quaint rural town, the baffling mutterings of the peculiar townsfolk and some genuine frights embellish the intriguing story and smart production enough to create a chilling experience that will definitely haunt you even after the credits roll.Continued on the next page...
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC