Madder Than A Mountain Full of Madness
Every now and again as you wander through your Friendly Local Games Store, you see something that makes you go “Eh?” quickly followed by “Noooo, they can’t have done” and “How in the blue blazes is that going to work?” (Or, you know, something along those lines). I had that very experience last weekend, when a tootle round Grainger Games revealed this intriguing oddity:
Yes, that is H.P. Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness. And yes, that is a jewel puzzle game. My one previous attempt at a jewel puzzle game ended badly, but this was something I just had to see…
At its heart, Mountains of Madness (well, this version anyway) is a hidden object and match-3 puzzle, with a bit of “figure out how to get the jewels out of ice/hideous statues of Elder Gods” action thrown in for good measure. It must be said, carrying out a hidden object search through the frozen corpses of hideously murdered Antarctic explorers isn’t something you’d want to do every day, but its certainly a new twist on the format (particularly when, if you click on said corpses, there are some pithy statements made about the poor person involved). One particular comment about a person trapped under an overturned sled looking a bit distressed made me laugh somewhat inappropriately (and he, at least, was still alive).
Some of the match-3 games are tricky, but not in a “throw your DS across the room in a fit of pique” way. Plus you earn tools that, once you figure out how to use them, can be tremendously useful in beating some of the harder puzzles. Although be warned: one of the tools lets you switch the colour of every stone on the board, which can actually put you in a worse position than the one you started in. You also earn trophies as you progress through the game, although it’s a bit idiosyncratic as to when it hands them out. I received the one for playing for three hours before I got the one for playing for two and I’m still waiting for the one you get for achieving 12 other trophies.
The story, as you would imagine, has been massively abridged and monkeyed with to make it fit the game format. Some of the translation leaves a lot to be desired, both in what some of the objects in the puzzles are called (I’m sorry, but a glass beer stein is not the same thing as a jar) and also in terms of the passages of narrative text, particularly at the end of the game where it all gets very confusing.
One of the main ways the game shines, though, is in the artwork. The backdrops for the puzzles are beautifully painted and very atmospheric. You’ll again get comedy comments if you click on certain items (“I wouldn’t want to meet the thing that posed for that statue!” etc) which shows that although their translation skills may be a bit duff, the designers have a very good eye and a sense of humour.
It’s a truly oddball thing, this game. I suspect hard-core devotees of Lovecraft will hate it because of what it’s done to the story, but it actually gives a little more interest to the proceedings. After all, if I hadn’t been bamboozled by the concept in the first place, I never would have bought it. And that would have been a real shame; it neither drove me mad nor reached new peaks of gaming experience, but it was fun and compelling and that’s pretty much all of what I ask for in a game.