Still on the search for a cracking puzzle game to tide me over until the next Professor Layton dramafest, I picked up a pre-owned copy of “Hidden Mysteries: Salem Secrets – Witch Trials of 1692” by GSP. It had good reviews elsewhere (when will I ever learn?) and it looked sufficiently different plot-wise to pique my interest.
You arrive in Salem to investigate the disappearances of four girls, only to find that the entire town has shut itself up and there’s no-one to help you. And this is where the major problem with the game arises: in any other puzzler like this, you’d go and talk to people to try and get an idea of where you have to go next and what you need to do. Not here; there are no clues, which tends to leave you blundering about rather a lot. The little booklet that comes with the game doesn’t explain much either, to such an extent that towards the end of the game I discovered a hints option hidden on a menu screen that isn’t even mentioned in the guide. It might have made things easier earlier on, but long before then I’d resorted to a walkthrough (something I usually avoid using at all costs because it always feels like cheating).
In terms of the puzzles, you have reasonably standard hidden object games, some logic puzzles and some that I have absolutely no idea how you’re meant to solve without the walkthrough (unless you’ve psychically discovered the hints menu right at the beginning and even then, I’m not so sure). Puzzle games are great if you know what the rules of the puzzle are, but far too often in this game you’re left dangling as none of them are explained. I’m still not sure how, as a character with no knowledge of witchcraft, I was supposed to figure out what to do to release the second girl from her ensorcellment, or know what the components of a spell recipe are. But then, I’m not sure how I should know which way the town’s apothecary likes their shelves arranging, either. Part of this isn’t helped by the tiny graphics on the DS’ upper screen, but this isn’t true in all cases. If you do get utterly fed up, there is a skip button which allows you to bypass the puzzles, which on one occasion I did actually use because even with the walkthrough and the hints menu, I still had no idea what I was supposed to do.
Other platforms’ version of this game apparently have a map, which would have been really useful, given that until I caved in and found the walkthrough, I was convinced there were only two streets in the town. There are no arrows to show you possible directions for investigation, leaving you randomly tapping bits of the screen just to see if there’s a hidden footpath somewhere. On top of that, the game does a stunning Michael Crichton and just stops all of a sudden, even though the on-screen dialogue suggests there should be something more.
All in all, it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, this game. The atmosphere is spooky and the storyline not that bad, but a few suspicious townsfolk to guide you on your way would have given it a huge boost in terms of both tone and playability. Maybe if I’d found the hint menu earlier, I wouldn’t have felt so flummoxed. But because of that frustration, I’m not willing to go back and give it another go just to see.
And so, the hunt for the perfect puzzle game continues…
If you walk around my flat bare-footed, crap will get stuck to your feet.
I don’t mean literal crap – I’m not that slovenly – but it will start with maybe a little dust mote. Then maybe a feather from the pillows. Then a bit of stray leaf that blows in from outside. With me, I’ve become so used to it that it doesn’t at all surprise me when I look down and find next door’s cat halfway up my shin.
Imagine my surprise when I came across Beautiful Katamari, a game that has successfully encapsulated my domestic inanities.
OK, when I say ‘surprise’, I’m lying a bit. Katamari is almost as old as that thing where you go to step out of someone’s way but then you both move to the right and end up doing this stupid little dance thing until one of you finally crouches into the foetal position and cries “OH GOD STOP”. Much like people do when I start talking. But I spotted Beautiful Katamari in the local game store and was urged to buy it by the nearest member of staff after I confessed to once playing early installment Katamari Damacy.
For those of you that don’t know, the idea behind any Katamari game is that you roll a sticky ball around brightly-coloured dynamic environments in order to pick up items that are smaller than you, thus creating a ball with an infinitely larger diameter. It’s a harder task than you imagine, especially when you roll yourself merrily towards a Dayglo anime Thermos and then bounce viciously off of it because you didn’t realise you were smaller than it.
Just like having to pick bulb filaments out of my heel every so often, Beautiful Katamari is a little bit frustrating. The gameplay is actually fun – they could have just stuck the same formula (small member of Royalty rolls ball around) into different locations (supermarket, cafe, City centre, S&M dungeon) but they’ve added innovative twists to the later stages. For instance, you have to recreate the planet Mars, and in order to do so you need to roll up enough hot items to reach a certain temperature in a world peppered with spicy sauce and jalapeno pizzas as well as snowmen and fire extinguishers.
The most unforgivable thing in the world – sadly – is one of the main characters. The story is that the King of All Cosmos, an overzealous megalomaniac with a penchant for phallic headwear was playing tennis with his wife one day, until he managed to crack a hole in the bloody sky and lose most of the heavenly bodies in it. As the mute Prince, you have to do Daddy’s bidding and gather a bundle of objects together to recreate the planets.
This would be fine if King Purpletights would just leave you alone. The screens are already packed full: what with 3D yogurt pots and crayons flying about and the Prince and his ball smack in the middle, the last thing you’d want is some giant speech bubble obstructing your view. But oh, Big Daddy King is all too happy to oblige when it comes to giving you what you don’t want. And Heaven forfend you start rolling without him: he launches into a tirade of anger, finishing with “We are NOT speaking to you!”. Which would make you cheer, only as soon as you turn a corner, he feeds you an obscure Star Trek quote and insults your abilities.
Despite my whingeing, I’m really enjoying the game and am actually going back to re-play levels – something I haven’t done since Arkham Asylum. It’s part puzzle, part roaming platformer, and a hell of a lot more fun that picking Christmas tree needles out of your toes.