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Back October 27th, 2014 Forward
Game Review: "Mysteries and Nightmares: Morgiana"

Game Genre: Hidden Object
Plot Genre: Fantasy
Producers/Creators: Wild Tangent Games, Little Gaming Company
Cost: 4 WildCoins to play (68c Australian based on 50 WildCoins for $8.50)

Gameplay: The "hidden object" genre of games tends toward two extremes of gameplay. On the one hand, there's the games where you're going to be led by the nose from plot point to plot point, with very clear instructions all along the way. On the other hand, there's the games where "what should I do next" is as obscure as all get-out, and where the gamer spends a lot of time clicking wildly on just about anything in frame in the optimistic hope of finding out what they should be doing now. "Mysteries and Nightmares: Morgiana" fits itself extremely firmly into the latter category.

You're given a couple of general hints on whether there's something you need to be doing in a particular scene in the gargoyles which support either side of your inventory tray - if their eyes are glowing, there's something you can do here. Trust me, you will NEED those gargoyle hints, because the actual "hint" hint itself is about as vague as a political promise from a candidate who is seeking broad-base support from a rather apathetic electorate[1]. The "map" function also proves helpful here - learn to love the map, you're going to be referring to it a lot.

Why are you going to be referring to the map a lot? Well, unlike other games of this type, if you're in a room where you can't do anything at the moment, clicking on the hint will merely get you the information either that you can't do anything at present, or you've completed all the tasks in that room. Given you get that information from the gargoyles, this is no help whatsoever (other games of this type will at least let the hint button point you backwards out of the room). On the map, however, you are able to discover that a room you entered about five, ten, or fifteen pages back has something you can complete (and it allows you to jump directly to that room, rather than walking there the long way) which will, hopefully, trigger other options elsewhere. Or at least let you complete a hidden object puzzle to find the mcguffin which will allow you to move on to the next plot point.

Your tasks and notes are kept in the notebook, accessible through clicking on your heroine's portrait in the upper left corner of the screen - the number below the portrait is the number of outstanding tasks you have waiting to be completed. As per genre rules, the resolution of one or more of these tasks is tied up together. Unlike other examples of this genre, you aren't able to access your previously completed tasks, or your notes on previous sections of the plot.

In the actual hidden object sections, there's a pleasing lack of the "disguise things as other things" visual trope which tends to bedevil some examples of the genre[2] - instead all the player has to contend with is the challenge of knowing what to look for. For example, when the list of objects says "bow", do they mean "bow as in Hawkeye or Green Arrow's weapon-of-choice (longbow)" or do they mean "bow as in loopy knot (bow tie/ribbon bow)"? This is a pretty common thing in the genre, and is (for me) the cause of at least some swearing when, after spending ages chasing down everything else on the list, I eventually click on a hint and get taken to something I've been looking right at, but know by a different name. This is basically the developers exploiting a bug (or possibly a feature) of the English language, and it's pretty genre-typical.

Plot and Tropes: Okay, we have an amnesiac heroine who has been captured from their home and dumped down in a decrepit castle and has to figure out who she is, what she's supposed to do, and how to get home. There are magical talking animals (well, one talking mouse), magical wands, and whole heaps of creepy statues, skeletons, and torn tapestries all over the place. The furniture doesn't talk, fortunately.

Essentially, it's a story which is about sisterhood and rivalry. The female characters are so generic they just about come plain wrapped (one dark haired, red-eyed, pale-skinned evil princess who wears dark red; one blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned good ditto, wearing pink), there's only one masculine speaking role (the aforementioned talking mouse) and the resolution of this plot is rather hackneyed and hasty - it's as though the writers basically got told "we need a four hour storyline - no more, no less" and when they reached the four hour mark, it got chopped off short. It's a pity, in some ways, because there were some interesting plot hooks which could have yielded some fascinating developments had they been further examined (for example: we're told using magic sends the users insane; one of the things the player character is required to do on a regular basis is to use magic to achieve certain effects...).

Effects: There were some animated cut-scenes, and some reasonable voice acting, although the accent tended to wander around a bit (trying for English, occasionally drifting to northern USA). The voice actors at least did appear to be acting, rather than reciting things blankly off the page, so that was a nice change; also the CGI scenes didn't veer too far into the uncanny valley space.

Overall: It was interesting, but not that interesting, and the frustratingly opaque nature of the gameplay really did decrease my enjoyment of the game. Compared against other games of the genre, I'd give it three out of ten for gameplay, six out of ten for plot, and five out of ten for effects.


[1] You know the ones - "We may well do some unspecified thing at some unspecified time provided it doesn't annoy anyone too much".
[2] If you've ever played a hidden object game where the ruler or pencil you're supposed to find is disguised as part of a ceiling beam, you know sort of stuff I'm referrring to here.

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