lea_hazel: Angry General Elodie (Genre: Games)
[personal profile] lea_hazel
I've written before about the Dark Parables series of hidden object games. They're great games and I revisit them pretty regularly, especially since I started them out by buying the standard editions and was quickly converted to the more expensive collector's editions, which contain an impressive amount of additional content. I still haven't completed my collection, which means I haven't played all of the bonus games. Since my PC crashed and burned in March and I'm operating on a new laptop, I decided it was time to get back to the games again. New installments of Dark Parables come out reliably once or twice a year, and there had been two new games released since I'd last checked.

In fact, I learned when I was looking for information about the new games that the Dark Parables series has reverted to Blue Tea Games, the studio that created the first seven installments in the series (including most of my personal favorites). For a while it had been under the auspices of Eipix, another producer of hidden object puzzle games, and some fans were ambivalent (or less than ambivalent) about perceived shifts in tone and quality. I shared some of that ambivalence after playing Eipix's The Little Mermaid and the Purple Tide, and especially Queen of Sands. Replaying the games these past few weeks has given me a different perspective on the matter and, on the whole, I'm pleased with the current development.

Reportedly, Eipix is sharing some of the code for their additional game features with Blue Tea. This is a blessing, because the first thing that I noticed when I finished playing Purple Tide was that Eipix had added a mechanic that allowed the player to go back once completing the main run of the game, and catch all the bonus hidden objects that they had missed. While the themed bonus objects were less fun to me than BTG's "cursed objects" that morphed from one shape to another, and I missed the added time to the hint button that they provided, having a trophy room and achievement screen was mostly worth the trade.

Not that BTG hadn't been ready to experiment with their games. Their signature feature, the collected parables that tell the backstory of each game's plot, were not added until the second game in the series, The Exiled Prince. Replaying The Curse of Briar Rose in its extended version, I could easily see all of the refinements that they had added to their gameplay features over the course of seven installments. This applies particularly to the bonus stories. Briar Rose provides a "bonus room" that gives a few hints about the connection between the first and second games, not all which which panned out when Exiled Prince came around. The eponymous Prince, James, is still the brother-in-law of Briar Rose via her sister, Ivy, but the flood plot tied to his curse disappeared somewhere in editing.

Briar Rose is still a good and very playable game, but there's an obvious disparity of quality compared to later chapters, like The Red Riding Hood Sisters or The Ballad of Rapunzel. The art is beautiful but slightly too desaturated, making the hidden object puzzles comparatively frustrating, even when the pieces of the clues are drawn in a style so recognizable to me that I can start picking them out of the background before I've looked to check what it is I'm putting together. You see some of the effect in this LP video.

The Dark Parables stories have gradually become more elaborate, but looking at the more recent games I wonder if some of them aren't too elaborate. The twist behind Snow Queen alters the course of the plot, but still hits all the basic story beats. In Purple Tide, the story of the little mermaid is relegated to the background, as part of the curse laid on her father and four sisters. Meanwhile "Goldilocks" from Goldilocks and the Fallen Star is Princess Leda, a woman with Midas-like powers, and any connection to bears is frankly shoehorned. Queen of Sands does slightly better, but the title gives no hint of Eric and Brianne reenacting the tale of Beauty and the Beast.

I'm looking forward to see how Blue Tea develop their mythology in the next game, but it's obvious to me that the games are much more enjoyable with the gameplay features that Eipix added. Having a map of the game that allows me to actually navigate through it saves on a lot of the backtracking and wandering that I did the first couple of times that I played Briar Rose. True, there's a comprehensive game guide freely available that can solve that problem, but that's less satisfying than getting an immediate hint, at least to me. I do hope for the return of the cursed objects as well as the trophy rooms. There are only so many bonus collectibles that a single game can support, at least in theory, but I like them a lot and I'd prefer more rather than fewer of them.

Crossposted to hazelgold.net.

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