August 14, 2009

Review: Youda Legend: The Curse of the Amsterdam Diamond

game format: casual hidden object adventure

puzzles: hidden objects | jigsaws | swaps | sliders | easy numericals | mouse control | object matches | misc

playtime: 2.5 hours without walkthrough | difficulty: easy

publisher: Bigfish Games | developer: Youda Games

links: Official site  |  Buy this game!  |  Strategy Guide

Youda Legend: Curse of the Amsterdam Diamondgame brief: The dark influence of an old curse still taunts the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Puzzling through old city mysteries and searching for clues, you might be on the biggest quest you have ever experienced. (Official website)

review: The story - the search for a cursed diamond - starts in Amsterdam’s Central Station, based on clues left by a stranger known only as W.v.d.D. The quest takes the player across the historic city, covering famous landmarks such as the Carre Theatre, the Maritime Museum, the Flower Market and the Rijksmuseum, as well as some unknown places such as an old organ repair shop, a simply titled ‘creepy place’, and underground canals and libraries.

The screens are excellently-drawn, with tasteful colours depicting various locations of Amsterdam, and are a pleasure to discover from level to level. However, the hidden objects remain at clipart level and are not relevant to the scenes except for the puzzle items. Very few HOG developers take the trouble to actually integrate the objects with the era / scene they are in, and this game also disappoints from that perspective – unfortunate, given the rest of the artwork and the overall superb production quality. On the good side, the objects are generally very easy to find and don’t require endless squinting at the screen and adjusting brightness / contrast / gamma / resolution / etc.

Besides locating hidden objects, which is the primary game format, the player has to do an entire gamut of puzzles, from jigsaws to sorting items, matching shapes and designs, drag-and-drop, sliders, swaps, and a few coordination pieces, where moving one part moves other parts. The puzzles range in difficulty from very easy to moderately challenging (the three keys, the flower market, the rings). There is one vague puzzle involving arranging alphabets, but that is an exception; all other puzzles are logical enough to understand and solve with reasonable ease, without consulting the hints.

I liked the small but attractive design touch of diamonds getting added to the screen frame and sparkling occasionally. They also help recharge the hint compass quickly, but since the game rarely required the compass, and also because nothing was time-based, I never used that option. I collected 165 diamonds, but the stats screen (accessible from the main menu) didn’t mention the total possible, so that didn’t allow for any success rating.

The dialogs moving the story forward and explaining the puzzles are short and utilitarian, but they are typo-free, and most importantly, blah-free. They keep the game moving efficiently, and are an example of how keeping it simple actually works.

Another great aspect of the game is its music – high quality and relevant to every scene. Some segments are good enough to be a part of a standalone instrumental soundtrack. This is definitely one of the rare casual games where the music goes beyond being a token addition to actually enhancing the playing experience.

The game is short side – my total time was only 2 hours and 30 minutes, despite taking it slow as I was writing the walkthrough simultaneously. This may be because the puzzles are mostly easy to understand and solve, and for a casual gamer, this is not really a bad thing, because the aim is to relax and enjoy the game, and not crack the skull against the screen trying to figure out pre-Alexander Gordian knots.

I scored 246885 points, but in the absence of a scoring rationale or comparative high scores, could not make out if this was good or bad.

I have two reasons for not giving this game a better score: first, the absence of a clear backstory, the basic necessity of an adventure game - how did the player stumble upon this quest, and what was the big curse of the diamond? I suppose the developers thought EVERYONE already knew the lore of the Flying Dutchman (wikipedia), but completing recommended reading is not always a casual gamer's virtue, and this might leave a lot of players with a "huh, okay, so what's this about...?"

Second, I wish the developers had taken the time to choose objects that suited the scenes better – it would have elevated this game from superior to exceptional. Maybe next time :)

g@mrgrl rating: 3/5

This is an original review written by me. Please do not distribute / adapt the text and images in any way without my written consent.