September 1, 2009

Review: Treasure Seekers II: The Enchanted Canvases

game format: casual hidden object adventure

puzzles: hidden objects | inventory | jigsaws | numericals | logicals | mouse control | object matches | misc

playtime: 15 - 20 hours without walkthrough | difficulty: challenging

publisher: Bigfish Games | developer: Artogon Games

links: Buy this game!  |  Strategy Guide

Treasure Seekers II: The Enchanted Canvases
game brief: Help Nelly find and save her brother from a mysterious Romanian castle! Dive into the castle’s magical pictures and discover the secrets of the Philosophers’ Stone. (Official website)

review: Calling this game ‘casual’ or even a ‘hidden object game’ borders on criminal understatement; it is by far the most activity-packed, logically-sound, graphically brilliant game I’ve played in this genre. TSII blows away the competition of the formula HOG-adventures flooding the market, romping home with a 5/5 for: solid storylines from start to end, overall and chapter-wise; complete relevancy of hidden items to their situations; puzzles that are diverse in both design and difficulty and yet tightly integrated with the story; extremely-detailed, spectacular screens and special effects; and smooth, bug-free, typo-free development.

It is the longest game I’ve played in this genre: given that the game is super-intuitive and each task / puzzle leads directly to the next, it still offers 15-20 hours of pure game-play that constantly challenges. There are literally hundreds of things to do, and amazingly, none of it involves bleary-eyed screen-gazing for staplers in ancient Egypt.

The game is a sequel to Treasure Seekers – Visions of Gold, which I’ve unfortunately not played yet. This edition starts when young adventurer Nelly gets a letter from her brother Tom, asking her to join him at Totenkraft Castle to discover the Philosopher’s Stone, the coveted elixir of life. Nelly takes the next train to the Romanian castle, but Tom is missing by the time she reaches, and she is confronted by a wall with mysterious, enchanted paintings instead.

Thereafter Nelly must explore the 6 paintings, each of which is a gateway to locations ranging from desolate fishing villages to magical castles and dangerous forests. There, she has to save various unfortunate entities – ghosts, werewolves and genies - to discover Tom’s fate, and possibly, the Stone.

The game is primarily hidden object retrieval, but it stays firmly away from the laundry lists of generic clipart that ail this genre. Each screen packs several quest items which are activated at different times as parts of different tasks. The items are intelligently integrated into the screens – relevant, yet distinct. The screens aren’t flat backgrounds - they have ‘depth’ and changes to items and scenario elements persist, and often aid, following tasks. This superior level of interactivity elevates the game from being a HOG to being, well, an adventure game.

Nelly’s journey is interspersed with mini-games covering virtually every type of puzzle from jigsaws to match-objects/patterns to logical/spatial/numerical exercises. These blend well into the storyline – a pipe game to fix a jammed water wheel, for example, or catching fireflies that had once been just ‘beautiful scenery’. There is a fair amount of simple inventory action spanning multiple screens. The game provides a broad Task List which helps in case the next to-do is unclear.

There are two game-play modes – Casual and Advanced. The Casual mode has ‘Hint’ and ‘Skip Puzzle’ charging faster, and quicker illumination of the next collectable item (not sure what this means, the game says so). The Advanced mode is for expert players.

Playing Advanced, I used Hint only thrice, each time because I was in a rush, not because anything was unclear. Skip Puzzle in Advanced takes a couple of minutes to load, so it’s not a drag; there’s no point playing this game unless one intends to spend a minute or two trying to solve a puzzle. I finished most puzzles in under two minutes, and had no need to skip any even without external walkthroughs.

The art is fantastic. Each segment starts with a well-drawn mini-movie. The 50-odd unique screens each have subtle, realistic effects like creeping insects, fluttering candlelight, drizzling water, swaying leaves, etc. And then there are the spectacular special effects, like the lighting of the Hell’s Eye magnifying glass, the swaying of the ship en-route to the Storm Temple, the release of the ghost from Vampire Castle, and the revelation of each of the five gems in the last level, to name a few. And let’s not forget the day / night concept in the Vampire Woods: novel, yet tightly worked into the story.

The music and sound effects support the art perfectly, building ambience without jarring, and have their own subtle moments, like the vampire’s retro mood music and the seriously creepy, mad banging of the hold in the fisherman’s hut, revealing... well, open to find out!

Nelly as a heroine is intelligent and considerate, and firm with her antsy supporting cast. Tom has little to contribute, and hopefully we’ll see more of him in the next part. Speaking of which, I cannot wait!

PS: A shoutout to the Artogon dev team for the cute Easter Egg of their smiley-logo revealed by the Hell’s Eye in the morbid rustic church – it was definitely the ‘awww’ moment of this cool, cool game.

g@mrgrl rating: 5/5

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