February 9, 2011

Review: Treasure Seekers: The Time Has Come: Collector's Edition

game format: casual hidden object adventure

puzzles: inventory | logic

playtime: 6 hours | difficulty: easy | size: 300 MB

publisher: Big Fish Games | developer: Artogon Studios | links: buy this game

Treasure Seekers: The Time Has Come
game brief: The time has come for Nelly and Tom to stop a potential catastrophe and save the world in Treasure Seekers: The Time has Come! With new powerful devices, such as the Ring of Time and the X-Glass, Nelly and Tom must go on their most exciting adventure yet! Is Totenkraft really as evil as they previously thought? (Official site)

review: Read my review @ Adventure Gamers®.

This review is a part of the 'Casual Collection: January 2011 New Releases' article.

Artogon's Treasure Seekers series, featuring the brother-sister duo of Tom and Eleanor (aka Nelly) Lonsdale, debuted as a hidden object game sprinkled with a few puzzles. Its watershed year was 2009, when the sequel was released. The Enchanted Canvases seamlessly integrated hidden object searches, inventory management and logic puzzles with an engaging story, superb production quality and lengthy, tight gameplay, establishing itself among the pioneers of casual adventures. The fourth installment, The Time Has Come, is rather topical, being based on the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world. It's March 2012, and übervillain Totenkraft, a veteran of the series, stands atop a rain-swept rooftop, declaring his plans to unleash himself on the unsuspecting denizens of the planet. Just then, the scene shifts to 1932, to a French news report about Nelly having decoded a Mayan stone forecasting doomsday, then pans to Totenkraft stalking her as she window-shops in Paris. A month later, Tom learns that Nelly is missing, and with nary a thought for his poor hamster, sets out on a quest to save his sister.

Not content with such a simple premise, the developers have piled several adventure game staples into the story: the Templars, the Crusades, dead knights, living demons, politically-correct vegan sacrifices, the Holy Grail (yes, the Holy Grail), time travel, actual travel (Paris, Jerusalem, Scotland, Mexico and a parallel universe, if we include the Collector’s Edition bonus chapter), plus a Star Wars-style finale – it’s all there, linked to the ‘Great Catastrophe’ of the world colliding with an asteroid. But while Totenkraft fine-tunes his world domination plans, Tom’s life is an endless nightmare of locked doors, lost keys, stuck panels and dark rooms. But he chips away diligently at crumbling plaster and choked chimneys, flitting between the past, present and future with dizzying alacrity using a magical ring. In theory, time travel can be a potent tool if wielded correctly, but here it’s reduced to a mechanism to locate banal inventory items. (Um, need tomatoes for the soup – I mean, the sacrifice? Let’s go back 700 years and get them!) To be fair, it’s visually interesting to compare scenes then and now – for example, a statue outside a church in the past is now reverentially enclosed in a small chapel of its own – but because the locations are so isolated and the difference is mostly in aging, not modernization, it’s not even always clear which era Tom is in (not that it matters to the plot).

Despite its time travel, the game is very linear, as Tom must solve a specific sequence of inventory-related tasks in order to proceed. Sometimes only one item is needed, but many puzzles require a combination of several objects together. These are displayed in rings around the puzzle, so you don’t actually have to think about what’s required, merely find the necessary items. Single item quests are stretched further with gratuitous interactivity, as they must often be assembled from parts lying next to each other. There is also repeated hacking at foliage, brushing off dust and hammering things, not to mention tapping an egg several times to crack it. On the easier difficulty setting, interactive items are either tagged on mouse-over or highlighted with a ‘hand’ cursor. Both the easy and advanced modes have a rechargeable hint option which gives you further assistance if needed. Some items can only be found through traditional hidden object searches, but this episode lacks its predecessors’ discretion in stocking such screens – a church shed hides a propeller and a crash helmet amongst other generic items – which reduces its credibility. There are a couple of interesting additions to the basic formula, however. The first, an X-Ray glass, can ‘see’ objects literally hidden underground, behind walls, inside storage units, and even in another era. Besides breaking the monotony of object searches, it moves the story forward by revealing mission-critical items that require toggling between the past and the present. The second is the need to perform actions like moving aside curtains and opening boxes to find items or meet certain requirements. The few standalone puzzles are extremely simple for the most part, though any can be skipped. Among them are jigsaws, directing light rays with crystals, trial-and-error sequencing games, and pattern-painting. Notable exceptions are a logic-and-inventory puzzle that requires making crystals to decode a map, and another that involves alternating between day and night to solve.

The action is all set against decent looking scenes with standard animation – some dust motes, a few swinging censers and chains, a bit of falling water here and there – though there are occasional moments of brilliance, such as when an hourglass turns day into night for the first time. The music is similarly good but not special, though there’s no voice acting of any kind, including during cutscenes. Thankfully, what appears at first to be the game’s Achilles Heel – its inexplicable story hurtling towards ridiculous with each new revelation – suddenly snaps into gear, doing a u-turn just short of doom to wrap up with a genuinely clever twist. This leads to the most interesting part of the game, the ‘secret’ bonus play available only in the Collector’s Edition that’s unlocked once the main quest is over. It allows players to roam a limbo-like alternate universe as the three key characters, and as the world reshapes itself around them to reflect their professions, they must work in turn and in sync to escape it. This small but sharply designed segment is a gratifying reward, though it does earn The Time Has Come the dubious distinction of being grossly outclassed by its own extra. The main adventure certainly isn’t bad, as it’s ambitious in scope and substantial in length; it’s just a little too bloated with story clichés and gameplay filler for its own good, at times making you wonder if the time to finish will ever come.

This is an original review written by me and owned by Adventure Gamers®. Please do not distribute / adapt the text and images in any way without written consent from Jack Allin, Editor-In-Chief, AG.