April 11, 2011

Review: Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart: Collector's Edition

game format: casual hidden object adventure

puzzles: inventory | logic

playtime: 4 hours | difficulty: easy | size: 180 MB

publisher: Big Fish Games | developer: Inertia Game Studios

Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart Collectors Edition
game brief: Deep in the English countryside, Edwina Margrave has returned to the cottage where her parents died, eager to speak with the one person who might shed light on the tragedy – the volatile landlady, Miss Thorn. But her shocking revelations are not what Edwina expected! Enlist the aid of the spirit world and evade the wrath of a disfigured beast as you explore this heart-breaking game! (Official site)

review: Read my review @ Adventure Gamers®.

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

In Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart, Edwina Margrave is finally returning to the village where her parents mysteriously died fifteen years earlier. Upon her arrival, she is welcomed back to her childhood home by Elize Thorn, the nanny who cared for her in her youth. An old letter reveals that her parents were investigating the lore of the severed heart, according to which anyone who murders another person shall forever haunt the mortal world as a remorseful spirit. Edwina must unlock the five magical barriers called shadowlocks scattered around the heavily fortified but now abandoned village to unravel the mystery of what really happened to her parents. But when the only other living person around also claims to be Ms. Thorn, Edwina is forced to grapple with the rapidly blurring lines between the real and the supernatural, confronting a truth that's not only unbelievable, but also rather unpleasant. Fortunately, this ghost story remains grounded in reality, and at the end of four-odd hours it emerges a rare winner in a genre that all too often forgets to add a touch of heart to the procession of shiny screens cluttered with random artifacts.

This third game in Inertia Game Studios' Margrave series features the detailed, hand-drawn art that's now a casual game staple. The rural locations include Ms. Thorn's cottage, an orchard, a barn, a ruined church and the dilapidated village, though they aren't all uniformly spooky; some are calm and some even pleasant. Animation covers the usual falling leaves, dripping water, and fluttering butterflies, but some small touches like a torn lace curtain flapping in a shattered window and a strangely huffing-and-puffing water pump add subtle drama. The music loops are well-adapted to the moody setting, and the songs – the title track and another ditty sung by a ghost trio of a cat, a bird and a squirrel, pleading the case of a girl driven insane by remorse – are unique and entertaining. The most appealing aspect of the production, however, is the extensive use of voice acting. Every character, living and dead, human and animal, speaks aloud in varying British accents. Edwina's voiceover is stellar and allows her youthful personality to shine through, ranging in tone from irreverent to shocked and distraught when her world begins to crumble around her. Her comments on interactive items and situations enliven the game, and often add an unusual dimension to many scenes by her descriptions of how they smell.

This game is more an actual adventure (albeit a lite, linear one) than the series' previous two straightforward hidden object excursions. The nine hidden object screens here are spread sparsely across the game world, and each is used twice, yielding an inventory item per search. The attractively-animated standalone puzzles include jigsaws, pattern matches and variations of the pipes game. None are difficult, and several are repeated many times, such as playing the piano from sheet music and divining the names of characters using Edwina's dream cards – an unusual and creative minigame based on matching geometric symbols. One puzzle demands a bit of hand-eye coordination to zap ladybugs with animated birds. The inventory-based puzzles, however, form the backbone of the game, requiring forty-odd items to be collected and used. Objects can remain in inventory for hours, and you'll often need the sketches Edwina makes of unusual patterns to use them correctly. Unfortunately, the game is marred by an awful amount of mindless backtracking, as hidden object screens and collectable items may be activated anywhere and anytime, with zero indication. This can give the impression of being stuck without ever encountering a real problem, and hinders the otherwise logical gameplay to the point of irritation.

The Collector's Edition includes a bonus segment, "The Blacksmith's Revenge", in which Edwina returns to the town after two years to break the curse of the severed heart, which Cyclopean blacksmith Oban has cast upon the village in retaliation for the murders of his wife and daughter. This short but well-designed extra comprises more of the same kind of gameplay, including a variation of the shadowlocks puzzle and a challenging new edition of pipes, plus a useful inventory companion for Edwina named Afi. Most importantly, it also offers a bittersweet end to the story with the timeless messages of love and forgiveness. This chapter doesn't add anything to the storyline of the main game, which stands completely on its own, so those who choose the standard version won't feel shortchanged in any way. Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart falls just short of achieving true greatness due to some repetitive puzzles and annoying backtracking, but its ambition and effort to break the glass ceiling between hidden object and traditional adventure games is obvious and well-appreciated. As such, it's highly recommended for any connoisseur of the genre who'd like to rediscover the pleasure of playing a supernatural tale well-told.

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.