My Catphone wants Salty Crust
HIGH Interesting premise.
LOW Salty pizza crusts and cats with tape on them.
WTF I really can't take the grate off that aquarium?
While point-and-click adventure games are experiencing something of a minor resurgence at the moment, the successful ones are all irreverent or outright farcical. If you ask me, it's the humor that carries these titles (not the gameplay) and I'd also say that nostalgia is playing a role. With this in mind, it begs the question: is there a place for new adventure games that take a more serious slant?
Secret Files: Tunguska tells the story of Nina Kalenkov, a woman on the search for her scientist father who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances. In addition to locating her father, Nina must solve the overarching mystery of an unexplained catastrophe which happened a hundred years in the past, and the appearance of mysterious ghostly figures only add to the intrigue.
The game starts off well enough and I was interested in the story. I can appreciate adventure games when they're done well, and the potential for a good yarn was here. However, things quickly went south and only got worse the further I went.
One of my pet peeves with the genre is that they're probably the most frustrating and infuriating titles around when the developers get out of hand with absurd solutions to puzzles. It's not that I expect to press a button and win the game, but there are limits to the kind of esoteric thinking and bizarre logic that I can put up with. Secret Files: Tunguska crosses that line early and often.
I had a feeling there were going to be issues based on the opening scene, but when I got to the third location in the game I couldn't stand it any longer. An example? At the risk of spoiling potential players, there's a part when Nina needs to speak to a man who refuses to leave his house. Rather than taking any kind of sensible action, Nina instead notices that the man owns a cat.
To solve this puzzle, Nina must put a pizza crust (cats eat pizza?) in the animal's dish. However, the cat doesn't chow down until salt has been added. Apparently, plain pizza crust isn't tasty enough on its own. Once the cat is thirsty from the salt, Nina takes a cell phone and tapes it to the cat. Transformed into a mobile surveillance device, the thirsty cat is apparently supposed to eavesdrop on the man inside the house as it travels to its water dish, but before that can occur, the cat runs up a tree. Of course, something needs to be done to get the cat out of the tree, etc. etc. etc…
I think it's clear to see where this is going.
I understand that ridiculously elaborate solutions to what would otherwise be incredibly simple problems is part and parcel of the traditional adventure game design, but that sort of gameplay doesn't engage me without a sense of humor to go along with it. I mean, the tasks the player is asked to do are complete nonsense, so without a laugh to help things along, the experience is reduced to a series of frustrating, illogical roadblocks.
To be fair, I don't think that Secret Files: Tunguska is a particularly egregious example of the genre's eccentricities. In fact, the game throws a number of bones to the player–little touches like highlighting every item onscreen that can be looked at or interacted with, or putting items to be combined adjacent to each other in the inventory screen. The developers apparently mean well, but at the same time, they are guilty of creating a title which embraces an outdated genre wholeheartedly, warts and all.
If you ask me, I'd rather have adventure games with silly puzzles that make me laugh or ones with solutions to problems that actually make some sort of sense. Tunguska finds itself in an uncomfortable middle ground that offers too much frustration with too little payoff, and I bailed long before seeing credits. Players who enjoy the adventure genre in its most traditional format will likely be pleased with Secret Files: Tunguska, but my take is that this type of approach is simply past its time.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Wii. Approximately 3.5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, mild suggestive themes, mild language, mild violence, and use of alcohol and tobacco. This game is obviously aimed at adults. Although I did not complete the title, the tone and mood of the characters and story are of a mature nature, and would not suit children.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You should be fine. The point-and-click nature of gameplay is extremely slow and methodical, and all dialogue is accompanied by subtitles. No problems here.