So, the reviews mostly complained that it was a lightweight game (probably compared to the console ones) and sure, that might be true - I think the game is pretty short. BUT, for a DS title I was really impressed by how well it works and how much variety there is in the level design and how the progression of gameplay elements and challenge is rolled in slowly but deliberately.
Oh wow, this game is so much better and more interesting than I expected!
It's a legit Prince of Persia sands of time followup in that there are time-altering mechanics (you get the rewind pretty early, then there's a slow-down time, and there's one more I don't recall) and you have limited uses based on how much sand is in the dagger you have. So, like the same idea as the original PoP:Sands of time game!
Visually the game is pretty interesting as well - the art direction is stunning considering that the assets are all 3D and incredibly low-poly. Like, really, really pre-PS1 era style. But, so well made that they actually communicate things pretty effectively, and the action is super smooth, and animations flow well and...it just feels like a really nice game to play.
There's lots of levels, lots of variety between them - some are more puzzley, others more action oriented, and the game slowly introduces new mechanics and things, and isn't afraid to switch things up. There's a riding on your horse level of all things! (there might be more wild ones, but I only played about half the game) There's also a small progression system with upgrades you can buy to get more life bar, more sand, do more damage and change your outfit. You buy them with gems you find in the game - there are also often secret chests to locate - and as far as I can tell the game is pretty generous with gems and stuff.
What has impressed me the most about the game - in addition to its smooth gameplay, is how everything is done with the stylus and it works! You move, attack, duck, jump, etc. all with the stylus! Ubisoft really leaned into the (presumed) mandate of making the game an unique DS experience and they really did a great job with the controls here. I'm super impressed. I kind of want to look up reviews for the game just to see if this is a gem I missed? I'm guessing reviews will be kind of meh and perhaps complain that the game is too easy?
Ok, I checked and they're really mediocre! (metacritic is ~57!). I also learned the game came out on PS3, Xbox360, Wii and I guess every other platform out there. So much for me thinking it was a DS game - it turns out it's a weird handheld port? (still, the interface work is fantastic)
It definitely gives you a different perspective to play a bunch of same-genre games pretty close to each other in terms of time. For some reason I thought this one was a match-3 game, but it's actually a hidden object+puzzle game.
Different titles seem to lean more into the hidden object aspects - with slightly larger scenes and a longer list of things to find, while others downplay the hidden object aspects with a greater balance, in terms of time spent, on different kinds of puzzles.
PopCap is (was, at the time) one of the bigger players in this space and I assume this DS title is simply a port from a PC version which probably also existed as a web-portal game (remember those?). That being said, it really is a head above some of the other games I've played in terms of the quality of the scenes/art but also in the addition polish - there's characters and art for them and writing that isn't terrible, and, for players who really cared about these things (not saying I don't) this would have represented a real bonus.
According to the back of the box the story is exclusive to the DS version! (implying the existence of other versions) Wow, that's interesting - and I wonder who they thought their audience on the DS was? I assumed younger kids possibly more girls than boys?
Each scene, in addition to a single page list of items, has two secret objects (a glyph and a mask) and I appreciated the hint system - it's on a time so you don't spam, but it's also a little bit more vague than I expected. When you tap on the hint button you see what I interpreted as a "rough" circle of stars that glitter - the map also slides over to the location. I assumed that meant the hidden object was in that part of the screen - but this wasn't always the case. It was close, but not necessarily right there.
Once you clear a hidden object scene you have to play/solve an additional puzzle/game - put together a jigsaw, spot the difference between two pictures, a memory game, a strange mah-jonhg type match the tiles, and a sliding puzzle game. Fortunately I never played the sliding puzzle one, I'm not a huge fan of those for me personal enjoyment.
I didn't finish the entire game, but a few hours were enough for me to feel like I'd seen enough. The game does have some secret surprises if you get high scores and stuff like that - but I can't be bothered to be honest.
I don't know where I heard about this game - but I've been playing it for a few hours (almost 8 hours in) and, it's interesting, fun...and nicely chaotic.
I'm also having a hard time describing it - it's sort of a rogue-like village builder where the main source of randomness comes from the contents of card packs you buy that are resources for you to play the game. So, you buy a back and it has a berry bush, and then you put a villager card on top of it - and the villager picks berries from the bush (a limited amount, then the bush card disappears).
There's a natural progression as you move from more basic resources (getting wood from trees) to creating buildings (that are all created by putting a villager on top of a stack of the requisite recourse cards).
The main source of challenge in the game is that you need to have enough food for the villagers to eat at the end of each day(?) cycle. Also, occasionally you'll run into enemies - and you need to fight them - and your villagers can die here as well. When a villager dies you get a corpse card (stack two and you build a graveyard, which you can then send a villager in to explore - which means that cards found will pop-out, and so on.
The game is definitely rogue-like in that everytime you play you're starting from scratch, there are no permanent boosts or improvements. What does remain from playthrough to playthrough is the knowledge you've uncovered about the different cards - for example, how to create planks. THese formula you can either obtain (in the beginning they'll sometimes pop-out of packs as "idea" cards) or discover by experimenting. I found a few of these just by trying out different stacks of cards.
At this point I've had a complete (successful) run of the game (on the middle difficulty level) and I've also discovered all the cards (there's a card-o-pedia that lists all of them with "?" for those you haven't found or figured out. There's no overall score, so there's no particular reason to play again at the same level of challenge - but I might anyways just to see how things do. My current "winning" run involved me having a stack of chickens that would pop out a lot of eggs I'd cook into omelettes. It got kind of crazy there for a moment! In previous runs I've had multiple cows - they drop milk cards every now and then, and so on.
It's interesting (makes sense in terms of complexity) that there are things you cannot do - for example while you can create new chicken cards (stack a chicken and an egg) you can't create a new cow card (afaik). And, the randomness of the packs means that you might not see certain resources (e.g. potatoes were non-existent until I'd already beat the run and was just playing to find new cards)!
One of the things I like is that the game feels quite tactile - you have to drag and drop the cards on each other and while you can "kind of" optimize some stuff (like put a chest under the spot where you drag cards to sell them, with the resulting coin cards landing on the chest and going inside automatically instead of just lying on the board), generally - it does end up kind of messy as a board (it zooms out when you have more cards) - combat also messes things up - with the enemy cards sort of hopping around and moving stuff. Same with wild animals (before you have a pen to put them in).