Don’t forget to write a salty headline for Dark Parables: Return of the Salt Princess

The most frustrating thing about Blue Tea Games/Eipix new release at Big Fish Games, “Dark Parables: Return of the Salt Princess,” is that the game itself is absolutely beautiful. The scenes are stunningly detailed and rendered with a mystic atmosphere. The items are baroque in their design and feel like true relics of a long past, rich kingdom. The jewels sparkle, the metals gleam, and each sprite seems lovingly crafted to be a stand-alone image. What makes this frustrating is that the game, itself, is terribly dull.

I dig the premise, as I have said before, fairy tales are kind of my thing, so while some story paths are well worn, “Return of the Salt Princess,” is a nice change. After a relatively impressive opening sequence (at least for this genre) our first interaction with another character unfortunately reveals the corrosive underbelly of this magical world. The voice acting…is horrible. See the image below and picture the dialog depicted as being delivered in the same deadpan drone that your average convenience store cashier uses you to offer you a bag for your late night Certs and Funyuns 1:

There’s practically an entire house on you. Just a mo’.

Honestly, if the game would have allowed it, I would have left her there forever. The bland icing on the bland cake is that in the following scene after I have gone to the trouble to rescue her, she uses her “fire power” to blow up the rest of the rubble. The game anticipates an attentive player’s reaction of “why the f*** didn’t you just do that, then?” with a throw-away line of dialog to understand why the f*** she didn’t.

Some of the puzzles, as well, were more complicated than necessary. I’m all for leaving most of the instructions out of unusual puzzles, giving the player a chance to poke around and see what happens (“Madame Fate” is full of those), but when the puzzle, while beautiful, is so clouded in mystery that after five minutes of clicking the player gives up, more testing is needed. I’m not looking for simple game play, but I am looking for just enough feedback in a complicated puzzle (especially if it is the first in the game) to not flail around like some madman wearing magic bracelets.

This guy’s growling and grunting was the highlight of the voice acting. I felt, so, almost scared, a bit.

There was also a strange shifting of game continuity, with a cut scene happening far too early for it to be narratively dramatic. The scene, featuring ole’ Shaggy up there, happens as he attempts to abscond with the Salt Princess herself. You have to shoot him with an arrow (“ranged” weapon the text prompts) and that was fine, but all I had was the arrow; no bow. The scene appears to have been set up to check for the arrow, but not the crossbow. As the cut scene happens, I didn’t have the cross bow because I missed the cuckoo figurine in the one statue base. Yet when I took that to unlock the bookcase in the alley, I only received the rabbit amulet and a goblet. Upon returning to the main square, I used the rabbit amulet on the wolf statue (since wolves love rabbits) and found the crossbow hidden within. Look at those sentences I just wrote. Look at them. All of that fetching happened while the thrilling music was playing and Shaggy, ever courteous, just stood by the precipice while I went through several steps to come kill him.

The map system is for visual purposes only (at least in the demo) no teleporting, so you rack up those steps on your imaginary Fit Bit. As I’ve already mentioned the terrible voice acting, take note that you will have¬†to talk to some of these characters to move the game along and one miss click or two can send you into a repetitious drab dialog hole.¬†These are not only critiques of this game, but problems across the genre and its a genre (as far as I know) that has fewer and fewer developers churning out new titles. Until there is desire (or money to be found) to shake up this style, we’re probably in for more of the same. The same game play, the same worn-out tropes, the same unnecessary back and forth collection to make up for the lack of story. Like I said in the beginning, this game is beautiful and shiny, though that only reflects its flaws much more clearly.

Get your errand-girl groove on with the fun Tales of Nebezem

Lost in a sea of adequate, but repetitive casual games from Big Fish, I decided to branch out a bit and look for some interesting games father afield. I’d been an avid player at Kongregate years ago and returned to see what was currently trending. Tales of Nebezem: The Golden Scepter was recommended to me early and it was spot on. This small RPG game was not only entertaining, but dang, it had a nice groove.

In fact, “Good Music” is one of the ways players have tagged Nebezem and trust me, it’s worthy of it. You play as Danu, a young girl in town who is quickly punished for having a big heart and a menace of a dog. To her credit, she only finds the dog at the start of the game, but the terrorizing terrier wreaks so much havoc so quickly she is immediately sent upon a quest(s) to make restitution to all of the injured neighbors. The collection trope is strong in Nebezem, but don’t let that dissuade you from playing. While every successive character may have a desire that Danu must fill to progress, the hopping music and easy game play make it difficult to stop playing this little gem. The game play is typical of an RPG game, though some of the puzzles are quite unique. I’ve yet to find the magical item that will make the chicken lay an egg, yet, if video games have taught me anything, getting a chicken to do something is damn near impossible.

Creator Beranek has also released a larger RPG game called Tales of Nezebem: Elemental Link. Set in the same world as the Kongregate game, this promises to be a much larger adventure, full of the same charm as the shorter game. After playing Golden Scepter I went ahead and purchased Elemental Link and look forward to playing and reviewing it soon.