Overall Score 88%
Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal
The Magical Realm is in danger. Magic is leaving the land, and no-one knows why. The King, fearing its total disappearance, orders that all magic is gathered up and stored in an artefact known as the Dark Crystal, where it can be kept safe. (There's a self-fulfilling aspect to this disaster which the King seems to have missed, but oh well...) In New York, a young lady named Brunhilda is summoned to her aunt's apartment. Aunt Jane has already scarpered, but she's left behind a magic wand, a portal to the Magical Realm and a bag with a wisecracking demon in it. The demon soon fills Brunhilda in on what's going on, and they begin their quest to find the source of the disappearing magic and to set it right.
Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal sees you solving a series of problems by collecting items and interacting with the various people you meet in your quest. You collect these items by using your wand of telekinesis and clicking on the items on the screen. Yep, it's a hidden object game, though it's done with a lot of charm and has a pretty good storyline to go with it. One neat touch is the way objects are sometimes scattered over more than just one screen - you may need to revisit earlier locations to collect them all. The game also features a few minigames, such as preparing alchemical mixtures and casting spells.
Aside from entering your name at the start, control is entirely mouse. Click on things with the left mouse button to collect them, or on people to talk to them. Your current quest is shown on a card at the bottom of the screen, and hovering the mouse over it will tell you how many of each object are in the current location. You also have a magnifier, which can be accessed with the magnifying glass symbol at the base of the screen or switched on and off with the right mouse button, and this can help if you find it difficult to see exactly what is in a key spot. If you get completely stuck, you can click on the seal on the demon's bag and he'll show you where an object is hidden, but note that this option takes time to recharge.
Graphics are, as you might expect, the key element of any hidden object game and Brunhilda has clearly paid a lot of attention to them. The style is cartoon, but reminiscent of the traditional cell animation. Images do move in subtle ways - a heat haze, for instance, at the temple - and some aspects can even be clicked on. Try clicking on the little flies that buzz around, for instance, and they fly away! Objects are, of course, often difficult to spot - in most games this would be a criticism but here it's the whole point, and the best part is that objects are highly varied in their difficulty. The first few of an object are obvious, the next are a bit sneakier - and then there are a last few cunningly hidden ones. However, it's never unfair - if you do resort to a hint from the demon, you'll usually be kicking yourself for not noticing what was right in front of you.
Perhaps less obviously, Brunhilda also offers some top quality sound. As well as a variety of background tunes for the different settings and sound effects both for the objects you collect and numerous other events in the game, all character speech is spoken as well as written. Voice acting is generally good with only a few minor characters not quite convincing me. This feature is excellent for younger players, who might struggle to read all the game text.
Be warned - this game is addictive! The simple quests are very hard to back away from - you can't stop playing when there's one frog left to find (oh, there he is, on the roof!) and it's very hard not to see what the next quest is going to be. There's no time limit and (aside from the tutorial at the beginning) there are no hints unless you ask for them. There is no limit on how many hints you use - only a delay until you can use it again - so you can't get completely stuck. In a way this weakens the game, as it makes it much easier to complete - and replay value for this kind of game is obviously limited. That said, I got the impression throughout that younger players will particularly like this game and they would swiftly get discouraged without this hint system. I am probably not the target market.
The minigames are simple and rather fun. Alchemy minigames see you catching drops of liquid - catch the blue ones, not the red ones. Do so quickly and without mistakes for maximum score. The spellcasting minigame features a book full of runes. As runes drift along at the bottom of the screen, you need to find matching ones in the book. But beware - they can change! Finally there's the crystal ball minigame, in which you need to fine tune your crystal ball set by spotting the differences between two pictures. All three are very simple and can even be skipped, though as each has a rank attached to it you might be tempted to do the best you can on each one. Rather neatly, the final chapter features a whole plethora of spells and potions - and the minigames are skipped. They would be very tedious otherwise!
This hasn't been the longest of my gaming experiences for Bytten, but it's certainly been a good one. There's a decent story, some believable characters and a fair amount of humour in Brunhilda, all of which make hunting for objects amongst the scenery remarkably addictive. Try it out - the demo gives you an entire hour of play, and you won't believe how quickly it disappears.
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