Hoisted Into Another World
While browsing your email one fine evening, you see that you’ve been formally invited to the Royal House Museum. Some new pieces have been added to the 19th Century art exhibit, including one painting featuring a woman who has reportedly…come alive a few times.
Upon paying the museum a visit, you learn the history of that painting; apparently, the woman, a princess of sorts, and the land she ruled over fell under a curse after an evil witch shattered her magical amulet. It’s said that the land was saved only by the intervention of a stranger from the future who was able to piece the amulet back together. Interesting story…but are the rumors about the lady coming to life really true?
You get a closer look at that painting, as if looking for an answer to that question…and get it! She indeed comes to life, and pulls you into her time, back to the 1800s, with a desperate plea. Her city has been cursed by a witch, turning the entire citizenry into faint and lifeless shadows. In order to break the curse, you need to reassemble the magical amulet. Everything about the legend is true…and you’re a part of it!
The story of Echoes of the Past: Castle of Shadows is…pretty cliché when you get down to it. This goes double if you played its predecessor, Royal House of Stone, of which it shares many of the same trappings, from being forcefully yanked into the past, to largely progressing by going from person to person and freeing them from a curse that renders them immobile. The plot offers enough of a context to justify the setting and puzzles of the game, but you’re not likely to remember it for long.
A Mixed Presentation
The graphics in Castle of Shadows are pretty good in general. They’re highly detailed and atmospheric, though due to some of the odd angles they’re drawn at, some of the backgrounds feel a little flat at times. It doesn’t help that some of the background animations aren’t quite as good as they could have been; insects crawling around are a common sight, but they more often than not look as if they were pasted on the screen than on the scenery.
The sound is a mixed bag. The music is nice, often being a blend of Victorian chimes and noir beats. How much a tune sounds like one or the other varies by location. Voice acting, meanwhile, is something else entirely. It’s pretty bad all around; not enough to make your eardrums bleed, but enough to make you laugh. To that end, hearing the characters speak does make following the ho-hum story far more entertaining, if not for the reasons the developers intended.
The previous Echoes of the Past was often derided for its absurdly short length. Many first-time players reported being able to complete it in less than two hours. Let it be known, however, that the developers listened to these criticisms, and it shows; Castle of Shadows is a much longer game, capable of lasting at least a good six hours on a blind run.
As if to add further replayability, the game scores your performance based precisely on how fast a play-through can go, with thirty minutes being added to the clock every time you skip a minigame. Needless to say, the whole thing is a huge improvement, and marks what could be a bright future to this young franchise.
Old, But Polished
Most of what Castle of Shadows brings to the table of adventure HOGs isn’t anything new. You’ll play minigames usually to open doors and passageways, look for hidden objects piled on top of one another, explore the cursed city, use your brain and what items you find to creatively open up more areas of the map, and solve a great number of puzzles. But just because it doesn’t do a whole lot that’s new doesn’t mean that it does anything bad, far from it! In most aspects, the game shows a nice amount of polish, and good design.
And do note, that it was said that most of what it did wasn’t new. Castle of Shadows brings forth a few neat innovations that should reinvigorate the most jaded of adventurer gamers.
A Different Spin on Hidden Objects
The most notable innovations are seen in the humble HOGs. For one thing, unlike most other games, you won’t necessarily be aware of everything you need to find. You will only see a partial list of nine items, and as you locate them, others consequently appear on the list. This sound like it could get annoying, as it effectively restricts your progress, but it’s really not that bad and adds a neat element of unpredictability to the whole thing.
You’ll also notice that there’s an increased presence of interactivity in the HOGs. Certain objects require that you take multiple steps in order to acquire them.
For example, when you want an Easter egg in one segment, you’ll need to grab a paintbrush, dip it into a bowl of paint, and apply it to an egg conveniently lying on a shelf. This may not sound new, but it’s very commonplace in Castle of Shadows. This frequency certainly helps make the HOG sections far more dynamic than what the competition usually offers.
But the biggest twist to the formula is where things get changed around. That is, for most any segment where you have to find items amidst clutter, there’s another where you have to put items back in their proper place. It may sound weird, but it works to surprising effect! The areas you’re supposed to put items are always logical and make sense, so as long as you’ve got good eyes and common sense, you should be able to complete them well enough.
For example, if you have a quill in your inventory, you would place it in the inkwell, and if you have a typewriter key, you would insert it in a typewriter. Usually these “reverse HOGs” involve objects you’ve found in previous HOGs, which is a nice touch and for once provides a good reason for why you actually run around grabbing all these random doodads.
Conclusion - An Excellent Sequel With Cool Innovations
Ultimately, Echoes of the Past: Castle of Shadows is everything a good sequel should be, improving on the original and fixing its flaws. In addition, it brings some cool little innovations to the genre, like the “reversed HOGs,” as well as overall more interactive elements than most other recent adventure games. Whether or not you’ve played the previous game, you owe it to yourself to give Castle of Shadows a look.
Review by David Galvin
Dave Galvin is a freelance writer and avid gamer. Somehow, he managed to find a way to combine the two passions.
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