Episodic adventures are all the rage these days, offering indie developers a chance to give their audiences a small glimpse into their creative minds. But do these short bursts of imagination result in a title which can stand on its own? Does Krams Design’s Anna’s Quest Vol. 1: Winfriede’s Tower have what it takes to breathe fresh air into the fantasy point-and-click genre?
Anna’s Quest Vol. 1: Winfriede’s Tower (PC)
(Australia 2012, developer/publisher: Krams Design, platform: PC)
Small girl Anna, while trying to find a cure for her sick grandfather, is caught by the witch Winfriede who wants to have her special powers she’s not aware of having.
Dream-like characters in a fairy-tale like story
Inspired by Brothers Grimm’s and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, the enchanting atmosphere is present in both story and character design. Without spoiling too much, there’s a dreamlike quality about the setting and its inhabitants which simply works. But as the previous working title Anna’s Room suggests, it is also limited in scope. With only a few locations to visit and even fewer characters to talk to, there’s not much room to explore.
Allusions to classic tales and the implementation of its tropes are what makes the game unique, but also what makes it a bit redundant for older players. The overall cuteness and innocence of the main protagonist might work for a younger audience and the characters she meets might be captivating or scary enough, but a deep characterization is lost in the translation. Dialogues are usually well written, but they can be a bit too long, especially with some awkward pauses in between. The gaming world offers a certain kind of immersion, but with its rather tame humor and slow pacing it doesn’t make for the most engaging and intriguing story.
Still this doesn’t mean that story progression itself is boring. The cast of characters have their own stories to tell and Anna’s touching connection to her grandfather was well-done in the free-to-play prologue (which is a unique experience of a storybook the player has to actively move through). There’s always something to discover to keep the player going, only big suprises and twists are rare to turn the content into something more interesting than a children’s book.
A colorful painting with soothing sounds
Adding to the fairy-tale and dream-like atmosphere are of course the graphics. Hand-drawn backgrounds and characters are reminiscent in style of the timeless Monkey Island 3 (so are the hand-icon controls) which are simply wonderful to look at. After playing the already wonderful prologue which can’t be recommended highly enough, the transition from black and white into a colorful world is remarkable, and each location has a painting-like beauty.
Character animations could be slightly improved, and missing cutscenes (except for the intro and outro) show its low budget, but the graphical presentation is overall nearly flawless. The soundtrack doesn’t disappoint either, offering some nice little atmospheric pieces which always seem to carry a bit of melancholy with it. Only some more variety would have been nice, as it becomes quite obvious that the music plays in a loop.
Voice acting is of the same high quality, with every actor or actress fitting their role. Only one thing can be pretty annoying for older players who’re not necessarily buying into cuteness and sentimentality: Anna and her sidekick Ted’s (a young boy turned into a teddy bear) high-pitched and often whining voices can become rather tiresome for the ears. It’s of course better to use child actors for the parts, but throughout its adventure in later installments, it can be a game of endurance to listen to them (I for once started to simply read the text and skip the voice acting).
Puzzle me gently
The game is not only traditional in its approach to storytelling, but also in its puzzle design. Many Objects have to found, combined or used to interact with the environment which will fill the inventory pretty quickly. Despite the missing hotspot-key and the items sometimes merging with the background, it’s rarely too difficult to pick up the right tools to progress in the story. Solutions are never as mind-bogglingly obscure as in other games of the genre, which also means that they don’t stand out as anything special or memorable.
Only one element makes the gameplay a bit more varied: Anna’s power to bend things to her will, make them fly through the air to her or fix them is nicely interwoven with the puzzles. It never gets too complicated, and usually the solution is pretty obvious, so it remains to be seen how this feature works in future instalments. Other than this, the tasks are usually laid out to the player in a way even beginners know what to do. It also helps that multiple problems can be tackled independently, so frustration to get stuck is minimized.
The first step in a touching quest
Anna’s Quest Vol. 1: Winfriede’s Tower is a nice little indie gem. It sparkles with lovingly handcrafted visuals, sounds like a dream (if you can deal with the main character’s voice) and plays wonderfully. It’s too bad then that only after 2-3 hours the game is already over. Maybe that’s the biggest problem with episodic content which tell a much bigger story, as the ending promises something much more interesting and intriguing than the first volume shows.
The plot itself is rather light with content, but isn’t this exactly what makes it so similar to classic folklore tales? It’s a simple story about a girl who is looking for a cure to help her grandfather, and who falls into the clutches of an evil witch (it seems): a typical plot device for a quest which only near the end becomes a bit more epic and hints at a twist to give the storytelling its own identity.
It’s still without a doubt an atmospheric first game with a nice flow in gameplay and a near-flawless presentation.
Buy the PC game on
the developer’s website
Also make sure to check out the free prologue!
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