Casual adventures in connection with hidden-object gameplay seem to have a bad reputation due to their lack of engaging puzzle design, but ERS Game Studios’ Dark Tales: Edgar Allen Poe’s The Gold Bug proves the assumption wrong that only classic point-and-click adventures offer this kind of immersion.
Detective Dupin sends his trusty apprentice (the player) to an island where the mystery of a buried pirate treasure and the key to it in the shape of a golden bug awaits, in addition to another sinister figure who wants to get his hands on it as well.
Not a Poe’s world, although poetic in a way
Even without having read Poe’s original story, it becomes obvious in its adaptation that the game doesn’t have the same foreboding, sinister and tense atmosphere the American writer’s style is known for. Despite some dangerous scenes involving fire and poison, the antagonist isn’t much of an adversary and is just as flat as the other characters, which is a shame, because some of the writing actually hints at more interesting backgrounds. Even if the conversations are just as forgettable as the characters, they’re at least short enough without outstaying their welcome. The plot isn’t very complicated and despite presenting a bit of mystery doesn’t create much tension. Still, despite the lack of convincing characters and a suspenseful story, the locations the player visits are atmospheric enough to traverse, and as each new scene presents new tasks for the player to solve and always gives the impression that one is in constant pursue of an ever evading opponent, turning the mystery often into a treasure hunt.
A land of puzzling opportunities
What the game lacks in storytelling, it more than makes up for in puzzle solving. Unlike many hidden object games, it’s not simply about scanning each location for items which can be used immediately, but it often requires some serious combination skills. Not only are the puzzles varied, but they also remain logical despite the many objects which find their way into the inventory. It’s also refreshing to see that in the hidden-object scenes one has to build contraptions in order to reveal more relevant items which can then again be used somewhere else, therefore avoiding the trap of the player getting bored by simply clicking on anything with no sense or reason.
The chains of these little conundrums always give the sense of accomplishment when finding a new item which is needed in another screeen, again turning the game world into an interconnected place of small tasks to do. The ways to overcome these obstacles are often quite engaging for a casual title and offer the kind of problem solving some classic point-and-clickers lack these days. In addition to logical puzzles and minigames which are more fun than frustrating, another welcome gameplay element is the inclusion of a dog icon. This canine friend the player finds early on can sniff around places in order to discover new objects. This concept might sound silly, but it works, as it again offers new ways of interaction in the scenes already visited.
Wonderful old world of sounds and colors
Graphic and sound design are of a high quality with lovingly hand-drawn backgrounds, a few well-done cutscenes, an atmospheric score and very good voice acting (at least in the German version), while the various background sounds only add to the immersion. Only the few character animations need some getting used to, although they strangely contribute to the dreamlike world the player goes into.
An adventure title casually dressed in working hidden-object gameplay
It’s always difficult to make an adventure game accessible and at the same time to please long-time fans of the genre. Often obscure puzzles and overcomplicated object combinations alienate the one crowd, while the other finds it appealing. Dark Tales: Edgar Allen Poe’s The Gold Bug might not offer any new or original ways to solve object-based puzzles, but it certainly offers a lot in terms of variety and simply fun. Unfortunately, story and characters remain rather uninteresting throughout the playtime, while the colorful presentation goes against the works of Poe, the author of the macabre. But as it is, this is a well-accomplished game which offers a common ground for old and new school point-and-clickers.
It’s also interesting to note that the Collector’s Edition of the game offers an additional chapter which adds further longevity to the already quite lengthy adventure (in terms of casual games), resulting in a playtime clocking around 6-7 hours, plus more bonus material in the form of a poster, cards in physical and the soundtrack, concept art in digital form.
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