Do you still think Sony’s Move as a motion control response to Nintendo’s Wiimote is all about casual sports titles or implemented as an afterthought for other titles? Think again when you play SCE London Studios’ and Moonbot Studios’ collaborative adventure game Wonderbook: Diggs Nightcrawler.
Bookworm private detective Diggs Nightcrawler is accused of murdering his friend and boss Humpty Dumpty and discovers darker secrets on the streets of Library City.
Living in a storybook
The game world is mostly populated by characters from storybooks and nursery rhymes. So it’s no surprise that the Three Little Pigs, Humpty Dumpy, the Itsy Bitsy Spider or Robin Hood show up and play their parts, although in a different modern setting. The playground is aptly named Library City and rewards young gamers’ understanding of these well-known characters, while the film-noir atmosphere is more for adult players. This is certainly an interesting, even if not entirely new concept which works for the most part, although it often runs into trouble when trying to satisfy both demographics, already indicated by the story of murder and betrayal which isn’t that suitable for the youngest.
The script offers a few twists and turns, but it won’t hold many surprises for seasoned adventure gamers or film-noir aficionados. The dialogues are well written, even if one is sometimes under the impression that the developers wanted to include as many recognizable storybook characters as possible and therefore turning some, like Robin Hood, into nothing more than fillers. The slapstick humor is also a bit too intrusive at times, although this is to be somewhat expected, considering the younger player audience. Still, the way how Diggs directly addresses the player adds to the immersion and draws him or her into a world of crime and mystery with some funny moments to lighten the mood.
Open the pages of gameplay
The gameplay presents itself as a storybook whose pages are little scenes in which different parts are either shown without the player’s input, or progress is made when interacting with the characters or environment. There’s a lot of potential here, and in some scenes the ideas are well executed when e.g. one has to bend/turn the book in order to discover clues or move it around to have a streetlight shine in a certain direction. These puzzle elements can’t compete with most point-and-click adventure games, but they immerse the player in both the story and environment. However, they also share the same problematic DNA of this genre, e.g. when it’s not always clear what to do in specific scenes, as the hints of the detective don’t necessarily help to progress.
Closing the curtain on the action and in(ter)activity
One shouldn’t expect mindbending object combinations, either, as the solutions to the problems only require the correct viewpoint or shaking the wonderbook. These simple tasks don’t even ask the player to use the motion controller, which is something of a missed opportunity, as it would have made for some more interesting puzzles and more varied gameplay. It would also have helped avoiding some frustrating control issues in the arcade sequences.
Something adventure gamers usually like even less than obscure puzzle solutions are time-critical segments which require fast reflexes. Unfortunately, there are quite a few of these in the action mini-games which usually consist of holding the book in a certain way or shouting commands in stealth-based parts. If these were more varied and less fiddly with the context-sensitive controls, they would make for a nice diversion from puzzle solving. But they crop up simply too often, not even taking into account that shootouts seem at odds with the child-friendly subject matter.
Watching and listening to a storybook come to life
The backgrounds and character models have a distinctive comic look and are vibrant with details to bring the colorful storybook world to life. But what really steals the show are the voice acting and music which are superbly cast and composed. Fully orchestrated setpieces with enough variations for different moods are what the excellent swing, blues and piano tunes bring to the table, while each line of the characters is delivered with gusto.
Control over the story and gameplay
Motion controls can make or break a game, and with Sony’s Move system it’s not any different from Nintendo’s output in terms of quantity vs. quality, especially when it comes to casual games quickly turning into shovelware. Diggs Nightcrawler falls somewhere in between these two categories. On the one hand, using the Wonderbook as a tool to evoke the feeling of holding a real book in both hands which is brought to life is an incentive to buy it. It might not put the player in the same place like Book of Spells in which the camera took snapshots of the real world and put the player into the fantasy one. But there are certainly enough narrative elements to draw the player in. The only problem is that the controls often feel clunky when one either moves Diggs around (e.g. in a very annoying climb-ladders-in-a-library sequence) or when one performs actions in arcade sequences (like a car chase or avoiding objects while being carried away on a river, which take way too long).
A wonderful book to read once and a game not to play twice
Diggs Nightcrawler is a narrative step forward for SCE London Studio in comparison to Book of Spells. The cooperation with Moonbot Studios definitely shows in a much more engaging story and more interesting characters, while both music and voice acting are superb. It also helps that this game is not simply a Harry-Potter-wannabe-test but a standalone title with a film-noir/storybook mix that works for the most part despite some questionable shootout sequences and infantile humor.
A bit more questionable is the gameplay which offers more tiring action sequences and parts in which the use of a controller is sorely missed. The few puzzles hint at more interesting use of the Wonderbook but are still not enough to elevate the gameplay from simplistic to more varied. It’s also a bit disappointing that the game is already over after less than 2-3 hours. Replay value is non-existent because of the lack of extras (except if one wants to watch certain scenes from different camera angles or have a look at one’s face during certain sequences the camera took impressions of).
The main character and world of Library City are certainly a good starting point for a promising series of adventures, and while the Wonderbook has its control issues, there’s no doubt about the potential of full immersion with the addition of more engaging puzzles or gameplay ideas in the future.
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