Here's a question: what's the least fun thing about videogames? It's a question that's been on PALGN's mind recently, and it was a thought triggered by Another Code: Two Memories. Heck, that's a negative start to a review that is ultimately about a game that has a few respectable selling points of it's own. OK, let's start again. Description.
Another Code is the latest entry in what us - ahem - 'senior' gamers know as the point-and-click adventure genre. The majority of you probably know the kind of games we're talking about: Monkey Island. Grim Fandango. Sam & Max. Broken Sword. But for the sake of the young whippersnappers who've yet to cross such a game, allow PALGN to patronise the rest of you for a moment. Throughout a point-and-click adventure, the player guides a character through a quest of some description. You're presented with scene after scene, and by clicking certain parts of the (often static) scene placed in front of you (usually with a mouse pointer, as this is a genre that has traditionally excelled on the PC), you can uncover new clues that will in turn assist progress to the next part of the adventure. And as it happens, with all that pointing and clicking malarkey going on, it's a style of game perfectly tailored for the touchscreen technology of Nintendo's DS handheld. Huzzah!
Incidentally, 'huzzah!' is the exact noise we made when we first heard about the game's development. After all, us gamers only get a point-and-click adventure about once every ninety-eight years (something about poor sales and demographics), and history suggests they're really rather good. Though six hours after acquiring Another Code, PALGN was producing slightly more negative sounds. See, six hours is what it takes to complete developer CING's game. And that's just not good enough. Not for thirty quid, or seventy dollars, or whatever currency you deal in. Not when there's - and take note of the next four words - no replay value whatsoever.
Occasionally, the game will give you little mini-tasks to complete using the stylus, such as the one above. It's a neat touch, and breaks up the gameplay nicely.
We're lapsing into negativity again though. Besides, it's not like the game doesn't have strengths. For a start, there's the narrative, which succeeds in doing a damn fine job compared to most of the dross still found in the majority of modern games. Playing as 13-year old Alice, players are tasked with uncovering the mystery behind the disappearance of Alice's parent scientists Richard and Sayoko Robbins. From there, the story ducks and weaves admirably, with Ashley packed off to Blood Edward Island, discovering that her parents had worked on a memory-generating computer called Trace, whilst also befriending the ghost of a young boy (cryptically named 'D'), who is looking for answers of his own, having lost all his memories and any recollection of his death. Like all good ghosts, D wants answers before he finally buggers off to the afterlife.
PALGN will happily accept that it's not upto the lofty standards set by some other point-and-clickers - Grim Fandango, we're looking at you - but it's a well-told yarn, and one that easily keeps you engaged from start to finish. The story is relayed through some subtle cut-scenes, and Alice is a likeable heroine. The dialogue never veers away from being decent, and the whole 'forgotten past' theme, which has come across as tired and clichÃ©d in other games (and films, come to think of it), is pulled off well here.
There's an intelligent, well-designed interface as well, a key ingredient for such a game. Players control Alice's movement on the touchscreen, by simply holding the stylus down on the screen. Wherever the stylus is pressed, then Alice heads for that point. It's a smooth and intuitive way of navigating the game's world, so chalk up another point for CING's designers. In the top right-hand corner of the touchscreen, there's a small magnifying glass icon that illuminates every time something of interest has popped up in Alice's vision. Tapping said icon brings up a static scene, depicting what lies before our young heroine. From here, it's simply a matter of tapping any bits of the scene that are intriguing, to see if clues can be uncovered to solve the game's puzzles.
Regrettably, this is where the game can occasionally go a bit awry. It's fair to say that point-and-click adventures often live or die on the ingenuity of their puzzles. So it saddens us to say that, in the case of Another Code, the design of the puzzles throughout is decidedly erratic. In the six or so hours you'll spend on the game, you'll see puzzles that are forehead-slappingly obvious, puzzles that are plain obscure (to the point where you'll be visiting this site rather a lot), and puzzles that are beautifully designed. But it shouldn't be like this. Games such as Grim Fandango (sorry to harp on about this, but it's the genre's standard-bearer in PALGN's nostalgia-flecked eyes) boasted puzzle design that consistently rewarded logical, rationalised thought. In comparison, CING's adventure contains just a few too many puzzles that we'd never guess the solution to in a million years. And we're dead clever, us.
There's also some irritating design to be found elsewhere in the game. Why, in 2005, do we have the sorry situation whereby some objects you want to pick up can't actually be picked up until some other event has happened elsewhere in the game? It's this kind of thoughtless design that quickly leads to boredom, as players are forced to backtrack several screens at a time, in the vain hope that they may click on something that they missed first time. Or maybe they won't, and all that backtracking will be for nothing. Grrr.
It's a shame, because for all that it does right - the occasional clever puzzle, the storytelling, the solid visuals - we're still not sure which of you will love Another Code. For the experts of the point-and-click genre, the game doesn't succeed in matching up to other entries in the genre, largely thanks to a number of design issues. Meanwhile, newcomers - and we'd imagine there'll be a few - will be left feeling dazed and overwhelmed by the sheer obscurity of many of the game's puzzles. So, back to our original question: the least fun thing about videogames? It's not knowing what to do next. And sadly, it's an all-too-common feeling in Another Code.