Many puzzle games that originated on the PC have made a successful transition to the DS; following their lead is City Interactive's latest handheld release, a scaled down version of Chronicles of Mystery: The Tree of Life from 2009. Especially in the case of one that's as well-crafted as this, there's nothing wrong with introducing an old game to a new audience.
Chronicles of Mystery: The Secret Tree of Life has a promising premise to begin with: a puzzler that fuses subgenres like hidden object and point-and-click together with other inventive examples in between, it provides an adventure-based narrative that compliments the binge-thinking very well. It stars young archaeologist Sylvie Leroux, who embarks on an adventure that takes her around the world; via a series of scenes and chapters through which the game ranks your performance, players will accompany her on a journey that's soaked in danger and mystery from the get-go.
The first thing that stands out is the clear and detailed presentation. With graphics that are neither simplistic nor photorealistic, it's clear the game wants to make an impression on players of varying types by using an art style that lies somewhere in the middle. Cut sequences are very motion-comic in style with still images transitioning into each other; these do a great job atmospherically and in keeping the story flowing, never feeling flashy and placing the focus primarily on the plot-driven text.
As the narrative unfolds, players will face an array of puzzles lifted from the original as well as new ones developed specifically for the DS. Some are timed, such as the object-finding portions, but these feel more like an unfortunate necessity of acquiring achievements as opposed to a mechanic that truly enhances the gameplay. Fortunately, the majority of these sections are fairly easy, and players aren't likely to feel frustrated by the imposing clock. Later, however, particular timed puzzles restart at the beginning should players fail, which comes across as unnecessarily militant. Some will be put off by this as it upsets the rhythm and can jar one's thought process, though others may simply accept it as part of the challenge.
On the whole, the difficulty of the puzzles remains fairly even with no noticeable curve. Three settings are available, which determine how often players get to utilise a tip feature. The game isn't as intricate as say, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars, and the puzzles are not nonsensical as they often are in Secret Files: Tunguska. They're more like short bursts of mild head-scratching that help move a simple but enjoyable narrative along. For a more demanding puzzle fan, the low count of stumpers might disappoint.
The game can be played solely with the stylus, but using the direction pad to help navigate the surroundings is definitely a nice option and highly recommended. Like Crime Lab: Body of Evidence, specific puzzle-related features that utilise the camera can be enjoyed on a DSi or 3DS, and while it's a nice extra, regular DS owners shouldn't feel left out as the essence of the game is still intact.
Puzzles will take different people varying amounts of time to solve, but on average, most might be lucky enough to squeeze enough hours to just tip the count over the double figures. You can also obtain various treasures throughout the main adventure and collect them in the Secret Chamber section or replay certain puzzles mini-game style in Challenges Mode. While they work well as components of the main adventure, most puzzles aren't satisfying enough to warrant multiple plays, but there are a couple of gems that stand out: the Flight Control-style beetle challenge and the double-sided maps that need piecing together are a couple of examples that spring to mind. In-game achievements will add additional replay value as most of them require players to get the highest ranking on selected levels; others require the passing of levels in the fastest time, without the use of hints, or simply just completing the game on the hard difficulty setting.
The score by Piotr Musial has a grand feeling to it that by now may feel a bit typical to the puzzle genre, but that doesn't make the audio design any less individually impressive. Musial once again successfully delivers servings of aural delights to the ears that aren't too heavy and overpowering, the same way that the programmers have provided an array of approachable and pleasant conundrums.
Chronicles of Mystery: The Secret Tree of Life won't mentally tax you at a level that could speed your brain cells to their death, but it's still an enjoyable experience that fans of the genre will appreciate. With detailed graphics and a fitting soundtrack, the wide spectrum of puzzle genres that the game covers deepens the experience and broadens its appeal. It's worth stating that you can probably pick up the PC original for less, but as both versions have content that the other doesn't, it becomes a question of whether you want to pay a little more to enjoy the short but worthwhile experience on a handheld.