Review: Chronicles of Vampires: Origins (DSiWare)

Not so original

If we made a list of things that we've seen just a little too much of in recent years, vampires and hidden object games would sit somewhere near the top. If that weren't enough to temper our excitement over Chronicles of Vampires: Origins, it happens to have one of the clumsiest titles we've read in recent memory (maybe because The Vampire Chronicles was already taken). Still, when handled well, the bloodsuckers can still mystify and that most casual-oriented of genres can entertain, and here, at least the developers try to make things interesting – unfortunately, in just about all respects, this entry underperforms.

You play investigative journalist Linda Hyde as she tries to hunt down a missing book, only to find herself caught up in a mysterious plot involving a bizarre break-in, secretive monks and – you guessed it – vampires! Surprised? Or did you read the title before playing? Linda must not have, because as the story unravels, pointing more and more to the existence of vampires, that thought alone seems to captivate her (enough to permanently freeze her face in a shocked expression at that). It's not quite so interesting, though, to a society inundated with films, books and TV shows like the Twilight Saga, The Vampire Diaries and True Blood. Yet Chronicles is as much casual puzzler as it is interactive novel, minus getting to choose your path along the way. You'll spend about as much time reading through swaths of text and dialogue as you do finding hidden objects. The writing isn't exactly masterful though far from atrocious, but with so much suspense resting on something revealed by the title, it's not exactly compelling. All in all it's not a bad story, just a bland, unoriginal one. The characters mostly prove flat and uninteresting, moving the plot along without making it anywhere near remarkable. When it finally begins to pick up, it ends, asking a lot of questions that the sequel promises to answer if you can muster up the curiosity to download that as well.

The hidden object sections are decent overall, with a good count of well-secreted items that blend into the artwork without seeming out of place, even if that artwork is pretty below average in quality. It's sometimes quite ugly and murky, though never so atrocious as to give you difficulty in differentiating one thing from another. But we know what you're imagining – scenes filled with arbitrarily-chosen things to find that have little or nothing to do with the story. That's where Chronicles shows some ambition. While puzzles generally feature such items, there are plenty that further the narrative along. Keys unlock doors that lead to more hidden objects on your list, pieces fit together to form inventory items, and one puzzle has you look for clues around a crime scene. Other moments have you figure out what to do next after you've found all the items on the list or discern for yourself what to locate. Still, you'll have to find your fair share of things for no reason other than their placement on the list, but the more innovative sections feel refreshing and entertaining.

The game also features a mix of simple puzzles, some logic-based and others that fit the casual mould, like jigsaw and spot the difference. Some of them are real misses, too – does placing about 40 near-identical shards of a stained glass window in their correct spots sound like fun? If you guessed "no," you're right. Like many casual games, this one's only as difficult as you want it to be as you can skip these and use quickly replenishing hints during hidden object sections, your misses going unpunished. Unfortunately, it's all too short, and you can finish it in under two hours, even without skipping.

It's a good thing that Teyon managed some decent enough-looking hidden object sections, because the rest of the game is laughably ugly. Linda makes one facial expression during the whole thing and only poses her body in about three very similar ways. Almost every other character is drawn in a completely different art style and stands stock still as well, like the frozen images they are. Here's a typical moment where your character continues to express constant surprise while talking to someone who never moves, even to question why or how he's talking to a cartoon. The soundtrack will instantly remind you of MIDI tracks from the early 90's, and some dialogue boxes mysteriously disappear on their own, while the rest are too easy to accidentally skip while you scroll with the stylus and move forward by clicking the screen. To top it off, the game features some obnoxious load times — a number of puzzles require you to travel between two screens to discover all the objects, forcing you to sit through a short status bar each time; while it doesn't ruin the experience, it still feels poorly engineered and cumbersome.

Conclusion

Chronicles of Vampires: Origins is too short and relies too heavily on a bland storyline to make this worth a recommendation, though we admire its attempts to innovate within the hidden object formula. While you're searching for items or solving puzzles it makes for some decent casual fun, but overall it's flawed and far from special.