Posted by Tom Lenting
A puzzling page-turner
American developer and publisher Big Fish Games is literally a big fish in the market of casual gaming. The creator of the Mystery Case Files series, the studio has carved out a profitable niche on PC and mobile platforms with its unique brand of hidden object puzzlers — and has also transferred some of these outings to the Nintendo 3DS.
Azada is the latest port to the popular handheld — it was originally released in 2007 and Big Fish claims that it is one of its best selling games. There isn't much of a story here, but it's functional enough as a setting for the puzzles contained within. A nosey figure by the name of Titus is locked in a haunted room by a magical spell and can only be freed by solving the puzzles in the magical book of Azada. By doing so, missing pages of the tome are unlocked and once they are all accessed, Titus can claim his freedom. Azada offers 10 pages, all with 10 different puzzle stages – making a total of 100 conundrums. However, it contains just 24 different puzzle types, so a lot of those challenges are repeated. That's not a real problem, since they will occur in a higher difficulty setting when the player advances the game – and they are interrupted by quite a few hidden object stages.
The package claims Azada to be a "hidden object adventure" and that's mostly correct; the combination of searching for hidden objects and adventure elements is really nicely done. Most of the objects found in the hidden object screens need to be combined, as in an adventure game, to unlock something like a lock or cabinet. These are arguably the most enjoyable parts of the game, but unfortunately can also be the most frustrating. As in other hidden object games on 3DS, the console's small screen is a real problem; some objects are really hard to spot, despite the handy "zoom" feature.
Another source of frustration is the dismal precision of the controls. While the standard puzzles are all played out on the lower screen, in the hidden object stages the room is displayed on the upper screen, while the bottom screen functions as a touch pad that has to be controlled with the stylus. Most of the time this works fine, but there are times when a sequence has to be entered with a dial wheel. In these cases the control is overly sensitive and very often doesn't register your input correctly. This is very frustrating, as the solution to a puzzle is often obvious but it can take an age to get the input right, since you have to start the sequence from the beginning should you accidentally — due to the poor controls — enter a wrong code.
For each of the pages, the player is given a certain amount of time to finish. Time penalties apply when objects are combined wrongly or when you buy a hint, but usually the given time is more than enough. However, when it does run out, all the puzzles have to replayed from the beginning of the stage.
The challenges in Azada will appeal to casual gamers – hardcore puzzle fans that have played all of the Professor Layton games will find this title quite easy and short. The puzzles are nowhere near as challenging as those witnessed in Layton's legacy – in fact, the two challenges (Pawns and Matches) that are more taxing stand out like a sore thumb compared to the easier examples. If you feel like revisiting some of these, you'll be pleased to learn that solved puzzles can also be played separately.
Despite being a six year-old game PC game, Azada is still a neatly produced offering with detailed graphics. Also, the console's 3D effect is put to good use, giving each scene an additional layer of depth. The audio is less striking; sound effects and music are functional, but there's nothing remarkable.
Azada is an passible port of a good PC game that will appeal to casual gamers. The puzzles are varied enough and the hidden object adventure stages are — despite a few control niggles — fun to play. It's one of the better hidden object adventure games on the 3DS, but experienced puzzle gamers who are expecting something akin to a new Layton adventure will be disappointed: for them, this game will be too easy and too short. Given the nature of the package, the high retail price is also a worry. In comparison to a lot of other 3DS titles, Azada comes with a budget price tag, but the game is also available for PC, Android and iOS for significantly less. In comparison to those editions, the 3DS version makes less sense — this would have been better suited to the eShop than a physical release.