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Game Review

The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Tim Latshaw

A breezy, scenic walk

The history of The Mysterious Cities of Gold is pretty wild. When the French-Japanese animated series ended its first run in 1983, the Famicom hadn’t even premiered in Japan. Fast forward about 30 years, and now not only has the show picked up where it left off, it’s even following in the tried and true tradition of video game tie-ins — and, unlike many other examples, its first attempt is a decent puzzle adventure.

Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths follows the main characters of Esteban, Zia, and Tao through the second season of the show as they search for the next City of Gold in China. A fully single-player affair, each level involves switching between the three children and their special abilities in order to navigate the typically large layouts, solve puzzles, and open the way to the exit. Esteban, the leader, can activate special sun switches with his medallion. Zia can squeeze through cracks in doors and walls where the others can’t go. Tao, a descendent of the Mu civilization, can decipher clues provided in ancient writings and send his adorably fluffy parrot, Kokapetl, to snag keys from guards.

You read that right — in addition to solving puzzles, the game includes a mild stealth element by requiring the children avoid guards that are stationed in most levels. The mechanic is more Looney Toons than Splinter Cell, however, as guards will only capture a character if he or she remains in their line of sight too long, as represented by a dotted line that grows solid. They never give actual chase, so scampering behind a wall or even diving into a barrel directly in front of a guard will cause them to look around confused for a second before wandering off, Slowpoke-like, back on their route. If you do happen to be captured by a guard, there is no real penalty — you are simply sent back to shortly before when you were captured.

The guards — like everything else in Secret Paths, for that matter — never feel like a genuine threat, but those who seek full completion of the game will still want to be careful. There are three optional challenges in each level: getting captured less than a set number of times, finishing the level within a set amount of time, and finding all the parchments before exiting. Getting captured will hurt your chances of completing the first two goals, while planning in advance is sometimes necessary for collecting all the parchments, as some can only be picked up by a specific character. You are able to move the camera over a level at any time to plot a route, although you may need to balance this action with how much challenge time you have remaining. Even with how relatively easy many of the puzzles are, there are still times you may escape a level with only a few seconds left (which feels rewarding) or go way over (which feels embarrassing). Levels also contain hidden chests that unlock illustrations, giving you yet another thing to ponder either going after or ignoring in lieu of the other challenges the first time you play.

It will be difficult to blame the controls for any missed goals, as Secret Paths provides very smooth options for both touch and traditional play. Characters respond immediately regardless of either control option and it is easy to switch from one to another. It is also clear that animation was a priority, as all characters move fluidly and the levels themselves, although a bit static, exude an artistic style that matches well with the show and are just pleasant to look at. The music, while not catchy, is a nice mix of swelling, exotic fanfares and peaceful Eastern melodies that lend themselves well to the copious amounts of thinking and sneaking on offer.

With all the beauty, it is somewhat a pity that the puzzles don’t seem to show much variety. The same kinds of pressure plates, buttons, items and switches will appear in every level, regardless of whether it takes place in an ancient cave or a luxurious palace. While the difficulty and complexity do slowly rise through the game, it still feels like you are trying to find the right combinations or moving the same objects around to open the right doors.

Potentially most exciting to fans, the game’s cutscenes are composed of footage from the current season of the show and look great on the Wii U, even if the English voice acting falters in places. Those who are not familiar into the series will likely have difficulty keeping up with the story arc as it is presented here. Each cutscene is played fast and quick with just about no explanation of who most characters are — think trying to understand a show by viewing only the recap of each previous episode. Options to view the backstory or character profiles would have been appreciated, but at least the game itself requires none of this knowledge to play.

Another blessing (or curse, depending on how you look at it) regarding the cutscenes is that levels will not open until after their respective episodes are broadcast. The copy of Secret Paths we had for review stopped at level 20 of at least 30 levels, with the rest said to automatically arrive at the end of the season. This is good if you want to avoid spoilers, but less positive if you just want to play the game. Hopefully, these levels will also hide new types of puzzles.

Conclusion

The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths does not offer a great deal in terms of challenge or variety, but what it does provide comes in a beautiful package that is easy and intuitive to work with. It’s a viable, appealing option for younger and less experienced players, and a practical no-brainer for long-time fans of the classic TV show. Those looking for something deeper may feel like they're heading down the wrong path with this title, but it's still worth investigating.

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User Comments (12)

WiiLovePeace

#1

WiiLovePeace said:

Good review. Might look into watching the show first before I buy the game but I will get it eventually, looks fun :)

ueI

#2

ueI said:

I'm sorry to hear about the way the plot is handled. I've never watched the show, and they're not even airing the new season in the U.S. as far as I know.

ricklongo

#3

ricklongo said:

I've never watched the series, but I was curious about this one nevertheless. Not a huge fan of stealth games, though, so I got kind of discouraged.

Kamalisk

#4

Kamalisk said:

The english version of the TV show is supposed to be coming out next year. I started playing this and reasonably enjoyed it, but am unsure if I want to continue since I would like to see the new series. The cut scenes are really short and confusing, but I guess they are spoilers for the show. I was kind of hoping it was just an original side story rather than just following the plot of the new series.

jonfl1

#5

jonfl1 said:

I got in on the Kickstarter for this because I was a huge fan of the original show when I was a kid, but I didn't realize until I started playing 'Secret Paths' that it pulled so much from the new series. From a gameplay perspective, I agree with the review; it may be just a little too simplistic for most. But for fans of the show(s), it's a trip down memory lane even if the story and cut scenes only reference the new series.

turbo409uk

#6

turbo409uk said:

@Kamalisk The English version has started already. It's been airing on Kix in the UK for several weeks.

If the game is based on episodes from the series, DLC could potentially take a long time to be released, since season 3 is apparently still in production and scheduled to air in France in 2015.

fairybats

#7

fairybats said:

I'll probably pick this up for PC, but yeah, it looks like a lovely casual game

GamerJunkie

#8

GamerJunkie said:

This will be out on PC for $1-4 soon steam version. They always bundle these indie games or if not then 75% off sales.

No indies are worth it on Wii U if you can get them on PC. I save the money and get things like bowling or tennis, at least they are exclusives.

cornishlee

#10

cornishlee said:

Did this ever get shown in the UK? I first heard of it about six years ago from an Aussie friend, the same age as me. Reminiscing about our childhoods and cartoons from the early 1980's she brought this one up. I assumed it just never got aired over here but perhaps I've simply forgotten all about it.

cornishlee

#12

cornishlee said:

@turbo409uk

Thanks, I guess my memory's more fickle than I realise. Or maybe there was something else on ITV at the same time. Two whole channels to keep track of!

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