Childhood security blankets come in many forms - a favourite stuffed toy, blankets, specific articles of clothing and imaginary friends - to name a few. In Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus, security takes the shape of a possessed teddy bear, a sturdy shield, and a really sharp sword.
Chronicles of Teddy sees a young girl rushing to the aid of a childhood friend from a fantasy land. A short history of this world and its inhabitants' relationship to the protagonist is explained, and the turmoil befalling the land once more is where this part-2D puzzle platformer, part-action adventure begins.
The game's rather like The Legend of Zelda for the adventuring, exploration and puzzle-solving it brings. It's also stylized with retro pixel aesthetics that are quite popular these days in gaming, and it definitely works in its favour. The game is beautiful, and whatever is untold in the brief introductory story, the graphics aptly do the job of demonstrating the fantasy.
Four major areas, with connecting palaces, make up the bulk of the world. Players leave the comfort of a real world with a normal bedroom and are soon thrust into this land, which begins the journey in a graveyard. It's dark, ghouls roam and it leads to a palace of a usurped ruler. This starting point begins in the library and the palace itself acts as a hub to outlying worlds for players to traverse. Keeping with a fairy tale motif, magical books connect the adventures to the aforementioned four major areas of the land. There's the forest, swamp, snowy mountainous area and valley to explore; each area with its own native creatures to battle against and citizens to save.
While these are all familiar locales, the retro art gives them a distinct, colourful life or dreary style to match the locations. The muted greens of the forest, with its hanging vines, make the area feel mysterious. Broken ruins rest on the edge of the swampland, giving it a mix and personality separate from a purely stagnant location as it could have been. The ice covered mountains has parts that shimmer, while exuberant colours of the Christmas tree folks' village bring festive cheer to the otherwise blue and white color palette which defines the area. Monsters Valley is filled with bright colourful flowers and is crawling with evil creatures. The music of the game complements these areas with some flair, too, with stilted beats and sounds that do well to match the feelings of the game's settings. It's not totally memorable but, in the moment, it's sufficiently stylish and expressive for its often minimalist approach.
While Chronicles of Teddy may have a lot of the expected locales of any fantasy written medium, it surprises in how it's portrayed thanks to a couple of things. There are transitional scenes which show players opening doors and moving into the next room, in which shots zoom in on the protagonist and area, for a close up familiarity in experiencing the closed, small rooms. Other times the camera pans out to show the scale of a particular area. It's an interesting tactic, and a cool trick that gives the game a uniqueness that sells the feeling of being a part of the adventure.
The personality of the world appears in the world's art, with backgrounds of monuments showing and telling of a world with hints of goddesses, and gods in statues that are parts of the scenery. There are foreboding skeletal structures and even sci-fi looking monstrosities which make up the backdrop, and can go unnoticed based on their sheer scale. There are moments where certain colourful backgrounds and enemies blend together, and it's easy to land on an enemy which results in trouble. Death's not too far from every step taken, in this regard.
Zipping around dungeons that consist of areas that loop, and that branch off into sections, can make Chronicles of Teddy a bit challenging. There are routes that veer off into small rooms that require getting items later in the game, resulting in players doing lots of backtracking. This not only happens within a single dungeon but it can have players traveling to multiple dungeons throughout the course of the game, and accessing areas later on as different abilities unlock.
Chronicles of Teddy is an adventure game that has puzzle and platforming elements to it too. There are a few times when the platforming is far too specific to execute, leading to moments of frustration. The majority of the puzzles utilize the game's clever system that's music based. With an instrument called a musicon, runes holding different notes scattered throughout this fantasy realm, and collecting key words and phrases from creatures to fill its lexicon; the puzzles usually consist of opening doors using the specific phrases from visual clues that players will find behind locked doors or "spoken" hints from inhabitants on how to open new paths. There's one specific sidequest that uses audio clues which players must replicate and play on the musicon to trigger hidden objects to appear.
The puzzles aren't entirely challenging on their own, but coupled with how they're used at times to access new areas they can prompt a pause for thought. The constant backtracking and finding exactly what is needed to progress involves some patience, and can cause slight tedium too. To its credit, there's a vague hint system on what to do next, which gives snippets of the maps should players be stuck on a puzzle. It's unfortunate, though, that patience is required to excess when it comes to the combat.
It's a simple hack and slash, and in running crazily around trying to find all the secrets there'll be plenty of creatures trying to attack and block your pathways. They never require any real skill to dispose of; many of them are reskins of creatures with different abilities. There are those, for example, which may block differently at certain points in the game, or slime like creatures may toss projectiles or become electrified as players get too close. However, taking on all these enemies can be frustrating, for the combat interrupts the flow of the game.
It'd be wonderful if Chronicles of Teddy allowed that flow in running along and simple executing the attack button to take out critters. However, meeting an enemy often means stopping and carefully approaching to take measured stabs. As they move away too or shield, players can find themselves playing a game of stepping slowing, ducking and spending way too much time on these encounters, just trying to clear the path of an unworthy annoyance. Of course, you could simply bypass a lot of the creatures too by jumping over them, but as destroying enemies provides much needed currency for an upgraded inventory and certain abilities, you'll find that you'll want to destroy just about everything in your path.
There's a specific distance your character can get within an enemy's space without taking damage. Sure you could run and hit, and if you're really paying close attention you may be able to pull off an attack without losing health, but the combat just doesn't feel fluid at all times. Taking risks is fine, and it's really satisfying to pull off jump hits and timed attacks on certain enemies but, more often than not, the combat stunts the overall quickness of the game. Later on, item upgrades and power-ups may be purchased with colourful marble-like currency which you net by killing enemies, which can then be traded in at a shop in the hub. In this way, Chronicles of Teddy has some RPG elements to it for stats building and items upgrades. Your attack and defense increases this way, and you can also increase your health bar by doing this as well. These powered up abilities may allow for one hit kills but not in every case, as of course later in the game enemies get stronger too.
One of the frustrating things Chronicles of Teddy sometimes does with enemy encounters is allowing your character to be trapped in a constant loop of death. There are times where heavy enemy encounters means enemies can overwhelm - a barrage of seeds from a plant monster might hit from above while you try to sort out the present danger of an armed creature coming towards you. The knock back created in some of these scenarios means little time for recovery. This presents a challenge as losing complete health also means a loss of some of your currency. It takes some accuracy in combat to avoid falling into this trap, with specific timing being beneficial to navigate certain areas.
Boss battles are a little more interesting and require some of the puzzle skills you learned over the course of a dungeon to implement to defeat them. But as with the regular enemies, there's a bit of a stop and go motion to go through with defeating them.
Sadly, there's another issue that affects the game, and that's the slow down and glitches experienced during a playthrough. On three occasions during the second boss battle our Wii U froze. At another point visuals were lost, and that means that enemies were clearly supposed to be on the screen but could only be detected by their projectiles. These were not invisible threats, but the game having a glitched moment. In yet another area the game lost its audio. That was particularly infuriating as many of the puzzles rely on audio clues to unlock various collectibles both important to the game, and for hidden secrets. The game righted itself at the next screen but on another occasion it just kept phasing in and out of audio until a reset was done.
Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus is a somewhat satisfying puzzle platforming adventure game. Its puzzles are sometimes smart and the use of music to figure those puzzles out is interesting. The gorgeous retro-inspired pixel art gives the game life, and hints at a wonderful fantasy world that's light on story but big on adventuring. What it's not is a great action game. It falls short of being more highly rated due to a combat system that interrupts the flow of gameplay, and lots of backtracking from dungeon to dungeon can make the game feel slow and tedious in spots. There are also issues with glitches to be mindful of which can truly hinder the enjoyment of the game.
Overall this is still worth consideration despite its flaws, even if they deprive this one of its full potential.