Monday, May 10, 2010

Review - Penny Dreadfuls: Sweeney Todd

According to Wikipedia, a penny dreadful "was a type of British fiction publication in the 19th century that usually featured lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks, each part costing a penny."

It appears that developer Playpond is bringing some of these old serials to the casual game format. The first of these is the story of Sweeney Todd.

This story has previously been made into a Broadway musical, and you'll get a good dose of this in the game's cut-scenes.

Today, I'll tell you what I thought of this penny dreadful!

What I liked

  • Uncommonly high production quality
  • Sung interludes
  • Combination of HOG and adventure
  • Grading system

What I didn't like

  • Twisted story
  • Not enough puzzles



Quick Plot

Investigate some recent strange goings-on involving a priest, a young lady, a young man, a boy, a cook, and a barber.



Mechanics

HOG: You'll spend most of the game hunting for items in hidden objects scenes. They sparkle, so it's easy to locate them. The game plays out very much like Return to Ravenhearst or Dire Grove, mechanically.

Rooms like this will offer puzzles and hidden object scenes.

Inventory: As with other adventure games of this type, you will pick up a sizable collection of random items, which can be used in various places to help you advance.

Puzzles: You'll get to solve a brain-teasing puzzle from time to time, but not frequently enough for puzzle enthusiasts like me.



Highlights

High production values: The Playpond team did what every developer should do: They polished and polished until everything was shiny.

To be more specific, you can expect to get a return on your investment in the following areas:
  • Slick visuals
  • Orchestral music
  • Well-planned hidden object scenes
  • A plot to drive things
  • Correct English
  • Convincing voice-overs
  • Good game length (approximately 4+ hours)

I'll expand some of this below.

Visuals: Boy, they sure made things look good. That was what initially drew me in. Fonts, scenes, and interface - all very professional looking. The designers gave adequate attention to these little nuances, making their game look better than most others on the casual market.

Audio: Being a composer myself, I'm attentive to the goings on in the music section of the market. Right now, with the economy being what it is, developers are skimping on music. As you might guess, I think this is a bad idea. Many of my fondest gaming memories relate to the music and the mental images it can stir up.

One way for a developer to cut music costs is to hire a less-experienced or less-talented composer. You can almost always tell when they do this. Another way to cut costs is to provide fewer minutes of music.

In this game, you'll hear the same few tracks repeated frequently (that's how they cut costs), but I'm glad to say that they at least hired someone who knew what they were doing. The orchestral score is quite nice, and fits the mood of the game very well. It was pleasant accompaniment for the gaming experience.

And to make things even better, they hired voice actors, and good ones at that. Not only will you hear speaking, but you also get singing in this game. That's right. It's a video game musical! Between plot segments, you watch montages of still images depicting the characters and the topics about which they sing. I thought this feature was unique, fresh, and I was glad to have it.

One voice worth mentioning is the unseen British detective who accompanies you through the whole game, offering regular doses of commentary. I really liked this voice. It added to the immersion and gave a human element to the gameplay.

Hidden objects scenes: I've been weary of HOGs for a while, as regular readers will know, but despite this fact, I found this game worth my time. Primarily, this is because of the production values I've been speaking of. But, I will say that if I have to play hidden objects scenes, I like them to be done they way they were done in this game. You have a very manageable list of objects to locate, and they look really cool when you find them. And, of course, it helps to have the British guy talking to you as you search.

There are three more things worth noting.
  1. The HOG scenes will have you searching for a number of things that Americans won't be familiar with. Some of the terminology seems specific to English culture or history. So you might need to look a few things up.
  2. I found that the developers were very good about making sure that the thing you are looking for is obviously that thing. So you shouldn't have to do a bunch of "guess" clicking. A snake, for instance, will very obviously be a snake, once you look in the right place.
  3. The hints use a slow-refill system. Once you use a hint, you need to wait a while before using another.


One of many musical interludes.

Grading system: This game features a grading system. After each segment of the story, you are graded on
  • how long you took to finish that story arc
  • how accurate your searching was (it measures wrong clicks)
  • how many puzzles you solved (as opposed to skipping them), and
  • how many hints you used. (I think I'm right about this last one. Recall faculties...failing...)
This grading threw that bit of challenge in there for the serious gamer. If you want to "show your stuff," you can work at achieving a high grade. I got an A ("Nighthawk" ranking). I made it through without using any hints and I solved all of the puzzles. But, at one point, I forgot that it was measuring accuracy, so I was impatiently clicking on things for the heck of it - you know - "just in case" it's the thing I'm looking for.



Issues

Twisted story: I suppose I'm in the minority, but I'm just not into these twisted stories. The whole plot, which I won't spoil here, is just wrong on so many levels. It's just not the sort of thing I want in my mind. I'll talk more about this in the Family section further down.

More puzzles please!: Looking back, I think I would have liked the game more if they had replaced some of the hidden object scenes with puzzles. The puzzles that were in the game were enjoyable, for sure. I just wish there were more of them!


Standard put-the-picture-back-together puzzle.



Suitable for the family?

Some of the imagery could definitely spook a little kid. The whole game takes place at night, and everything has a dark and ominous atmosphere, so this isn't a game I'll recommend as a family event.

My wife stepped over to do some hidden object scenes with me, and enjoyed them, but I don't know if she'll ever play through on her own. She liked what she observed, which was very little.

But, in case you're concerned with messed-up stories, I've spoiled some of the disturbing plot features below. Click and drag over the white text in the box to read it.

  • Sweeney Todd is a barber who ends up killing people with his razor, to take their valuables.
  • The baker woman is using the dead bodies to make meat pies, and business is doing well.
  • The aged priest character is corrupt, and he is determined to force young Johanna to marry him against her will.



The family man's final ruling

This game was fun. The whole production was well-done and kept me interested. The rainy atmosphere and dreary music have a way of pulling you into the story. There are hints for those who want them, and a high grade to work for, if you like a challenge.

I would gladly exchange the story for one that isn't so disturbing, but they kept things pretty mild, for which I'm thankful.

I recommend playing this game. The only thing that could have made it even better would be more puzzles instead of so many hidden object scenes.

And, if you like bonus features, there is a Collector`s Edition, which costs more, but includes, according to Big Fish,
  • Exclusive hidden object scenes
  • Original puzzles to challenge and confound you
  • An interactive strategy guide
  • A new “theatre mode” to replay cut scenes and movies
  • Spectacular full orchestral soundtrack


Beautiful (and chilling) scenery at every turn.

You'll like the game if...

  • You like hidden object games
  • You like adventure games
  • You like inventory-based tasks
  • You like dark stories

You won't like the game if...

  • You don't like finding hidden objects
  • You want a bright and cheery game


My rating:

If you want to play Penny Dreadfuls: Sweeney Todd, click one of the options below:

StandardCollector's Edition


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