Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review - Royal Envoy!

Where have all the great games gone?

A lot of my favorite games are older ones (which means 1 or 2 years old in the casual games world) because the commitment to quality seemed to be generally higher back then.

And yet, every so often, a developer will surprise me.

Today, I review a new game that surprised me in a number of ways - a game that puts you in the role of the king's Royal Envoy!

What I liked

  • Superb graphics
  • Unique spin on the genre
  • Good music
  • Satisfying game length
  • High degree of polish
  • Perfect amount of challenge
  • Stays interesting
  • Subtle humor

What I didn't like

  • Character art



Quick Plot

Help to restore safe homes to the realm of Islandshire before the rainy season hits again!



Mechanics

Strategy: There aren't many casual games that immediately strike me as "strategy games." It wasn't long before I discovered Royal Envoy to be just that. Many building games offer some degree of strategy, but not like this game does.

In your typical building game, such as the Build-a-Lot series or the Be Rich series, your goal is to finish the level within the allotted time. If you don't succeed, you have to play the level over. If you finish the level very quickly, you get an Expert rank. But in these games, the Expert goal is something extra to reach for, if you prefer the challenge.

In Royal Envoy, all of the fun is tied into getting the equivalent of the Expert goal. It feels very similar to the Farm Frenzy games. In those games, half of the fun is in trying to figure out the particular sequence of actions that will earn you the Gold medal. That is exactly how Royal Envoy plays out. The developers have given a challenging, but reasonable, timer to each level. When this timer runs out, it just disappears and you can keep playing. But if you finish the level before the timer is out, you get the gold seal.

Pirate Island, with gold seals on all levels, as indicated by the stars.

So what's the point of achieving the gold standard?

There are three benefits:
  1. The gold seal earns you lots of bonus points, which can earn you a higher rank, which earns you trophies.
  2. To unlock expert mode, you must complete all levels with a gold seal.
  3. Achieving gold is very satisfying, mentally. It's a sign of good strategy.
It's very obvious that the designers intended it to be this way. I don't even know if you can lose a level. I suppose you could get stuck without enough resources to continue, and be forced to restart a level.

Strategic tips are offered between levels. These tips give helpful advice for achieving the gold seal.

I think you'll find that a dominant portion of the fun is found in
  1. starting a level,
  2. looking over the level's goals, and
  3. devising a strategy for gold-seal success.
The timer doesn't begin until you give a command to a worker or tax collector (I'll explain these guys in a minute). So you can look over the level and its requirements with no time pressure. This allows you to study the level in advance, and to map out your plan of execution.


Building: Once you have your strategy for a level, you begin building. This is similar to many other buildings games, in the tradition of Build-a-Lot.

There are a number of slots on the screen where buildings or decorations can be constructed. Your objective is to meet the level's prescribed goals by
  • building (or tearing down) the appropriate buildings
  • in the best order
  • as quickly as possible.
You have two kinds of hirelings to serve you:
  • workers, and
  • tax collectors.
Workers do all the manual labor of building, chopping, digging, producing and demolition.

Tax collectors are the little fellows who run to money-producing buildings to collect income. They also carry out negotiations with pirates and merchants.

Workers and tax collectors live in the castle. The castle is the central building where all money and materials are dropped off after being collected. You can also hire extra workers and tax collectors in the castle. This costs money.

Money and materials (wood) are the two resources you'll be working with. You collect both resources in a number of ways, and they are both used for multiple purposes.

How a level looks. At the top you can see money, materials, workers, tax collectors, and happiness.

Now, let me explain all of the buildings and their functions.

You have 3 types of things you can build, and they don't have names (just images) so I'll classify them as houses, decorations, and resource buildings.

The 5 types of houses, from smallest to largest are:
  • Cabin (makes the least money)
  • Cottage
  • Chalet
  • Villa
  • Mansion (makes the most money)
The 4 types of resource buildings are:
  • Sawmill: You pay money to receive materials.
  • Workshop: You pay materials to receive 10x more materials).
  • Market: You sell materials to receive money.
  • Bank: Accrues money every time you collect taxes. Money can be withdrawn.
There are 5 types of decorations. They add happiness to adjacent houses. The more expensive the decoration, the more materials you must spend to build it, and the more happiness it adds. (Incidentally, the most expensive decoration, the Statue, is a statue of the Playrix dragon. Playrix is the game's developer.)

Every so often you can gain resources by other means, such as digging up buried treasure or chopping up brambles.

Every type of building. Top row: houses.
Bottom row: resource buildings and castle.



Time Management: This is worth mentioning because the game is really a time challenge, if you play it as I've described earlier. You're trying to achieve goals as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Still, for those of you who like the building aspect, but don't like racing against a clock, you can ignore the clock and go at your own pace. You just won't achieve the gold seal on each level, which is okay.



Highlights

Eye candy: How refreshing to play a game that bathes you in highly-polished graphics. The developers overlooked nothing in the graphics department. With the exception of the cut scenes, I was completely pleased with the game's visuals.
Each level is vividly colored, with animated scenery and highly detailed objects.

I sat and admired the map of Islandshire for the pure fun of it. A series of pretty little islands is situated on a large expanse of sea. The rolling waves are gloriously colored, and each island has special animations that play when you mouse-over or click on it (once you've finished the island). You can see whales jump out of the water while the best music track of the game plays. The map spans beyond the edge of the screen, and when you scroll to the side, a navigator's wheel spins. It's wonderful. This is the sort of thing that really draws me in and begs me to keep playing the game. I thank Playrix for putting this kind of effort into the visual aesthetics.

The map of Islandshire. I wish I could live there.

Music: You know I'm almost always disappointed with the soundtracks for casual games. With a few qualifiers, I'll tell you that I did like the music in this game. Let me explain.

There are 4 kinds of game soundtracks:
  1. Those that are so bad that you just turn the music off in the settings.
  2. Those that aren't great, but get the job done, so you leave the music on.
  3. Those that really help the game and sound good when playing, but don't hold up when listened to outside of the game.
  4. Those that are so good that you'd gladly listen to the music on your iPod.
Royal Envoy has a #3 kind of soundtrack. I really liked it in the game, but isolated on its own, it doesn't hold up.

Also worth mentioning is that the music style surprised me. The game has a medieval sort of theme, with castles, men in livery, and wooden ships. And yet the soundtrack sounds like it would be more at home in a Build-a-lot game. I was expecting something more like the Be a King 2 soundtrack. But nope! You can expect a happy, modern style. And yet it works. After I got used to it, I happily hummed along while playing.

Game length: One thing that really makes any game disappointing is too short of a length. I'm glad to say that Royal Envoy has the perfect length. You'll feel like you got your money's worth by the time you're done. The game has 60-something levels, all satisfying.

If you complete the trophy room, you unlock Expert mode and have a chance to replay all the levels with even more challenging time limits.

Humor: The game is cartoony, cute, and funny in its delivery. In between levels and when you complete islands, you'll view dialogue between characters. I laughed out loud when one character said: "What a skinflint! The owner of the balloon refuses to let us have it for free." That quote left me snickering for days.

An example of character art in a cut scene.



Issues

Cut scenes: Each time you finish an island, you view another plot-advancing animated cut scene. Personally, I thought the art style in these scenes was unattractive. All of the character art (with the exception of the girl) seemed strange to me. The animation was kind of awkward, too.

Although, I will say that the voice work was good. They obviously hired experienced voice actors.

Other than that, I can't think of any other gripes.



Suitable for the family?

Everything in here is cute, so you don't need to worry about any offensive or disturbing content.

I was surprised to find that my kids actually liked watching a building game such as this. What they really liked were the little workers and tax collectors running around, and the beer-gut pirates.
My little people gladly stood watching. They even helped me keep track of things I needed to keep an eye on!



The family man's final ruling

This was one of the best games I've played in a while. So much effort went into making it a polished product. The game is worth more than you're likely to pay for it, I think.

The levels are all unique, always offering a strategic challenge. The graphics and music support the gameplay with a high-quality delivery. The game kept me interested right up until the end. Virtually every time you mouse over something in the game - buildings, people, trophies, islands - you'll get some interesting animated response. When you get to a level with a cave, try moving your mouse in front of the cave and see what happens!

This is as good as casual games get. It's right up there with games like Luxor: Quest for the Afterlife and Ancient Quest of Saqqarah in terms of production quality. If you like building games at all, don't pass this up. The emphasis on strategy and resource/worker management gives it a completely different feel from other games in the genre.

I would gladly play a sequel!

By the way, I'm going to be writing up a strategy guide for some of the most difficult levels in the game, detailing a method for achieving a gold seal on each level. So keep an eye out for that. You may find it to be helpful if you get stuck on tricky level!

The best way to fill out the trophy room is by achieving gold seals on levels!

You'll like the game if...

  • You like building games
  • You like time management games
  • You like strategy games
  • You like colorful, cartoony games

You won't like the game if...

  • You don't like having to do a bit of strategizing
  • You don't like economic/building games


My rating:

If you want to play Royal Envoy, click below:

StandardCollector's
Edition


3 comments:

  1. Absolutely super review! Thank you! I demoed this and bought it, but have not yet played it again (finishing up some other ones first ;-) ) I totally agree with you on everything (but I had the sound off, so no comment on the music) Personally I enjoyed the scenery so much I stood no chance of making the time limit the first time round! I will certainly be looking out for your guide, I enjoy these games, but am not that good at making gold...I get side tracked too easily. LOL....hmmmmm now I want to play 'Envoy'....

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  2. I'm working on the strategy guide. I think there are 6 or 7 levels that I'm writing up. If you think of any you need guides for, please let me know!

    Thanks for the feedback, Meisie! Always appreciated.

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  3. I need help with levels 47 and 48, Royal Envoy. Can you help me?

    ReplyDelete