Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review - The Fifth Gate!

I like when a game has a really unique set of mechanics, which is why I bought and played The Fifth Gate. Although, I have to admit, as unique as these mechanics are, this wasn't the first game to employ them. In fact, this game ripped off an older game: Magic Farm, which I reviewed a while ago.

Because of the similarities between the two games, I think this review will be more of a comparison than a standard review. I'll attempt to identify the positives and negatives of The Fifth Gate's approach to this style of flower husbandry.

What I liked

  • Lovely scenery
  • Addictive gameplay
  • Potion making
  • Interesting plants

What I didn't like

  • No experience system
  • Weak story
  • Forced advancement





Quick Plot

Plant and harvest flowers to create potions to give to a witch lady who is forcing you to work for her. Oh, and you play young Jane Seymour (not really, but doesn't that girl look like her?).



Mechanics

Time Management: This game is a fast-clicking time crunch. I'll summarize it like this:
  1. Start the day.
  2. Harvest flowers as they bloom.
  3. Water the plants as they become thirsty.
  4. Attack pests as they come to eat your plants.
  5. Do all of this as quickly and completely as you can before the day ends.
In between levels, you may:
  1. Take on new quests from the witch lady.
  2. Use your harvested flowers to make potions.
  3. Sell potions for gold.
  4. Use gold to buy
    • upgrades for your fountain, watering can, flower basket
    • new plants, or
    • magic potions (power items that give you a boost when the pressure is on).

A standard level. Water and gold in the lower right.
Timer and flower basket in the upper left. Fountain in the lower left.


Of course, as the game progresses through the 5 gardens, the difficulty will increase. More numerous and difficult pests will arrive, and you'll find yourself planting, harvesting, and watering more plants at a more rapid-fire pace. The game will certainly keep you on your toes. Well, maybe not your toes, but it will make you sit up in your chair. Okay, maybe not, but it will at least make your shoulders tense up.

Comparisons to Magic Farm


In Magic Farm...In The Fifth Gate...
You have a pet who helps you.You don't have a helper.
You gain experience points to improve.There is no experience system.
You receive quests from various characters.You only receive quests from the witch lady.
You can complete quests on your own schedule.You have to complete quests according to the witch lady's schedule.
There is no "expert" goal for quests.You can complete each quest quickly to achieve an "expert" goal for that quest.
The mood and music are chipper and bright.The mood and music are more somber and new-agey.
The English is very awkward and poorly written.The English is fine.
You almost never get to keep your earnings from one garden to the next.You never get to keep your earnings from one garden to the next.
Late in the game, you can no longer return to some of the earlier gardens.You can always go back and repeat any quest for any garden.
The story is fleshed out, with ups and downs.The story is relatively vapid and minimalistic.
You use your flowers to make bouquets.You use your flowers to make potions.
You are limited to choosing from 4 available bouquets at a time.You are limited to choosing from 10 available potions at a time.
You get good graphics.You get better, shinier graphics.
You earn trophies by accomplishing various feats.You earn trophies by accomplishing various feats.


The level map.
The mirrors at the bottom represent the levels for the garden you're on.




Highlights

Addictive: This game is hard to stop playing. It'll be late at night and you'll be saying, "Just one more level." even though you've already said that 13 times. I wonder if the addiction factor is related to the short levels? Or the reasonable goals you are always working for? Just a couple more of a certain flower and you'll be able to finish that sweet potion you've been working on. Just two more levels and you'll move onto the next garden. A little more gold and you'll be able to upgrade your flower basket. And on it goes.

Potion making: I don't know why this is so fun, but it is. You decide which flowers go into which potion. But even if you don't have every flower you need, that's okay. You can use up as many as you have, and the potion will fill up part way. This means you don't have to keep lots of flowers in your basket, taking up valuable space. In between levels, you can use up most of your flowers on partial potions. Once you finish a potion, it'll go on your sale shelf and you can earn gold for it. The potions look cool, and have weird or silly magical names like "Sneezing Potion."

The potion-making room.

Plant types: There was some cool plants in this game. You could buy a watering plant that gives you extra water every time it blooms. One great plant was this crystal that, when you click it, all of the pests are immediately drawn in and frozen in ice, so they're easy to destroy all at once. There's a butterfly plant that allows you to increase the maturity level of one of your plants (although, you still can't use this unless the next level for that plant has been unlocked....).

There are also some great magic potions you can buy to help you work. One of these is a destroy-all-pests potion. One is a water-all-plants potion. The other is a harvest-all-plants potion. All of these are extremely helpful. You can only have 2 at a time. They each have something like 6 uses. And you have to pay for the slots to store them in your garden. But they're worth it, once you can afford them. And they are essential late in the game.

The trophy room.



Issues

Big bug: My wife ran into a technical bug on her game. During the last garden in the game, the game started taking all of her gold away, making it impossible to water her flowers or do anything else. Big Fish had no fix for the issue. Other people have reported the same issue. If this happens to you, contact Big Fish support to see if they have a fix yet. If not, they might compensate you in some other way.

Story: The story in this game is nearly absent. And even what little story exists is boring and silly.

Forced progress: In Magic Farm, you could take your time and pursue various quests at your own pace. If you wanted to build up your farm for a while, you could. And you could receive quests from multiple people at a time. In this game, you receive quests from one lady, and you are really forced to keep moving. It's just not as fulfilling.

No experience system: In Magic Farm, you earned experience for everything you did on the farm, and you could advance both your skills, and the skills of your dragon familiar. This growth factor was good incentive to play well. It offered improvement. In this game, there is no experience system. They simplified the mechanics of Magic Farm without offering many beneficial additions (except maybe graphics).




Suitable for the family?

My wife liked the game until it glitched.

The children gladly stood by, calling out when I needed to attack a particular pest. They like anything with little creatures, and this game is no exception.

There's a witch in the game, but she is supposed to look deceptively attractive, I think. So there's nothing scary in the game. There are no voice-overs or scary sounds either.



The family man's final ruling

I have a hard time settling on a rating for this game, honestly. I found plenty of nitpicks, but the game really was engaging and kept me busy for a long time. The same mechanics that were fun in Magic Farm are fun in this game. And I did like the graphical presentation even more in this game. I also liked the way potion-making worked more than I liked how bouquets worked in Magic Farm. So while part of me wants to give the game 3 stars because it isn't quite as good as Magic Farm, I also want to give it 4 stars because it was a fun game. But it didn't have all of the qualities of a 4-star game, so I think I have to go with 3 stars. This means the game is average in terms of fun. There are great things about it, but also flaws. I recommend the game, but I recommend many other games more.


You'll like the game if...

  • You liked Magic Farm
  • You like fast-clicking time management
  • You like gardening games
  • You like games that you can play in short bursts

You won't like the game if...

  • You get stressed out by tracking lots of things on the screen simultaneously
  • You don't like time pressure


My rating:

If you want to play The Fifth Gate, click below:

PCMac

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