It’s a mystery to me how this series got as beloved as it is.
I had planned on spending this post talking about a forgettable, at the time one-off game called “Bridge to Another World: Burnt Dreams”. I even had a catchy blurb to draw you in. But that was almost a month ago and things have changed. For one, it’s not longer a month ago, fairly evident. Nor is it an one-off anymore and I kinda got myself employed so kind of having my head somewhere else at the moment. Also, my computer broke not long after finishing the game so I was a bit ticked off.
I’m not blaming the game, it probably didn’t have anything to do with my computer breaking but it just wasn’t in the cards anymore.
So, instead, Raincliff Phantoms it is.
Years ago, you were sent to Raincliff by the Mystery Trackers, an agency that tracks and solves mysterious events around the world. In the end you managed to solve the mystery, save the lives of several young students and right the wrongs that were committed in Raincliff over centuries. For years the town laid dormant. Until now when a young, inexperienced reporter doing a fluff piece about the mysterious town has gone missing. Equipped with unique experiences concerning Raincliff, you’re sent in again to set a stop to the mysteries surrounding Raincliff.
Mystery Trackers is one of those games that I always think predate civilization. Or at the very least come from early 2000s or even the nineties like respectable HOG series like Mystery Case Files or Hidden Expedition. But in reality the game is only five years old at the time of writing and there’s a whole eight games released. For those of you bad at math that adds up to more than a game per year.
So you’d think they were doing something right. That they were “good” games. But for the life of me I can’t figure what that is. It’s a mystery, if you will. I’ve played every game in the series up until this one so far but I’ve never quite gotten hooked on it and I don’t see the appeal. Everything about it is straight up generic but then it’s hard to argue about a series sticking to its formula after six games.
The developers behind this game is none other than Elephant Games, the arguably largest provider of original hidden object games. Active since right after the millennium, Elephant Games has produced some of the biggest franchises in the genre and were awarded for their diligence recently when Big Fish Games handed over the reins to two other big titles, namely Mystery Case Files and Haunted Hotels.
To be quite frank, I’ve never taken a great liking to Elephant Games’… uh, well, games. More often than not I find them very forgettable and easy. The only thing they usually have going for them is their creative settings. That’s not to say I think all their games are bad, I recently played “Fate’s Carnival”, their first take on the Mystery Case Files franchise. And it was… okay, I suppose.
But the gist of all their games is virtually the same. You play as a nameless, faceless detective who get assigned a case, something mysterious is afoot and voila, you got yourself an adventure. In defense of Elephant Games, this is how a majority of all HOPA games play out. But if you want their best work, I’d first recommend the Surface games which are filled to the brim with inventive settings. And I’m very certain I’ll get around to that franchise eventually again.
But Raincliff Phantoms, much like the rest of the Mystery Trackers games, fall into the category of safe. The formula, the design, the colors, they’re all very safe and that seems to be the idea. Masks are, again, featured heavily, much like in every single Mystery Trackers to date except maybe the first. And I’m not gonna lie, I like the idea and other games might actually deal with it better but here it’s pretty evident it’s there because that’s what Mystery Trackers fans like and not because it fits the theme.
Another issue I have with the graphical design is the choice of palette. Now, I get that the game is set in a snow and ice covered town but there’s a difference between getting the point across and just hiding behind a theme. There’s so much blue in this game it becomes tedious to look at. Reds become purples, whites become blue, greens barely exist and black… well, it’s hard to mess with black but I swear it’s more dark blue than black. The only color that stands out is yellow but it’s never used enough. Using it to highlight important areas and breaking up the landscape could’ve alleviated a lot of the issues. It’s an issue I see far too often in hidden object games and it baffles me that they seem to struggle with this since the art should be the biggest thing to worry about.
That and the puzzles, of course.
Gameplay wise the game doesn’t stray too far from the formula. Hidden object scenes are as standard as you can get. You get your list of words, some objects need to be revealed through various interactions and once you’ve found them all you’re done. It’s standard but for the most part it works. My only complaint is that some interactions are just so darn obscure that it can take a long time to find them.
The puzzles are all variations on puzzles we’ve seen before. Guide a beam of light using mirrors, slider puzzles and, of course, combination locks. In other words, if you’ve ever played a puzzle game before then chances are you’ve done these puzzles once or twice. They’re not even that hard either, I blasted through them pretty quickly and the game was surprisingly short.
One addition I did like was that your character would slowly get cold as the game progressed, signified by a little thermometer on the left side of the screen. At first this aspect excited me because it made me feel like I had actually had to push myself. But not only do you have the option to turn this mechanic off, showing how insignificant it is, but it’s not all that well integrated.
What you think acts like a timer to push some pressure on you is little else than padding. The only thing that happens when your temperature drops too low is that the game tells you to go off and find warmer clothing. And there’s no real punishment for taking your sweet time either, the game simply folds its arms and waits for you to do as you’re told. And it doesn’t actually affect the story at all.
And the story… well, it’s shit. You return to Raincliff because of things, someone’s gone missing, there’s a prince involved and at the end someone marries and everything is right in the world again. Whereas the original Raincliff at least had some tense moments and cool atmosphere, here the returning plot is not very engaging and despite having completed it only recently, I struggle to bring anything memorable to mind.
I shit you not, the damsel in distress actually ends up marrying the prince. No, really, that’s a story they went with and somehow figured was okay. To call the story trite and cliche is being kind.
Overall, despite a single interesting idea, the game leave me feeling very could… get it? It’s run of the mill, very little original thought went into this and the art isn’t even that good. This is one of those games where I’ll forget I ever played it only to years down the line install it again and go “Hum, these seems familiar.” It’s actually happened before… with Elephant Games games… games… but I can’t for the life of me remember which game it was.
Wait… what was I talking about?