Monkey see, monkey do. That’s what we are to Eipix: monkeys. And not particularly bright ones either.
I like Eipix, no matter what I say on this blog. At least on a personal level. They pulled themselves up from nothing and made themselves one of the biggest companies in the casual games industry, vowing to produce twenty something games in 2015. That and actually pulling such a thing off is impressive on its own.
But as a critic, and partly as a gamer, I don’t like them. And “Myths of the World: Spirit Wolf” is a perfect example of why I don’t like them. Or at least think there’s massive room for improvement amidst all the things they do right. So instead of me just saying it’s awful, let me use this game to illustrate what I don’t like.
When your friend Jesse calls you up and tells you there’s something strange going on at his Native American exhibit, you immediately set off to try and help him. But when approaching the center, the amulet your mother gave you a long time ago starts to glow. It turns out this amulet is the key to stopping Misu, an ancient evil that’s about to break free after centuries of being locked away. With time running out, it’s up to you to save the world.
And apparently mend a broken heart. Or something. So the game told me but I can’t really say that played too much part in the game or the story. There was some story of unrequited love but that’s about it.
This is a story told a million times before and while I realize they’re drawing on old stories and myths for this series, you can still try and do something new with it. And it isn’t very well written either because it takes a big helping of coincidences just to get it started, I mean, what are the chances that YOU just HAPPEN to have THE amulet needed to SAVE the world? It’s ridiculous. And who the hell built this exhibition, it’s freaking nuts.
And for a game about Native American mythology, it contains surprisingly little references to the actual fact. Oh, they talk about spirits but it’s the standard stuff as far as the entertainment media goes: someone turns into a raven, there’s a wolf and an eagle or something. They never talk about any of the actual gods mentioned in the mythology which leads me to think they made most of it up. Lord knows the “exhibition” itself is fairly standard. I very much doubt Eipix sent its writers and artist to an actual Native American exhibit to learn.
It doesn’t really take all that long before the story goes a little wonky, to use the scientific term, and one of the first things out of Jesse’s mouth is “mushrooms 100 times the size they should be”. Oh, alright then, what’s next, a forgotten civilization deep underground?
But I’m not an expert, maybe this is a word for word retelling of a story handed down by the native Americans. That would explain why it feels not very interesting, at least. I did a quick search around but I never found anything relating to it which is a shame, this would’ve been a perfect opportunity to get people actually interested in other cultures and their mythology. I used to be really into this sort of stuff, read books about it and everything, and it’s what drew me to the series but I find it very difficult to do my own research when I don’t even know where to start. Searching for Misu yielded nothing and I don’t think they ever mention what tribe we’re dealing with here so there’s quite a lot of mythology to go through.
But I’ve given games with awful stories a pass before so I’m not gonna focus too much on that. After all, as good as a story may be, it’s just the window dressing. The meat of the game lies underneath and that’s where I really start having a problem with this game.
This isn’t a puzzle, though it certainly looks puzzling (ha!). But what looks like a difficult puzzle actually turns out to be rather simple when you realize the goal is to move each bird into the center… one at a time. And you can’t actually fail, if you go down a dead end you just head on back. It seems more complicated than it really is because you have to move using the arrows on the side. And it’s a pretty straight forward maze, there really aren’t any branching paths so any dead end usually only takes one or two clicks to reverse.
At first glance I thought you had to rotate the whole thing and make the birds meet at the nest at the same time. I’ve seen puzzles like it before and there’s a whole NES game out there where the goal is to guide two little beings through a maze and meet at the center. So it’s not like it’s difficult to make a maze puzzle to challenge you.
This isn’t a puzzle. It certainly looks like a puzzle that will have you thinking and I certainly thought it was more complicated at first which is why it annoyed me so when I figured out it was just another squandered opportunity. I highly recommend playing these games without reading the instructions first because it makes the game a bit more challenging. But some times it backfires, like here. I figured it was a variation of the traditional puzzle where you’re only allowed to have one of each in every row and column. Sort of like a sudoku but on a lesser scale, usually.
But nope, it was just a matter of figuring which color went in what column. And how do you figure that out, trial and error? Well, look at his eyebrows and you should already know. In other words, the puzzle even gives you the answer, making itself even more pointless.
This isn’t a puzzle. It looks and feel like a puzzle but it isn’t. The object of the puzzle is to put everything in order. Right head on the right body with the right arms and the right drum. A good game might try and have you figure it out with a riddle or a rhyme of some sort or just vague clues that they somehow belong together with similar patterns and designs. Eipix, on the other hand, chose, again, to simply give us the answer straight up. See those little pictures beneath each statue? Yup, that’s the solution.
What baffles me about this is that they still have the skip button. Why? The time it takes for the Skip button to charge is longer than it takes just to follow the damn instructions, like an even easier IKEA manual.
Don’t get me started on the binoculars. I’ve always been a believer in static inventory in HOPA, items that you carry with you throughout the game. It allows for similar puzzles that rank up in difficulty the deeper you get into the game while teaching you throughout. Eipix has a similar idea but…
This is another instance of a non-puzzle. It seems difficult at first, having to set the focus manually each time to get a clear picture. But then you realize all you have to do is move the arrows until they become green. I stopped looking at the picture itself and just at the arrows because the image is unrelated to the puzzle. It may seem perfectly clear but it’s only if the arrows are green that you get a pass. And it never scales in difficulty either but then how could it, smaller margin for green? More arrows?
They also added a second static item in the form of the amulet, the most lucky and coincidental coincidence in the history of coincidences. But much like the binoculars, what they actually offer isn’t so much a puzzle as it is busywork.
Every now and again you come across these symbols and they signify that there’s a barrier. Only by using the amulet can you break the barrier and this is done by seeing what symbols there are and clicking the appropriate buttons on the amulet. It serves the same function as a key as the amulet is fractured and you need to find pieces for it. So now and then you’ll come across symbols that you don’t have which means you have to go look for more pieces. When you’ve found the pieces, you slot them into the amulet and break the barrier.
This is another example of “monkey see, monkey do” because they flat out tell you the answer and then just expect you to punch in the code on your own as if that’s an accomplishment. Perhaps a better way of doing this would be to have to counter the symbols, that you have to find the opposite of the symbols on the barrier or symbols that somehow relate to them. This would some times allow for multiple solutions and some times it can be very specific, increasing the difficulty.
Making the amulet further annoying are the parts where you have to break an even bigger spell and you do this by dragging the amulet around the screen, looking for symbols that can only be seen through the amulet.
This is another example of a non-puzzle but here it’s more related to the hidden object aspects of the game which is fine, in theory. However, the symbols only appear one after the other so even if you’ve already searched the entire screen for one symbol, the moment you find it, you have to search the entire screen again. This, my friends, is the very definition of tedious. There are moments where the idea is used well, like in the picture above, where all the objects (I think) were there from the start.
The only other time I felt like the amulet came into its was when you had to dispel spirit animals and had to guess what mixture of animals they were. It was a pretty brilliant way of using it. However, this was mostly used in the bonus chapter and then they, again, give you the answer, turning it into the same stupid thing as before where you just click the symbols that appear. Why this wasn’t a bigger part of the actual gameplay without revealing the symbols, I will never know.
This is something that’s starting to pop up in a lot of HOPA, the non-puzzle masquerade, and it’s honestly starting to piss me off. Don’t add puzzles just for padding but don’t put in the effort to make it worth the extra time. You don’t have to make it easier than it already is since we can SKIP puzzles entirely if we feel they’re too difficult. How stupid do you think we are?
In these cases a HOPA can be entirely saved by its core feature, the hidden objects, the HO in HOPA. And Eipix, for the most part, do really well in this department so you’d think I’d cut them some slack. But I can’t, not anymore, after having played games that mix it up in far more creative ways and does more with it. Sure, we get both lists and silhouettes here but is that enough anymore?
I will give them a minor lash on the knuckles with the ruler for using such obscure objects. If they weren’t silhouettes but just a normal list then I probably wouldn’t have found half of these things because I don’t actually know what they’re called. But then what is the difference between a ceremonial pot and a regular pot and how am I, an unlearned, supposed to know it?
There’s very little in terms of interactivity beyond the normal opening of containers and using one item to unlock another, that sort of thing. But the interactive bits aren’t always shown very well, leaving you mighty confused as to what you’re supposed to do next. I did like that they had mini-scenes though, just a small, zoomed in view with four or five objects to find and that was it. Quick and painless and it adds an additional layer to what else is a pretty monotonous job of finding objects and finding where to put said object.
However, the variety other games have simply isn’t there and it hurts the game in the long run. The lack of serious interactivity also brings the scenes down significantly, making them more tedious than fun. They’re also too unevenly spaced out, something that easily could’ve been fixed by simply revisiting more scenes twice. Now they instead seem to almost disappear for a long while and they return in force, bombarding you with scene after scene.
Now, I’m not gonna spend all of the post hacking away at Eipix because the game isn’t entirely bad. It’s just a mangled mess of potential and laziness. Even the graphics, which Eipix normally excels at is sort of dull here. It’s good, I’m not gonna say anything else, and I definitely enjoyed the purple and blue tones present throughout the game.
It’s high quality, no doubt, but I know Eipix can do better than this. Despite its good use of colors, the design itself feels pretty meandering and they can’t seem to stick to a specific style. It makes the game feel fractured, like a lot of different people worked on their own then they simply slotted the pieces into place without considering how it actually ties into each other. I also which they’d stuck to a few primary colors instead of wildly using colors. Pretty, it may be, but it doesn’t help with the game feeling disjointed, rather the opposite.
Not all art is that great, though. The animations are pretty stilted and I again can’t help but to really wish HOPA would move on from the paper cutout animations. I get that they’re low budget and all but I’ve seen other companies do perfectly acceptable 3D renders, it might be time for a few more to jump on that particular wagon. Or go back to live action scenes, at least that has a charm to it. Hell, I know Eipix can do it because the opening intro where they go “Myths have enduring power…” or something like that IS 3D animated and doesn’t look too shabby. And they used to love actors cut into their games.
But the characters REALLY don’t look their best. Some look worse than others but none of them really mesh well with the rest of the graphics and they’re not animated particularly well. They probably could’ve saved some face by simply having them a ghostly, translucent blue or appear as spirit animals which, given it setting and theme, would’ve made a lot more sense.
Worse yet is that they’re all so bloody generic it took me almost the entire game to realize that there were actually more than two characters in the game. I don’t know who half of them were, in the end. Probably in part to me completely losing interest in the story but they never actually do much except appear to offer really lame platitudes in what apparently passes as dialog. They also had a tendency to play a bit too much “deus ex machina” at times, appearing at the right time to give me an item I feel they should’ve offered me a hell of a long time ago, speeding up the entire process.
Likewise, their voices are not that good, often speaking in this stereotypical native American voice that Hollywood has made popular. Surely, if they passed on that long ago then they probably don’t know English and if they’ve learned since they died, surely by now they can speak better English? Their accents are all over the place too, some clearly not sure what they were going for and some sounding anything but native American or even contemporary American. The awful dialog and having to explain a story that makes no sense didn’t help. Really, the only thing I liked about it was the narrator who explained the backstory every time you found a chunk of rock.
That’s really the only time I felt the game came alive. Other than the music which is really the only time I’m going to give Eipix a clean pass in this post. ‘Cause the music was actually good. It normally is with Eipix but that’s one bone I’m not gonna take from them.
Overall, I just feel “Spirit Wolf” focuses on the wrong thing for a HOPA. Yes, story, graphics and audio is important and the better quality, the more enjoyable the experience usually. But they should be the backup singers to the real stars of the show which are the hidden objects and puzzles, 75% of the word HOPA that they want us all to use. Eipix are producing more games than anyone else which I, as an idealist, feel should give them the best opportunity to explore and expand the genre rather than repeat the same old pattern.
Worse yet, Eipix has become a trendsetter and as such anything they do that becomes a success, other studios will try to do as well. As such I feel HOPA are becoming more and more interactive storybooks than they are games and I’m just waiting for the day when they drop the HO and P from the acronym and start making just Adventure games. Which is fine, you know, make Adventure games if that’s what you want to do. Most people who enjoy your games do it because of the story and graphics and sound, not necessarily the puzzles or even hidden object scenes anymore, so why make them this way?
Or perhaps I’m looking at it wrong? Would I dislike the game as much if it was my very first one? Maybe not. But a part of me can’t help but to feel that that doesn’t matter. We can’t keep designing games only on the entry level. This game includes a ton of customization options for the difficulty yet none actually make it harder. You can change the amount of time it takes for the Hint button to recharge or whether the map gives you clues but that doesn’t really help me since I play most HOGs not using the Hint or the Map function, or at least strive to. The puzzles remain the same and while they may be at a decent level for a beginner, I’m not a beginner anymore.
There are puzzles in here that could easily have been made harder with a just a few tweaks, like increasing the amount of discs on the “Towers of Hanoi” puzzle. For someone new at it, maybe four discs is a bit of challenge but I breezed past it in a matter of a minute or so. Other puzzles would benefit from being made into actual puzzles and removing the answer. It’s not like puzzles are that hard to come by, the human race has been creating them for at least a few years before HOGs came along, you know?
Overall, I wasn’t pleased with “Spirit Wolf” and at least I know I’m not alone. It’s often cited as one of the weakest Eipix games yet and for good reason, I think. And while this is where I normally say “YOU might like it”, I just can’t this time because even if all these things I complain about are my issues and mine alone, Eipix has done better than this. It’s not a particular strong showing of theirs and it very much feels like they phoned it in a bit. Hopefully that’s not indicative of their future stuff but I guess we’ll see about that.