We’ve all grown up with a bunch of cartoons by our side and there’s a high chance that few of those that we hold close to our hearts, if any, are still running. The people that more than 30 years ago were watching The Mysterious Cities of Gold’s first season surely know what that’s all about and chances are that with the recent resurrection of the series, they rejoiced quite much. Ynnis Interactive, a company based in France, decided to take this further, developing a game based on the series and with the help of famed crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, they also managed to release it outside of France.
I’m one of the persons that weren’t accustomed to the series in any way, that’s why there were no actual expectations from the game itself. After quite a speedy install, you get acquainted to the game’s launcher and sole place of graphical options. There’s really not much to be changed around here, apart from resolution and the number of anti-aliasing samples, but as the game isn’t particularly demanding graphically, one can easily overlook this small detail.
The title could be attributed the label of an adventure game with a higher focus on the puzzle aspect. In fact, the only interaction you’ll have with the story is through clicking the unvoiced dialogue sequences that appear throughout the levels and being witness to the inter-level cutscenes. These cinematic bits are taken directly from the animated series and are the main way of conveying the story. While their quality is undoubtedly great, the transitions from one portion of a longer cutscene sequence to another is done very abruptly, via a very sudden cut in the middle of the action. While this doesn’t necessary impair one’s understanding of the story, it does tend to annoy after it occurs for the twentieth time or so.
The game’s levels will take you through various locations where you’ll have to solve different puzzles. These are heavily based on trial and error, logic and observation. The protagonists are three children, Esteban, Tao and Zia, who will have to use teamwork and their different abilities to find the much sought after City of Gold. Esteban can use his medallion to activate certain sun pillars in order to get past certain obstacles, Zia can fit through tight spaces and Tao can read ancient Mu tablets that give clues as to what you’re required to do and also use his parrot, which was by far my favourite member of the cast, to steal keys.
When you won’t be stepping on plates, opening chests and locks or picking up statuettes to move them to the required platforms, you will be sneaking past guards that will either patrol the level or just watch an area. The game does its best to introduce these concepts gradually but stops adding things once you reach the half point. There’s some variety in the gameplay department, but in truth, nothing new is found there. The elements it is built from have been in plenty of other games beforehand in the same shape as they are here. Completionists will have things like scrolls or illustrations to collect, these requiring more often than not, an extra effort if they’re to be reached.
Difficulty-wise, Secret Paths is aimed at a more casual audience. The puzzles aren’t exceptionally difficult, the player probably being able to solve most of them without too much thought, and when things get a bit more varied, all you need to do is observe the level attentively or, if you’re not the patient type apply the trial and error method. The guards present also tend to have a rather narrow line of sight. Apart from this, it usually takes them a couple of seconds to figure out you’re really there and when they spot you, all the enemies in the area stop and look around. Because of this, there will be a constant chain of movements they will do, thus making things easier for the player.
The relatively low difficulty may be a turn-off to many and might be perceived as a flaw, but in truth, the situation is quite different. The title was clearly built around this idea from the start, and while some might look for challenge in these types of games, others might not. It’s definitely not a game you’ll be playing in one shot, as it tends to get tedious after, let’s say, sessions of more than an hour, or perhaps an hour or a half, but in spite of that, it does provide a good amount of entertainment.
Secret Paths is probably not the best looking game out there, but it’s graphics and art style are far from ugly. It renders the world in a simple manner. The colours were chosen quite smartly, providing a very comfortable image throughout the game, even in certain levels that will throw lots of yellow at your face. The level tilesets are also surprisingly varied, as is the music. I’m one of those people that doesn’t often enjoy adventure or puzzle games based around one or two mechanics and after being done with the game I noticed just how much the well-composed and varied music alongside the change of scenery in the levels helped with squeezing one extra level in those short gameplay sessions.
Story-wise there’s not much to be said. As the cutscenes are taken directly from it, the story follows the TV series and it’s far from being bad. Sure, there might not be any unexpected turn of events, but it follows the pattern of the type of animation it belongs to and does so in a good way that woke up a bit of nostalgia in me, every now and then.
For those of you not familiar with the show, there’s a high chance you won’t get a glimpse into the inner layers of the character’s personality. The dialogue present in the game provides little insight on anything apart from the task at hand, thus keeping you from actually understanding the similitudes and differences between the protagonists, apart from what is shown by their abilities and need to work together.
If you’re a fan of the series, your interest will most likely be peaked by the setting. However, if you’re a gamer that’s not particularly looking for an casual puzzler, or simply not a fan of the tv show, it would probably be best to wait until it goes on sale before buying. At the end of the journey, The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths is a pleasant, entertaining light adventure/puzzler that will satisfy you as long as you’re into this particular approach to genre. It might not innovate in any way, and it might have its flaws, but what’s certain is that it also has some charm and is quite able to draw you in, even if only for short sessions.