With G5 and Big Fish Games on the iOS scene there is certainly no shortage of quality hidden-object and adventure games for your Apple-centric gadgets. With all the AAA titles available, though, it does make it a lot harder for the small developer to compete. Tales Of the Sanctuary: Chapter 1 ($0.99) makes an admirable attempt at doing something different, and I will admit to gleaning an odd sense of enjoyment from the game. In the end though, the game felt a bit too piecemeal for me. A bit more coherence would have gone a long way with this tale.
The game actually starts off with a cool if slightly clichéd intro, but the story quickly becomes secondary to everything else. Occasionally there is a panel with a paragraph of text attempting to guide you along, and from time to time you’ll wonder “why does this seem familiar?” but there’s really nothing to tie any of the sequences together. In what is the first of possibly a few spoilers this game is a “to be continued,” so maybe we’ll get more answers in part two, but at this point I’m not really sure what I even want answers to.
Tales is a typical mix of object-based puzzles and hidden object scenes, with a couple of mini games (for lack of a better word) thrown in. I would have liked to see some more complicated object puzzles, because most of them simply involved manipulating one or two items to find a key. The hidden object scenes provided you with plenty to find, but they were either so dark or so cluttered or both that it became a chore after a while. There were a couple of times that I used the hint feature (in one scene I even used it twice for the same object) and I still couldn’t tell what I was looking for. The first mini game was actually kind of interesting and made good use of a timer to intensify things, but the rest of the mini games seemed kind of pointless and in a couple cases provided no good explanation of what to do. I was particularly disappointed with the instance where I got bitten by a spider and was supposed to get something out of a medicine cabinet to take care of it, because even though I don’t think I got what I needed, I still survived and moved on to the next scene.
To select items or move to new areas you simply tap. To use an item from inventory you just drag it onto the scene where you want to use it. It’s not always obvious where there are things to do, and even when you’re sure you’re tapping the right spot it often feels like it takes two or three taps for the game to respond. You can pinch to zoom in and out and drag to slide the view around, but it regularly seemed like the screen was getting stuck trying to slide it, particularly when I was zoomed in. Sanctuary has no bonuses of any kind to unlock and no Game Center integration for achievements; so unless you want to play through again for the sake of finding different items in the hidden object scenes, once you’ve reached the end it’s over.
The visuals are actually really good from a technical perspective. Everything is nicely detailed and well drawn, and in a couple of scenes that I’m guessing are supposed to be like dream worlds, the images actually look like watercolors. Sadly things are often marred by dark palettes or lots of clutter which might be good for setting a mood but are not so useful when actually trying to play the game. The sound effects are okay, but the voiceover work reminds me of S.A.M., the text to speech program that came with my Commodore 64 30 years ago. At least the music was pretty decent.
As it stands Tales of the Sanctuary could use quite a bit of touch up work. The interface feels clumsy, the disconnected story is hard to take an interest in, and the mini games just didn’t work for me. However, I do think this is a good start for Jarbull, and after one or two more tries they should be cranking out some pretty solid adventure games. You could certainly do worse than this, but you might want to hold out for their next release.
Overall Score: 2.5/5