9: The Dark Side
Dark, grim, and filled with ghosts. Yes, that's what most adventure/hidden object hybrids seem to be these days. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it's done really, really well. There's a new developer out there, Play Favorite Games, that has taken up the challenge and done just that with 9: The Dark Side, a spooky exploration of a cursed castle and town that delivers just about every bell and whistle you could ask for.
You play the Last Descendant of the Guardians, a group that returned from the crusades in order to wrest control of an evil artifact from a mysterious organization known as The Clan of the 9. Before they could storm the castle where the nine dwelt, the nine managed to use the artifact to open the way to a mysterious darkness which wiped out the Guardians and poisoned the nearby town of Prague. Unfortunately, the nine couldn't control the darkness either and they went the way of the dodo, leaving what was left of the local population to face the darkness with tragic results. With the help of ghosts of both Guardians and (surprisingly) some of the nine, your mission is to solve the mystery of the missing amulet and seal off the dark side forever.
Point and click your way through the castle, its grounds, and then the town with the help of a changing cursor to accomplish your mission, both helped and hindered by various supernatural creatures. Included are the usual tools: a bottom-loading inventory, a refilling hint feature, and a really useful notebook which records the story and clues you find along the way. Another feature has also been added: a blazing red jewel that can be used in certain areas to discover the nine's hidden runes which can attack evil creatures or reveal hidden treasures. Along with a plethora of mini-games and puzzles there are a multitude of hidden object scenes to plow through which feature many different types of interactivity. The standard sparks, sparkles, and hints will help you along your way depending upon which mode you play.
Analysis: Play Favorite Games bursts upon the casual gaming scene with a fantastic adventure hybrid that has everything you could want and more. A stunning mix of clear, sharp visuals, intricate and involving puzzles, interesting and interactive hidden object scenes, multiple modes of play, and more. For all those flooding the market with supernatural adventures these days, this is how you do it right.
Atmospherically, 9: The Dark Side rises above the pack on the combination of visuals, sound, and animations. The backgrounds are amazingly crisp and gorgeous even in the "dark" areas. Sweeping music imbued with haunting choral pieces set the mood of every scene and are only enhanced by the incidental sounds appropriate to each locale. Animations range from benign creatures like cats, mice, birds and other local wildlife to the ghosts, many of whom are trapped by the curse, to the jump-scares provided by the less benign spirits, demons and an amazingly life-like (if they were actually real) werewolf. Rounding out the experience are some surprisingly competent voice overs to bring the various characters to life. All together the developers have created a fantastic atmosphere to set the story.
Play Favorite Games has paid equal attention to the gameplay making for a dense, challenging, interactive experience. The various twists in the hidden object scenes prevent them from becoming "more of the same", and there are a plethora of mini-games and puzzles to be found everywhere. Many are variations on the familiar, but have been ramped up with more difficulty or multi-level play. Although there is no map to help you along with your wandering (and there is a lot of wandering to be done) the standard notebook contains a helpful objectives tag to keep track of the multiple goals you encounter along the way. Three modes of play insure that the experience can be fun and exciting for a wide range of gamers.
Yes, the story has been done before, and is a little unfocused at points, but with the amazing atmosphere and engrossing gameplay on display it's a minor flaw. What 9: The Dark Side delivers in spades is a hefty gaming experience enhanced with stunning visuals that will keep you involved for hours. Can you save Prague from the darkness? It's definitely worth playing to find out!
A Collector's Edition is also available. It includes the soundtrack, wallpapers, concept art, extra gameplay, and an excellent integrated strategy guide. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.