Secrets of the Dragon Wheel
In Empress of the Deep, Silverback took gamers to a gorgeous and mysterious undersea world. Now they're back with a new hidden object adventure, Secrets of the Dragon Wheel, featuring the plucky Epiphany O'Day in a quest which evokes the pulp fiction style of classic film serials. Can you keep the Dragon Wheel from falling into the clutches of the one who killed your mentor?
As you travel around trying to solve the mystery, you can click on some objects sitting around to add them to your inventory. Other objects are obtained through hidden object scenes, where you will be given a list of objects to find in a certain scene. When you complete the scene, you'll get at least one of the objects placed into your inventory. Through your investigations you'll get clues for how to use inventory items. Sometimes to move forward you must solve a puzzle, such as the reoccurring Persuasion mini-game where you must find a path that crosses over every square in the correct order.
Analysis: Let me make it perfectly clear: the story is a goofy romp, from its candy cane toting villain, to a shrunken winged man in a bird cage, to accents out of Hogan's Heroes and Hawaii 5-0, to "improvised blowtorches", to the hilarity of the heroine's saying out loud "Nothing that a little feminine persuasion can't fix." (Seriously, she says that MORE THAN ONCE.) However, the beautiful art is far from goofy. Every scene is full of intricate little details. You can practically smell the mustiness of an antique shop emanating from your screen. It makes the hidden object finding a joy. A pair of binoculars won't be the same old stock art; instead, while clearly identifiable as a pair of binoculars, it'll be done in a lovely vivid red cloisonné.
Since I actually speak Chinese, have lived in Taiwan, and take a keen interest in the culture and history of the Sinosphere, you might think the inaccuracies of this game would have me pulling my hair out. Shouldn't I be irritated that no one pronounces even a single Chinese word correctly in the entire game, not even the Chinese people? On the contrary, it didn't bother me at all, because it's just another way that this game is about as true to real life as Werewolf Women of the SS. The game breaks suspension of disbelief so gleefully that it crosses the line twice, back around to enjoyment.
Although the voice acting is campy, it's well-written camp, if that makes sense, and practically everything is voiced. The sound effects also add to the game's immersion. For example, on a train, you don't get that kind of constantly repeating short "YOU'RE ON A TRAIN! YOU'RE ON A TRAIN!" rattling sound effect that can drive you nuts in some other games. Instead, the atmospheric sounds are subtle and effective. A low rumble gets louder, than softer, then a sudden clanking as if the train is turning a corner, then silence for a time, then perhaps a chime as if the train is going through a crossing. Add in the game's music, and it's a recipe for total absorption in the scene.
The game features frequent inventory puzzles, with a fantastic user interface which makes keeping clues, objects and ideas straight a breeze. The hints recharge fast and are useful not only in the hidden object scenes, but also in trying to solve mini-games and puzzles, and sometimes simply in hinting where you ought to look next. No hidden object scene is repeated more than twice.
Although the game definitely doesn't take itself seriously, it's clear that serious effort went in to making this game. It's another great game from Silverback, and one that fans of the HOG genre won't want to miss.