Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters
It is a tale familiar to everyone. Little Red Riding Hood went to her grandmother's house in the woods, carrying a basket of goodies. Instead of being greeted by her dear old granny, the poor frightened girl met a hairy, long-toothed predator who wanted to gobble her up. Fortunately for the helpless child, a nearby woodsman heard her cries and slew the beast. Not exactly a lighthearted, gentle story to begin with, is it? Well, put such a fairytale in Blue Tea Games' talented hands and it becomes something much more... dark. Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters is a lushly gorgeous and dramatically entertaining hidden object/adventure hybrid about femme fatales who are anything but helpless, banding together to battle evil, to the death if need be.
You enter the scene as a detective, sent to investigate a town that has been lost to the rest of the world. Before you can arrive at your intended destination, your carriage is attacked by a pack of mist wolves. That would've been the end of the story if not for a daring rescue by Ruth, who now herself is injured, poisoned, and in need of your intervention. Your search begins as a quest for the remedy and soon turns into much more. Exploring the woods, the sisters' base camp, and the ill-fated town will lead to a plethora of fragmented object search scenes, thinky-yet-affable puzzles and mini-games. Even with all of that, the overall emphasis in Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters is adventure and cinematic storytelling.
This action-filled, oft times violent adventure involves a good amount of back-and-forth as you need to gather together lovely pieces of art that found either scattered about within the main environment or from searching for fragments of objects in the hidden object search scenes. There is a good number and variety of these search scenes but you will never find the traditional "junk pile" style of hidden object searches, which will be a relief to anyone who has grown tired of that formula. Better yet, this style of fragmenting means your explorations, searches and puzzle solving is completely logical for the story; it all works together to support the feel of adventure.
Unless you choose "Hard" mode, a map and hint system circumvents any confusion that might arise from all the traveling about needed to complete the tasks. Tasks are also listed for you although the story-driven design of the game keeps it clear just what is needed next. While you complete your main quest, you can can also uncover parts of the parables which you can access through your notebook. Again, like others in the Dark Parables series and in some Mystery Case Files games such as Escape from Ravenhearst, you can challenge yourself to find all the cursed/morphing items. A top-notch soundtrack keeps the mood while still remaining in the background and the rich hues and deep brush strokes of the oil-painted fantasy world add to the entertaining experience.
Analysis: It's hard to not compare this installment to its predecessors. In many ways, The Red Riding Hood Sisters is a much improved production in a continuing line of high quality games. The artwork alone is a joy to discover and interact with. The story is dynamic with superior writing and voice acting. More notable is the timing and delivery of the cut scenes or movies; in other games, the cut scenes can interfere with gameplay, become an unwelcome intermission from the joy of puzzles and adventure. Not here. Even with a few instances where they seem made by different hands, the movies are high points in the game, propelling you further into the violent, twisted world of mashed-up fairytales and the ultimate battle of good versus evil.
Some players will be disturbed by this, though, as the enemy in this case uses wolves—furry animals that many people care about and sympathize with—to carry out her murderous deeds. It might be some relief to consider that these wolves are not actual sentient beings but products of dark magic. This heightens the plot complications, too, since no ordinary weapon like a simple woodsman's ax can overcome them. For those who enjoy high drama and lots of action, The Red Riding Hood Sisters is full of "wow" effects.
But those who have an especially fond reverence for the preceding Dark Parables title, Rise of the Snow Queen, this tale possibly won't measure up. The mini-games are less challenging than in Rise of the Snow Queen and the story, because of a number of subplots and a wide cast of characters, is not as focused. The evil Snow Queen was a much more subtly insidious villainess, as well. All other Dark Parables knowledge aside, though, and you can't help but be impressed. This is a can't miss game for any fan of the genre.
The main gameplay of Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters is a little on the shorter side—or maybe it just feels that way as you are so immersed that time slips away unnoticed. An extra chapter in the collector's edition is a stand-alone but related story, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. It, along with extra puzzles and other bonus content, do round out the experience and I recommend, for those who can, getting the collector's edition for this reason. On the other hand, the game strategy guide for the collector's edition is helpful yet somewhat redundant considering this game's superb hint system and map.
The best reason to play Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters is to indulge your love of detail-rich, fantasy artwork while enjoying the fragmented object searches and putting together magical trinkets and emblems to discover new areas. Although you can still see the etching of plot formulas gratuitously-bent toward the genre's demographic base, it's evident the designers put much pride and passion into crafting this creation by how well it transmits to the players' own enjoyment. This is a story we heard before yet it is never dull. How fun to take part in this daring sisterhood of strong lead females (Yay! Go girl power!)
A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains bonus content not found in the standard edition: an extra chapter, extra mini-games, wallpapers, music, strategy guide, and more. 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.