The First Sign
Often when game designers try to throw everything but the kitchen sink into an adventure/hidden object hybrid, what you end up with is an incoherent mess. In the case of Voodoo Chronicles: The First Sign by Space Monkey Games, start with a hard-boiled detective film noir, cross it with a horror movie, add in elements of steampunk, and the result is a fantastic, glorious sprawling mess of a game that is very difficult to put down and harder still to walk away from.
This is not the story of New Orleans/Haiti religious group gone wrong. No indeed. The Voodoo in the title refers to the main character, a Chandleresque private detective named Voodoo. The game begins with a dark, horrifying tale of greed splashed out in an epic cut-scene of three characters committing dastardly deeds. The hero of the story, private investigator James Voodoo, receives a phone call about a mysterious break-in involving one of those characters, and suddenly you're off into a fantastical alternate universe America investigating murder, greed, magic, and a giant squid attacking the city. Can James Voodoo solve the multiple mysteries he is presented with before the city falls victim to this tenticular menace and save the day? That all depends on your puzzle-solving, hidden object finding, and wolf-bashing skills.
Gameplay is the standard adventure hybrid setup navigating your way through multiple areas. A changing cursor indicates places to check out, items to investigate, or various objects that can be picked up for later use. Depending upon the mode of play there are also glints of light to indicate hotspots and a cascade of question marks to highlight hidden object scenes. Clues as to what is going on are derived from notes, newspaper articles, conversations with a vast array of colorful characters, and the detective's handy notebook, which keeps track of not only what he's learned but keeps a nice running list of goals on helpful post-it notes within the pages. A refilling hint timer is nice, but what is even better are the little "spies" embedded within the game. Find them and you can rack up "instant" hints that don't need to refuel, and earn more by not skipping the mini-games!
Analysis: Voodoo Chronicles: The First Sign creates a stunning, fantastical roller-coaster ride of an adventure hybrid with memorable characters, astonishing scenery, breathtaking animations, and amazingly amusing gameplay. A nice blend of hidden object finding, puzzle solving psychedelia is the result of this imaginative blending.
The hidden object scenes are difficult, of the "shrink objects and put them in a dark shadow in the background" variety. The puzzles cover a wide range of familiar (pipe, gear, slider, etc.) and refreshingly new. Gameplay is broken into easy to manage chapters, so while there is a lot of wandering and backtracking within each area, the overall gameplay is refreshingly linear. Or as linear as you can get when jumping from the mean streets of the city to a wild zeppelin ride, then to a dark foreboding town with wolf problems and eventually to the acid-flashback-inducing end. Half the fun of Voodoo Chronicles is the amazing tonal shifts from chapter to chapter, as you're never quite sure which genre will leap to the forefront as the game progresses.
While the mish-mash of genres works surprisingly well within the structure of the game, there are a few downsides. The clickable areas to pick up hidden objects is occasionally tiny, making some of the hidden object scenes frustrating. The characters, while nominally American, all appear to have been imported from somewhere in Europe, what with all of the British, French, Italian, and generic Romanian villager accents flying around. Other minor annoyances include some dodgy grammar and strange item names in the hidden object finding lists.
Despite the flaws, Voodoo Chronicles: The First Sign is a gloriously loopy and beautiful ride through someone's imagination, although you can't help wonder if that imagination was fueled by, well, let's say a wide variety of pharmacopeia, shall we? A ton of fantastic gameplay awaits those who dare to solve the mystery and take a ride on the steampunk/noir wild side.
A Collector's Edition is also available. It includes wallpapers, concept art, screensavers, the soundtrack, an extra adventure, and a built-in 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.