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About Judy

As WP's senior editor, I edit review and preview articles, attempt to keep up with the frantic pace of Rainier's news posts, and keep our reviewers on deadline, which is akin to herding cats. When I have a moment to myself and don't have my nose in a book, I like to play action/RPG, adventure and platforming games.

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PC Review - 'Zanzarah : The Hidden Portal'

by Judy on Dec. 3, 2002 @ 8:49 a.m. PST

An exciting tale of two worlds...one fantastical, the other the world as we know it today. Once they were joined as one, but they now exist separately without knowledge of their former link to each other. Yet there exists a person able to reunite the two worlds: A girl, soon to turn 18, unaware of her power and her significance to both realms. Our resident mastah editor had her go with it, read more for the conclusion!

Xicat Interactive’s Zanzarah shows that it doesn’t require a tough guy and a massive arsenal of weapons to save the world. Geared towards the growing community of female gamers, this title features an 18-year-old heroine named Amy, who needs to save Zanzarah from the clutches of evil magic in order to restore the delicate balance between the mystical and human worlds. Try THAT with a rocket launcher.

You start off the game with absolutely nothing, but after a minimal amount of interaction, you will be given a fairy, which you can train by engaging in fights with other fairies, thus collecting experience points and increasing your fairy’s power level (0-60). As you’re wandering through Zanzarah, you will encounter 77 different fairies of varying types (air, fire, water, ice, nature, etc.), which you can weaken and capture in order to expand your fairy collection. Eventually, your arsenal will consist of five trained fairies that will help you fight the battle against evil.

In order to maintain the quest, you will need a well-rounded collection of fairies, money, medicine, and spells. Apparently, you will manage to save the world within 24 hours because Amy doesn’t ever need to stop and rest.

Most of the game can be played via the arrow keys and the mouse. Moving the mouse changes the camera view, left-clicking allows you to use an item or engage in a conversation, and right-clicking allows your character to jump. When controlling fairies in a battle, the left mouse button lets you cast a spell, while the right mouse button lets you fly.

The game is slightly non-linear because you can wander onto the next level without completing everything in the first level, although you’re often ill-equipped to do so. For instance, when you initially wander into the mountains, you’ll face level-30 fairies, while your fairies are still at a lowly level 15. Also, you won’t be able to access some paths in the first level without items that you won’t acquire until 2-3 “worlds” later. Zanzarah also contains a few optional sub-quests that you can attempt, but they are not required in order to complete the mission.

The RPG portion of game is great, and I was initially looking forward to exploring Zanzarah and solving puzzles to my heart’s content. However, the game quickly degenerated into a barrage of Pokemon-style fairy battles. I picked up some coins, a wild fairy attacked me. I captured a pixie, a wild fairy attacked me. I walked five steps after completing a fairy battle, and a wild fairy attacked me. While I understand the need to build up the fairies’ battle skills, I got the idea by level 15, and there was really no need to hammer the point home. One thing that could have eased the tedium would have been increasing the availability of items that would boost fairy experience points without engaging in battle.

Zanzarah is visually stunning! It features a seamless environment instead of static scene-to-scene changes so movement has not been sacrificed for graphics superiority. The landscapes are lush, and the graphics are so impressive that I didn’t have a fear of heights until playing this game. When Amy’s travels took her along thin windy paths around narrow mountain ridges, my knees started to wobble!

In the game’s options, you can also select the intensity of the game’s graphics, in case your system (like mine) can’t smoothly run the game in its full visual glory.

Sometimes the game has bad collision detection and you get outside of the game textures when moving the camera angle (i.e., a mountainside becomes a thin vertical line), but the moments quickly pass. I also experienced a slight glitch in one location with especially cramped quarters, when I did not want to talk to a goblin and tried to edge past her. Although I did not initiate the conversation, she mistook my proximity for interest and kept repeating herself. After 10 tries, I finally managed to get away. Now I know how my husband feels. ;)

The sound in Zanzarah is extremely detailed … and soothing! The resonance of Amy’s footsteps actually changes when she’s traipsing through the woods or walking along snowdrifts. The ambient sounds are accurate and amusing, with car horns in London, and babbling brooks and tweeting birds in the Fairy Garden. The soundtrack also creates the proper ambiance for each level: the Fairy Garden features a pleasant Yanni-esque melody, the dwarf village of Monagham has an industrious theme that’s reminiscent of Disney’s “Whistle While You Work,” Tiralin’s tune helps establish it as a medieval-type village, and Dunmore’s song is very appropriate for an ancient ethnic town. Luckily, the game developers didn’t go overboard and get song-happy, instead managing to select sounds that created the proper feel for each level. The Shadow Realm is deathly silent, with the exception of a sickly dripping sound in the distance, and the Snowy Mountains, Dwarf Tower, and Realm of Clouds all feature only one sound – strong winds whipping through the air.

While I salute the creative mind(s) that were responsible for the new languages in this game, you have to read the translations instead of listening, since they don’t sound like any human language, and rightfully so. The languages certainly enhance the game’s atmosphere, but Amy doesn’t have the benefit of reading a translation, which begs the question, how does she understand all of the new languages? Perhaps Amy could have picked up a translator upon arriving in Zanzarah, which could have helped her understand everyone in English. Unfortunately, there is no separate volume control for voices so I had to listen to loud gobbledygook when trying to enjoy a town’s ambient sound. As a result, I had to keep the volume low for most of the game.

Zanzarah also features a multiplayer portion, with two gaming modes, “Deathmatch,” in which you use your own collection of fairies from single player mode, and “Random,” in which the computer generates a random selection of fairies for all players. The multiplayer mode can accommodate up to 10 players over IP or through a local area network.

Despite my reservations about the fairy battles, Zanzarah, with its rich graphics and gorgeous soundtrack, will be a great stocking stuffer for many RPG/adventure fans. The game would have been fantastic had it remained a strict RPG, but if you stock up on enough items to survive or forgo the battles with the blood-hungry fairies, your mission will run quite smoothly.

SCORE: 7.5/10

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