NDS Review - 'Syberia'

by Matt Olsen on Jan. 13, 2009 @ 3:21 a.m. PST

Benoît Sokal's 3D adventure game Syberia is coming to NDS. Kate Walker, a young and brilliant lawyer from New York, has come to Europe to negotiate the purchase a famous Robot/Toy factory, but will soon have her future completely turned upside-down ....

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Dreamcatcher
Developer: Dreamcatcher
Release Date: November 25, 2008

The adventure genre is one with a beloved past. Titles such as Escape from Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, and many other hits essentially defined the genre. While it appears that the genre took a break in the last generation of consoles, it seems to be making a comeback on the Wii with the Sam & Max series and the Strong Bad WiiWare titles. While it's nice to see a revival of the genre, it would be even better to have a more tactile response to the point-and-click gameplay for which these games are known. It's now possible with the Nintendo DS port of 2002's Syberia.

If you have already played the original PC game, then this is the same game you liked, but it's been updated to work with the DS' limitations. The story remains intact: A female attorney named Kate Walker is sent to Eastern Europe to cement an acquisition deal with a toy company.
As soon as Kate arrives in the first area of the game, Valadilene, she discovers her trip won't be as short as expected. Anna Voralberg has passed away and her lost brother, Hans Voralberg, is entitled to the company. Now Kate must track down this runaway heir in order to complete the business acquisition and unravel various other mysteries along the way. Many specific details that add to the story, such as newspaper clippings and pamphlets, have been omitted from this iteration.

While the main story for the port remains intact, I feel players new to the series won't feel the same connection to Kate as those who have played the PC version. In the PC version, a secondary story carved out bits of character development as it involved a series of phone conversations between Kate and her fiancé, Dan. These conversations, as well as other tidbits of information such as newspaper clippings and bulletin board postings, have all been omitted from the DS version, which may be due to the lack of storage space on the DS cartridges.

Minute plot elements aren't the only things that simplify Syberia; many of the puzzles and other collectibles have also been reduced. Some of the key items you collect are practically given to you, and the puzzles simply consist of inserting those items into a device (if they haven't already been inserted) and then starting it up, which can be a chore in itself. One of the earlier puzzles involves starting up an elevator, but the gears are missing. You recall that the child, Momo, was playing with some gears at the inn where you're staying. Returning to the inn and going to the other room and examining the table, you'll discover that there are four gears placed on the table, whereas in the original two were on the table and the other two were scattered on the ground. It's a minor detail, but one that shows how streamlined some of the puzzles are in the game.

Going along with the puzzles, the game's touch-screen-only controls are quite a hassle. Interacting with objects is annoying because you're blindly searching for the exact pixels for an object that is needed for a puzzle. It's also tedious to figure out which objects from your bag of goodies works with a particular puzzle and which ones do not. Typically, an incorrect or incorrectly placed object will be rejected and sent back to your briefcase, so it usually becomes a matter of trial and error.

At the top of the touch-screen, there's a menu bar with various icons, including: save, phone, eye and moving gears. The first two are for saving the game and calling your contacts, respectively (they usually don't accept your calls unless they call you), while the eye icon is used for investigating the area. Touching and dragging the eye over areas will highlight items of interest, such as nearby exits, items or puzzles. You'll then move to the area where you noticed something unusual, but getting there is easier said than done.

In the PC version of Syberia, the premise for moving was simple: You click a location, and Kate went there. For this DS iteration, you touch a location, and Kate will move in that general direction at a snail's pace. Moving between screens is nerve-wracking because Kate cannot run in this version, although she could run in the PC game. The pixel-perfect precision of your destination is also a problem, as Kate doesn't always go where you tell her. Often, there'll be some object in either the foreground or the background that prevents her from getting to the expected destination. Kate will walk at an awkward angle alongside the wall, and it makes traversing to various locations a pain, especially if there's something of interest in a corner between two doorways. Should you go near it, you'll end up in one of the two rooms next to it. With such imprecise touch controls, this game would be able to get away with it if it were a launch title, but since we're pretty far into the handheld's lifecycle, this problem is inexcusable.

While exploring these places, you can choose to stop and further investigate the area by tapping and dragging the eye icon from the menu bar on the touch-screen. You can then drag a cursor around the vicinity to discover things of interest, such as: people to talk to, objects to interact with, items to take, or puzzles to solve. However, since the controls are so clunky, you don't really get the chance to do most of those things. The simple point-and-click controls of a mouse don't translate quite well over to the DS. Adventure games are known for their page-turning story lines and hence the gameplay for these games is fairly simplistic: a point-and-click investigation style game. This play style usually works well, as it forces players to unravel the mysteries hidden within the story themselves. Unfortunately, this particular tale seems so much longer because the character takes so long to walk to her destination, and she occasionally walks in random directions instead of where she was directed to go because some invisible force is driving her to do something else.

Despite the crummy controls, the visuals for this game are amazing. For the hardware it's running on, it's absolutely breathtaking to see the CG cinematic scenes throughout the course of the story. While the visuals may not compare to the original PC version, I'm willing to go as far as to say that this is one of the best-looking games on the DS to date. In terms of the in-game action, it doesn't hold up quite as well. Characters look really blocky, and movement is very robot-like. The pre-rendered backgrounds look really nice, even though you can hardly interact with them. Syberia definitely has the European townscape painting aesthetic going for it, and that carries throughout the game.

On the audio side of things, the music is key to giving players a sense of being in that region of world. There's a certain sense of mystery and creepy ambiance that inhabit the towns you visit. It's very memorable, but that's mainly due to the fact that the game plays the same half-minute loop over and over again. It's very repetitive, and it won't ever leave your head after you've played for a few minutes. Other than the music and some mechanical noises when you activate a device in a puzzle, the sound is almost absent. No voice work is included either, which could've helped further the story.

All in all, Syberia for the DS is a very underwhelming port of the original PC title. The game would've been fine on its own, but it's plagued by sluggish controls, a broken touch interface, and multiple omissions from the original game that would only disappoint fans. I'd recommend this game, but only for the PC. If you're looking for a nice point-and-click title for the DS, I'd recommend the Ace Attorney games over this any day.

Score: 6.0/10

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