Chronicles of Mystery: The Curse of the Ancient Temple is a budget DS title from publisher City Interactive, who had previously released Chronicles of Mystery: The Scorpio Ritual for the PC and also published the follow-up PC title, Chronicles of Mystery: The Tree of Life. All three games center on the character of Sylvie Leroux, and they're all adventure titles. The DS game is actually a port or reimagining of the first PC game. Most of the plot remains the same, with a couple of small changes, but the gameplay sees some fundamental differences in how it's approached. While the PC titles are mostly third-person adventure games, the DS approach offers a mix of hidden object puzzles and old-school 2-D adventure games. You'll have to solve deductive reasoning puzzles, handle inventory management, and a deal with a mix of mini-games to clear your way to hidden doors and objects. It's an interesting mix that's relatively fun to play, but at the same time, the presentation is extremely plain, and the straightforward storytelling approach takes away much of the appeal.
In this title, Sylvie Leroux accepts her uncle's invitation to travel overseas and check out his current project. When she arrives, she learns that her uncle, a famed historian, has gone missing, and she sets off to find out where he's gone and what he was working on. The plot features the real-life group called Knights Hospitaller, a Christian group that popped up around AD 1080. There are a number of references to them in the game, including some hidden scrolls that detail a fictional telling of their real-world counterparts. It's not quite edutainment, as certain liberties have been taken to spruce up the plot a bit, but it's neat to have a real-world basis for the adventure.
When you boot up the game for the first time, you're given a couple of gameplay options outside of the main story mode. Hidden World mode distills the hidden object gameplay of the main game into a series of static screens with a list of hidden items to find. There are 13 stages in Hidden World mode, and they're unlocked as you see them in the story mode, so there's not much to see or do here when you initially start the game. Mini-Games mode consists of the 14 mini-games that you'll encounter and unlock in the story mode. The mini-games run the gamut, from familiar to the exotic. You've definitely played a variation Water Puzzle before; you're presented with pieces of a pipe in a small grid, and you need to place the pieces to keep the flow of water from being interrupted and guide it to an end point. If you lose any of the water, the game is automatically over. Other examples of mini-games are Short Circuit, which requires you to draw a line of electricity within the confines of a wire without touching the wall, and Differences, which is basically a puzzle that involves spotting the differences between two seemingly identical pictures.
All of the gameplay in The Curse of the Ancient Temple uses the stylus, making the title very approachable for players of all ages. It's not a difficult game either, and since most of the gameplay consists of hidden object puzzles, it won't exactly draw in the hardcore crowd. Personally, I find these games to be fun in short bursts, and they're as satisfying as working on the crossword puzzle or word search in the local newspaper.
Of course, Ancient Temple also involves a little more than that. Throughout the game, as you pick out the hidden objects, you'll add some of them to your inventory. You'll need to use those items to interact with something in the environment, and this will often trigger mini-game events or open up hidden passageways. This requires a little bit of deductive reasoning and puzzle-solving, so it's a bit more challenging and engaging than a typical hidden object game, such as Xbox Live Arcade's Interpol. The deductive reasoning bits are well thought out; they definitely make sense once you figure them out, and there's nothing particularly obtuse about any of the puzzles. If nothing else, you can always fall back on the limited hint system in the game, which will helpfully highlight the area you need to focus on without telling you exactly what you need to do.
To give you an example of what I'm talking about, I'll detail a specific segment of the gameplay. There are slight spoilers here, but nothing story-specific. You're given a garden scene, with a statue in the middle of the picture and tons of foliage all around. On your list of items to find, there are a broom and a pair of gardening shears. Once you've located these objects, you can use the broom to sweep away piles of leaves, which will uncover two ornaments, one silver and one gold. Tapping on these will add them to your inventory, and then you need to find the hidden exit to go to the next screen. This second screen is facing a wall that's overgrown with leaves and vines. You can use the gardening shears here to cut away the vines, revealing two spots to place each of the ornaments you've found. Finally, you can cut away a third spot to uncover a plaque, and if you remove that, you'll see a gear puzzle. Tapping on this will bring you into a mini-game setup, where you need to place the gears in order according to their weight. This will unlock a hidden compartment that holds a few weights, and then the screen will switch back to the garden. Using the weights that you've just obtained, you tap on the scales that the garden statue is holding, and this brings up another mini-game. Once you finish that, you uncover a tablet at the base of the statue, and once that's added to your inventory, the level is over. The majority of the stages will play out in a similar fashion, minus the character interactions and dialogue/story you'll encounter prior to each stage.
For the visual and audio aspects, The Curse of the Ancient Temple is a bit of a plain-Jane experience. The music isn't bad; it's very light, relaxing and comes from an orchestral-style score. There's no voice acting, so the dialogue is all text, and it can get extremely lengthy at times. There's some over-explaining of events between characters, and while I appreciate the attempt at character building, there are so many tertiary characters and side-events that I found myself not caring about anything other than the main character and her quest. For visuals, the game is really basic; it's definitely been toned down from the near-impressive quality of the PC game. The levels are all static pictures, no animations are seen, and during the dialogue segments, you're presented with talking head pictures on the top screen of the DS, while on the bottom screen, there's a still image of that particular scene. There is nothing to really engage the player beyond the most basic of settings, which is disappointing.
It is a budget-priced title, though, and I think most players will have some fun with it. The length feels just about right for a short trip or two; the story mode doesn't carry on too long, and it's easy to pick up, play a level, and put it back down. I'd like to see a little more work expended on the presentation because the game suffers from a lack of identity and fails to grab the player or make a lasting impression, but I suppose that's what happens when developers must work within budget constraints. The additional modes add a little more to the game's value, but since you've experienced all of these puzzles and mini-games within the story mode, it's not as if you're experience anything new. I suppose if you really enjoyed the mini-games, it's nice to have the option to go back and play them freely, but each one only takes a couple of minutes to complete anyway, and I saw little reason to return to them once I was finished.
If you're in the mood for some light puzzle-solving fun on the DS, then Chronicles of Mystery: The Curse of the Ancient Temple is the game for you. It's a pocket-sized adventure title that takes itself pretty seriously, and while the plot and presentation aren't quite up to snuff, the gameplay is surprisingly addictive and enjoyable. It's worth checking out if you're already a fan, but if you've never tried an adventure game before, this is a pretty solid entry point.
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