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Tad the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Gammera Nest
Release Date: Nov. 16, 2022


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PC Review - 'Tad the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 6, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Tad the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet is a 3D action-adventure where players visit iconic and exotic locations (Paris, Veracruz, Chicago and Cairo) in an epic journey to retrieve the emerald tablet while saving his friends.

For a while, it looked like the licensed game was content to stake its claim mostly in the mobile space. Console and PC players still got games based on big properties, but you'd be hard-pressed to find games based on the latest TV show or movie the way you would've almost a decade ago. That's changing, and we're seeing some of those games come back with properties that are only really big in certain regions of the world. From The Sisters to Krut, we're starting to see those come to video game form for an audience that might not be familiar with them at all. Tad the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet is another example, as you might recognize it if you browse direct-to-home movies, but it has a big following in Spain.

Based on the third film in the series, "Tad the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet," the game follows the events of that film rather faithfully. As an intern in an archaeological expedition in Veracruz, Tad longs to make a discovery that'll make him famous and give him the respect he wants from fellow archaeologists who see him as a klutz. He soon discovers an Egyptian sarcophagus — an unusual item considering the location — and proceeds to destroy the ruins. Fired from the site and sent home, he discovers that the heads of the expedition are taking credit for his find. He also gets word that there's a bigger secret hidden in the discovery. Wanting to clear his name, Tad tries to find out what the secret is and save the world once the secret is unleashed. As usual with these types of games, it helps greatly if you've seen the previous films or even this one, as the game doesn't bother to explain who anyone is and assumes you know what's going on.

Tad the Lost Explorer is a platformer that's big on collecting and puzzle-solving while light on combat. In fact, the only weapon you have is a rubber chicken that can defeat some foes and stun others while acting like a boomerang instead of a melee weapon. For the most part, you'll rummage through large expanses and some tombs, avoiding traps and jumping over lava pits. Along the way, you'll collect things like brushes, stamps, and other knickknacks that act as souvenirs. The puzzles you encounter include pushing and pulling blocks, activating different switches, matching symbols to unlock doors, and lighting torches to open other doors. Nothing here is too taxing, but they are good enough for the intended young audience.

While most of the game has you playing as Tad, there are moments when you'll either play as Sara and Ramona, and both characters have some moves to make them stand out. Sara sports a double-jump and runs a bit faster but is otherwise the same as Tad. Meanwhile, Ramona can jump higher and float down to the ground to cover large distances and prevent fall damage. She can also destroy and rebuild certain objects to create platforms for herself. Unfortunately, there is no character switching, as you can only play with these characters in certain designated sections of the game.

One of the more interesting aspects of Tad the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet is that you'll play in both 3D and 2D. Around half of the game takes place in 3D worlds, where you can run around without too many restrictions. The levels are sizable with plenty of space to hide brushes, and this is where a majority of the puzzles are located. The other half of the game takes place in a 2D plane, and while the puzzle aspect is still present, there's more of an emphasis on actual platforming. The switching keeps things fresh, and players will appreciate the perspective shifts, even if the fourth-wall-breaking joke that is told the first time this happens isn't all that funny.

While the core gameplay can be enjoyable enough, there are issues that start to drag down the experience. Combat is perhaps the most notable, as your rubber chicken rarely seems to hit the enemy on the forward throw, preferring instead to hit the target when on its return. It creates situations where you can't immediately knock out someone and need to get a good distance away before you can initiate the throw and hope that it hits the enemy before they hit you.

The inability to grab onto ledges unless they're painted white becomes a bigger annoyance; there are jumps you can clearly make if only Tad would reach out and grab the ledge. That issue becomes amplified when you can't gauge how far you can fall before dying. Falling the same distance in two different sports produces completely different results.

The touted ability to play as more characters is fleeting, as you can only play as Sara in two short sections and as Ramona in the game's closing chapters. Perhaps the biggest annoyance comes from the presence of your bird friend, Belzoni, who chimes in often to provide you with a hint or mock you for your decisions. While he adds to the humor, his appearance means you can't control your character until he leaves. Considering that he appears every few minutes, the pacing suffers because you'll rarely get a moment of uninterrupted action.

The game is also home to a number of bugs that greatly affect gameplay. The fact that you can travel almost anywhere and step on almost anything means that there will be moments when you'll be stuck in the air between objects, unable to move unless you restart the level. One boss fight had the player able to do anything but move forward, and the only way out of this was to roll forward into a pit and respawn with full movement. The boat chase in the middle of the game is an endless source of frustration, as there seems to be no way to outrun the cops chasing you, no matter how many speed ramps you hit. The chicken's automatic enemy seeking sometimes goes for enemies that are further away than the closer ones. Your hitbox is so large that enemies and spikes can still harm you, even if it's abundantly clear that they aren't making contact. The presence of infinite lives and a checkpoint system that spawns you closer to your point of death helps ease frustrations a bit, but it doesn't completely eliminate them during the campaign's five-hour runtime.

There's not much else to Tad the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet beyond the campaign. While completionists will like the option to replay levels to pick up everything they missed the first time, the process isn't exactly player-friendly. The number of collectibles you already obtained is still recorded, but your actual progress in a level is reset, and while that may not be a big deal for most of the stages, the more open hub worlds of Chicago and Veracruz are frustrating, as you'll need to redo puzzles to access previously unlocked areas, like the hedge maze or sections of the university. Unless you're coming in with a guide for your initial playthrough to ensure you get all of the collectibles the first time, you'll barely be tempted to go back for cleanup once the credits roll.

Like the game itself, several aspects of the presentation initially seem rather solid. The sound effects are good, but there are moments when the volume fluctuates. The game lacks voices beyond that of Mummy during the comic book cut scenes, but the character grunts also vary in volume, and some sound scratchy. The music is either taken straight from the movie or inspired by it, and while the adventurous tunes fit the game's theme, there are moments when the theme feels misplaced, such as when you're sneaking around the university grounds.

Graphically, the game stays true to the source material. Tad and the rest of the cast look exactly like they do in the film, and they animate rather well. The environments also look quite nice, with Veracruz looking lush thanks to the massive amounts of vegetation. Look a bit closer, though, and some flaws appear. We played the game on a TV capable of 120hz, and while the overall frame rate looked to fit in fine with the screen, turning the camera produced some microstutter in the environment that was very noticeable. Moving the camera up and down also produced a strange lighting halo effect along the edges. Perhaps the most damning of the bugs was the constant pop-in present in any of the 3D stages, where the pop-in distance was rather close. It never affected important characters like enemies and guards, but it meant that collectible brushes weren't noticeable until you were close enough to get one, making the quest to get a 100% completion rate on the first go tougher than it should be.

If you're planning on playing the game on the Steam Deck, you'll need to be aware of a few things. First, the game features no cloud saving, so unless you want to manually find and transfer the data yourself, your best bet is to commit to either a PC or Steam Deck from beginning to end. The lack of graphical options also means that you'll deal with a rather noisy picture due to the glut of light shafts everywhere. You'll also need to know that the resolution options go from 1080p to 4K before going to 1440p and 720p, so the list isn't intuitive. If you're fine with all of this, then you'll discover that the game lasts around a little under two hours on a full charge. With the game defaulting to medium settings, you'll see the frame rate fluctuate between 40-50fps at all times. It's not bad, but we wish that there were more graphical options to tweak to squeeze more life out of the battery.

Tad the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet is a return to the type of licensed game we thought had died out a while ago. It follows the events of the movie without bothering to get anyone else up to speed, the platforming is perfunctory, and it looks mostly nice if you don't look deeply into it. The game's low difficulty level makes it a good choice for younger gamers, but the number of bugs will frustrate those same players. Fans of the movie or character might be tempted by the relatively low price, but this is a tough sell, even for those who love collect-a-thons.

Score: 5.5/10

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