Secret Files: Tunguska Wii Review

If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know I love point-and-click adventure games. When I did my review on Shadowgate for the NES, I mentioned the innovation behind porting a “MacVenture” to a home console. While Nintendo more or less forsook adventure games on the SNES, N64, and Gamecube, there was a bit of an adventure game renaissance on the Wii. Because of it’s mouse-like Wiimote, adventure games found a second home on Nintendo’s best selling console. Notable Telltale remakes made their way to the console, like Sam and Max and Monkey Island, as well as Revolution Software’s 1996 classic Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars. The Wiimote and hardware made emulation of these games very simple and easy to pick up. Due to a big drop in demand for adventure games in the early 2000’s, adventure companies were cautious with their products. Telltale Games, founded by former LucasArts designers, simplified puzzles, provided hint systems, and did away with tedious pixel hunting. As a classic adventure game fan, I am a little disappointed in the simplistic puzzles, but, at the same time, I like being able to finish an adventure without resorting to a guide.

Story

Secret Files: Tunguska (Geheimakte Tunguska in German) is a testament to the new era of adventure gaming. Published by Bavarian company Deep Silver for the PC in 2006, it was released in 2010 on the Wii and Nintendo DS. A sequel, Secret Files 2: Puritas Codas, was released in 2009 on the Wii and PC as well. Like a surprisingly large amount of adventure games, Secret Files’ takes a real historical event and builds a compelling story around it rife with mystery and conspiracy. You play as Nina Kalenkov, an ordinary girl turned sleuth as she must locate her scientist father, Vladimir Kalenkov, after a mysterious break-in at his Berlin museum. While at the museum, Nina suspects a mysterious hooded brotherhood as the culprit, but as the story progresses, the real enemy becomes clear. Built as the center of the story is the real life 1908 Tunguska Event — the largest asteroid impact in recorded history. Supposedly the radiation from the event has caused strange growth of the surrounding fauna, and it is believed Nina’s father was kidnapped by Russians to investigate the phenomenon. The story will take Nina, and her father’s colleague Max Gruber, across the world as they uncover a intriguing conspiracy regarding the event. As the story unfolds, Nina and Max explore Cuba, Ireland, Russia, Tibet, and Germany, piecing together the mystery. The mysterious narrative reminded me of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars and Beneath a Steel Sky, both games with numerous plot twists and conspiracy-laden themes. The mood overall is dark and unsettling, though they try and fail at times to make it funny –just watch the montage before the credits.  The story is quite engaging though derivative for an adventure game. Despite its strong narrative, the English language translation is rife with poor voice acting and mistranslation.

The Wii version did not come with alternate languages tracks, and I really wish it did. The voice acting is sub-par to say the least. Despite taking place in five different countries, every single NPC speaks with an American accent. I’m not sure how this was in the German version, but in the English version not even the Irish characters have accents, it really took me out of the story. Nina’s voice acting is a bit annoying, her high-pitched valley girl voice just doesn’t fit with the dark mood of the story — I really cringe every time she calls her dad, “Daddy”. The English translation is also not perfect, resulting in a few word variants not spoken in standard American English.

Gameplay

Secret Files has one of the best controls of any adventure game console port. You control Nina and Max’s movements with the Nunchuk and point and click with the Wiimote. The 2.5D environment is very easy to navigate and the ‘snoop key’ –activated by the 1 button — highlights all interactive objects, saving the player from pixel hunting. Like in most adventure games, items in your inventory can be combined together, but, to make the process even simpler, the controller will gently vibrate when two items are able to be combined. This was a great feature, as I would often scroll through my massive inventory in games like Monkey Island trying to find out if i can combine two of my items. Be prepared to deal with a rather large inventory; you’ll often guide Nina to dig through trash to obtain four or five new items — she’s a real scavenger! There are also a few items you’ll never use — an onion, a teddy bear, and a ladle– so don’t worry if you missed something, you can still finish the game.

Graphically, the game is dated, though it was praised for its graphics at the time. Cutscenes are the most dated looking, having a similar quality to an average PS2 cutscene. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered and interactive objects blend in well with

the environments. The music is minimal, appearing only in cutscenes and music playing in the background.

Puzzles are very straightforward and less obtuse than the puzzles of older adventure games. I finished at least three-quarters of the game without any guide. In each location lies a main puzzle, one in which the game provides a hint for if you’re confused. These involve traditional puzzles, like arranging four different coins Sudoku-style on a board. Lateral thinking puzzles advance the story and are incredibly entertaining. My favorite puzzle was fixing a little girl’s bike and camera to get photographs of some masked men terrorizing the museum. In return you receive a microwave hamster magnet, a very subtle reference to Maniac Mansion. Another wonderful puzzle involves using a cat for taping a phone conversation. The puzzles were very entertaining  and did not need much lateral thinking chops to solve.

Overall, Secret Files: Tunguska is an enjoyable adventure game for the Wii, despite being a somewhat average adventure release on the PC, comparatively. Puzzles are enjoyable, yet not too difficult, and the story is very entertaining, despite being a somewhat typical adventure game storyline. The voice acting is the games’ only true downfall, which may be remedied with a German language track option. The Wii version can be easily obtained for under $10 and the PC version and its sequels can be found on Steam for about the same price. Secret Files: Tunguska is a true hidden gem on the system and should be played by any fan of the Wii or adventure games.

Shadowgate (NES)- Where Death Awaits at Every Corner

ImageI’ve always been a fan of point and click adventure games. My most cherished gaming memories were of my many playthroughs of Curse of Monkey Island, Sanitarium, and Grim Fandango. When I got too frustrated trying to beat that carnival stage boss in Sonic 3, I’d turn to adventure games for an entertaining and dying-free experience. I loved guiding the self-assured Mighty Pirate Guybrush Threepwood through a lush and detailed Caribbean pirate cove. LucasArts had people like me in mind when creating their most memorable adventure series, providing death-free gameplay, comedic story lines, and brilliant character design. Instead of battling an endless array of enemies or playing a level endlessly, adventure games lured potential players with eccentric puzzles and cinematic story lines. LucasArts fans may be weary of playing a game like Shadowgate. Developed by ICOM Simulations, Shadowgate is a timed and perilous adventure, wrought with wrong turns resulting in graphic death scenes and obtuse puzzles. As a LucasArts fanboy, I was a bit taken aback when i popped this game into my NES. The castle plundering adventure captivated me throughout its perilous hallways. Graphically it was very primitive, akin to a text adventure with a interactive graphics window. It did not feature voice-acting, animated characters, or straightforward puzzles. Nevertheless, Shadowgate is an underrated NES classic unique to the system and should not be missing in any serious nintendo collection.

Released in 1987 on the Apple II under the “MacVenture” series, Shadowgate became the first point-and-click port to the NES in 1989. You play as an unnamed hero, “The seed of prophecy, the last of the line of kings”, who must stop the evil warlock lord from summoning the Behemoth at Castle Shadowgate and destroying the world. Well, it’s not the deepest story line out there, but it’s the exploration of Castle Shadowgate that provides the most entertainment. The user interface resembles an archaic dungeon crawler on the PC, ala Ulitma, with three windows [Graphic, Inventory, and Text/Commands/Map].

Shadowgate User Interface

It is a very different experience from the LucasArts and Sierra adventure games. Played from a first person perspective, you guide your character through the castle, unlocking doors to different rooms of the castle. Several rooms are unreachable without a specific item. The puzzles can be very obtuse and nerve-racking. For example, when encountering the troll on the bridge, you must use a spear to kill him, even though you have a sword, a hammer, and a sling in your inventory. If you use the wrong item on the troll, he kills you. The amount of items you can add to your inventory is gigantic — in fact, many items have no real use at all. During all of your exploring, you must pick up torches and keep at least one of your torches lit at all times. If they become unlit, the music will warn you of your imminent death.When struggling through puzzles, this can be very frustrating. If you do run out of torches, the game will take you back to the previous room and give about 5 minutes of gameplay. With a battery save on the cart, it is better to start back from a save than play without any torches.

Despite its difficulty, Shadowgate is one of the more versatile pc nes ports. The cursor is not too difficult to use on the game pad, but does have some trouble with accurate clicking. The inventory screen can be daunting to scroll through, as there are close to 50 items you can add to your inventory. Unlike other adventure games, the clickable items are easy to find on the screen.

Getting through the game takes about 2 hours with a game guide. The time it takes depends on how long it takes you to solve the puzzles. If you love RPGs and dungeon crawlers, you’ll love exploring every inch of the castle. Overall, it is a great NES game, worthy a place in anyone’s collection.

Shadowgate spawned two sequels, Beyond Shadowgate on the Turbo Grafx CD and Shadowgate 64 on the N64. The sequels were major departures from the original game, but still adhered to the adventure game format. Look for the remake of the original games by Zojoi coming in the future coming to pcs, iOS, and Mac. Check out their Kickstarter page and donate!