The ID@Xbox program, and the overall move towards indie gaming in general, is certainly bringing with it some interesting rewards, primarily, a vast range of games and styles that would have otherwise been lost amid the industry’s reliance on big budget blockbusters. It’s a curious thing trying to review a game of this particular style on console though, the hidden item genre isn’t exactly common or popular, and yet, regardless, Polish developer Artifex Mundi have brought across their popular tablet and PC release, Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart to Microsoft’s Xbox One. But putting aside any pre-conceptions about the style of the game, or how well it works with a pad - and it most certainly does - there is actually a fairly enjoyable adventure to be found, though of course, it’s definitely not without its flaws.
There’s a narrative behind the game, a flimsy one, but it’s still there, guiding the proceedings along from beginning to end, placing the player into the shoes of a museum curator who must set off to rescue her daughter from the undead pirate who has kidnapped her. He intends to use her body as a vessel to bring back his long lost love from beyond the grave so that they might be reunited after tragic circumstances tore them well and truly apart. The story, however, is of little consequence really, and evidently the developer believes so too, otherwise they wouldn’t have added in the downright terrible lip syncing that simply doesn’t work in the slightest, and they surely would have hired superior voice actors. Though I imagine that if the dev team had just walked out onto the street and grabbed the first group of people that they saw (perhaps they did though) they would have managed to achieve this, the acting really is that bad. In fact, in some instances, it sounds as though the “actors” are struggling to read what was placed in front them, stammering haphazardly from one word to the next. Terrible stuff, but as I said, it’s of little consequence thankfully.
You see, the greatest achievement of The Cursed Heart is how incredibly relaxing it is to play, whilst most videogames attempt to wind up the player to the point of having a heart attack, Artifex Mundi play it so very differently, though the game would certainly have benefitted by dropping the shoddy attempts at suspense/jump scares that appear from time to time. For a game of this type, it also seems rather large, though it’s not particularly taxing, so like me, you’ll be able to work through it in the space of a solitary afternoon.
Locations vary from the opening museum, to a pirate galleon and finally, the haunted, legendary Skull Island where the final confrontation takes place. In between, the gameplay that ties it all together offers a surprising amount of variety, from hidden object scenarios which can be tackled either the old fashioned way of scanning the environment for the list of items that the game demands to be found, or through a round of Mahjong. This mini-game shifts the focus away towards a tile matching scenario, the bulk of which house pirate related images whilst others take the form of numbered, gold tiles which, when paired together account for one of the objects found on the aforementioned list. As the game progresses, these increase slightly in difficulty by adding in a wider variety of images and a higher quantity of tiles, the entire game can be played like this, surely making The Cursed Heart the only hidden object game that doesn’t force you to actually find anything! A note about this though, the game automatically shuffles the tiles when there are no more pairs available to match up, so it literally cannot be failed, now whilst I certainly didn’t mind this, there are likely others who will be outraged by the fact that this traditional Chinese game has been stripped of all of its strategy here.
Given the nature of the game, Mahjong can show up an awful lot, yet somehow it does this without ever becoming overly stale or unwelcome. Of course, the regularity of it is determined by the player themselves, allowing them the switch between both a traditional object search and this mini-game on the fly, or alternatively, as I did, enjoying a full playthrough using only one of these, saving the traditional route for a second play, effectively giving a game that I would have expected to yield a replay value of nil a reasonable excuse to tempt me back for more. Which it did.
There are also two modes of play, normal and expert, the former allows for the use of hints, doesn’t punish players for clicking on incorrect items when searching and, on the maps that can be found, it will direct players towards the rooms/areas where actions can be completed. Whilst the game doesn’t really challenge, it’s certainly nice to be able to quickly check where you’ve to go as there aren’t many hints to this effect, and it can otherwise be rather easy to forget where you’re going. Of course, that might just be me.
In terms of the game’s art style, it has a pleasant painterly feel, though there is perhaps a lack of detail which can mean that some objects are quite difficult to find, which can lead to bouts of random clicking across the screen. Still, this doesn’t happen too often, and it certainly doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience, which, as you might have guessed, is a good one. It’s always warming to see a wide variety of styles and genres make it onto our consoles, and thanks to the burgeoning indie market, this has become a reality. Obviously, Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart isn’t going to appeal to everybody’s taste, but if you’re in the market for a relaxing way to while away a few hours on a particularly rainy afternoon, then look no further.