Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Release date: May 11, 2016
Back in April of 2015, I reviewed the game ASA: A Space Adventure by Simon Says: Play! (aka Simon Mesnard). I was not kind. The puzzles were obtuse and gratuitous, the story failed to hold my interest and the navigation system sucked.
But enough people bought ASA to allow Simon to write another game, Catyph: The Kunci Experiment. Catyph is played in the same Black Cube universe as ASA, but it's not a sequel – it stands, or falls, on its own.
So when David, Editor and Grand Muckymuck of JustAdventure, asked if I would like to review Catyph, my first reaction was, “No!” My second reaction was, “HELL no!!” But upon further reflection I realized that if Simon had learned from his mistakes, who better to announce that he had redeemed himself. So I took it on.
Did Simon redeem himself? Unfortunately, no. Not only did he not correct the mistakes for ASA, he appears to have double-downed on them.
Let me start off by pointing out that the game has four levels of difficulty. I started out at the most difficult as it was described as offering the original classic experience. But I quickly found out that I was missing a lot of hot spots and had no clue as to how some of the puzzles worked. So I tried again at the next level. And then the next. I found that the game is only playable at the easiest level and the hints it provides are the clues that should actually have been in the game itself. More on this later.
The game starts off with a very long video intro. You're the pilot of a new spaceship sent out to explore one of the outer planets for the very first time. So this is a big no-one-has-done-this-before deal, yet the command center is joking with you as if it were just another mail run. Then things get weird and the end result is that you find yourself on one of the moons of this planet minus your space ship. Trying to figure how what had happened in between could make your head hurt.
You find yourself standing on a large black cube. A message then comes in from the General. Things have also gotten a little weird back home and a large spaceship has appeared over the earth. The General declares that you're an intelligent guy, so you need to figure out what's going on. You're to start by exploring that large geodesic dome behind you. And, finally, you get the controls and can start playing the game.
Game movement is all point-and-click. The cursor changes to show you when you can move somewhere or do something. This is a well-established scenario usually accomplished by large contrasting arrows and other common symbols. But in this game the graphics are very small, have little or no contrast and are of unusual shapes.
Take a look at the screenshots. See the little square with a triangle on top that looks like a house? It took me a while to figure out that this was a forward pointing arrow – click here and move forward. See the “<” “>” symbols on the sides? Sometimes you click on them to turn to the side. Other times they appear to do nothing and you have to make you cursor turn into an arrow. And everything is so small that it's difficult to see.
Even if you were to blow up the screenshots to fill your entire screen, can you find the cursor? Can you read the text? Why is everything so small? Why is there no ability to zoom in? The hot spots are pulsating white dots which are almost invisible on a bright background (couldn't they have had some black specs in them so they would show up everywhere?). The neutral cursor is a small brown hand with one finger extended. When you can manipulate an object, the hand extends its three other tiny fingers. Again, small with no contrast making it difficult to notice.
I can appreciate creativity, but this interface is what the Germans would call Schlimmbessergenung – the wicked improvement which makes things worse. The result is that rather than focus on the game you must constantly focus on the cursor to notice any subtle changes. That is a distraction, not a feature.
Back to the game. Your first objective is to explore the large dome behind you. But you can't turn around to look at it. You can't explore the surface you're on. You can only move forward along the intended path. So there really is no exploration in the game. Just follow the yellow brick road and only pay attention to what's in front of you.
Once you free yourself from the concept of exploration and accept that this world consists only of the limited paths placed before you, you're free to focus on the puzzles. If the navigation is frustrating, the puzzles are heartbreaking. They consist of both inventory-based and logic puzzles, but rarely are there enough clues provided in the game to solve them. Usually, the hint system will provide clues that should have been in the game, but even then the graphics may thwart you.
You finally get to the geodesic dome and find the futuristic force field entrance locked with ten old fashioned toggle switches which must be set in the correct pattern. The clues are all back in the small building next door. This has all the making of a classic puzzle. Geometric patterns on models relate to patterns in a book, which then relates them to numbers, which can be converted to binary, which represents the switch pattern. Layered and logical. The only problem is that most of the patterns are almost identical to each other and even if you can spot the single pixel difference in the book, there's no way to relate it to the pattern on the model. Look at the screen shots and tell me how confident you are with assigning a specific number to each pattern.
I gave it my best shot. I identified the most likely patterns and I noted the numbers of all the patterns that were even close. I then tried all combinations of those numbers on the door. Nothing. So I threw up my hands and went to YouTube to find a walkthrough. The people who make these videos are amazing, finding the solutions to puzzles which you would swear were impossible, but not this time. Every walkthrough I found didn't even try to solve this puzzle, but just used the Free Pass to get around it. What can you say about a puzzle that even the experts give up on?
OK, so we cannot explore. We must stick to the scripted path. We can't really get into the puzzles because we don't know which ones might be impossible. We can only decide just how much energy to invest before using the Free Pass. So we can't invest emotional energy into exploration or puzzles as they would only disappoint us. That only leaves us with the story line.
The premise of Catyph holds a lot of promise. A mysterious black cube is discovered and conveys super powers to its owner. The Mysterious-Artifact-Which-Conveys-Magic is a Jungian archetype which can be found in literature throughout the ages. Name a story that has a magic sword, a magic ring, a magic hat or crown, a magic wand, a black obelisk, and so on.
We're on classic ground, but what does Simon do with it? The plot boils down to “Get magically kidnapped and meet a villain who threatens to destroy the world unless we go on a scavenger hunt and find six black cubes that he has hidden for us.” And the dialog comes straight out of Dragonball Z.
I honestly couldn't believe how bad the dialog is in this game. At first I thought it might be a translation issue as the original is in French. But try as I might, I just cannot come up with a mature alternate wording. It's the subject matter itself that's immature. Could it be that this game was intended for Young Adults? If that were the case, why have such advanced puzzles and offer the player the chance to play in classic mode? It really looks like the game was intended for mature audiences.
Now with all of that criticism you would think that I would just slap a “D” onto this game and send it off to The Golden Turkey Awards. Not so fast. The game is actually playable. You just can't get into it. There are interesting places to go. It's just disappointing that you can't look around and actually explore. There are some very satisfying puzzles. It's just disappointing that some are close to being great but are marred by inadequate clues. The story line has potential. It's just disappointing that it was treated as a children's cartoon. And it is doubly disappointing that these are the same flaws which marred ASA and Simon didn't learn from them.
What we're left with is a game which leaves you thinking, “If only it had been done this way.” It is playable but thoroughly amateurish, which is the definition of a “C” grade .
+ Classic point-and-click adventure. Hey, we're still alive.
+ Some good puzzles and others with great potential.
+ Fairly large with seven worlds to conquer.
+ Four difficulty levels
+ Built-in hint system
- Confusing navigation makes it difficult to know where you are or where to go.
- Small images and bad contrast make it difficult to read or see details.
- Unfair puzzles impossible to solve even with hints.
- Immature story straight out of a children's cartoon.
- Inappropriate voice acting.