June 5, 2007
When I first heard that Sagewood Software was writing a scavenger hunt game, I was instantly filled with nostalgic memories. Way back when my kids were still kids, we would gather around the Commodore 64 and play one of our favorite games, Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Woods. It was a simple game which took a dozen or so different objects and scattered them at random around the Hundred Acre Woods. You had to find them and return them before the Blustery Wind returned and scattered them again. In Scavenger Hunter that classic idea has grown up into a full meta-puzzle.
Meta-puzzle is the term now being used for what I called Layered Puzzles. This is a game where you have to solve puzzles to get the clues you need to solve higher puzzles which give you the clues to solve...and so on. Examples of Meta-puzzles would include The Fool's Errand and the RHEM games.
In Scavenger Hunter we learn of a race of space aliens who like to make small museums of other cultures and populate them with artifacts "borrowed" from that culture. We don't like having our stuff "borrowed" and so the insurance companies have hired you to return the stuff. You have three missions: to find as much of the stolen property as you can, to shut down the museum so as to discourage further thefts, and to figure out how to get back home.
Each museum consists of five interconnected mini-worlds. Each mini-world is a re-creation of some typical place on earth - a vineyard, dairy farm, camping site, park, etc. The worlds are interconnected via four portals on each. You must activate these portals and figure out where they lead.
Each world has - A random number of artifacts placed in random places, a Significant Puzzle which unlocks the Protected Place which always has something important, and a crystal locked in its crystal cage. You must collect all of the crystals to shut down the museum.
The graphics are what I am calling Adventure Maker graphics. Ever notice how all the games made with Adventure Maker seem to have the same style of graphics? This is not a bad thing. This game is not about eye candy and they are more than adequate to get the point across.
Sound is very nice. Background sounds are what they should be and each world has its own Celtic flute music to calm your nerves.
Game play consists of exploring each world and picking up everything which isn't nailed down. Even those items which aren't on the recovery list might be needed for another puzzle. Some areas are locked and you have to find the key to get it. Locks can take keys, inventory items, combinations or simple math problems. But everything you need to open up the world is located in that world. The only exceptions are the crystal cages. The combinations needed to open the cages are always found on a different world. I found the game play to be just right for me. It was complex enough to hold my interest, but not so difficult that it felt like work.
It wasn't until close to the end that I started to get a real feel for the game. By the time I finished it I was thinking, "Now I've got it down. I should be pretty good at it now." Fortunately, re-playability is where the game really shines. The authors spent a lot of time to be sure that you could play the game over and over.
First, Scavenger Hunter comes with nine mini-worlds. When you start a new game it selects five out of the nine at random. So it will probably take you several games before you see all of the worlds. And even then, there is a possibility that they might release more worlds as an add-on if demand warrants it.
A new list of stolen stuff is selected from a big pile. Then, the combinations on all the locks are changed. Even the locks themselves may be different - what was once a key lock may now require a math problem, etc.
Finally, everything is scattered around in a new place. The artifacts, the keys, the clues, even the crystals themselves are placed at random. The only things which don't change from game to game are the buildings, the paths and the countryside between them.
If all of this sounds a little daunting, do not worry. The Sagewood Software web site contains a page which has all the hints you need to get you through. Don't worry about spoilers - the hints are invisible until you highlight them with the cursor.
Are there any downsides to the game? Well, it can be easy to miss the occasional hot spot. But after a while you start to get the idea of where to look. Also, it would have been nice to have included maps of the different worlds to print out so you wouldn't have to draw your own each time. I just don't have that perfect memory which lets me recall where all the portals go and where the crystal is kept each time. Ah, Fnd there is a confusing bit at the beginning when the game is generating, but the computer looks like it isn't doing anything. Nothing they could have done about that since it is part of the engine they are using and there is plenty of warning not to panic. Really, that is about all you could complain about.
So where does that leave us? With a wonderfully written meta-puzzle with good game play balance and excellent re-playability. Add to that the Independent Developer's Bonus and I come up with a solid "A-". If you like puzzle games, then you will want to buy Scavenger Hunter.
Sagewood Software is an independent Canadian company owned by the husband and wife team of Hugh and Anne Gregory who worked on Scavenger Hunter for the past seven years. You can download a demo of Scavenger Hunter here and the full version can also be purchased directly from their website
Final Grade: A-