Twisted Lands: Shadow Town is a casual, hybrid hidden object/adventure game from Alawar Entertainment. Leaning toward the rudimentary side of the spectrum, Shadow Town was a bit of a disappointment, as neither the hidden object nor the adventure portions of the game managed to grab my attention in any meaningful way. Couple this with an almost indecipherable story and a frustrating need for unending backtracking, and Shadow Town is a game soon to be forgotten.
The game begins with a loving couple out for a romantic boat ride, somewhere in the ocean. Or perhaps they're diving for hidden treasure, it really is unclear. Regardless, once Our Hero returns to the surface from a dive, he blacks out and awakens on a fog-enshrouded, spooky beach, with his sweetheart nowhere to be found. From here, players must try to find the girl and escape the island. This is done in typical adventure-game style, carefully searching each screen for useful items and solving puzzles. But this time around, the puzzles are extremely elementary. Mostly a series of item-use puzzles, Shadow Town does incorporate a few brain teasers along the way, but neither type of puzzle is mentally taxing. Finding the items for the various puzzles, however, is done in a slightly interesting way.
Scattered about the island are several "hidden object" locations, consisting of the familiar search-and-find games. In each game, one of the hidden objects is actually a useful tool that will be added to the player's inventory for later puzzle-solving. Although a nice twist, the challenge level of these mini-games is the same lightweight fare as the rest of the game, so a quick bit of staring will easily pick out all of the hidden treasures. There were no puns or plays on words in the item lists, and as such each board was about as straightforward as it could be.
As players continue, more and more areas open up to exploration, and a handy journal gives gentle reminders of what needs to be done. However, as more areas are discovered, this only increases one of the most frustrating parts of Shadow Town--the need for endless backtracking. Committing one of the cardinal sins of adventure games, Shadow Town only makes an item into a "hotspot" at the moment it's needed, regardless of how far back that item happened to be. So that uninteresting bit of background ten screens before, which didn't even register as worthy of notice, will suddenly become important as soon as players open a seemingly-unrelated door. This, then, results in a great deal of backtracking, re-searching each previous screen to see what new item may have inexplicably popped up. In addition, many of the hidden-object areas are reused to give players a new useful item, but they don't become active until some inexplicable in-game trigger is tripped. Much more of my time was spent wandering aimlessly through old rooms and locations that I actually spent in solving puzzles.
Graphically, Shadow Town is on par with many bargain-priced, casual games. The rendered screens are well done, and the hidden-object games are sufficiently cluttered with random and cleverly-placed trinkets. However, the animations are not nearly as impressive, and the "ghosts" that pop up on occasion are almost silly. Audio is also run-of-the-mill casual game fare--nothing impressive, but also nothing painful to hear. The user interface is solid, making it easy to manage the limited inventory and quickly navigate the various screens.
Shadow Town will only last a handful of hours at best, with almost no reason to head back and play again after the abrupt and unfulfilling ending. The Collector's Edition comes with a bonus story, which is somehow even less cohesive a tale than the main game. However, it does manage to add an extra hour or so to this brief title.
Admittedly, I don't tend to play casual-style games. I usually go for something with a little more meat on the bone, but I recognize many players don't have the time or inclination to dive into something that deep. Even considering that, I just wasn't impressed with Twisted Lands: Shadow Town. With little challenge and a confusing story, combined with a frustrating need for backtracking, I found myself relieved when it was all over.
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