Inside Pulse 12

Review: Emerald City Confidential (PC)

eccEmerald City Confidential
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Wadjet Eye Games
Publisher: PlayFirst
Release Date: 02/19/2009

Chuck’s Note:
My wife, Heather, is a huge Oz geek and had recently finished reading most of the canon Oz books when this game came out. As a reward for her months of reading, I called this game for her and let her review it. She is a casual gamer who does not read any video game reviews or follow any gaming sites, even mine. That being said, I think she does a good job covering a pretty fun little game. Enjoy!

Being knowledgeable about the stories of Oz, I felt compelled to review Emerald City Confidential (ECC). I was interested to see how true the game would be to the books, if at all, and how far into the original stories the game would get. As I am only a casual gamer, I didn’t feel too intimidated by the point and click format. The last point and click game I have played was Neverhood. I really didn’t know what to expect from ECC. As an Ozzite, I was pleasantly surprised by the historical accuracies and equally thrilled to find a new spin on an old familiar classic.

1) Story

Emerald City Confidential takes place in a seedy version of L. Frank Baum’s Oz, highlighting many of his beloved characters, only with a noir twist. Picking up where the books left off, Oz has become a gritty, crime infested land, with Queen Ozma feeling bitter toward the use of magic. Denying magical creatures the use of spells and potions becomes a problem as illegal possession runs rampant. Our heroine, investigator Petra, has her hands full dealing with missing persons, lost artifacts, liars, and smugglers to name a few, while putting her own mysterious past on the back burner.

To me, the developing story was initially boring, but did get better as the game progressed. The characters became more complex as mysteries were both brought to light and resolved. I was pleased with the historical attention that was compiled directly from the books. A gamer not reading Baum’s work would be able to pick up the historical tidbits in Emerald City’s famous University through use of the pill machine, if desired. Even the puns were accurate, lending deserved chuckles and rolls of one’s eyes.

Story Rating: Enjoyable

2) Graphics

ECC uses classic 2-D, cel animation style graphics. The game doesn’t go all out for flashy or realistic, but it would be trying too hard if it did. The graphics are simplistic and straightforward, as they should be in an adventure game. The colors used are vibrant and bold, just as an Oz palette should be. Emerald City came to life as the designers wisely used glowing tints and shades of green. Character designs are fabulously rendered in the noir style. I loved the fact that “Dee” or Dorothy Gale was wearing a short baby blue frock, fishnets, pouty ruby red lipstick, and ruby stilettos. Clever character designs like this make the game more tolerable.

Graphics Rating: Good

3) Sound
emerald-city-confidentialscreen1To make the characters come to life, the game relies mainly on voice acting. For the most part, the voice acting does a stand-up job at matching the characters being portrayed. I found Petra’s voice to be the best. As an investigator and main character, she does a lot of talking and really came across as an intelligent, get to the bottom of things, don’t take no for an answer kind of gal. It was enjoyable to have a hand in picking her vocal inflections as she reacted to certain situations. In opposition, Scraps/ patchwork-girl/ shop owner’s voice was the worst in terms of annoying me to the point of quickly clicking the mouse to skip any unnecessary conversation with her. This may have been an intentional annoyance, as it is true to the patchwork girl’s nature in Baum’s books, but if you ask me, she was needlessly shrill.

In-game music is dark and foreboding in the Emerald City. As Quadling and Winkie country is being explored, the tone of the music changes to more of a rousing, lilting persuasion. Maybe the developers did this to encourage the gamer to keep playing? The background music did not bother me at all. At times, I forgot it was there. It wasn’t really loud enough to be offensive, which was a good thing. The sound effects are louder than the background music and are a bit cheesy. Luckily, they don’t happen often enough to be overly annoying.

Sound Rating: Good

4) Control and Gameplay

Being a point and click game, Emerald City Confidential controls perfectly. There were no problems with any lagging response. Maneuverability is just as easy with the Gump taxi service carrying Petra to and from various locales. I was very disappointed there weren’t any areas I could explore on my own, other than the designated buildings gone into to advance the plot. In other words, I found the game to be sparse in terms of what there is to explore in the various countries of Oz. When it came to the mysteries, they were fairly easy to solve. For the clueless, Petra’s journal will put you on the right track by giving one hint at a time before calling you a dummy and giving it to you straight out. Personally, I was hoping for a variety of puzzles in addition to the mysteries facing Petra. To me, the mysteries become tedious and boring without something slightly more challenging or just different to change the pace once in awhile. Again, it became monotonous to visit various characters multiple times after some new information was revealed. This became a hassle to backtrack and hear the same greetings over and over. After completing a series of tasks, occasionally, the game will take over to advance the plot along. At one point it became confusing. I thought there was a glitch in the game when a group of characters went through the same spiel 3 times. I realized it was human error and the computer was waiting for me to make a move.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5) Replayability

As the game is like playing through a noir novel, there is no added element to desire a replay. As mysteries are revealed, it is apparent that the gamer can do nothing to change outcomes of the story. In my opinion, characters aren’t memorable enough to want to revisit the underground version of Oz without new plot twists or new mysteries.

Replayability Rating: Poor

6) Balance

In the beginning of Emerald City Confidential, the gamer drudges through mysteries revealed by tutorial blurbs telling you exactly what to click on to advance the story. Thankfully, this goes away and the game gets harder. If you’re not sure how to solve something, the journal icon will easily help you progress further in the game. Magical trinkets can eventually be earned and will help in your various quests.

Balance Rating: Good

7) Originality

jackWhen it comes to originality in style of gameplay, ECC uses the old standard of point and click, which is easiest and least original. As for originality in style, story, and characters however, the game is most creative. The developers of the game created their own little world based on Baum’s work, with a unique flavor and vamped up characters. I found the game to be mostly original with a somewhat intriguing storyline.

Originality Rating: Very Good

8) Addictiveness

I found ECC to be easy to walk away from. It did not hold my attention thoroughly. Some of the mysteries were too easily solved to keep me pondering for more than a few minutes’ time. After taking a break from the game, I would wonder about the plot and about the characters for a time. I decided I would play more to find out if one of my favorite characters from Baum’s book would make an appearance. Similarly, I would start to wonder what would happen with other characters, such as Ansel or the lion. Then I would come back to the game to advance the plot a little further, get bored, and quit once again.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9) Appeal Factor

Being a casual gamer and Ozzite, I can say I found ECC appealing. I wanted to see what characters would show up from the books and what roles they would play. That desire kept me interested in the game. I found it humorous to see Oz in a darker setting in opposition to Baum’s view of Oz as perfection. Other Oz fans may also find the game worthwhile for these reasons. For the adventure gamer, I would also recommend ECC, but to a lesser degree. The mystery after mystery may become tedious and unrewarding without knowledge of the Oz stories. It may take a lot of patience to get you through this one. If you are neither interested in Oz or an adventure gamer, don’t waste your time with Emerald City Confidential.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

10) Miscellaneous

The file for this game is very small and easily downloaded from the website. The game is a very affordable $20 and runs smoothly on a low powered PC.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Good
Originality: Very Good
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Emerald City Confidential is a good example of how a low budget, low cost game does not have to look like or play like a budget title. The game has a distinct art style and a neat twist on a classic world. While it may not stand up as one of the best Adventure games of all time or anything like that, it is a fun little diversion that is worth the price of admission.