Review: Adera: Episode 1: The Shifting Sands (PC)

AderaAdera: Episode 1: The Shifting Sands
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: HitPoint Studios
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 10/26/2012

I found Adera when looking through the Microsoft Game Studios section of the App Store for my new Dell Venue. The store entry states that it is the #2 top free game, and I was curious as to why that might be.

Now, calling it a “free” game is a little misleading. The first episode, which I will review here, is in fact free. After that, however, each episode costs $3.99-4.99. If you buy each episode individually, it will end up costing you $17.96 for the remaining episodes. However, for $19.99, at least at the moment, you can get all five episodes in HD with no advertisements (which is nice as I kept accidentally hitting the one on the side as you play). They also advertise bonus content, including wallpapers, music, and artist sketches, as well as strategy guides for all five episodes. Retail price for this is $30.40, so this is a decent deal, especially given my experience with the game.

Episode 1: The Shifting Sands is described in-game as such:

Jane is a world traveler who has been on many dangerous adventures with her trusted helicopter pilot Hawk, but she has never experienced anything like this. In the first episode, Jane wakes up after surviving a mysterious helicopter crash in the Atacama Desert. She had traveled to the Atacama to find her long-missing grandfather. Jane’s only clue to her grandfather’s whereabouts are a coded message and a strange stone orb. But the first thing she needs to do is find Hawk and see if he survived the crash.

Adera

That’s where you begin the game. You’ve been separated from Hawk and have to find him; once you do, you’ll have to help him get his bearings. Then, as he fixes your helicopter, your adventure begins. You’ll find yourself solving puzzles, collecting and utilizing items from the environment, playing a few hidden object games, and solving tangrams when an enigmatic orb you received begins to glow, all  in order to unravel the mysteries of where you are and where your grandfather might be.

There are three difficulty levels for this game, which allows those at all skill/sanity levels to enjoy the game at the pace they’re most interested in.

  • Tourist (casual) gives you sparkles to highlight active locations, the puzzle skip button fills more quickly (so you can skip puzzles you don’t like or can’t figure out), and the hint button recharges the quickest here.
  • Explorer (normal) gives you some sparkles to highlight active locations, the puzzle skip button fills slowly, and the hint button recharges at normal speed.
  • Trailblazer (expert) does not give any hint sparkles, there is no skip button for puzzles, and the hint button is inactive.

Adera

The first thing you’ll notice about Adera, though, is that it’s gorgeous. Everything, from the scenes you interact with to the animated sequences, is very well-crafted, with bright colors and intricate details. Coupled with interesting music and surprisingly good voice acting (I’ve played quite a few of these by this point–trust me, not all voice actors are created equal) and aesthetically, at the very least, this is a pleasant experience.

I would not say that the game is style over substance, however. The puzzles are well-thought out and the game–thankfully–avoids any salty-bear-on-stick tropes, managing to create a balance between difficulty level and common sense movements for most players. (Those who have played a bunch of adventure games before will probably find the puzzles fairly easy, but not obnoxiously so.)

AderaIf you do get stuck though, and you’re not on Trailblazer, the hint system is actually pretty good as well. You can get a simple sentence that hints at what you’ll need to do next, or, if you need more guidance, you can “tap to see more” and get a visual clue as well, with a picture showing you where you’ll need to look. If you’re a collector, there are 15 types of items you can find in the environment, giving you 174 total items to find as you play (with accompanying achievements, for those who love those). I might argue that the story could have used a little more fleshing out, but since this is an episodic game it’s a bit difficult to say exactly how heavy or light they were on details. Looking at this episode in conjunction with the rest of the series will give a better idea of that.

The game has promise and is a breath of fresh air when it comes to adventure games, not because it does anything groundbreakingly new, but because it does what it does well. The game is not only beautiful but a pleasurable experience in terms of gameplay and difficulty, and there is potential for replay value through achievement hunting and adjusting the difficulty level, should a player be interested in that. I suspect that if you’re anything like me, after playing the first episode, you’ll want to play the rest of the game.

Short Attention Span Summary

Adera Episode 1: The Shifting Sands offers an aesthetically pleasing experience that keeps the player engaged throughout the totality of the episode, and while it may or may not be a bit light on the story, it has promise going forward. The game balances challenge and common sense logic while also offering varying difficulty levels for different types of players. Even though only the first episode is free, it’s worth picking up to see if you would like the series, and if so, there are pretty decent deals on the collector’s edition.

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