It’s one thing to continue a promising franchise. It’s another to not get so lazy as to rob classic literature in order to come up with a sequel. That’s what the newest entry in the 9 franchise has done. They’ve decided to throw a little Victor Hugo into the mix via The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The novel is one of my personal favorites, so I was kind of annoyed. However, I do like the Disney adaptation, so I knew that there was a chance I could look past the blasphemy and find something interesting to play.
The story starts off with gargoyles coming to life and kidnapping a young girl during the Festival of Fools. As a world class inspector, you’re brought in to handle the matter discretely. Thankfully, party goers think that the whole thing was a part of the show, and are unaware of the dark magical forces at play. Naturally, things take a turn from the worse when your mortal enemy returns once more in a bid for power. Thus continues the feud between the Clan and the last descendant of the Guardians.
Where does Hugo’s tale fit into here? Actually, the real tale of the story is completely eschewed in favor of using the names and general likenesses of Quasimodo and Esmeralda. The two are nothing like their book counterparts. Esmeralda is Quasi’s daughter, bent on figuring out a way to reverse his monstrous looks, which were a curse put on him centuries ago. Oh yeah. The curse made him immortal for some reason as well. Anyways, that’s about all this game has to do with the classic tale. I’m kind of fine with that. It doesn’t really butcher anything because it does its own thing. They just wanted some recognizable characters to get people to buy the game. It’s kind of sleazy, but understandable.
The overall story itself is interesting. There are some really neat moments, but a lot of the goings on are vague. I never understood why the girl from the beginning had to be kidnapped. From what I could tell, the villain could have used anybody, and done things in a much less conspicuous manner. That manner, after all, is what attracts the detective. Also, the villain appears to be completely idiotic. He does a couple of things that seem destined to fail. He’s simply repeating mistakes. These issues chip away at the tale, which otherwise was surprisingly engrossing.
From a graphical standpoint, the game is hit or miss. The humans look terrible, and the animations are beyond unnatural. Lips don’t always move, and may or may not match the voices when they do. However, it was nice to see actual cut scenes with animations for a change, rather than static characters that just stand around and attempt to imitate speech. The art as a whole was quite nice, though far from a great representation of Paris itself. If those animations were better, this would be one of the best looking HOGs on the market.
If bad accents are a pet peeve of yours, avoid this game like the plague. The sheer number of terrible, almost offensive French accents is astounding. I have to assume that the voice actors had never tried to do the accent before. That’s the only excuse. Also, the actors ramble on in disconcerting ways. They don’t pause between sentences, they enunciate random words, and it sounds like they’re reading from a teleprompter gone haywire. It was not pleasant to listen to. The rest of the audio package is serviceable, featuring typical HOG music and effects that work most of the time. The voice acting is what sticks out though, and it leaves a sour note in the player’s ears.
9 follows the typical style of hidden object games. It features plenty of exploration, inventory management, hidden object sequences, and traditional puzzles to keep players going. Like many games are starting to add, it includes a nifty map feature that allows for fast travel between different locations. This saves a lot of time. Also, the map usually gives you a good idea of where you need to go, although some times it can be off. The ever present hint system outright tells you your next move if you need it to, although the included strategy guide offers a click by click playthrough to make sure you don’t even have to rely on that.
There are a couple of interesting mechanics relatively unique to this game. For starters, you have a mystical amulet that can bring stone to life. This is used sparingly, but it involves locating magic runes with said amulet. One of the gargoyles you awaken becomes a companion that can grab out of reach items or access areas the player can’t. It’s a nifty feature to be sure, although for some reason the button on your inventory you click in order to summon said gargoyle is invisible. I wish these mechanics were used a lot more, as they help the game have a unique feeling.
The puzzles are pretty good across the board, and there are several challenging ones throughout the game. They aren’t unfair, nor do they have broken mechanics. They are just good head-scratchers. Of course, all of these puzzles can be skipped after a certain amount of time, and the guide gives away all of the solutions. It was kind of a letdown, as it was all too easy to fall back on these crutches when things got even a tad too tough. That’s a problem with the genre though, not so much this game. Collector’s editions usually come with a guide, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a HOG without a hint system in place. There are some where you can turn it off, though. That includes this game. If you want to keep the challenge, then play on the toughest difficulty setting.
All told, this is the same easy point and click gameplay that genre fans are used to. You never use the keyboard, nor do you even use the right button on the mouse. Most of the item interactions make sense, and most of the hidden objects look like the word describing them. In fact, this game was probably one of the best I’ve seen about that. There were very few trick words like â€œbowâ€ that could mean oh so many things.
I beat the entire game and the bonus chapter in less than five hours. I know this for sure because I didn’t unlock the achievement for playing the game five hours. Honestly, the whole experience was probably a little over three hours, which is mostly because of all of the time saving measures available in this game. It was impossible to get stuck with all of the help the game offers. The bonus chapter probably took all of twenty minutes, and was one of the shortest bonus chapters I’ve played.
The collector’s edition comes with the usual suite of options. There’s the bonus chapter, which adds extra game time. There’s also a bunch of wallpapers, concept art, and the ability to listen to the game’s music at your leisure. It’s what fans expect, though it doesn’t go out of its way to offer anything more interesting or more rewarding. The game does offer some achievements, but these can all be earned in one playthrough if you avoid using hints.
If you liked the previous entry in this budding franchise, give this game a look. If you’re looking for a good CE to add a whole mess of stamps to your Big Fish card, consider something else. While the game plays fine and has a mostly decent story, it doesn’t offer much in terms of play per dollar. The game is short, and the bonus content doesn’t add enough length to justify the price hike. It’s not a bad game by any means, apart from the voice acting that is, but it just doesn’t do enough to to be worth it.
Short Attention Span Summary
9: The Dark Side of Notre Dame does a few things that I can’t stand. It shamelessly uses established characters from a classic work in order to make itself more appealing, it has some of the worst accents in all of gaming, and it is incredibly short. It just doesn’t offer that much value to potential players. Mechanically, it’s mostly sound and fans of the genre will enjoy the tougher than average puzzles. Fans of the series will likely have fun with it. There is a market for this game, but with so many better options out there, this game is hardly a must by for even the most ardent of HOG fans.