Game Review: Secrets of Rætikon

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The forest is a rather tough place for young and intrepid animals to be nurtured, grow, and take on the habitat as an adult. Life dictates that not all creatures can make it. Be it an unfortunate accident which takes their lives too soon or a hungry predator selecting them as their prey, the risks of growing in the forest are indeed many. Here we witness a younger bird being picked on by an older hawk, whose talons and beak are capable of doing far more damage than that of the younger bird. The two peck at each other in a song and dance seen and heard all over the animal kingdom. Putting up a valiant fight, the smaller bird is no match for his elder. Soon enough, he meets his end by being impaled against a wall of thorny bushes, his wings fluttering their final flaps. Life in the animal kingdom is hardly fair and, as I’ve learned, hardly any fun either.

Sense of discovery is something I miss from games, Mirrormoon EP being one of the last examples of games that gave me something that really humbled me and made me feel like I was on a truly new adventure. Secrets of Rætikon manages to capture some of this with the variety of areas it offers and the somewhat sneaky ways they’re hidden from you until you complete a puzzle. Feasting your eyes on the palette of colors used to adorn each of the major areas and searching both foreground and background for telltale signs of the bigger picture at hand is one of Secrets’ greatest rewards. Unfortunately, the road paved to the end is done so with good intentions marred by sub par execution.

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If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this is a game about triangles. There are red triangles and silver triangles and blue triangles and big yellow triangles encased in black something or other. Each one of these represents different systems in the game, and almost all of which are annoyingly difficult to obtain. Red restores health, but getting them requires engaging in piss-poor combat or murdering defenseless critters for barely any health. Silver triangles are sacrificed at machines to power them up and give you the plot golden triangles. You need exact numbers of these and if you happen to miss one, it is zero fun searching out the only one you missed in an area. Even the “radar” call system is next to useless to detecting where the missing piece may be. The blue triangles remained unexplained until I had spent about a quarter of my total time with Secrets and as it turns out it is all just leading to giving you one extra life. None of these are replenish-able in nature, making every single step of collecting any of them an utter chore.

Puzzles are yet another area where the game is just ill-equipped to properly let them be any fun. Every puzzle consists of finding chunks of an object, finding the matching object it belongs to and building a replica of it off of the base of the shattered mirror version right across the screen from it. Adding physics into the puzzles goes about as well as one can expect when your protagonist doesn’t have opposable thumbs. Or even hands. Dragging the pieces around to the right angle and getting it to slide on just right so that it clicks into place takes way too long and is plagued on occasion by an additional annoyance. In one case, a bird kept attempting to attack me while I put together a statue. I tried to kill it off but the poor combat made this more trouble than it was worth. In the end I just dragged the bird halfway across the stage and left it there so I could finish the puzzle.

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The entire story is told via a series of stones that you find all around the world. Inscribed on each are sentences of runes that require finding the matching runes to decipher. Cryptic passages and bits of poetry emerge from these rocks as you work your way through them, but I felt like since the letters were just being given to me that it hardly had the reward of something like, say, Fez, where I had to really put in some work to figure out the alphabet.

Going about their daily routines are various species of land-loving and winged animals, some of which are there to be guiding hands towards some of the hidden areas and secret item depositories while others are there to rip you, talon and beak, straight out of the experience. It is satisfying to see the creatures interacting with one another without your involvement. Larger birds attack the nests of smaller birds, taking their young and eggs from nests and cracking them on cliff faces just for the hell of it. Rabbits and Squirrels scamper about and occasionally play around with each other in their own mischievous ways. It’s almost cute and displays some thought put into the wildlife that surrounds you. Until one of them grabs a plot triangle from your claws and sends you on a wild goose chase to get it back.

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Around the third or fourth time one of these plot items was ripped from my hands and kept away from me by increasingly annoying swarms of bird life, I had to ask myself – do I give enough of a damn about the Secrets of Rætikon to bother continuing with yet another unfun chase? Which surely will not be the last? Did I feel like dealing with another obnoxiously long revival sequence when I died with enough blue triangles? After weighing the various control issues, horribly placed puzzle pieces, poorly designed travel paths and awfully implemented combat against the gorgeously colored visuals and joys of flying around in the (what very little) open air, I came to my conclusion.

I’d stopped caring about the game. And I think if you manage to get the player that far, you’ve not done your job quite right. It has some fun moments when it lets you traverse without worry, but the instant it starts putting any demand on the player it becomes far too burdensome. Perhaps someone will make a campaign worth playing and upload it to Steam Workshop, but I’m not banking on it.

 

Final Score: 2/5

Published in: on April 30, 2014 at 7:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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