Shardlands Review: Shadowy, Subtle, Slow-Paced Puzzler
|Release Date:||November 6, 2012|
There are so many big, bright, kinetic games coming out on iOS these days that it’s sometimes surprising to stumble upon something quiet and subtle. Shardlands is certainly one of these games: quiet, subtle, and unexpected, perfectly pleasant but not necessarily memorable.
Shardlands is the story of Dawn, a scientist (or archaeologist? The story wasn’t perfectly clear) who is inadvertently teleported to an alien world. She is trapped there until she can find keys that open doors which lead to mazes, which will eventually lead her home.The plot is never fully developed, but it serves its purpose as a frame for the gameplay.
Each level is a maze, and each maze has a challenge: gather all the glowing orbs on the level. Doing so unlocks a door, which hides a key, which unlocks further levels. Navigating Dawn through the levels is touch-based — touch a spot and she will automatically path to it using the shortest route. Along the way, Dawn must solve small puzzles that prevent her from going further — shifting platforms, deflecting lasers — and occasionally dodge maze monsters by luring them to “kill points” (Dawn has no combat ability).
The best thing Shardlands has going for it is the visuals. This game is visually stunning! The interplay of light and shadow are well executed, and everything looks great on a Retina display. On the iPhone the figures are a bit smallish, and occasionally things get so shadowy that it’s hard to tell which way overlapping paths go, but these are minor blips in an otherwise great-looking game.
The gameplay is a bit more of a mixed bag. It’s certainly not a fast-paced game; there’s no time limit and only rarely are there moments of action (and those mainly involve running). Dawn can die in spots, but there’s no penalty for doing so and there are plenty of save points for trying again. Dawn has no stats, and she never levels up or gains new abilities; despite the adventure game feel it’s a straightforward pathing puzzler.
There are also some minor control issues. With such a pulled back view of things, precise tap detection can sometimes be a problem, especially before you get the hang of the game’s panning function. I’d say “panning and zooming” function, but zoom is something missing here; and especially on the iPhone screen, it was a feature I sometimes wished for, especially as I tried to make out details in the more shadowy areas.
Despite these little drawbacks, Shardlands is enjoyable .. though I sometimes wished for more to do in the game. Different goals, different collectables, different abilities might have spiced things up. As it is, every level is essentially the same, and while it’s engaging, it tends to lack the kind of “one more level” feeling the best puzzlers have, and the difficulty curve is gentle.
I’m not saying that Shardlands is boring; it’s just that it’s a subtle engagement and I don’t think it will appeal to everyone. If only the gameplay were as engaging as the graphics were beautiful. As it is, Shardlands is one of those games that you’ll have some fun experiencing, but that you probably won’t remember six months from now.
Our Score: 3.5 out of 5
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