Developer: Neko Entertainment
Publisher: Ynnis Interactive
Platform: Wii U, PC, 3DS, and iOS
Release Date: November 21, 2013
ESRB: E for Everyone
A Wii U downloadable code was provided by the publisher for this review
I have a confession to make - before going into this game, I honestly had no clue what The Mysterious Cities of Gold was. And for those of you who don't know about this 1980s animated series, you might want to catch up if you plan on playing this game, as the story is a bit more confusing if you're new to it all. Nonetheless, there are plenty of other factors to this kickstarted game that you don“t really need to fully understand the story to enjoy it. But while The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths does have pleasing visuals, decent music, and a few tricky puzzles, is it really worth it?
The game follows Esteban, Zia, and Tao – three children who have some connection with the Cities of Gold – and the (adult) navigator Mendoza. Though to put it bluntly, the story itself is pretty uninteresting. At least as told by the game. As I stated earlier, The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths is based on an animated series from the 80s. Or should I say, it's the video game adaptation of its second season. The original anime series had only lasted a single season before concluding, with its revival finally happening after about 30 years. And while the footage I“ve seen of both the original first season and the newer second season make the show look awesome, the game simply doesn“t do it justice.
One reason I found the story so disappointing is due to the game being severely rushed. Each 30-seconds-or-less cutscene has a billion things happening and it gets to the point where you wonder what the hell is even going on. One thing happens in five seconds, and before you know it, the story just jumps ahead to what may very well be a few episodes later in the show, and then it jumps again in another five seconds. They rush through the story too fast in order to get to the levels, which might not sound like a big problem considering this is a game, but it often feels like the cutscenes should have just been left out.
Another reason, albeit a small one, are the minor characters. Characters are randomly introduced before they just disappear. Perhaps the cartoon gives these characters a bigger, more on-screen role, but they seem to matter very little in the game itself aside from merely helping the main characters out with something in order for them to continue their journey. This may be linked with my previous criticism about the game rushing through the story, as these characters might have an episode or two dedicated to them for all I know.
The voice acting is pretty laughable in this game - the English voice acting, at least. Other languages could have it much better for all I know, but in the language I speak, the voice acting hurts my ears and soul. The music is good, though, with some pretty nice Chinese-style ambiance during levels, but nothing really stands out too much aside from the opening theme song, which is the very same one from back in the 80s with a Chinese spin on it. Not that that“s a bad thing, as that song is actually kinda catchy.
As far as the gameplay goes, it can be fun. There's indeed some level of challenge, which rises as the game progresses, yet it still never becomes all that challenging. The puzzles are sometimes pretty creative, with each of the three playable characters (seriously, Mendoza, why don“t you ever help them?) having their own unique abilities, although they can typically be solved without a whole lot of brain power. There are also enemies you have to sneak around, but it's damn near impossible to get caught by them. You could literally be seen by several enemies at once, hide in a barrel, and then it's like you were never there.
Guard 1: "Hey, I just saw some kid jump into that barrel, and now they're suddenly gone! I also heard a parrot screaming, but the sound mysteriously disappeared!"
Guard 2: "What? Well, I don't see them, so just turn back around and stare at that wall for a few seconds before turning around again. At the same time as me, of course."
Seriously, these lousy enemies don't feel like a threat at all. Especially since, once caught, they put you back merely a few seconds before the capture. The only real challenge here is if you're a completionist, as there are certain objectives to fulfill in order to 100% a level - one for keeping from getting captured a certain number of times, one for clearing the level under a certain time limit, one for collecting all the scrolls scattered throughout the level, and one for finding the secret chest in that level.
There are two different ways to play this game, for the Wii U version at least. One way is to go the point-and-click route and use the Wii U GamePad's touchscreen to tap where you want the characters to move after tapping their icons to switch between them. The other way is to use the ol“ stick-and-buttons layout to control each character. Both ways are fine, but the latter control scheme is a little flawed, as moving a character along certain paths seem to be really clunky, with the characters themselves moving strangely as if confused.
The art is probably the game's strongest point, with its cartoony nature being quite pleasing to the eyes. In addition, the cut-scenes look nice, as are the assets used during actual levels. They seem to have taken the art style of the first season back in the 80s and updated it for modern times without changing it a whole lot. Though from what I understand, the cutscenes in the game are simply clips from the show's second season (although maybe jumping ahead in the story a bit too quickly). The art in each level is exclusive to the game, though, and it still looks nice.
Oh, and by the way, lemme take a moment and point out that THEY CUT THE GAME SHORT UNTIL THE ENTIRE SHOW IS DONE AIRING! Now, I'm not about to factor that silly decision into my score, as it has less to do with the quality of the game itself and more to do with them not wanting the last third of the story told before the show told it (maybe), but if you don't like getting incomplete games, feel free to subtract a point for that.
Although I will have to cut the score down a tiny bit due to the bugs this game has, such as one that causes the camera to jump to a completely random part of the level on its way to show you what a switch does, and another that causes a character to just run through walls. I guess there were certain kinks the developers failed to work out, though thankfully not a whole lot.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths isn“t a terrible game, but it“s not that great, either. It“s just pretty average. It has its good points, such as some pretty good music, cartoony visuals that are pleasing to the eyes, and puzzles that can be pretty tricky at times. However, its bad points weigh it down. With a poor way of telling a possibly great story, bad voice acting, lack of challenge, and some various bugs and control issues, Secret Paths is really just a game for fans of the series and kids just now getting into it with its revival, rather than gamers looking for a quality experience.
+ Nice, cartoony visuals that are pleasing to the eyes
+ A pretty good soundtrack that matches the game's mood
+ Puzzles can be fun and tricky at times
- A potentially great story told pitifully
- Laughable voice acting
- Lack of any real challenge
- A few noticeable bugs and control issues
Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10)
While not a terrible game, The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths isn't that great, either. It may have its good points, but the bad points weigh the experience down.