As you may already be aware, Dane Krams, known on Kotaku as Sughly, has just released Anna's Quest into the wild. Anna's Quest is an point and click adventure with a distinct art style and I'm a fan. So, it seems, is Shane Walsh-Smith, who put together this reader review!
Take it away Shane!
This week saw the release of Dane Kram’s (known to the Kotaku regulars as Sughly) first full-length game, Anna’s Quest (Volume One). I was more than happy to pay the $5 purchase price to help out a friend, but what I got was an experience that far exceeded the meagre investment I had made.
In short, our Sughly has delivered. Again.
The visuals: It will come as no surprise to Sughly’s followers that the art direction of Anna’s Quest is stunning. The cartoony style is impeccable and incredibly cute, yet manages to maintain a deep lushness to it that development studios with a thousand staff would envy. This game is the quintessential indictment against massive development budgets and ridiculous hardware requirements.
The music: Another Kotaku regular (known to us as Anonymous Pessimist) produced the music for this game, and has knocked it well out of the park. The orchestral score is layered and emotive, retreats subtly into the background when necessary, and never grates or attempts to steal the scene. I don’t know a lot about music, but this score stood out for me.
The characters: Although the story itself is relatively threadbare (girl locked in tower by evil witch), the characters are thoroughly entertaining. Anna herself is a charming narrator, and it’s hard not to be immediately taken by her often-innocent, often-sarcastic, always-genuine responses to the events around her, and the actions proposed to her by the player. I spent a good amount of time in this game deliberately choosing ‘wrong’ courses of action just to see the range of responses. There were a few, and plenty left me smiling. And her cheery and over-enthusiastic companion Ted never fails to elicit a grin. Even the evil witch gets in a few amusing lines, without sacrificing the menacing aura that drives the momentum of the game.
Point-and-click heaven: I remember the point-and-click genre of games from my childhood with an intense nostalgia that borders on mania. Until Anna’s Quest, I believed the genre to be dead, a relic of the past superceded by more hands-on control schemes that demanded reflexes rather than problem-solving skills. But Anna’s Quest isn’t content to just ride the wave of nostalgia; a lot of thought has clearly been given to the game design, and includes some interesting new game mechanics that build upon the games of the past.
A family-friendly affair: Anna’s Quest looks incredibly inviting, and is an immediately accessible game. There are only a handful of gaming mechanics to get used to, and no time limit on any of the puzzles. The dialogue is simple and engaging, and the game itself is free from violence or scary imagery (Anna herself will immediately call the player to task if anything violent is suggested, and deeply regrets even cutting up a stuffed animal). This is a game that the whole family can get involved with, and it’s tremendously refreshing to see a game that so effortlessly appeals to everyone.
Hated is a strong word, and is certainly too strong for the quibbles that follow... but in the interest of producing a fair review, there were minor imperfections that deserve a mention.
The controls: There are only three controls in the game. A left-click, a right-click, and a hold-down-left-click to open a contextual menu. It’s something that an experienced player can easily figure out for themselves, but for genre newbies, a brief set of instructions would not have gone astray.
The inventory: This is a matter of personal preference, but in the point-and-click games of my past, the player’s inventory was always on display in the lower portion of the screen. In Anna’s Quest, the player must right click to open the inventory. Again, this is not a game-breaking feature and likely will not bother most folks at all, but having to open and close the inventory regularly just to remind me of what I was carrying did break me out of the game’s flow a couple of times.
Other interface quibbles: There’s a section of the game that mandates a climb up to the attic. The trigger for this action is at the top of the screen... right near the automatic drop-down menu for Load/Save/Quit. The number of times I accidentally brought this menu down when I was trying to progress in the game nearly reached frustrating numbers.
Where’s my season pass? I hope there’s not a long wait for the next chapter of Anna’s Quest, and I really hope that Krams gets an opportunity to end the story on his terms. But at this stage, there’s not (that I’m aware of) any release schedule for future chapters, which will leave gamers with a certain level of disquiet while they perch anxiously, awaiting the next instalment.
The release of Anna’s Quest comes unfortunately close to the hysteria around the latest Humble Bundle, but this is worth your money too. Anna’s Quest is a sweet story with engaging visuals, a lush soundtrack, and instant age-friendly appeal. It’s a game that uses humour effectively, and effortlessly treads the line between holding your hand too much and offering no help at all, while providing some truly interesting and bizarre puzzles to solve. It’s more than worth a $5 investment – this is a truly professional product, and is astonishing that this is almost entirely the work of a single person.
I was expecting to enjoy it, but not this much. Dane Krams will go far – get on the hype train today.