Review | Pahelika: Secret Legends
Format: PC | Genre: Puzzle / Adventure | Publisher: IronCode | Developer: IronCode | Out now: $20.00 (IronCode website)
By Lewis Denby
There’s a puzzle about a quarter of the way through Pahelika that involves being interrogated by a mob of gargoyles. To pass, you’ve to correctly answer questions such as “What is it to be fearless?” and “What are our lives leading up to?” Eventually you’ll be asked whether or not God exists, and whatever you say in response, you’ll be granted access to the next area, because “you have to respect the beliefs of others.”
Which is kind of Pahelika in a nutshell. It’s all a bit lightweight – and not just in the sense that it’s a casual game. It is one, certainly, but it’s almost as if developers Ironcode Software applied this casualness to the entire design theory. That it’s particularly easy isn’t a problem. That it’s often rather primitive in its presentation isn’t too much of a problem. That it’s bland, contrived and often a little pretentious most definitely is.
//Doing a jig
After discovering an old inter-dimensional transporter, as you do, you’ll find yourself flitting between six different worlds in search of an all-powerful book of magic. For some reason. It’s vaguely explained, but relies a little too much on the player’s unquestioning acceptance of a legend we’re only briefly introduced to. In each of these worlds, you’ll solve a chain of incongruent puzzles that allow you to plod along through room after garden after courtyard, until you finally find the teleporter that takes you home. And then you do it all again.
The puzzles… aren’t completely awful. There’s an awful lot of pixel-hunting, and a few agonising games of guess-the-sequence, but there’s generally enough guidance not to make them a chore. Indeed, many solutions are rather straightforward, and won’t have you scratching your skull for too many minutes. They’re interrupted, though, by – of all things – jigsaw puzzles, littered around every section. Once or twice may have been fine, but when they have pretty much nothing to do with anything, they begin to grate very quickly indeed.
It all struggles to go anywhere. Interesting narrative threads disappear as soon as they turn up, and there’s no attempt to mould everything into a cohesive, flowing world. It’s a collection of puzzle rooms with a story tacked on to the beginning and the end, one that thinks it’s a lot more profound and interesting than it actually is. And though it’ll surely find its audience within the casual market, there are far better options available if that’s your cup of tea – especially if you’ve $20 to shell out.
Everyone else will find it bland, predictable, too easy and too short. Beatable in a single sitting, the whole thing just becomes deeply unsatisfying. Not terrible, but not worth it.