German publishers Daedalic Entertainment are still carrying the torch for point-and-click-style graphic adventures. As someone who queued up for LucasArts releases in the ‘90s, it puts a warm feeling in my belly. From their defining series Deponia to this year’s The Dark Eye double-bill – Chains of Satinav and Memoria – they know what they are doing. These are beautiful, imaginative worlds laced with humour, and at every step there are outlandish but logical puzzles to complete.
Anna’s Quest has big boots to fill. Not only does it have to keep up with Daedalic’s high batting average, it’s arriving in a purple patch of graphic adventures on Xbox. Alongside the strong The Dark Eye showings, we’ve had several LucasArts games re-released at the tail-end of 2020, and Lair of the Clockwork God also arrived in the same period, offering a decent swipe at reimagining the genre. It’s a big ask for Anna’s Quest, a game that’s been reheated from its original 2015 Steam release.
Anna’s Quest doesn’t have the same lofty ambitions, and keeps its story small. It’s the tale of a young girl called Anna whose grandfather has fallen ill, and she’s on a journey to find medicine. Barely before she’s out of the door, she’s snaffled by a witch, who seems to believe that Anna has telekinetic powers. True to expectations, Anna starts displaying those powers, and you – as Anna – utilise them to lock the witch out of her own house and find an escape route for yourself. On the way, you gain a partner in the form of Ben, an Anna-sized bear that can walk and talk, and has a mysterious background, much like yourself.
Once you’re out of the witch’s clutches, you’re moving from location to location on the hunt for answers and antidotes, in a world that’s a patchwork of existing fairy tales – Hansel & Gretel, Reynard the Fox, and Cinderella all get an airing here – as well as its own fantasy fabric, with glass mountains and magical violins. It’s wry but never laugh-out-loud funny, and the stakes never really rise beyond the potential capturing of Anna or Ben.
The point-and-clicking is the same template that we’ve come to expect from Deponia and The Dark Eye. There’s an infinite inventory, so no item management is needed, and each scene is spotted with circles, highlighting the stuff you can interact with. You’re moving Anna with your analogue stick, getting close enough to a circle, and then pressing LB and RB to cycle through the nearby interactibles until you get to the one you want. The inventory is accessible by punching down on the D-pad, and you can use items with each other or on the environment. The only verbs at play here are ‘Look at’, ‘Use’ and ‘Use item’, so it’s all dirt simple.
Anna’s telekinesis does chuck in some interest, as it not only adds some more verbs, allowing you to break, lift or bend the environment, but it adds the ability to manipulate things at a distance. Anna’s Quest loves to put you in situations where you’re locked in cages or tied up, and your telekinesis gives you the satisfying ability to still function in those scenarios. This is pulled off by a tap of RT, and it’s heartening to see Anna learn and master her talent.
If you’ve played The Dark Eye games, the telekinesis loses its lustre, as it’s exactly the same as the powers that the lead character, Geron, has for two full games. The Dark Eye developed these powers and stacked others on top, so Anna’s Quest’s USP starts to lose its U. If you haven’t played those games, well, the familiarity will matter less.
That’s the jist of Anna’s Quest, which doesn’t outstay its welcome, topping out at roughly six or seven hours, give or take the use of a walkthrough. There are six chapters here, and they’re discretely sliced up, taking you from the witch’s house to the wizarding town of Wunderhorn, all the way to the King’s castle. There are two slightly more high-concept chapters, and they’re the absolute highlights of Anna’s Quest, so we won’t reveal too much about them. It’s when Anna’s Quest lets its imagination off the leash that it’s the most interesting.
It highlights the prevailing problem of Anna’s Quest. Everything is very safe and familiar. Anna’s Quest passes like a puff in the wind, and you’ll likely remember none of it in a few months’ time.
Take the way Anna’s Quest focuses on established fairy tales, for example. You could imagine a Pratchett or Adams having a whale of a time with the concept, subverting them and highlighting their weirdnesses. But Anna’s Quest mostly plays them straight, adding a subtle difference that makes you go ‘okay then’ rather than let out a chuckle. Cinderella isn’t interested in marrying a prince – she wants to join the army. The Three Bears aren’t in their house, they have been captured and locked in cages. There’s no joke or commentary here; it’s just some fairy tale jigsaw pieces that have been jumbled about a bit.
But by focusing on fairy tale tropes, Anna’s Quest can’t find its own voice. The world is achingly familiar, playing out in – mostly – the same way as stories that are centuries old. It’s made worse by similarities to other Daedalic games. Wunderhorn, a town of witches and wizards, has a near identical city-layout to Andergast in the Dark Eye series. Perhaps we’ve been undone by how recently we played those games, but the echoes – in the map, the things you do, the item you use – felt too obvious to us.
Tonally, Anna’s Quest can’t quite work out where it wants to land, either. It can be broad and ridiculous: Chapter Four, a complete highlight, is so far away from the game’s normal tone that it feels refreshing. But mostly Anna’s Quest is lightweight, low-stakes adventuring with a girl who verges on the whiny, and a bear who is mostly useless and contributes little to the plot. His schtick is to get captured or sit outside, as – fair play – no one’s going to expect a walking, talking Teddy Ruxpin. Without much in the way of humour, the dialogue is perfunctory and we found ourselves rushing through it by the end (although, it must be said, that the ending is well-done and far more satisfying – and different – from what came before).
The art is fine, with some lovely animations, but nothing that can match the sheer visual imagination of a LucasArts game, or the painterly tableaus of The Dark Eye games. Anna and Ben, in particular, are completely characterless, a void of personality that’s particularly bizarre when the various ghosts, dragons and demons around you seem to have an abundance of it.
The puzzles are decent and – at their best – they’re getting you to do something simultaneously logical but completely ridiculous. Getting all the ingredients for a truly horrendous smoothie was a standout, as was constructing a ghost to scare away a house of squatters. There were slightly too many moments where we reached for a walkthrough – Anna’s Quest has a habit of putting a solution behind a character who suddenly, and for no reason, has additional dialogue options unlocked – but it’s a satisfying play for the most part.
There are caveats, and they are the same as most of Daedalic’s output, which are made for PC and then ported to console at a later date. The controls just don’t feel perfect. Tapping RB and LB to try to highlight an item is a pain, as there doesn’t seem to be much logic to what it will skip to. A particularly awful sequence has you pulling a set of levers that are close together, but it never seems to highlight the one you want, when you want it. The telekinetic powers are problematic too, since they – by nature – affect an item at a distance. But since items only become interactive when you’re close to them, this gets extra fiddly. In the opening room, you need to break a hole in the ceiling, but actually bringing that ceiling into focus is a pain.
Anna’s Quest is a shrug of a graphic adventure. It goes to familiar fairy tale places for familiar fairy tale stories, but without the wit or edge to make it worth the re-telling. Not even a strong ending and a couple of high-concept digressions can pull it out of its safe rut. With so many great graphic adventures released in the past six months – many from Daedalic themselves – this is a lower-tier quest that can probably be left uncompleted.
You can buy Anna’s Quest for £17.99 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S