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Argonauts Agency 5: Captive of Circe Review

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Five games in the space of a year has to be a record, right? This time last year, there were no Argonauts Agency games. Now, there are five. Who knows how many we will have in another year. They might even run out of objects for the Argonauts Agency to recover. The Sandal Straps of Hermes? The Codpiece of Hercules? We can only imagine.

Fair play to Argonauts Agency 5: Captive of Circe – it doesn’t feel entirely like a cynical cash-in. While it comes a mere month after the previous Argonauts Agency game, it’s introducing a whole two new mechanics. That’s more than the last three entries combined, so it deserves something of a fanfare.

Argonauts Agency 5 review 2
A new Argonauts Agency tale

Those two changes aren’t all that bad, either, and will likely become mainstays as the series moves into double figures. The first is pilfered from co-op games: you have to press two buttons simultaneously with both Jason and Medea to open gates. That means rather swift cursor skills, as you don’t actually have a co-op partner to play with, and Jason and Medea are only willing to mill around for a few seconds. While it might sound annoying with a slow gamepad cursor, it’s rather forgiving and you soon learn to spam the buttons if either of them turn up late. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it gets you clearing paths to both buttons if you want to progress.

The second addition is simpler. There are totems that represent a resource in the level. You need to activate them if you want to generate any resources of that type. They’re effectively spinning plates that you have to periodically return to, spinning them once more if you want to keep stocking lumber, food and others. When you have multiple spinning plates, it becomes something of a challenge.

We’re less sold on these totems, mainly because they’re a negative force: you’re being denied something you normally get for free. But they at least get you thinking differently, returning to older parts of the levels rather than constantly pushing forward. Sure, you could concentrate on unlocking more and more buildings, but you’ll be neglecting the resources from your older ones.

We are accentuating the positive mainly because everything else is inordinately familiar to players of the series. Argonauts Agency 5 is yet another half-baked narrative where the antiques dealer, Pelias, gets into a scrape that you have to pull him out of (this time he’s married notorious witch Circe, something that was never going to end up tickety-boo). It’s yet another batch of sixty resource-management levels, set against a backdrop of Ancient Greece. And it’s the same mechanics of tapping your cursor on resources that are spent on buildings, which in turn generate you more resources.

Argonauts Agency 5 review 1
Same old gameplay

We’ve reviewed dozens of these games now, so you can find a more in-depth description of the mechanics in any one of them. What you need to know is that there’s a very particular sweet spot that these games are addressing: they’re city management games for people who don’t want complexity, and puzzle games for people who don’t mind effectively being given the same puzzle multiple times in a row. That won’t be for everyone, or many people at all, in fact, but there’s clearly enough players to make this the fifth iteration.

We won’t lie, we’re starting to get fatigued with the series, but Argonauts Agency 5: Captive of Circe is a strong example from it. It’s completely bug and issue free, at least in our playthrough, which is a minor miracle considering the studio’s ability to muster up crashes and save game problems with every release. The maps are clear, and the visual design is crisp – again, something that the Gnomes Garden games, for example, are not. And there’s clearly a quietus that you can achieve with these games: they don’t expect a lot of the player, and you can breeze through ten levels in an afternoon without really clocking that you’ve done it.

But we are not going to let it get away with these backhanded compliments. Because it is still the same game, give or take some new mechanics, that we have played twenty or thirty times now. It makes some cursory gestures to mixing things up, but really this is a game that feels tired before you reach the end. And that’s not considering the four games that came before it. 

We’ve also failed to find time in our previous reviews to highlight the worst one-armed bandit in gaming history. As you play Argonauts Agency 5: Captive of Circe, you passively generate gems, and these gems can be spent on said bandit. The rewards are fractions of upgrades: one-quarter of a 5% increase to mining speeds, perhaps. But not only are these rewards measly, but they take an absolute age to accumulate. You can only spend one gem at a time, and the fruit machine takes its merry old time spinning the dials to see if you have won. We played ten levels and gathered one hundred gems, only to spend the next twenty minutes cashing them in. We eventually gave up. Life’s too short.

Argonauts Agency 5 review 3
3 stars? That’s about it.

If your gaming horizons only encompassed Argonauts Agency and other 8floor games, then Argonauts Agency 5: Captive of Circe would be something of a masterpiece. For the series, this is smooth as Perseus’s shield, and it’s actually innovating. Two mechanics makes for one of the biggest leaps forward of any of their titles.

But if your gaming horizons span slightly more than this series of games, then you will likely wonder how it’s made it to a fifth game. The levels are repetitious enough to make you wonder if you’ve played them before, and there’s simply not enough strategy to be had in a given puzzle.

Five games in a single year is an achievement for any game series but maybe, just maybe, we should be calling a halt on Argonauts Agency. At least for a year or two.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Complexity-free city management game
  • No bugs at all
  • Introduces two (count ‘em!) new ideas
Cons:
  • Still can’t keep things interesting for a whole game
  • Story is wafer thin
  • New mechanics aren’t all that special
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, TXH
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (Review)
  • Release date and price - 15 March 2024 | £4.19
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Complexity-free city management game</li> <li>No bugs at all</li> <li>Introduces two (count ‘em!) new ideas</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Still can’t keep things interesting for a whole game</li> <li>Story is wafer thin</li> <li>New mechanics aren’t all that special</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, TXH</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (Review) <li>Release date and price - 15 March 2024 | £4.19</li> </ul>Argonauts Agency 5: Captive of Circe Review
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