GrimTalin’s first foray into the world of gaming development was with The Adventures of Elena Temple, a platformer looking to capture that retro vibe of yesteryear. Depending on your appreciation of classic platformers, it may not have been to everyone’s taste. Now though, they’re back with a puzzler, which is a good change of tact because there’s always room for one of those on the market – if done well, of course. Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale is the game and creating a rhyme-filled, relaxing fairy tale style experience is its aim. Could the ball rolling antics within be a welcome test for your mind, or will you find it’s not quite well designed?
Be warned, Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale isn’t particularly relaxing, and instead it can be overwhelmingly taxing. That’s due to the great challenges it poses, but fortunately for players who may struggle there are systems in place to ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed. So, let’s get the ball rolling, as I try to convince you this is a game worth owning.
The core concept you’ll immediately be introduced to is that of rolling a large ball around an enclosed area, tasked with collecting things in order to progress. Presented from a bird’s eye viewpoint, it means everything is within sight and you can plot a rough course before making a move. The ball can be nudged in one of four directions, only coming to a halt should an obstacle be in the way. It’s a straightforward idea with very simplistic controls that initiate movement and allow you to undo any input you may come to regret. Don’t let the easy to pick up concept and controls fool you into believing it’s too simple though, for the complexities soon arise and deliver a real challenge.
There are 80 levels in total, spread out across five chapters and featuring two different types of objectives. For each chapter, only six levels are actually a part of the ‘story’, where picking up a set amount of feathers within a limited amount of moves sees you progressing. The other ten levels are optional apparently, but when you find that you need a decent stash of gems to unlock further chapters, every level becomes more important. To acquire gems, you must complete the main levels again, as well as attempt those optional ones, and gather coins instead of feathers. Depending how frugal you are in the moves department, there are up to three gems to earn. The coins themselves are used for changing the appearance of the ball, which is of little interest to me, but each to their own.
Initially, with nothing too much to worry about except the ball hitting a wall or something innocuous while collecting feathers or coins, it’s easy enough – perhaps a little bland if truth be told. But then signposts enter the fray to alter the trajectory of your roll, followed by statues which turn at the point of contact and when aligned correctly they unveil more things to collect. That’s before factoring in switches to interact with, monolithic blocks to hit in a specific sequence, and portals to navigate. It really makes you think about every single move as you ponder the most efficient, successful path.
Succeeding on your own accord, especially on a first attempt, will leave you smiling like a Cheshire cat. Given the increasing trickiness of the layouts and obstacles though, failure is expected as you often fall short of garnering the full complement of gems and sometimes run out of moves entirely. That’s where Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale’s ace up the sleeve prevents an enjoyable puzzler from tipping over the edge into dangerously frustrating territory. A super flexible hint system!
While trying to figure out solutions, a hint meter slowly charges up as a sort of back-up option in case you get stuck. The good thing is that you can request one move hint at a time, enabling you to retain control over how much guidance you really want. It differs slightly for the coin-based exploits however, taking far longer to offer aid to garner either one, two, or three gems. GrimTalin are clever in the way they’ve implemented it by slowing down the hint meter if you’re inactive, hence it’s encouraging you to at least keep trying to reach the answer on your own where possible.
In a bid to provide a purpose for everything which lies ahead in Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale, there’s a narrative running alongside the puzzling. It’s essentially a fairy tale that’s full of short rhyming verses, with each verse spoken upon completing the main levels. You’ll follow the story of a princess wanting to break free from the restrictive life she’s destined to endure. While pleasant enough, it’s also quite forgettable due to the mind being more focused on the next conundrum needing to be solved.
The sheer focus on working out solutions is also why you’ll barely take much notice of the changes to the environments in which the puzzles are constructed. They vary between courtyard style and town-like settings to mountainous forests and a desert wasteland. It’s kind on the eyes, but doesn’t particularly impress. Unlike the soundtrack – the audio, featuring a handful of tracks, is just so lovely and melodic that it is solely responsible for any tranquility found throughout the adventure. I could happily sit with the music looping in the background, it’s that peaceful.
Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale takes a simple enough puzzle mechanic that anyone can grasp and snowballs it into a proper tough challenge by adding fresh mechanics in regularly. Fortunately for those that could be flummoxed at the prospect of facing such complexities, a very well-implemented hint system ensures nobody will get stuck for too long and that staves off any potential frustration. Sure, the storytelling leaves a little to be desired and the environments don’t have the wow factor, but if you’re after a puzzler then this is one adventure to consider wholeheartedly.
Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale is now available for Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One