From fairytales and adorable rabbits to mythical beasts and maniacal preachers, Artifex Mundi have covered a whole range of narratives set in all sorts of locations. In one of their recent offerings to arrive on Xbox One we are heading to Persia for the point-and-click hidden object adventure Persian Nights: Sands of Wonders. Will this be a real gem of a title though, or is it just more of the same, bringing nothing worthwhile to the ever-cluttered table?
In Persian Nights, the land of Persia is becoming corrupted by a shadowy entity, which is spreading far and wide. The sinister Grand Vizier Zaved is involved in one way or another and when a talented apothecary, Tara, stumbles upon his antics, she makes it her mission to put a stop to him before he achieves the goal of unleashing an even more powerful demon into the world. Fortunately, Tara is accompanied on the journey by the plucky swordsman Darius and a genie called Minu. It’s up to you to aid Tara in foiling Zaved’s evil plans.
With the inclusion of a genie and a mean old Grand Vizier that appears very similar to the classic villain Jafar, you do get that Aladdin vibe and as the story unfolds further, there’s a bit of Prince of Persia going on too. The inclusion of the mythical Simurgh creatures is great for keeping to the Persian roots; they look like glorious beasts. Despite the character designs looking on-point, the narrative itself isn’t too exciting and as a result is easily forgettable. It isn’t helped by the rather bad voiceovers either, most of which fail to convey any emotion convincingly.
The gameplay itself is slightly different to other Artifex Mundi games of this ilk, mainly due to the dual character control. Don’t get too excited though, because it just means that when Tara can’t reach a specific area, it’ll occasionally allow Darius to perform the action in her place and anything he picks up goes into a shared inventory. As always with the inventory, you’ll need to choose the correct items for the tasks at hand from what’s available to you. For instance, if you need to hammer some nails into wood then a rock could be used, or a knife can prise open a clam shell.
Where it delivers the biggest change is in the small boss battles that can occur as there are three different puzzles to be solved in order to claim victory. The first is always to decipher which rune of yours has no symbols on it that are the same as those on the enemy’s runes, whilst the second requires you to repeat the sequence that is shown to you. Finally, and often the toughest of the trio, is a game which sees you trying to turn all of the runes on-screen to the colour blue – interacting with a rune switches all of the adjacent runes to either pink or blue, so it’s easy to get into a bit of a pickle.
Being an apothecary, Tara often has the opportunity to mix up potions to help those in need and after collecting the necessary ingredients, you must follow the recipe as it’s presented. Whilst this activity is fun at first, it’s a bit repetitive after a while and the enjoyment wears off rather swiftly. And the same can be said for the hidden object scenes, which are far too easy for my liking and in fact are pretty sparse in number compared to other similar adventures.
At least the mini-games can always be relied upon to deliver a multitude of challenges to overcome, right? Well, not really, and that’s mainly due to the ease in which they can be solved, as well as too many familiar puzzles. There’s a sliding block mini-game, a need to re-arrange figurines into their correct places and segments that must be lined up to form a full picture. To be fair, a few of the puzzles are pretty fresh like the one that sees you rotating a load of hexagons to reveal an image and another in which magical symbols have to be connected to the same source via the manoeuvring of junctions on a path – like an advanced version of a Pipemania problem.
Whether the puzzles keep you engaged sufficiently or not, the collectibles hidden in each scene will definitely ensure you’re alert. Finding all of the Khur palace symbols takes a real keen eye as they’re brilliantly blended into the environments within. The only problem with that is it highlights the sheer mediocrity of the scenery and the over-use of boring colours. There’s sand everywhere, naturally, but rarely does the artwork dare to dazzle and deliver anything too extravagant. The cutscenes suffer the most, especially when you throw in the truly awful animation that seems to have regressed on everything else coming out of the Artifex pipeline in recent times.
Persian Nights: Sands of Wonders has a bunch of fascinating character designs, an interesting location to explore and an intriguing premise. Sadly, it fails to capitalise in terms of the narrative, whilst the artwork and animation is below the usual standard of these hidden object adventures. The boss battles are definitely improved though and the amount of puzzles, including the apothecary activities and the inventory problems, should at least help to get you through to the end. After all, there’s only around three hours of playtime before it’s over.
As an Artifex Mundi connoisseur, trust me when I say Persian Nights: Sands of Wonders isn’t one I’d be scrambling to play if I was you. It’s nothing special.