The folks at Cordelia Games should be quite familiar with hidden object puzzle adventures by now, having already developed the likes of Uncharted Tides: Port Royal and Path of Sin: Greed under the Artifex Mundi publishing umbrella. While such offerings have been rather average in truth, they’ll be hoping to reach new heights as Skyland: Heart of the Mountain rocks up on Xbox. The sheer thought that we’re going to be whisked off to live on the shoulders of giants is an exciting prospect this time, right?
I hate to break it to you, but I would recommend keeping your expectations in check for Skyland: Heart of the Mountain. It doesn’t really excel in any area yet, to be fair, there’s nothing awfully terrible about the experience either. The best way to describe it is lacklustre.
Skyland: Heart of the Mountain takes place during a period in time when the surface of the planet has become too toxic to live on. Those wishing to survive moved up into the skies and settled down upon the shoulders of sleeping giants, which are made of rock and ideal for allowing the civilization to recover. Someone’s been up to no good though, trapping people inside crystals and unleashing menacing robot drones to terrorize people. All suspicion points to the mysterious Bal the Sole!
The protagonist of the tale is drafted in to save the day, alongside the Nightingale airship crew, which includes her sister Adrianne and uncle Leo. I use the unspecific term of protagonist because their identity isn’t properly uncovered or delved into very much at all. In fact, the entire story doesn’t feel like it’s explained well either and that’s why there’s a good chance you’ll lose interest in this aspect. Even the pivotal moments couldn’t stir up much of a reaction. The underwhelming, unconvincing, voiceovers confounded the overall disappointment surrounding the storytelling.
Chances are though, you’re more interested in the puzzling side of the point and click adventure, and fortunately the inventory-based predicaments are as solid as ever. There’s actual logic to the majority of solutions as you look to make use of the many items gathered in each area traversed. It just seems common sense to be mending broken wires with sticky tape, placing elemental runes in their rightful places and using lockpicks to bypass padlocks. There are a few makeshift objects that serve a purpose, but you won’t become perplexed too often.
In terms of mini-games, I’m afraid Skyland suffers from a serious lack of original ideas. Expect to be repeating sequences geared up to test your memory, organising pipes to fix the sprinklers, and placing cogs of various sizes into their correct position. Nothing overly taxing, nor overly exciting. There are boss-like encounters though, which enable you to use a special gauntlet to overcome them. The encounters are slightly dissimilar to each other; it’s a case of separating runes, choosing those runes matching what’s shown on-screen, or deciding upon a rune that matches no other. It’s a nice distraction, but nothing more.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment on the gameplay front involves the hidden object scenes. Not only are they full of lists featuring uninspiring objects to find, but almost all of them are bland and drab. You’ll look forward to checking everything off the lists, just so you can move on. Even worse than that are the handful of scenes where you’re searching for items by their outline, simply because it basically tells you in which place to click. Where’s the challenge in that?
Anyway, once you’ve worked your way through the 2-3 hour main adventure, there’s a bonus chapter to dive into – ‘Apprentice at Heart’. Essentially it follows the fallout of the main story and tasks you with cleaning up the mess that still lingers. The formula remains the same here, which leads to a decent half an hour of extra content. Beyond that, you could go through and replay the adventure in the hopes of picking up any missed Zeppelin-shaped collectibles, but it’s only worth the effort if you feel the need to clean up the achievements.
In regards to the visuals, the quality of the hand-painted environments are rarely in question and they do look great. The one thing that’s unsure though, is how exciting mountainous scenery and the inner-compartments of an airship can be. There is no wow factor; once you’ve seen one bit of greenery or a room full of machines, the sense of wonderment drifts away. Furthermore, the cutscenes are quite blurry and stutter a fair bit, which isn’t unusual for games coming from the Artifex Mundi stable.
As you can tell, Skyland: Heart of the Mountain on Xbox isn’t going to be highly recommended; that’s not because it does too much wrong, but more a case that it just about does enough to get by, possessing nothing to allow it stand out from the many others of this ilk. The puzzles and mini-games are fine for providing enjoyment, however the hidden object scenes are utterly bland and lacking ingenuity. Hence, if you’re after a puzzling adventure, put Skyland: Heart of the Mountain low down on your list and maybe grab it in a sale.