Ratalaika Games have become quite an important publisher in the indie games market on the Xbox console. Over the last few years, they have ported to console a whole range of games from some of the smaller development teams; with games that initially released on PC. It has to be admired as to what they are doing too, particularly as the games are generally extremely cheap to purchase, and are a great way of allowing small teams to get their projects to a wider audience. There have been some brilliant arcade games, some testing puzzlers and, in recent times, some retro point and clickers. Trails and Traces: The Tomb of Thomas Tew is the latest of the latter.
Trails and Traces: The Tomb of Thomas Tew is a game that has been created by a very small team from Because Because Games and it comes with a totally homemade feel to it. The story itself is quite ambitious and reminds of a sort of Indiana Jones meets Broken Sword-type affair.
You play the role of a private detective named James Labbett who takes on a missing person case at the start of the game. Soon though this case is found taking our hero on a journey that involves mafia-type criminals, a treasure hunt involving a 17th-century pirate – Thomas Tew – and a mighty big adventure. I enjoyed the ambition of the narrative and it has certainly reminded of the old-school point and click adventures where a simple story spirals into a much bigger mystery. The writing is generally good as well, with some well-drawn characters and interesting plot lines. That said, the dialogue can be a bit hit or miss at times, and throughout I wasn’t sure if it was going for laughs all the time or something much more serious.
The gameplay is very much like that of a normal point-and-click adventure, however it uses an odd system whereby when you click on an item, you then have to hold down on the menu bar in order to look at it or use it. This takes a while to get used to and I guess comes from those playing the game with mouse and keyboard; I imagine that it would be easier to use that way. Admittedly, it doesn’t take long before it becomes second nature, but it does feel like a strange choice. Anyways, the rest of Trails and Traces works like the norm – collect items in your inventory, combine them, or use them with objects or people you meet.
Trails and Traces all works fine, running the old-school point and click route in how it feels to play. It does however have a very slow pace to it and the movement of the main character isn’t the fastest. This is mostly apparent when you end up backtracking; something which happens a fair deal, and this means the pace can be a tad frustrating at times.
There are also moments where items or objects need to be highlighted, mostly as they are easily missed because of the visual style. Overall I found the experience just about okay – it’s certainly not the worst I’ve played and there is nothing so serious that the playing experience is hindered. You should be aware that puzzles – and the solutions – can be extremely obscure (just like most games of the genre) and you will end up trying hundreds of combinations before hitting upon the solution.
On to those visuals and they are very low-key, but then you must remember this has been created by a very small team. That homemade feel is hammered home here, as bright colours and basic layouts come to the fore. But within those budget restraints there are some moments of greatness: animated cutscenes are to be loved, as are the creative solutions that have been wormed in. It’s a decent tale too, one in which the characters are diverse and interesting throughout, however the way they move is strange; endearing, but strange. Perhaps that should be applauded.
The soundtrack is quite minimal too, only really popping up a few times, mostly in the short cutscenes. There is the opportunity to listen to some music from a jukebox at one point and there’s a nice piano score that occurs when you solve a clue. Most of the sound is just basic atmospheric noise though, coming in with regards to the locations you visit. Trails and Traces: The Tomb of Thomas Tew is fully voiced – something which is great for a game of this size budget-wise – but yet again it’s a bit hit and miss in terms of delivery and tone.
There is something that should be applauded about what is created by small development teams with low budgets as they make a move in the Xbox scene. It’s great that we have games like this in the library, and it should be said that Trails and Traces: The Tomb of Thomas Tew is a solid retro point and click adventure. Yes, it looks basic and the voice work can be patchy, but the game works and the adventure narrative that is found within is ambitious, It’s also very cheap, so it’s worth considering strapping yourself in for a very little, but enjoyable, adventure.
Trails and Traces: The Tomb of Thomas Tew can be picked up from the Xbox Store now