Hidden object puzzle adventures are the bread and butter of Artifex Mundi’s publishing library, with new releases arriving fairly frequently on multiple gaming platforms. One of the most recent offerings on Xbox One, the pirate themed Uncharted Tides: Port Royal, has been developed by Cordelia Games – whose other works include Kingmaker: Rise to the Throne and Path of Sin: Greed. Let’s find out if it’s going to deliver a jolly good puzzling experience, or will it be best enjoyed with a bottle of rum?
Uncharted Tides: Port Royal tells the tale of Mary Jane embarking on a journey to find her swashbuckling father, Mason Owens, whose been missing for many years. After boarding a ship and forming an unlikely alliance with a thief named Jack, things start to go awry in the Caribbean Sea when Mason’s old Cursed Rose crewmates get involved. These pirates want something and they’ll do whatever it takes to get it; even if a few people are hurt along the way. Mary Jane will have to outwit them if she’s ever to locate her father.
As a narrative, it’s rather uninspiring on the whole and you’ll most likely not be able to connect with the main characters; making it difficult to care much about what’s occurring. There’s not really any character who stands out for being interesting or particularly memorable, and that’s a shame. The rare twists in the story are predictable, but there’s a satisfying ending at least, which ties up any loose ends. In terms of the voice acting though, it’s decent enough and ensures the treacherous pirates are convincingly menacing as villains.
The gameplay in Uncharted Tides plays out not too dissimilar to a point-and-click adventure, seeing you navigate through still scenes to acquire useful items and complete puzzling mini-games. Unlike the majority of Artifex Mundi titles, this one switches periodically between two characters – Mary Jane and Jack – which enables their special skills to be put to good use. As a thief, Jack is great at picking locks and so you must carefully undo the mechanics of a lock from time to time. Mary Jane’s unique ability is that of wielding a magical compass, which leads to the piecing together of important memories to learn more about her father’s adventures.
Aside from that, inventory based problems are at the core of the experience as you try to use gathered items in order to progress through areas. This could be something as simple as mending a flag with a needle and thread, or making a candle from beeswax and a wick to illuminate a place. Everything you acquire will have a purpose and most of the solutions are common sense, meaning they shouldn’t require too much trial and error.
In terms of the mini-games, the most exciting offerings include following a ball hidden underneath a cup, placing blocks down to trap a crab, and manoeuvring a pair of balls through a rotatable maze. It presents a decent variety all-round and the quantity is satisfactory to keep things ticking over nicely. There are a couple of frustrating ones though, like a rope puzzle where you must cover each line on a set of planks but can’t go over the same line twice, or the rearranging of triangular tiles one by one to form a picture.
It wouldn’t be a hidden object puzzle adventure without hidden object scenes, which unfortunately are the weakest aspect of the gameplay in Uncharted Tides. The disappointing scenes are those in which you’re only given the outline of items needing to be found, mainly because it shows you where to click once the cursor passes over it. That’s pointlessly easy. As for the scenes focusing on a list of item names, well these are better in that it’s full of cool objects to scour, but the dark setting takes off some of the shine.
Given that the main story mode in Uncharted Tides: Port Royal only lasts about three to four hours, the inclusion of bonus tale in ‘Troubled Waters’ is a welcome one. Sure, there’s only an extra hour to be gained, but it’s a decent insight into how the two main protagonists ended up sailing the seas together. After that, the replayability factor is practically non-existent unless you wish to obtain all of the collectible Rose symbols hidden throughout the main campaign.
Visually, Uncharted Tides excels in delivering wonderfully hand-drawn artwork to depict the Caribbean environments. Whether it’s the mysterious port towns or the legendary Cursed Rose itself, the scenery really suits the setting. If you want dark and gloomy from your pirate escapades, then the art here definitely nails it. The only slight downside is found during the cutscenes, simply because they can look a bit pixelated and of poor quality when the animation is fast-paced.
Uncharted Tides: Port Royal on Xbox One is a real mixed bag on the whole. Focusing on the positives though and the visuals are lovely, switching characters every so often allows their skills to be used in a selection of enjoyable puzzles, and the mini-games are fairly varied. Unfortunately, there are a few mini-games that cause irritation and that’s not ideal for an otherwise relaxing game. To make matters worse, the pirate tale is pretty boring and, one of the key features, the hidden object scenes are let down by the issues already outlined.
Should you rush to buy Uncharted Tides: Port Royal? No, but maybe consider a purchase if it ever goes on sale; especially if you enjoy puzzles.