I've given up trying to understand the gaming industry. On one hand, there are games like Desperados and Gangsters 2, both steeped with Americana, being released in Europe before North America. And now we have Adventure at the Chateau d'Or, a game taking place in France and which could have been written by the French Chamber of Commerce (if there is such a thing), opening in North America. Why do weird things like these happen? Well, in the case of Desperados and Gangsters 2, it's because publishers work in mysterious ways. But with Chateau d'Or, it's likely that Karma Labs is simply having trouble finding overseas publishers -- which is no surprise given that their adventure is about as lightweight as a game can get.
In Chateau d'Or, you play “the hero” who is out to help “the princess” discover “the treasure” left to her by “the duke.” It doesn't get much more anonymous than that, but at least the location where you'll do your adventuring, the Chateau d'Or, has a name and isn't simply called “the place.” To help the princess you'll have to learn some French history, solve a few puzzles, and contact the spirit of the dead duke. You'll also get to discover that the duke was working with “sensory focal devices” (don't ask) and that they tie in with the inheritance somehow. But the story is vague and nonsensical at best, and it's just there to get you into and exploring the chateau.
Half of the gameplay for Chateau d'Or is dedicated to French history. Inside the chateau you'll find three multimedia devices -- a television set, a book, and some sort of CD player -- and they'll give you information on such topics as gothic architecture, the French Revolution, and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery (where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, among others, are buried). You'll need to learn the information (at least somewhat) because when you finally come into contact with the duke he'll quiz you on it, and you'll have to answer enough questions correctly to garner his support. Fortunately, the information is interesting, it is presented nicely, and the Duke is friendly enough that he'll keep asking you questions until you get enough right. Plus, there is a difficulty setting for this part of the game, and you can use it to cut down or expand the number of questions you have to answer.
The other half of the game involves puzzle solving, and Chateau d'Or offers a mix of inventory puzzles and gadget puzzles. But there are only about ten puzzles total in the game -- and I'm being generous here -- and they're much too easy, and the interface is much too friendly, to provide any real challenge. For example, in one puzzle there are five balls and five depressions, and you have to figure out how the balls go into the depressions, but the game actually shows you when you have any ball placed correctly, and so it only takes a minute or two to solve. And then with another puzzle there are three wine kegs and a chalice, and you have to figure out how the four things work together. So do you drink the wine in some particular order, or somehow mix the wine in a certain way, or get some wine and use it on something else? I won't give away any spoilers here, but the answer is depressingly simpler than anything I suggested in the previous sentence.
The graphics for Chateau d'Or are good but not great. The game uses an engine similar to that of the original Myst; the graphics are two dimensional, but each location has up to four static views (one for each cardinal direction) so you can turn and examine your surrounding from different angles. The chateau itself is made up of about 50 locations, and the views are generally creative and detailed -- or as detailed as the game can get at its 640x480 resolution -- but Karma Labs used a few of the views in multiple places, spoiling the effect somewhat. There is also a small amount of full motion video in the game, but it isn't integrated in with the views as seamlessly as it should have been.
As for the sound, it would have been fine except for one thing -- the princess does an amazingly bad job acting her lines, to the point where I feel bad about putting the words “princess” and “acting” in the same sentence. I just got through saying this in my Evil Islands review, but an accent isn't the same as acting, and while the princess has a good (and perhaps natural) French accent, she couldn't even say her lines cleanly let alone act them. Every time she talked it sounded like she had to keep looking down at her cue card every five seconds so she'd know what to say, and sometimes it was painful to listen to. But other than that, the duke does a good enough job with his lines, and the background music and ambient noises are fine.
The interface has some problems -- it is sloppy with its cursor hot spots, and the save and load screens are about as vanilla as you can get -- but overall it gets the job done. One nice feature is the Hero's Information Manager (sort of like a poor man's PIPBoy 2000), which does two things: it stores the potential answers to the duke's questions, making them multiple choice, and it contains a map of the chateau, preventing you from getting lost (but not allowing you to jump to any room, which would have been nice). The game also has two difficulty settings, one for controlling the number of quiz questions and the other for controlling the difficulty of the puzzles, but the questions and puzzles are easy enough that Karma Labs probably should have put their energies elsewhere.
Overall, Adventure at the Chateau d'Or is light and relaxing. Only one puzzle is timed, and for the rest of the game you can work at your own pace. The problem is that Chateau d'Or is also incredibly short, with only about ten puzzles to solve and a handful of trivia questions to answer, and I'd guess that it'll take people no more than ten hours (if that much) to finish. If the game were budget priced, I could cut it some slack, but it's selling for $40, which is about the same price as Myst 3 and twice the price of most DreamCatcher adventures, all of which are better quality. And so Chateau d'Or is just not a game I can recommend, even for adventure enthusiasts.
[ Karma Labs just announced that
Adventure at the Chateau d'Or is now available for $29.99 USD -- ed. ]
[ 20/40 ] Gameplay
[ 12/15 ] Graphics
[ 09/15 ] Sound
[ 08/10 ] Interface
[ 05/10 ] Storyline
[ 04/05 ] Technical
[ 03/05 ] Documentation