The Mysterious Cities Of Gold
The original Mysterious Cities of Gold animated series ran in the early 1980s and followed the adventures of a young boy named Estaban and his two friends. The series mixed history with science fiction and built up quite a following amongst younger viewers. Now more than 30 years later the show has a second season and with it an official game.
The good news is that the developers are actually fans of the animated series so this isn't just another half-baked cash in. Like many other fans, the show was an integral part of my childhood although I only had a chance to view it in the early nineties. I wasn't even aware that the show had been renewed for a new season until this game popped up on my radar but the second I heard that iconic theme song I was drowning in nostalgia. Judging by the success of the kickstarter project to bring this game to PC with full English localization I would say that I'm not the only one eager to relive those childhood memories.
The game gives you direct control over Estaban, Zia and Tao as they explore levels and solve puzzles from a top down perspective. Each child has their own unique ability which means you have to constantly switch between characters to overcome the various obstacles. Esteban has the ability to bring out the sun which is useful for activating special pillars while Tao can translate the ancient language of his people for puzzle hints. His parrot is also adept at pilfering keys from guards while Zia is petite enough to squeeze through cracks into areas inaccessible to other characters. None of the children are skilled at combat so stealthily sneaking past enemies or hiding in pots and barrels is your only defense.
The levels in the game are quite large and filled with puzzles that have to be solved. The puzzles mostly involve pressure plates, levers, switches and keys that open doors to new areas. You'll also encounter colored dragon statues that have to be placed on the correct pedestals to unlock gates. You can use the camera button to scroll around the level which is vital for pinpointing which character to send in what direction. Unfortunately there is no way to zoom out which is a function that would have come in really handy. Levels are usually filled with guards that patrol important areas and you have to avoid their line of sight or you will get caught. Footsteps indicate the patrol routes of guards and you usually have a second or two to get away if spotted but even capture only means that you are sent back to the nearest checkpoint. This means that the frustration factor is quite low and even younger players can enjoy the game without getting stuck.
To make things more challenging for veterans there are some optional goals to aim for. Each level has a secret chess that unlocks new artwork from the show and you can also try to collect all the parchments dotted around the levels. The parchments are completely optional and usually require you to take more daring routes or send characters to sections where they would not normally be needed for a nice added challenge. Each level also has a strict time limit to aim for but don't worry as there is no penalty for failing to beat these.
Even with the top down perspective the visuals remain faithful to the animated series and all the characters are immediately recognizable. The large, colorful levels are fun to explore and the animations of all the characters are excellent. At the end of each level you are rewarded with a cut-scene that is taken straight from the animated show but you don't really need to know the show or characters to enjoy the game. The audio is good and features the familiar theme song that will stick in your head for days. The voice acting is also done by the same folks who lend their vocals to season two of the animated series.
The game can be played with a controller but I had no issues using the mouse. You can only control one character at a time so no directing them as a group or selecting waypoints before switching to another character. This means that some extra planning is required to avoid reaching a point where you discover you are using the wrong character for the job but movement speed is fast enough that even this isn't much of an issue.
At this point 20 of the promised 30 levels are available and with the conclusion of the animated series on French television the release of the final 10 are imminent. It took me about five hours to complete the 20 levels and at no point did it feel tedious or become a grind to solve the puzzles. The upcoming levels will obviously be more taxing with the final three in particular promising to pose a challenge even to adults.
If you are a fan of the animated series, either the original or the new season then this game should be high on your wish list. While it doesn't exactly break any new ground it does offer some solid gameplay in a nice family friendly package. The developers are unmistakably passionate about the license and clearly made a lot of effort to stay true to the show.
*As of 11/25/2013 all thirty levels of the game is available on Steam and achievements have been added.
TAGS: Mysterious Cities Of Gold, Esteban, Zia, Tao, China,
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