Review by Aaron_Haynes

"A colossal miscalculation that goes out of its way to punish the player for not knowing every solution in advance. A failure on every level."

I should probably give a little bit of background for this one. I played the first Kyrandia game pretty soon after it came out. I don't remember the year, but I know I wasn't even 10 yet. I was at an age where, when I got to the catacombs section, the glowing red eyes that swarm you when you enter a room without glowing fireberries, it actually gave me nightmares. I wasn't much older when I got ahold of the second game. I was absolutely in awe of both of these games and love them to this day.

So, the fact that I didn't get a chance to play Kyrandia 3 until I was almost 21, coupled with the score I'm giving it, should set off your Nostalgia Alert meter. If I love the first two and absolutely despise the third one, it's naturally because I have that "childhood memories" buffer, right?

Not in this case, because I played the first two again after not touching them for almost ten years to refresh my memory, and they're still relatively well-designed, if a little counter-intuitive (most adventure games from this period feature the infamous "unwinnable" scenarios, where you destroy or fail to get an item needed to progress in later sections of the game, and Kyrandia 1&2 are no exception). I figured I was pretty well-conditioned for whatever the third game had in store for me.

I could not have been more wrong.

The game begins innocently enough, with Malcom, the villain from the first game, being re-animated out of his statue-esque form by a bolt of lightning. When found by Brandon and Kallak (good guys from the first game), he's told to leave Kyrandia immediately. Fair enough. I'll start with the good aspects of this game: the mood-o-meter, in which Malcom's mood can be set to change his responses to other characters, is a fantastic idea. It's never very clear what mood is best for each character before talking to them, but since I imagined I'd often save and try all three moods to see what responses I got should anything bad happen, I didn't care too much. The backgrounds aren't as well-constructed as in the previous two games; the presence of 3D is more obvious and they design doesn't stay very consistent from screen to screen like in Kyrandia 1 (and 2 to a lesser extent). But Malcom's claim that he was innocent, his relationship with the Queen's ghost, and a sort of cautious sympathy from Zanthia seemed to point towards an interesting conclusion to the Kyrandia story.

My first clue that something was terribly wrong was the screen where Herman, the castle guard, sees Malcom and throws him in jail. There are three characters in Kyrandia which, if encountered, trigger Herman's appearance on this screen, I later learned. So exploration is discouraged, I found out. Things quickly got worse. It became clear on subsequent attempts at the first section of the game that it is necessary to pass through this screen to reach a subsection of the Kyrandia map, and that it is the only way to return to the other main section of the Kyrandia map. So even in the event that the player uses an item to catch Herman off-guard and sneak by without being captured, Malcom would have to pass through the screen again to get back to everywhere else.

This was periphery, however, to my discovery of the first example of what was to become a running theme in this game: if the player makes any mistake whatsoever in any individual section of the game, they are to be punished with an extremely tedious busywork assignment to be set free and return to the rest of the game.

What?

Now, I am not a game developer. It is a not-yet-snuffed-out childhood dream of mine, but I am not experienced in scripting or game scenarios. However, I can pretty confidently say that repeatedly, extensively, and violently punishing the people who play your game with mindless, repetitive tasks is probably not a good element of gameplay design. It's not even disguised as anything in game; it's literally just busywork. There's even an extensive game plan for changing the type of busywork if you're caught multiple times; I think it goes up to about five or six different things you're forced to do over and over again, if you repeat the previous one enough times.

On top of this, apparently there are six different methods for escaping from Kyrandia at the beginning of the game, but I couldn't begin to guess what they are; progressing too far in any one of them closes off one or two of the others, so it's possible to get your wires crossed, grab useless items complete mysterious tasks with no apparent function, and be hopelessly lost as to how to proceed. No need to worry, though -- if all else fails, you can always take a few hours to progress through every single busywork assignment following your capture to move on to the next section.

Could the entire development team have missed the fact that their schedules and assignments were being devoted to who's doing the art or coding or playtesting for which section of the game that's designed to force the player to perform the same meaningless task over and over again until they are freed? Was this ever brought up in a meeting, after which an awkward silence ensued? Were bright, ambitious young developers driven to early retirement from the industry by their schedules on Kyrandia 3 consisting of nothing but creating bland, frustrating, uninspiring busywork tasks for the player to complete? Did they go home and have trouble sleeping? Did they wonder what all that time and effort and money spent at college was for?

The busywork sections aren't all that's wrong with this game, though. You see, Kyrandia 3 has a unique puzzle design style: There is a complex, arbitrary solution to every puzzle that must be performed precisely, and the player is a subhuman piece of crap who must be punished because they don't already know what that solution is. Take, for instance, the second location in the game, the Isle of Cats. At some point, you must activate the Altar of Cats in order to progress in the game. This requires that you dig for gems in an earlier screen on the island. The game never makes this even slightly clear to you, and when attempting to dig in this area, the player encounters the same outcome over and over again, until, once in an inordinately long string of repeating the same action, a different outcome is encountered. Now, I'm not a psychologist. But it seems to me that a human being, when faced with the exact same outcome to an action each time, many times in a row, with no information that things will ever be different, will logically assume that this is not the solution to the problem they are faced with. Then again, logic has very little place anywhere in this game; in the very same section, traversing the jungles to get to unique locations involves hacking brush with a machete, walking in a direction, and hoping that you arrive there, since the exits are generated randomly and there's no intuitive way of making any incremental progress. Also, some brushes have snakes under them that almost instantly kill you if you don't click again very quickly. How innovative!

But Kyrandia 3's innovation continues as yet another flavor of counter-intuitive puzzle design appears in the next section of the game, the End of the World: trial-and-error! In order to make your way down a rocky waterfall section, you must use your money to buy various items. Choose the wrong item, and you comically die and are brought back to the top. You must pass several screens to reach a cave that takes you to the next section. It goes without saying that there is nothing even slightly intuitive about the solution for each screen; you will have as much luck choosing items at random as you will thinking carefully about each choice.

Now, at long last, the most offensive, infuriating design element of this or any game I have ever played. Should the player dare to get through the insultingly arbitrary puzzle solutions of first three segments, itself already a catastrophe of game design, devoid of meaningful stimulus on any level, a veritable black hole into which all semblance of logic, exploration, creative inspiration, are compressed into a single, perfect, beautiful singularity of pointless contempt and disgust for the player....if you get through all that, the last obstacle I could stand before I quit the game in disgust appears: random, senseless interruption.

While trying to figure out where to go and what to do in the appropriately-named Limbo, you are repeatedly and without warning teleported to the chamber of the Fish Queen to play tic-tac-toe against her. You must lose in order to be allowed to leave. Before every move she makes, she yells (yes, yells), "HMMM!!". It is very, very, very difficult to lose to her. It takes a very long time to complete a single game against her. You will be returned to this room repeatedly and often, and will be required to grind through this meaningless, pointless exercise in tedium in order to get back to the latest counter-intuitive series of puzzles thrust upon you.

The phenomenon of "adventure game logic" is pretty well-understood among gamers who've played various LucasArts or Sierra offerings in the late 80s and 90s. Often times puzzle solutions are a little nonsensical or ridiculous, and players may be forced to wrap their brains around a chain of actions and reactions stretched to the logical breaking point. The worst offenders display an embarrassing self-indulgence on part of the creator, asking the player to think and explore and attempt stunningly illogical avenues of gameplay in order to trigger a self-congratulatory celebration of the writer's creativity and hilariousness; but even the worst offenders aren't as bad as what's on display here. Kyrandia 3 is stunningly, frighteningly bad, as if it wants to punish people who try to play it. It combines every cruelty, every oversight, every horrible mistake a developer could make and thrusts them violently upon an unsuspecting audience. It would be less offensive if the developers just hated videogames, gamers, and their own fans. The fact that they are this misguided, that they have created a miscalculation so colossal and complete, believing that they were making something great, defies belief.

1/10.


Reviewer's Score: 1/10 | Originally Posted: 10/16/06


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