Not quite a point-and click adventure but more than a hidden object game, Laura Jones and the Gates of Good and Evil falls into the category of "casual adventure," alongside the likes of Azada and Dream Chronicles. In such esteemed company, this new offering from Nevosoft holds its own quite well although it’s relatively brief and easy.
The game takes place on a university campus, where Laura Jones has recently graduated with an archaeology degree. When one of her instructors, Professor Adams, summons her to work with him on a secret project, Laura encounters a mystery artifact that turns out to be part of a key that can open a mystic gate.
To tell you the truth, the overall premise – which is concerned with evil spirits that threaten to escape the mystic gate unless Laura can restore the proper balance and save universe (or something) – is pretty generic fantasy gobbledygook. However, the smaller character interactions that occur as Laura goes around campus tracking down the remaining artifacts – and the puzzles and mini-games that accompany them – are highly entertaining
Take, for example, the rivalry between Professor Adams’ nerdy student assistant Alex and the football jock, which causes each student to swipe the awards of the other and stash them in their respective dorm rooms. To get the artifact piece hidden inside one of the trophies, Laura must search both rooms and do some deft clicking to put things right.
The most common type of puzzle involves clicking on objects in the scene to interact with them in some way or pick them up. For example, Laura’s dog gets hold of one of the artifacts and won’t give it back, so you have to figure out a way to distract the dog. By picking up the dog food and clicking on the dog’s bowl you’ve given him a pretty good incentive to leave the artifact alone, but he also loves lying by the warm fireplace so you need to light the fire by finding matches somewhere in the room, then dragging them over to the fireplace.
There a couple of variations on this type of gameplay, like seek-and-find challenge where you have to search a room for a list of objects, and spot-the-difference tasks which involve comparing two side-by-side images and singling out items that don’t match. No matter what you’re doing, everything makes sense in the context of the story.
Each time Laura finds an artifact, its guardian spirit puts her through an "ordeal" to prove that she’s worthy of having it. These ordeals come in the form of mini-games that you’ll likely have seen before in some variation or another, but which are nonetheless well done. There are nine in total, and they include a jigsaw puzzle, a variation of the word game Hangman, a pipe puzzle, and a neat gravity-based game where you have to rotate suns to guide an arrow’s trajectory so that it hits an apple.
If a mini-game is too hard or just isn’t to your taste, you can skip it for a different challenge. For example, I skipped a weight balancing game that was stumping me, and as an alternative challenge I got to search a scene to find 12 different weights and scales.
An experienced adventure gamer will probably find Laura Jones to be overly easy. You can amass hints by clicking on question marks, and by the time I reached level 18 (the final level), I had racked up about 20 of them. Granted, many of those horded hints got used trying to figure out the final puzzle, which was a decent brainteaser spanning multiple screens, but it’s a shame that earlier levels weren’t equally challenging. Gameplay length is modest (perhaps 3 hours), but being able to access any unlocked mini-games from the main menu does add a bit of replay value.
Unfortunately, too, the game’s ending seems a bit abrupt and anticlimactic. Not to sell Laura Jones and the Gates of Good and Evil too short, however. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the game, and fans of Azada and similar titles probably will as well – I just wish that there was more of it.