With its blend of puzzles and point-and-click gameplay, Azada was a breath of fresh air for the casual games industry. Azada: Ancient Magic expands on Azada‘s groundwork by crafting a more sophisticated experience that is, most importantly, still accessible to fans.
Since you solved the Book of Azada in the first game, Titus asks for your help again. This time it’s to get to the bottom of a strange enchantment that’s hovering over the books in his Great Uncle Argus’s library and causing their characters to act strangely. You must work your way through each of the books solving the puzzles laid out in their pages in order to solve the mystery.
Gameplay is similar to other point-and-click adventure games where you interact with objects in the scene to solve puzzles. You can pick up certain items and add them to your inventory, and you’ll frequently have to combine items to make new ones, such as fitting pieces of a shovel together to dig a soft spot on the ground.
Where puzzles in Azada were limited to one screen, Azada: Ancient Magic has evolved from one-page puzzles to puzzles that span multiple pages of the book. An item found in one page, for example, may have to be used in another page, and some puzzles involve figuring out ways to get characters to move from one page to another if they happen to be blocking an item you need to grab.
Another big difference is that now you don’t just have one book to explore, but many – 21 to be precise. And within the pages of each book, the magic has brought to life classic literary characters for you to interact with. Helping Jonathan Harker escape from Dracula’s castle, or Hansel and Gretel avoid becoming a witch’s dinner, or the Invisible Man find a potion to turn him visible again, are just a few of the scenarios you’ll encounter.
Azada: Ancient Magic has its fair share of mini-games as well. They’re carefully woven into the puzzle scenes initially, but after clearing that particular book you can go back and play the mini-game by itself at any time.
I liked the fact that you could leave a book half-finished and select a different one from the library shelf, meaning that if you get stuck on a particular puzzle you can leave and come back to it later. I wasn’t so enthusiastic the time limits to complete each book, however.
Like most hidden object games, there’s also a penalty for "incorrect" clicking. Since part of the point-and-click adventure is experimentation – using ingenuity to figure out what item has to be used on what object in the scene – it seemed unfair to punish the player for not getting it right the first time. The system seemed arbitrary, too: sometimes Titus would simply explain why I couldn’t use an item, but other times the game would just take 30 seconds off the clock. Once I was even penalized for trying to use a keyring on a locked drawer. It would seem obvious, wouldn’t it? Turns out it was the wrong key, but how else would I have known that other than by trial and error?
At the time of writing this review, Big Fish Games has announced that it plans to add a Relaxed mode to the game, which should hopefully clear up some if not all of these complaints.
In spite of a few quirks like the ones mentioned above, however, Azada: Ancient Magic is a winner. Experienced players might complain about the game’s relatively short length – around four hours of gameplay provided you don’t get stumped on a puzzle, and even then the game allows you a limited number of hints and skips – but there definitely isn’t any filler in those four hours.
Every puzzle and mini-game is compelling, and there’s some innovative game design at work here. One standout is the Jekyll and Hyde book, where each page was divided into two panels and one of them was always inaccessible based on which character was active – Jekyll or Hyde. The story overally is fairly compelling, although a sub-challenge where you scan cards for symbols seemed a little tacked on.
The game’s lush orchestral soundtrack should also be singled out for praise because of the obvious care that was taken to create a separate piece of music for each book – right down to the prominent violin melody in the Sherlock Holmes level, which was surely a homage to Sherlock Holmes’the detective’s love of the instrument.