Sometimes it feels like the creators of adventure games are working against you. Their games are filled with puzzles whose solutions are so obtuse, you begin to feel like they actually want you to fail. The same cannot be said for the designers of Pahelika: Secret Legends. While the puzzles are still pretty tricky, it’s obvious that the game’s creators want you to succeed and enjoy yourself – which you more than likely will.
You begin Pahelika by discovering an unusual book that, in Myst-like fashion, transports you to a variety of magical lands. The object of each journey is simply to make it to the portal that will transport you home, but naturally you’ll have to do a little legwork first.
The puzzles of Pahelika are a mixed bag – some are simple find the right object to put in the right slot sort, while others require more abstract reasoning, such as assembling seemingly random objects to create a fire-starter. For all of them, you’ll have to scour the location, picking up everything that isn’t nailed down, and determining how to use the objects with items in the room.
While other adventure games are content to let you flounder around helplessly, Pahelika gives you several helpful hints. Items that require your attention become highlighted in sparkles when you mouse over them, and some locations even have instructions on what to do hidden in them. Even better, you can rarely leave the room you’re currently in, which you know that the solution to the conundrum at hand is right in front of you, you just have to figure out what it is.
On those rare occasions when you must leave the room to solve the puzzle, Pahelika makes it clear by putting an arrow in the upper corner of the screen. No more retracing your steps through half the game because you think you’ve missed some key object. Halleleujah!
That’s not to say that Pahelika‘s puzzles won’t sometimes confound you in ways they never meant to. I was completely stumped by a missing rope in one area; it was hanging in plain sight on a wall, but looked so much like the frame for the window it was next to that I mistook it for another window. In another area, it seemed obvious that I had to put books back on shelves, but certain books went in certain spots, though it wasn’t obvious why. Pahelika’s visual cues are at times lacking, and in other cases, the logic seems a bit arbitrary.
Developer Ironcode thoughtfully provides a walkthrough free of charge on its website, which should walk you through most of the game’s trickiest spots, but at times its frustratingly vague. In one area, you had to flip five switches into the correct positions in order to open the way to the next location, but there was no apparent indication of what that pattern should be. The walkthrough simply says that finding the solution "may take some trial and error." Either give us a clue in the game or tell us the answer in the walkthrough; simply leaving us to flip switches at random, hoping to stumble across the answer can only lead to frustration.
The story, such as it is, is told via short voice overs as you enter new areas and comic book-style cut scenes in between chapters. The voice acting is well done, but the cut scenes proceed at a glacial pace, completely stalling any momentum you’ve gained from solving the puzzle to open the portals. The ability to speed up the scene or, better yet, skip it completely would’ve been much appreciated.
But these are minor annoyances in what is otherwise an entertaining experience. Though you’ll come across the expected flip switch/find correct sequence/open door puzzles that are common to adventure games, you’ll also find wonderfully unusual challenges. One personal favorite was a series of stone guardians who would only let you pass once you answered their questions correctly – which was easy once you realized that ego is not solely a human trait.
If you’re a fan of adventure games, but not of their tendency to be punishingly difficult, definitely give Pahelika a try. It’s no pushover, but the concessions it makes to ensuring you have everything you need to succeed make it a more welcoming adventure experience.