Who knew being a wizard involved so much backtracking?
As the title character in hidden object game Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal, a quick trip to your aunt’s apartment to pick up a purse finds you pressed into service saving the Magical Realm from impending doom. You’ve never lifted a wand in your life, but your helpful demon sidekick will have you up to speed on telekinesis, alchemy, telepathy, and wizardry in no time.
Bizarrely enough, being a wizard seems to boil down to finding lots and lots of random junk lying around. Your quest to rescue the Magical Realm from imminent disaster will take you to a different region for each chapter of the game, where you’ll have to solve a number of problems for the locals, all of which depend on you collecting items. It seems like everyone you meet needs you to find things for them: sickles, flowers, batteries, nunchuks, wheels, pipes, fairy dust, nails, sheep – you name it, someone’s looking for it and won’t give you the time of day until you find it for them. Each area is split between several different locations, and you’ll have to move back and forth between them all in order to finish a chapter.
Your item searches are grouped into quests, with each quest usually requiring you to find just a handful of items. Icons at the bottom of your screen will tell you what you’re looking for and be marked with either a check mark when you’ve found them all, or an X to let you know that you need to search another room. When you’ve found everything required by your current quest, a note in the task bar will remind you who you need to give the items to in order to proceed. If you need to speak with someone new, they’re usually highlighted with a ring of sparkles. Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal does a fantastic job of creating signposts for you to follow so that you’re never left wondering what you should be doing or where you should be going.
If only there was a bit more variety to the doing and the going. You’ll be able to see everything that you’ll eventually need to collect scattered around the beautifully-drawn environments, but you won’t be able to pick it all up until you’ve been specifically asked for it, and nobody ever seems capable of asking you for everything you need at once. You’ll shlep back and forth between rooms over and over again because everyone in the Magical Realm seems to have adopted a “Oh, one more thing…” attitude that would make Columbo blush. The constant backtracking is aggravating, and any feeling of accomplishment you get by tracking down everything on someone’s shopping list disappears the moment you hand it all over and they send you right back out.
You can at least enjoy the scenery while you’re stomping back and forth, because Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal is absolutely stunning, with gorgeous characters, backgrounds, and magic effects. The voice acting, despite being quite wooden in places, is always pleasing to the ear. Even if not everyone is a great actor, they at least all have really nice voices that make listening to the dialog particularly enjoyable.
From time to time, you’ll be expected to perform a bit of magic, which is where Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal‘s minigames take center stage. Though repetitious – they never really change, just get more difficult as the game progresses – they are creative takes on magical disciplines and are a refreshing departure from the typical puzzles we see in most HOGs. For alchemy, you must catch enough blue drops of potion to fill the vial while dodging the red drops. In the wizardry game, which is how you cast spells, you must match a series of runes that run along the bottom of the screen with their counterparts in a spellbook above. Your telepathy won’t work quite right until you “tune in,” which means spotting the differences between two scenes. There’s far too much alchemy and not nearly enough telepathy in my opinion, but overall the minigames are an enjoyable break from the object searches. If they’re not your cup of tea, you can always just skip them.
Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal is wonderfully polished, with a funny story and charming characters, but its item searches are frustratingly repetitious and the endless backtracking really got on my nerves. It’s worth trying if only to see how lovely it is – just be ready for some serious déjà vu.