The Dark Hills of Cherai: The Regal Scepter foregoes HOG cliches for a unique story set in India.
It’s fairly common for hidden object games to turn to history, myth and legend for their inspiration, but the range of cultural traditions they reference is often woefully narrow. The Dark Hills of Cherai: The Regal Scepter, from Indian developer Chayowo Games, forgoes the overused Victorian mansion/Celtic ruin/19th century village themes to create its own unique brand of hidden object gameplay, wrapped artfully up in the magic and lore of India.
Building on the themes and characters of its previous title, The Dark Hills of Cherai, The Regal Scepter features not one but three young heroes: Tara, Rahul and Maya, all members of the royal family. Early on, the three are approached by an apparition of the King of Cherai—who’s been murdered by his court magician, Vishwarood—and tasked with finding the royal scepter, which upon the King’s death, was hidden to prevent Vishwarood from getting his evil hands on it. This three-hero, setup is unique to hidden object titles and does much to increase the game’s interest and complexity.
Each character has his or her own unique path but throughout the game, you’ll be constantly switching from one to the next. That’s because as each of them finds items and encounters puzzles, they’ll find that the other two have the items they need to progress while finding that they themselves have the items the other two need. Although the characters never physically team up, they do make frequent use of an underground meeting place that allows them to swap the items they find. Swapping items and characters is a fun mechanic that gives the game a more expansive feel. Not that the game needs it.
The Dark Hills of Cherai: The Regal Scepter features a surprising range of beautiful and magical locations and within these locations, a broad range of varied and interesting puzzles.
The puzzle difficulty pendulum swings wildly throughout the game with some four-click-solution puzzles and others that take considerable thought and planning to solve. Furthermore, after an hour or so of playing you’ll realize the entire game is really one big puzzle thanks to the three hero system. When switching among three characters and three narratives, it’s not always obvious which items are needed where and who should be carrying them and keeping everything straight takes some effort. Actually, this could become frustrating to some players since it means repeatedly revisiting each character’s inventory and locations in order to progress. Less patient players might not like this but will definitely appreciate the built-in hint system that not only tells you where each item can be used, but which character should be using it.
In addition to having an interesting hero/puzzle system, and a robust and thorough hint system, The Dark Hills of Cherai: The Regal Scepter boasts some truly dazzling graphics. Exotic palaces, awe-inspiring waterfalls and quaint hermitages are all rendered in a radiant mixture of 2 and 3D art which is augmented by some great sound and visual effects. Voiceover is limited well-acted and the soundtrack features an evocative drum and flute-filled musical score.
The game is filled with beauty and unique adventure and really, what flaws it has are minor. One noticeable flub can be found in the child heroes’ journal dialog; even though the two youngest children appear to be around nine, their mode of expression is off-puttingly adult. Another problem is that the story, which starts out fairly well, gets somewhat muddled near the end. The climactic scene in particular will likely leave you scratching your head, seeming as it does, more like the setup for a sequel than a resolution to the current story. Finally, the aforementioned three-hero setup means three times the clicking and more location re-visitation than some players may enjoy.
Regardless of these niggling issues, The Dark Hills of Cherai: The Regal Scepter is a much-needed departure from the often too-conventional bulk of the hidden object game category. With beautiful art, a unique approach to heroes and a fascinating storyline based on a cultural tradition most of us aren’t familiar with, it represents one of the freshest hidden object adventures released in recent memory and well worth the playing.