All the young girls love Alice. Unfortunately for Alice, so do spooky ghouls, freaky monsters and a whole host of literary nightmares. Brace yourself for another hidden object adventure game full of bizarre twists and turns. Bizarre being the operative word. I’d also accept strange, odd, and just plain weird.
Though Nevertales: Shattered Image takes its key premise from the realm of classic literature, it’s ironically devoid of plot. The game is a series of vaguely familiar sets haphazardly strung together to create a loose and disjointed narrative. Yes. There are magic spells, evil villains, flaming volcanoes, and faulty submersibles. It’s just nearly impossible to tell what one has to do with the other. There’s even a random fortune teller, voodoo mystic, woman, or, um, your neighbor, Maria. She’s handy for deciphering the generic, magical, debris you bring her, but probably not the kind of neighbor you let watch the kids.
If you can ignore the increasing weirdness as the chapters and settings progress, there are some interesting aspects to Shattered Image. There’s an inter dimensional portal posing as a dollhouse, animated fairy tales hiding clues, occasional body swapping, and the aforementioned voodoo mystic living next door. Each of these interactions are interesting in and of themselves, but since they’re triggered randomly, the extra layers of gameplay compound the disjointed feeling of the game.
As art is really the strong suit of the Nevertales franchise, the hidden object scenes are very well done. One scene, in particular, struck my fancy with its clever use of movement. With each item collected a platform raises revealing more clues. For all these scenes, lighting errs on the spookily ambient side, so expect a bit of eye strain trying to find that last bobbin or bug.
Though the majority of the scenes have the eerie realism we’ve come to expect from HOAs, the art style changes as often as the plot twists. It’s interesting to keep playing if only to discover how the art will evolve next. The fairy tales have a very geometric storybook quality. There’s a gnome workshop where all the characters are made of wood. There’s even one animation in the Captain Nemo storyline with a very Terry Gilliam/Monty Python-esque quality to it.
It’s worth sticking with the game just to get to the underwater world. Not only is the art worth a look, but it’s here you’ll find the best puzzle interactions of the game.
The designers of Nevertale are big fans of memory puzzles and hiding clues under layers of debris. You’ll spend a lot of time on tedious busy work shuffling piles of discarded items off of that one inventory item you actually need. Many of the puzzles feel like they were created to take up time rather than provide a clever challenge. More than once I found myself needing to repeat actions due to the interface design rather than the complexity of the puzzle. That said, retrieving and piloting the troubled submarine required tantalizing brain work not experienced in the previous puzzles.
Despite its disjointed story and unnervingly weird weirdness, Shattered Image is a relaxing reprieve from your typical mind-crunching HOA gameplay. You’ll find yourself zipping through the game as obstacles magically fall away with the slightest effort. Just don’t expect the how and why to make much sense. Everyone’s a little mad here. And definitely a little weird.