Persian Nights: Sands of Wonders is an adventure game disguised as a hidden object game. While some may scoff at the genre for being too casual, there’s no denying that it’s taken the slot left behind by the likes of Monkey Island and Broken Sword. Although at first glance the new Arabian Nights-inspired game from Artifex Mundi doesn’t look all that special, it really does a lot to defy typical genre conventions.
Despite its name and aesthetic, Persian Nights doesn’t come from a land from a far away place where the caravan camels roam. Instead, the Persia of this game is more of a kind of tossed salad of Eastern fantasy found in the likes of A Thousand and One Nights. There’s a bit of ancient Persia, a bit of Saudi Arabia, some India and even China and Japan thrown in for good measure. The result is one of the most visually appealing hidden object games I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending a few hours on. From a lush oasis where a half-dragon, half-kitten creature lives, to an arid temple and a kingdom above the clouds, Persian Nights’ world never feels boring or repetitive.
A beautiful score carries players into this exotic fantasy world. Some of the music can lean to repetitive depending on how long each screen and puzzles takes, but this is more just a hazard of hidden object games than an issue with the actual score. The artwork is superb, and unlike some other hidden object games of late, the development team wisely did away with any attempts at trying to have the mouths of characters move when they talk.
Speech is also one of the game’s strongest points. The voice over work is emotive to the point of being on par with some Triple A console titles. This is to the game’s benefit, as some of the characters can come off a little derivative at times. For example, the dashing rogue Darius feels very much like the titular character from the Prince of Persia series. He could have broken out the Dagger of Time and I wouldn’t have been too surprised. Most egregious of all these cookie-cutter characters, though, is the game’s antagonist.
Grand Vizier Zaved has killed the Sultan and set loose a shadowy taint over Persia. While royal advisors have gotten the bad-guy treatment for years in media, Zaved is pretty much Jafar from Disney’s Aladdin, although without the fun. In fact, if one of the lines he utters early in the game “there is no good or evil, only power and those to weak to seek it,” seems familiar, that’s because it was taken straight from the mouth of Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
The saving grace of these characters comes in the form of the protagonist. Tara is an apothecary attempting to find a cure for a mysterious disease that has swept the land. Hers is the best voice over work in the game, and she’s one of the most compelling characters as a result. Additionally, Artifex Mundi struck gold with Tara’s profession, in that being an apothecary is inherent to the progression of the game.
While there are hidden object puzzles peppered throughout the story, Persian Nights has a versatile array of brainteasers aside from typical point-and-click fare. The option exists to receive hints, which is worked into the gameplay and narrative via the introduction of a genie. Though the bespectacled sidekick will offer hints that replenish after a certain amount of time pending what difficulty level players choose, the most intuitive feature of Persian Nights is the potion system.
As an apothecary, it makes sense that Tara would be on the lookout for all kinds of flora and fauna to aid her occupation. Persian Nights makes use of Tara’s vocation by allowing players to collect certain objects in the wild and then mix them together. Players can then use these potions to help clear certain puzzles. This mesh of narrative and gameplay was one of the key factors that made me enjoy playing the game so much. It’s rare that hidden object games offer depth in that regard. The potion system, coupled with the versatility of the puzzles offered, left me feeling more like I was, in fact, playing a more old school point-and-click adventure game.
Although it’s been years since the adventure games of old have graced the shelves, the hidden object genre is picking up the slack. The immersion created from exploring a world, or story, and working through its puzzles can create a truly engaging experience. While Persian Nights: Sands is Wonders has a few flaws, it more than makes up for these with dynamic gameplay. There are a varied assortment of puzzles aside from traditional hidden object searches that keep the game from being tedious; and the potion system that beautifully marries mechanic and story. Some truly talented voice over work makes up for a simple plot and derivative characters.
Persian Nights might not take you to a whole new world, but it will open your eyes to how hidden object games have become the new adventure game.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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