A simple, but enjoyable puzzle adventure.
Adventure games are a soft spot of mine, and every time I have the opportunity to play one, it's a unique joy. While Anna's Quest suffers from a couple of notable weaknesses, it also incorporates some cool gameplay elements that I'd like to see replicated in future adventure games. While it lacks the pizzaz of some other modern contributors to this re-emerging genre, its fundamentals are solid, and it's worth the twenty bucks provided you're okay with some subjective artistic and thematic choices.
Anna's Quest mostly focuses on the attempts of a young girl to escape an evil witch and save her cursed grandfather. It features references to some lesser known Brothers Grimm fairy tales like Jorinde and Joringel as well as better-known stories like Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella. Of course, in a spirit of which the Brothers Grimm would likely approve, these fairy tales are heavily rewritten.
Anna's Quest's greatest blessing and curse is its very simple three-button point-and-click interface. There are keyboard controls as well, but I found it easier to just do everything with the mouse. One of my favorite features is the ability to see all the things that you can interact with on a given screen by pushing down on the mouse wheel. This feature is super useful and significantly cuts down on the frustration of solving puzzles. When I switched to another adventure game, I really missed that highlight feature. It allows you to focus on solving the puzzles instead of having to dope out what elements of the game environment are actually things you can use.
However, any game options features, including inventory and saves, are done through a pop up window that disappears if you accidentally move the mouse cursor off of it, leading to an increase in frustration. The other menus are oddly subdivided as well, creating an unnatural split between graphics and audio options and other menu features such as the quit and save functions.
Fortunately, you never really die in Anna's Quest, nor do you have the opportunity to thoroughly mess anything up, so you don't have to save often. Periodically, you do have to use your telekinesis abilities on an object in your inventory, and that drove me crazy because of the tendency for said inventory screen to disappear. Yes, I said telekinesis ability. Anna can manipulate stuff with her mind, albeit in a pretty inconsistent sort of way. I'm still not sure how I feel about this gameplay mechanic, since on the one hand it makes some puzzles more interesting. On the other hand, however, it sometimes feels like a crutch. It's not used quite enough to be a fundamental part of gameplay and when it is used it sometimes feels forced. It doesn't break the game however. It just feels like difference for the sake of difference.
This "difference for the sake of difference" also applies to the game narrative as well. I don't want to go into too much detail here because discovery is part of the joy of the game, so I'll just say that the story is interesting, but could have benefited from being told better. A series of major revelations happen at the very end that lead to a "that's it?" feeling even though the game provides a lot of content. There are also places where the puzzle solutions get unnaturally absurd in their solutions -- which is an element of the adventure genre -- but there are places in Anna's Quest where it's pushed too far. This is especially frustrating since a major strength of the game is that the puzzles are good for beginners. When things get completely stupid, it deviates from the common sense solutions that I think are a major selling point in a genre that often creates false difficulty through non-intuitive puzzle solutions.
But, of course, adventure game puzzle difficulty is subjective. It's all about whether or not your mind makes the same silly associations that the developers did. Equally subjective will be how players feel about the protagonist, Anna, since she's a young girl and has associated limits in terms of how she responds to situations and solves problems. The false pacifism of the game annoyed me, since death and doom for the sake of death and doom is a major part of Grimm fairy tales. The game twists itself into pretzels to manage "non-violent violence" instead of just accepting it as part of the world of these fairy tales. This becomes especially baffling at the end, when a character you come for feel sorry for is sacrificed for an "exciting" scene that isn't all that exciting. Getting to that ending is enjoyable enough that a player prepared that the ending isn't that great can still enjoy the game, so... be prepared: the ending isn't that great.
Also, for those for those who care, yes, Anna is a damsel in distress. Yes, she "rescues" herself, albeit with help. Yes, her primary enemy is female. Make your purchasing decisions accordingly. I personally couldn't care less, because if the game had a male protagonist, none of this stuff would be relevant, so it shouldn't matter just because Anna is a girl.
The strongest narrative parts of Anna's Quest are when she's out in the world, interacting with a delightfully goofy cast of supporting characters. My personal favorites were the Mill Witch, a small troll guard with a big ego (and a goat), and a crazy old hermit named Rinkrank. Less likeable are the predictably stupid castle guards, a little-miss-perfect queen, and a spoiled brat teenaged princess. The various animal characters work well enough to recommend, although the voice acting for Anna's teddy bear companion Ben could have been better.
- Rely heavily on the feature that highlights everything you can interact with on a screen. It can be very helpful.
- Sometimes you can progress just by talking to a character. Sometimes you need to show them an item. Try both.
- Exploration will usually eventually result in Anna giving you a hint regarding what to do next.
- Mr. Unicorn provides you with more than one inventory item. Make sure you get them both.
- Your goal with Rinkrank is to capture his attention by a hair.
- The dungeon area can get frustrating in places because there's a lot of shuffling back and forth to solve puzzles. Don't be afraid to move around.
- The pigeon puzzle is tricky if you don't know how to start. Your first move is to the right.
- To get past another feathered problem, you need to add some soot to your substitution.
- In the castle level, you can't get the flowers Anna needs until you can leave the area to revisit a area you've previously explored. Again, you will have to go back and forth a few times.
Overall, the voice work suffers from a lack of clear, firm direction. Most notably, there's no consistency in how the various characters say the protagonist's name. Sometimes it's Anna, sometimes it's "Ah-nah". That sort of thing should be consistent if the voice director is doing their job. Anna and Ben's dialogue also sounds sleepy compared to the other characters, and I ended up skipping a lot of their voice overs because I didn't find they added very much to the text that appeared over the characters' heads. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is good when I listened to it on its own, but in the game, I hardly noticed it... which defeats the purpose of in-game music.
Graphics, on the other hand, are definitely a strength. Not only are they cute and consistent, but the individual objects are clear enough that they don't disappear into the background and confound your ability to solve a puzzle. Granted, this isn't a 3D spectacle, but it's still well done for what it is. It's supposed to look like a story book, and it does.
With little replay value to speak of, Anna's Quest is a game you play through once. You may speed run through a second time just to revisit your favorite parts, but I personally felt no pressing need. Daedalic has shown an ability to design a competent puzzle adventure game, which is a feat that deserves praise. It just doesn't deliver much of a payoff at the end, and I was left questioning just what I was supposed to take away from the experience. If you're looking for a lower-priced game that won't take you too long to complete, you like the fractured fairy tale format, and you enjoy games with a female protagonist, then Anna's Quest is an interesting diversion. If you expect more from a game, however, this indie effort probably won't seem satisfying.
This game was reviewed using a steam code provided by Daedalic Entertainment.
Images courtesy of Daedalic Entertainment.