Introducing: Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale Review
Once upon a time, there was a gamer. He was awkward, and nerdy, and sometimes he tried to be wordy. One day he was tasked with a quest. He set out at once to traverse the land, gather allies, and conquer enemies. Along the way he found a copy of Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale and figured this would help pass the long evenings with only the tone deaf bard for company.
Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale is a labour of love from lone developer GrimTalin. His aim was to combine relaxing puzzle mechanics with a modern day fairy tale. So with our scene firmly set, it’s time to lace up our bracers, tighten our straps and set off on an adventure.
A Hero is Unveiled
Firstly, our hero is a ball. In something more akin to Marble Madness than Fable we find that the aim is to maneuver a marble through a maze. In doing so the aim is to collect a certain number of items in a set number of moves. Your marble can move in 4 directions and will not stop until it collides with something. Imagine the sliding ice puzzles in Zelda dungeons and you have some idea of the basic movements.
To add complexity to the levels, there are a number of obstacles added progressively throughout. These force the player to actually consider the layout of each puzzle rather than simply mash their way through. These include panels which act as bumpers, statues that collapse when hit and hollow logs to roll through. These and more hold both secrets and frustrations for our budding puzzle solver!
A Shortcut to…
Each level flows into the next, with the level of difficulty increased with each puzzle. The goal isn’t just to complete the puzzles though, oh no. Each level has a tier system of completion, with the shorter number of moves taken translating to a higher rank. Frankly, some of these levels should only have the one reward as its a miracle I managed to complete them sometimes. Not that the puzzles were too complex, but with the added caveat of minimal moves I often felt my frustrations rising.
The game does have a hint system, which, dear reader, I encourage you to use without guilt! Supporting you with completing these puzzles and collecting the requisite number of gems. The map can be rotated using ZL/ZR and is sometimes useful in seeing solutions you otherwise wouldn’t pick up on. As you work through each chapter, more and more mechanics are introduced, with earlier levels acting as tutorials for more complex ones later on.
Completing a level gives you the option to move forward, or to play that level again. This is where the game starts to show off it’s replay value. Though this doesn’t set itself apart from other puzzle games in that it’s a case of doing the puzzle better. There are “bonus stages” but this is in name only and creates my first real issue. The gate keeping to each successive chapter is a little high, with an average of 2 gems needed per level, this places more of an emphasis on doing the puzzles well rather and repeating until that is the case, rather than the joy of completing a difficult puzzle.
So what about the story?!
The story element is both an additional element and integral to the theme of the game. The game has a modern day fairy tale tagged onto the levels. As you progress more and more of the story is unlocked, as you gain more quills. The story can be revisited so that you can enjoy it in it’s entirety as opposed to piece meal and the writing style takes the form of a rhyming, poetic nature.
The story is a nice little addition, and certainly provides a hook to continue playing onto the next level, which is clearly it’s intent. But this creates a distraction from the main mechanics of the game. A few times I was torn between taking a break from the puzzle (which the game does also encourage I should add) and grinding through so I could hear more story.
For all my talk of frustration, the game is pretty fair. It’s combination of well thought out puzzles, complete with regularly changing elements, and it’s limitations make it a real head scratcher at times. I loved finding out how new obstacles worked and trying things out and my stresses were all born from a place of wanting to succeed, so its certainly safe to say the game achieves what it set out to do.
How does it look?
The game uses a fantasy realm aesthetic which I’m fairly certain most fans will be accustomed to. With a combination of monk-like characters, princesses and the like. This is used well throughout the game, with boards beginning with a very forest-like aesthetic, turning into other locations as the levels, and the story progress. There’s even the ability to use coins to alter the ball’s aesthetic should you so choose.
The biggest issue is that both aesthetic and story are almost completely detached from the game play itself. Make no mistakes, what is laid out here does it’s job. But there are times you question whether these aspects are needed or are there to keep you hooked.
My actual main complaint though is that, while the graphics are technically well made, the game doesn’t do enough to feel any more than a mobile game. Considering the background of the developer, this makes sense. But, the art assets themselves don’t do much to distance themselves from similar mobile games fighting for attention in the eShop.
Sounds like a Mixed Bag
The background music is well picked, fitting the art aesthetic with folk like tunes, some of which even contain lyrics. These are supported with beautiful environmental sounds that help to try and immerse the player within the current puzzle. There’s no real toe tappers, but you won’t be inclined to drown it out with your own pre made soundtrack.
The game doesn’t take up much space on the Switch, which makes this an ideal title to have digitally. This supports the actual gameplay as well by being able to dip in and out regularly while on the move. The game plays well in all formats regardless of the controller or Joy-Con used and I encountered no technical issues while playing the game.
This is How the Story Ends?
Ultimately as a puzzle game, Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale is a fun and challenging title. It is certainly a title that any puzzle fan will want to pick up. When you factor in price, it can even be considered a bargain buy. As a wider game, taking all the elements together. It felt like I’d get the same experience on more ubiquitous mobile devices. I feel the title is going to get lost in similar titles and in some aspects, that is sad.
- Challenging and rewarding puzzles
- Guilt-free hint system
- Wide variety of obstacles
- Replayability focuses on doing the same thing but better
- Doesn’t set itself apart from generic mobile games