During our coverage of Casual Connect a few months back, we interviewed Polish developer Artifex Mundi about some of their adventure titles. I also promised to start reviewing those titles, and now it’s time to do just that.
First up is our review of Nightmares from the Deep: the Cursed Heart for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. Cursed Heart is the first game in the Nightmares from the Deep series of hidden object puzzle adventure games (HOPA). With a mix of gameplay styles and plenty of ghostly pirate adventure, Cursed Heart is a great introduction to Artifex Mundi’s games. Read on for our full review!
Where do broken hearts go?
While the Nightmares from the Deep games all feature eerie nautical settings and themes, each title so far has a standalone story. Cursed Heart centers around a supernatural pirate named Remington whose decayed body comes to life inside of a museum. Soon he wrecks the museum and kidnaps the museum director’s daughter. As the director, you must to follow Remington to his island base and rescue her before it’s too late.
Cursed Heart’s story comes to life via fully voiced and decently acted dialog, though an occasional line here or there might be missing a voice sample. The cinematic sequences come in two forms: CG animation and hand-drawn animation. The CG rendered movies look great and match the in-game background artwork in terms of beauty. The hand-drawn sequences are passable, but their character art and grasp of anatomy often leaves something to be desired.
Besides rescuing your daughter, the main goal in Cursed Heart is to find 12 special doubloons hidden throughout the game. When gathered together, the doubloons will open a magical quest and reveal its mysterious contents.
Each doubloon placed on the chest also causes a movie to play that will reveal a little more of the game’s backstory. The only problem with these scenes and the game’s story in general is that it’s too front-loaded. You’ll learn how the captain got his power, the importance of a woman from his past, and his plans for the director’s daughter far too early in the game. Each doubloon’s story scene fleshes things out a bit more, but you’ll have the whole story figured out long before collecting the last one.
As an adventure game, Cursed Heart has more than its fair share of puzzles. Often these involve scanning the environment for objects to gather and use later. Things you pick up appear in your inventory, which is always accessible from the bottom of the screen. To use an item on something in the environment, simply tap/click and drag it to the desired location.
The game classifies more complex puzzles as minigame puzzles. These come in the standard varieties like assembling a painting from pieces, rotating starfish to make a pattern, mixing a chemical formula, and more.
A few puzzles get too esoteric or unintuitive for my liking, such as a minigame involving reassembling a broken record. I had all the pieces together seemingly perfectly, but the game didn’t lock them in place and register the record as reassembled.
Thankfully, players can skip the occasional problematic puzzle on the default difficulty. You can also use hints to direct you to the next location or important items in the background. Both functions operate on timers, so you can’t just use them nonstop.
Another helpful function is the map system. After leaving the museum, you’ll have access to maps of each subsequent environment. Besides the obvious aid in navigation, maps also indicate locations of the next puzzle or action you’re supposed to do. Maps are still present on the hardcore difficulty option, but the rest of the hints will be disabled.
Without hidden object sequences, a HOPA would just be an adventure game. Cursed Heart does have a number of hidden object scenes, though they’re spread out a bit between the other types of puzzles. Each scene provides a list of nine or so items to find. Sometimes you’ll have to combine, open, or move things in order to find the right items.
The hidden object scenes, like the background art in general are gorgeously drawn and filled with luscious details. In some games, these scenes are just cluttered with randomly-placed junk and seem to be designed more for challenge than anything else. Cursed Heart’s hidden object sequences show more artistry and less impossible object density, making for much more plausible scenes.
Players who don’t care for hidden object games will be pleased to know that Cursed Heart provides an alternative to those sequences. Whenever one comes up, you can choose to play mahjong solitaire (also known as Shanghai) instead! You know, that’s the game in which players must match pairs of tiles that are stacked in a pattern. The tiles have pirate themed artwork and everything.
The mahjong solitaire puzzles are focused more on fun than challenge. Players can choose to reshuffle the stack at any time, and it will automatically reshuffle whenever no moves are left. The puzzles do increase in complexity as the game progresses, though.
Variety lovers can mix and match between hidden objects and mahjong as the game goes on, though you’d miss out on a non-Xbox Achievement or two by doing so. Completing either type of puzzle always rewards you with an inventory item that will be needed in order to progress.
Collector’s Edition features
The Windows Phone and Windows 8 versions of Cursed Heart carry a “Collector’s Edition” subtitle. So does the game on other platforms, so it seems like the default edition to me. But the game does include some unlockable bonus features that you wouldn’t find in run-of-the-mill HOPA titles:
- Mini-games: Replay any of 16 mini-games from the main adventure.
- Hidden object scenes: Choose from the 19 hidden object puzzles found in the main adventure.
- Videos: Nine regular story videos and 12 doubloon videos to watch
- Concept art: Nine paintings representing scenes from the game
You can’t select the mahjong solitaire puzzles directly, but they can be replayed from within the individual hidden object puzzles. Other than a dedicated mahjong menu, the only bonus feature the game really lacks is a sound test.
Cursed Heart’s Extras menu holds one more special feature: a Bonus Adventure. This mini adventure functions as an epilogue and lasts an hour or two.
The museum director has survived the main adventure but she must fill find a way to get back home. The Bonus Adventure contains the same exploration, puzzles, and hidden object gameplay you’d find in the main game. It even has voice acted dialog.
While it’s classified as a Bonus Adventure, the epilogue could have just as easily been included within the main game. I guess having it as a separate option is handy for mobile play.
If you enjoy adventure games, finding hidden objects, or matching mahjong tiles, Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart is a must-play. The sequel Nightmares from the Deep: the Siren’s Call is also available on Windows 8, but the Windows Phone version hasn’t launched yet.
Cursed Heart is available in a free version that is essentially a trial or a full paid version. The paid version offers a trial anyway, so don’t bother with the free one.
- Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart – Windows Phone 8 – 249 MB – $2.99 – Store Link
- Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart – Windows 8 – 475 MB – $6.99 – Store Link
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