Adventure at the Chateau d'Or

Review by Orb

Adventure at the Chateau d'Or is the freshman game from KarmaLabs, a company based in New York. The game itself is very short, and it took me just one evening to finish. Definitely in competition with The Forgotten and Isis for the shortest game ever.

The story is straightforward. A modern-day princess is summoned to the estate of her uncle, a duke who just died. Your job is to solve the mystery of the Chateau d'Or, thus securing the princess her inheritance. That's pretty much the gist of it.

The game has slideshow-style graphics with prerendered screens. There is a modicum of freedom of movement. The player, while indoors, can go for the most part only in areas that will or have effected game progression. There are two rooms that the player moves though but is not allowed to explore at all. I for the most part have been a consistent proponent of slideshow-style games and have also for the most part given high marks to games with beautiful prerendered art and lots of puzzles. But I have several problems with Chateau as regards this.

Firstly, there is an outdoor courtyard that the player can travel around the edges of, to explore the various rooms in the chateau. One of the problems of this is that the screens turn you around so quickly, and some of these are drawn so similarly, that it is easy to get confused as to which direction you are facing. Additionally, it seems like some of the movement in transition when you are turning in these areas has just been omitted, so there is actually a learning curve where the player must adjust to this minimalism in design.

Another design shortcut that I didn't care for is that there is water in the center of this same open area, and the game allows the player to cut across the center of the courtyard to move between buildings. Instead of moving along drawn paths, the player is flown across this water. It is highly unrealistic and actually knocks the player out of the feeling that she is "there." Anyone who's played a number of adventure games knows what I'm talking about—that feeling that you are actually walking around in the game environment—notably missing from this game.

There are doors opened by puzzles that must be redone any time the player goes back through them, which was very redundant.

The rooms in the game were all nicely designed and colored. The chateau overall is quite pretty and a good piece of eye candy.

The music has wild variance in degrees of appropriateness. Some clarinet music in an entrance hall I thought went well with the environment. Music with a Latin flavor in an artist's loft was clever. There's a room where soundtrack switches to a xylophone and a small combo orchestra; the designers apparently have been to the same cheesy wedding receptions I have. The endgame sequence has something that sounds suspiciously like disco accompanying it.

The actress playing the princess sounds like she had her parts recorded in a shower stall, as she echoes. This is really distracting and unrealistic when her character is speaking outdoors in the courtyard. The other character, a French duke, is played, inexplicably, by an Englishman.

The puzzles overall were very disappointing. The first major puzzle in the game requires that the player win a history quiz. And this quiz is not dumbed down for the American player a la The Weakest Link. This quiz involves tedious note-taking by the player. The worst part of the quiz, however, is that much more care was put into developing details of this historical narrative than into developing and increasing the story of the characters in the actual game!

Another puzzle is timed, the only timed point in the game and so totally unexpected. Once in the timed area, the player is required to do multiple actions, including a pixel hunt, in about a 60-second period. And to reload this area and try again, the player must redo a very tedious section that requires the same set of actions redone four times in a row.

There are just way too many game areas that the player is never really allowed to explore, including an entire dining hall with a long, elaborate table, and a room with three ornate doors the player is never allowed to explore behind. This is, as far as I'm concerned, a cardinal sin in adventure game design, to have the path so narrowed that exploration is severely limited. I think that one of the reasons for this may very well be the designer's decision to not put a lot of puzzles in the game, so that there is never really any reason to have extra areas to explore.

The game has multiple difficulty settings, for the areas of Knowledge (the quiz) and Game Play, a design feature that I really liked. Under Knowledge, the more difficult setting gives the player more to discover about the city of Paris in order to solve questions and complete the game. Game Play increases the difficulty of puzzles.

The interface includes a Map feature, always appreciated, and an index of all of the knowledge that the player has acquired. This is used to answer questions in the game successfully.

The concept for this game was excellent. But I really feel that something was lost between concept and execution, which I really hate to see in an indie game like this that people have obviously put their heart into. But good intentions do not change the quality of the result. What kept coming to my mind throughout this was two other games, The Castle for the Mac, and the recently released hybrid, Riddle of the Sphinx. Both of these were well-designed, incorporating many of the features adventure players crave, and both were indie projects brought about by one or two hard working people. So to me, there is really no way to excuse the result based on the fact that it did not come from a bigger company.

Maybe adding a maze would've helped. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Karma Labs
Publisher: Karma Labs
Release Date: March 2001

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

Power PC
System 7.5.5 or later
70 MB hard drive space
4X CD ROM drive
Thousands of colors

Pentium 100 or faster
Windows 95/98/ME/2000
Thousands of colors
Windows-compatible sound board
70 MB hard drive space
4X CD ROM drive

Where to Find It

Playing Games 14.95

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