SerpentHead Revisited

Review by Jen
April 2003

SerpentHead Revisited is the latest in an ever-lengthening line of indie games created using the AdventureMaker game engine, the last one of note (hereabouts, anyway) being Michael Clark's Harvest. This engine gives these indie developers the tools to create nearly professional-level products. But they tend to all have the same look to them, what with the same cursors, the same style of inventory management, etc.

Nearly professional-level, I said. The graphics in SerpentHead Revisited certainly are passable but, with the exception of a very pretty dragon, are frankly less than spectacular. I for one don't mind the not-eye-candy graphics as long as the gameplay is solid, especially with a one-woman or -man effort. (What's the opposite of eye candy? Eye Brussels sprouts? Eew! These were not nearly bad enough to be called eye Brussels sprouts. Eye peas, maybe—tolerable but not delicious.) Anyway, SerpentHead Revisited works very well in the gameplay solidity regard.

You play in the first person as a young mage named Mharim. You find yourself outside Castle SerpentHead with nothing to do but enter. One of the first things you see on entering is a note imploring you to save the land from the imminent return of the Dark Sorcerer Salorann. In order to defeat Salorann, you must decipher clues, mix potions, open magically locked doors, and ultimately retrieve the hidden Serpent Scepter, the instrument of Salorann's eventual (we hope) demise.

One of the places you will visit is the castle's library, which is where you learn the bulk of the game's backstory. Kathy Salisbury, the game's creator, has dreamed up a rich fantasy world with an extensive history in which to set her SerpentHead games (this is her second—hence, I suppose, the "Revisited" in the title; I have not played the first), and this particular game shows only a small part of it.

The entire game takes place in the 15 or so rooms of SerpentHead Castle, which itself has three stories. Navigation is a little hard to figure out due to some inconsistencies in what arrows mean what, but the castle is so small that it doesn't take long to memorize which mouse clicks take you where.

As you begin, you have very few locations available to you, and as you progress through the game and solve its puzzles, more rooms open up to you until finally you may roam freely throughout the castle, uncovering clues, solving riddles, and finally, three or so hours later, vanquishing Salorann and wondering what you're going to play next. This is a really short game!

I did get stuck about three times and had to resort to a walkthrough. In only one of those instances would I never have dreamed up the solution on my own; the other times I had a good idea what to do but the execution was confusing. There is no dying or premature game-overing.

Outside of a few little nitpicks like this, SerpentHead Revisited's puzzles are just right—the right level of challenge, the right amount of steps you must take for any one puzzle, the right balance between reading and inventory puzzles and environmental puzzles.

There is a little bit of acting in the game. Characters speak v-e-r-y slowly, but their vocal remarks are accompanied by onscreen text so that you know exactly what's being said. Sound effects are limited and are repeated in some places, but overall they aren't all that noticeable. There is also looping music, with several different short pieces depending on where in the castle you are.

SerpentHead Revisited costs a mere $10 after applying a coupon code supplied by Ms. Salisbury, which can be located by searching the FFC Henhouse for her post announcing the game; otherwise the cost is $19.95. After you pay you get an immediate 20 MB download of the full game. You also have the option of paying about $10 more to receive a CD containing several other of Ms. Salisbury's games via mail. SerpentHead Revisited, for me, installed and ran flawlessly under Windows XP Pro.

All in all, I had a good time playing SerpentHead Revisited, despite its several flaws, and for $10 it was a fair deal. I can't honestly say I'd've been happy about paying the $20 for it, only because of its shortness. But Ms. Salisbury has a real flair for puzzle design and storytelling. With a little more professional polish, her games could stand shoulder to shoulder with the big-name publishers' products. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Pharos Games
Publisher: Pharos Games
Release Date: March 2003

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/Me/XP/2000

Where to Find It

Pharos Games $9.95/$19.95

Prices/links current as of 04/20/03
Links provided for informational purposes only. FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into by any party(ies).

 
   
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