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Review #423

Tales From the Dragon Mountain: The Strix
Developer: Cateia Games
Publisher: Cateia Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 06/28/2011

We’re pretty familiar with the small Croatian developer and publisher Cateia games here at Diehard GameFAN. In April of 2009, Guy gave a very positive review to their game The Legend of Crystal Valley and in June of 2010 I reviewed the Collector’s Edition of Hotel which I found to be fun but VERY short. Now a year later I’m back with Cateia’s latest point and click adventure game for the PC, Tales From the Dragon Mountain: The Strix. Has Cateia earned themselves three positive reviews in a row, or is Tales a hard game to swallow, even with a price tag of only $6.99?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Mina Lockheart’s grandmother, Kate, was basically a mountain hermit. She would regale her granddaughter with fantastical stories about the mountain, along with warnings about a fearsome warlock named Strix who had dark designs for all the inhabitants from the mountain. Fast forward several years later and Mina is all grown up and learns that Kate has died horribly in a fire that not only consumed her, but much of their ancestral home. Now all that Mina has left of her is Kate’s medallion, which inexplicably begins to shine with a strange radiant light. With a mystery afoot, Mina returns to the mountain to see what remains of the family home, but also ends up discovering that all those tall tales her grandmother told her when she was a child…were all true. From her first encounter with a house elf named Malik to her eventual confrontation with Strix himself, Mina’s life changes from average suburbanite young adult to the protector and guardian of things she once thought but mere fantasy.

Tales From the Dragon Mountain is broken into six chapters, each about twenty minutes long. Yes, I beat the game in about two hours, so the game goes by quickly and there’s not a lot of time for character or story development. Each chapter takes Mina to a different place. Chapter one is her grandmother’s old home, chapter two is in a garden protected by a treant of sorts, another chapter introduces you to the lord of werewolves and a dragon and so on. So even though there’s not a lot of plot aside from “Mina has to solve a series of puzzles for no real reason to move on to the next chapter,” there is a motley cast of characters you’ll encounter along the way.

I can’t say I was wowed by the story of Tales From the Dragon Mountain as the plot was kind of just there to string puzzles together. In fact all five chapters turn out to be a bit nonsensical as the final chapter in the game just brings you back to your original starting point for your “final boss battle.” I would have liked a little more substance and background story on the characters. What’s here is passable for a budget game, but you can’t help but feel there should have been something more substantial beyond the tiny bit of story you are given.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Like all Cateia titles, the backgrounds in Tales From the Dragon Mountain are gorgeous while the character models leave something to be desired. Hell, I used to use one of the backgrounds from Hotel on my laptop for the longest time so you know that Cateia is quite good at static visual images. Character models though? They look like something from the PSX/Saturn era and that’s not a good thing. Cateia was smart in having Dragon Mountain play in a first person perspective instead of a third person one, as it shows off their strengths and hides their weaknesses, but I did sort of cringe whenever I saw a character model, be it in conversation or as part of the static background.

Visually, adventure game fans will be quite happy with the level of detail shown in Dragon Mountain. The cut scenes aren’t the best and as I have already said, the character models are a few generations behind, but this IS a budget game so something had to give somewhere. Consider the game is going to run you between $6.99 and $9.99, you’ll be quite happy with the majority of the graphics in the game unless you’re not a fan of primarily static images. But then if that’s the case, you probably aren’t playing a lot of adventure games.

Graphics Rating: 6.5/10

3. Sound

Like the graphics, the sound aspect of Tales From the Dragon Mountain is a bit of a mixed bag. Unlike the graphics where the bad bits were kept to a minimum, you really can’t escape the audio problems. The voice acting, to be blunt, is truly terrible and the game would actually be much better off without any at all. The “actors,” if one can call them that, can barely fumble through their lines and on occasion, they even mess up a word or phrase entirely. It’s almost laughable until you realize people were paid to recite these lines and that someone else thought this was good enough to be released to the general public. Now in the game’s defense, it was made by Croatians and how well could you or I fumble through dialogue in Croatian? Still the game would have been better off with just the written word. It’s that bad.

The music however, is tremendous. The score to the game is beautiful and each track is simply wonderful to listen to. Dejan Radic, the composer, deserves a special shout out because the music is truly that good. It’s hard to believe that the voice acting can be so bad but the music so incredible, but there you go. My advice would be to turn up the music and turn down the voice acting.

At the end of the day the horrid acting and the sublime soundtrack kind of cancel each other out, giving us a thumb’s in the middle here.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Like all point adventure games, you’ll be just using the mouse here. You’ll only need the left mouse button to proceed and you’ll click on items to pick them up, click on things in your inventory to use them, and click on the occasional object for a description of it and/or your surroundings. It’s all fairly simple to understand and even someone new to adventure games will get the hang of it quickly. The game does provide a tutorial though in case you need it.

The game does have a few issues though. You can’t click through any of the voice acting save to skip the scene entirely. This was a real disappointment as I wanted the story without having to hear it. Most games let you click through the dialogue while still reading the script, but not here. As well, the game stopped accepted my mouse clicks at one point. I did an Alt+Tab to see if it was just my mouse, but it was working in every other program so I had to do a forced close out of the game via Task Manager and reboot it. This problem never happened again, but it’s probably the game as Hotel had a similar nigh-crash issue in it as well. Finally, the arrows for moving from one location to another don’t always show up right away or the clickable area to bring them up is much too small. It’s one or the other. On this same issue, sometimes some items you had to pick up were right near where the arrows would pop up so you can end up moving instead of acquiring an item. Oops.

There are basically four types of puzzles in Dragon Mountain. You have hidden object ones, ones where you assemble objects, ones where you have to get everything to light up/line up, and you have two Puzzle Quest style “Match 3 boss battles. Hotel was a lot more innovative and diverse than this, but at least the puzzles in Dragon Mountain are solid, if repetitive. What’s here is enjoyable enough, but it’s definitely one of Cateia’s weaker products.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 6.5/10

5. Replayability

Most adventure games are “one and done” titles and Dragon Mountain is no exception. The game is extremely linear and once you’ve beaten it, there is no reason to ever return to it. It also doesn’t help that the game is very short, most of the puzzles are easy and ones that have been done many times before, and that there really isn’t much of a story to enjoy. Unless you are a fan of Cateia’s games to begin with, it’s hard to recommend this title, even with half the price tag Hotel.

Replayability Rating: 2/10

6. Balance

I have to admit, Tales From Dragon Mountain was one of the easiest adventure games I have ever played. For the hidden object scenes, nothing was cleverly hidden or obscured. Instead it was objects just sitting out in the middle of nowhere like a sore thumb. No challenge whatsoever. The same can be said for the puzzles where you had to assemble objects. There was at most, six pieces you had to put together. Not really a brain teaser. For the puzzles where you had to line things up or activate everything at once, everything fell into place instantly. Usually with these types of puzzles, something gets turned off when you turn something on, or something moves back when you move something forward. Not here. That happened maybe once or twice, but for the most part, it was a straight shot. I’m not sure if that was due to buggy programming or if the game is actually meant for very young children or people brand new to adventure gaming. Either way, this was one of the easiest adventure games I have ever played and there was no real sense of challenge.

Most gamers won’t really have any sense of accomplishment after beating Tales From Dragon Mountain. It’s too short and too easy, but it might be a good game for someone who is trying out adventure games for the first time or for small children.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

There’s not too much about this game that I can say is original. All of the puzzles have been done to death by other games. The story of “girl discovers she has a special part and then fantasy things are in fact real” has been done to death as well. I don’t know, maybe it was because Hotel was pretty outside the box for this genre, bnut Tales From Dragon Mountain just felt flat or like something quickly thrown together while Family Secrets (the quasi-sequel/parallel to Hotel) wraps up production. For the two hours you’ll be playing this game before, you’ll be feeling a bit of déjà vu like you’ve played this game several times before. God knows bits of it reminded me of Keepsake and that’s not a good thing.

At the end of the day, it’s a cute game, but it’s all been done before, and worse, done better.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

As the game was only two hours long, this is a hard area to judge. However, since I played the game in one straight shot and enjoyed my time with it, in spite of the obvious flaws, it tells you that the game is one you can have fun with, as long as you realize you are getting your money’s worth. Is this worth seven to ten bucks? Yeah, it’s still cheaper than a movie at the cinema and I didn’t hate the game. I was merely left going, “I know Cateia can do a lot better than this.”

Again, I had fun with the game, but it felt like something that was only halfway finished. Puzzles presented no challenge, the story was very thin and the voice acting was terrible. Yet, there is an obvious level of talent and care behind the game as well, creating an odd juxtaposition. Are there better adventure games out there? God yes. Are there better budget adventure games? Again, yes. Blood and Ruby costs the same and was a much better game across the board. Still, the game has its charms and for the costs, you’ll get your money’s worth, even if you find yourself feeling that there was a lot of untapped potential here.

Addictiveness Rating: 6.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Thanks to the rise in popularity of casual/hidden object based adventure games, the market is flooded with adventure games. People that enjoyed Hotel or Crystal Valley will probably pick this up expecting a game of the same level of quality and then find themselves disappointed. As well, the game may only be between seven and ten dollars, but there are a ton of games with that price range that are released every day via Bigfishgames.com as well, for a little bit more you can get something like Alpha Polaris, Gray Matter or The Next Big Thing. Hell, even Hotel is less than ten bucks these days and that’s Cateia’s best game to date.

I think whoever picks this up will be okay with their purchase at the end of the day, but honestly – it’s just going to get lost in the shuffle of longer, better, more original adventure games. Sorry.

Appeal Factor Rating: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Tales From the Dragon Mountain has a great name, a decent but overused hook and a great development team behind it, but at the end of the day, the game fails to live up to both its potential and pedigree. I wasn’t disappointed with Cateia Games’ latest release, but I also can’t say I was impressed. It’s your basic no frills generic adventure game without any real substance or style put behind it. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s also not something I can outright recommend.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores
Story: 5/10
Graphics: 6.5/10
Sound: 5/10
Control and Gameplay: 6.5/10
Replayability: 2/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 6.5/10
Appeal Factor: 5/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10
Total Score: 48.5
FINAL SCORE: 5.0 (MEDIOCRE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Tales From the Dragon Mountain: The Strix isn’t a bad game; it’s just a mediocre one. Although the game has Cateia’s usual style and beautiful background visuals, it’s also extremely short, has some terrible voice acting, and some extremely generic and overdone puzzles. There isn’t much of a story to talk about as the game isn’t only two hours long, but the soundtrack is truly worth listening to. With a price tag ranging between seven and ten dollars, you’ll get your money’s worth out of Dragon Mountain, but there are a lot of other budget adventure games that are worth picking up instead.

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