Namariel Legends: Iron Lord (Collector's Edition)
Year Published: 2013
Publisher: PlayRIX
Developer: Shaman Games Studio

Namariel Legends utilizes a steampunk motif mixed with fantasy elements to create lush, beautifully drawn and highly-animated environments. Zeppelins, clunky robots, mechanical centipedes, and villains with German accents and bionic arms threaten the otherwise peaceful world of Namariel. As an unnamed and unseen heroine, you are tasked with stopping the Iron Lord - a man in a silly suit of armor who has already dethroned the King and Queen - from using his army to conquer the entire world.

Though they build their homes in trees and befriend cute animals that look like a squirrel with a cat's head, even the good guys of Namariel have some technology of their own. Your uncle has a mechanical leg that requires occasional oiling. He provides you with a small flying robot named Jim who acts as a helper character to reach far-away objects. Even your inventory is represented by interlocking gears that rotate as you acquire and use up items. Though you learn the basics by completing a few tasks in your uncle's abode, the action truly begins when the Iron Lord's forces show up at your door to kidnap him so they can use his mechanical smarts to create even more weapons of mass destruction. You are also taken prisoner aboard what has to be one of the largest airships in steampunk history, and now you must break free and rescue your uncle.

Meet Aira, your weird squirrel-like friend

What will likely stand out the most when you begin playing Namariel Legends is the exceptional hand-drawn artwork. The characters' wooden homes are rendered so gorgeously you'll wish you lived there. I have no doubt that the contrast of the natural scenery with that of the Iron Lord's grimy industrial settings is meant to evoke an argument of Nature vs. Technology (though the latter have their own appeal in a Fritz Lang's Metropolis sort of way). Nearly every action results in a short and sometimes impressive animation sequence, making Namariel feel as alive as an animated cartoon. Stand in the cockpit of a dirigible, and you can actually see the world passing below you through the windows.

Unlike the backgrounds, the characters are CGI, which works fine for the robots and animals, but is less successful for the human models. When a giant robot with sawblades for hands stomps through the forest, slicing down enormous trees in its path, it's truly intimidating. But when Uncle Davincino struggles to move his mouth when he speaks, it almost feels like a different game suddenly popped up on your screen.

Once your senses get accustomed to the visual style and you actually get into playing Namariel Legends, the next thing you'll realize is that the game contains no actual "hidden object" scenes where you pick from a list of items. All necessary items for solving puzzles and making progress exist directly in the backgrounds and it is merely a matter of moving your cursor over the correct spot until it turns into a magnifying glass or hand. Using Item A on Point B is the majority of what you'll do, and occasionally you'll solve a puzzle. Some are based on common HOG puzzles, and some are unique to this game (a sidescrolling sequence involving a submarine is one of the game's more original ideas), but none are very difficult. That, along with the cartoon-like graphics and relatively non-violent story, suggest the game may have been intended for young children.

The floofening has begun

That isn't to say an adult won't have some fun with it. As a cat lover, I confess this game has one of the most memorable and funny sequences I've ever encountered. At the bottom of a great tree is a swamp teeming with tiny cat-like creatures called Woobies that purr loudly and inflate like fluffy balloons when touched. In the one task that most closely resembles a traditional hidden object scene, you must find every Woobie and clicking on them fills the screen with flying floofy furballs. I will not spoil what you need these animals for - it made me laugh out loud. For all its attempts at the steampunk gig, I will forever remember Namariel Legends as "that game with the floating cats".

Of curious note is that if you have played Shaman Games Studio's Dreamscapes series, you might recognize the Mogwai-like Forest Keepers as being the same creature as Benny from those games. I'm not sure if Benny was a cameo or if it implies a connection between them, or if the devs just found it easier to reuse the same character model and voiceovers.

Maneuvering a toy submarine past a mechanical octopus

While it is a beautiful adventure, it is a very brief one. The game, including the bonus chapter available with the Collector's Edition, can be finished in a couple of hours. The title and subtitle suggest it was meant to be the first in a series, but it's been a long time since 2013, and it hasn't happened yet. For that reason it is a shame it couldn't have been longer and had more fleshed-out characters and story. As it is, it feels like an introduction to something that was ultimately never meant to be. While visually-stunning HOG's that have more depth and longer playtime exist, Namariel Legends is not a regrettable choice for the time it takes. I just can't give it a really strong recommendation unless you consider the $6.99 Steam price tag a good deal for some high-quality digital art.

SCORE: 3/5



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