Every year when I was a kid, my mom would buy me a new “I Spy” book, with pages filled with photographs of cluttered item search puzzles. Find five pins or find 10 owls. We would settle in my bed after Christmas Eve dinner and go through a few pages. After she tired out and left me for the night, I would still sit upstairs, trying to find the last piece to finish the puzzle. There is a joy of finding that solution, to discovering that one thing you missed.
It was this kind of memory that led me, when I started playing video games more frequently, to try out point and click adventures. They function with the same concept. Shouldn’t be too difficult, right?
However, what I found in many of these games, especially in more recent titles, was that they seemed drawn to using too many variables. Whether it’s relying on randomness to entertain the player or having too many objects or solutions to explore, they can become more frustrating than fun. Where is the joy of clicking everything in your inventory? This is what I felt playing Heaven’s Hope, a new German puzzle game from Mosaic Mask Studios. The developers wanted to create a challenging experience but couldn’t get all the pieces to fit.
Heaven’s Hope is charming enough in its art style and story. You play an angel named Talorel, who, after falling to Earth during the 19th century and destroying his wings, needs to explore the town nearby to get help. It’s called Heaven’s Hope and it’s run by a tyrannical nun that wants to bring back the Inquisition (naturally, there are quite a few Monty Python jokes).
Talorel is helped along by a mouse who has experienced death, a man from Tennessee, a mad scientist, and an adorable homunculus, among other characters that you would normally find in a British village.
The watercolor-style backgrounds and Tim Burton-esque character designs add flavor and humor to the game, which could’ve otherwise gotten bogged down by its heavy themes and dark motifs. Heaven’s Hope is a town trapped in religious oppression, and setting the player as an angel in that scenario begs a few moral questions.
Talorel is also constantly surrounded by death. One task has him trying to help a ghost by finding her remains and burying them in a cemetery that’s full of talkative company. It’s dark, but there are enough jokes that manage to land and lighten the mood. Considering this game was originally in German (and to play it any other language you have to make sure you tweak your settings first), it’s impressive how well some of them translated. It helps when a lot of them are pop culture references though.
The problem with Heaven’s Hope though, is that it has too many of these attractive elements. Talorel is a bland character and any moments we may have to explore him are wasted. I kept getting washed up in solving another puzzle or wandering around the town. Heaven’s Hope is small, so backtracking is mandatory, and gameplay gets repetitive.
There isn’t enough variety in movement and dialogue to keep you involved when puzzles take a while. There’s only so many times I can hear a “I collect spores, molds, and fungus” joke before I want to put the game on mute. The stilted voice acting doesn’t help when you have to hear the same options over and over again.
Combined with some bugs that can make you think you’ve solved a puzzle when you haven’t, or solutions that don’t activate because you already had an object in your inventory, and Heaven’s Hope is both the best and the worst of the point and click genre. There’s a fine line with classic point and click adventures: I can see the appeal, but I can also see when they’re trying too hard. Heaven’s Hope sadly falls on the latter side.
Carli Velocci is the editor of her webzine Postmortem Mag, and is a culture and technology writer seen at Paste Magazine, Motherboard, the Boston Globe, and anywhere else brave enough to publish her. You can read more of her work on her website or follow her on Twitter @velocciraptor.