November 17, 2008 by Scott Steinberg
Call of Atlantis – third in the series of popular match-three puzzlers – deftly avoids the disturbing tendency to churn out identikit sequels to score a quick buck, delivering instead a spectacular return to form for the franchise. As an added bonus, it’s also proof positive that a little time and effort is all it takes to reinvent nearly any adventure in the eyes of even the most jaded critics, much to our delight and surprise.
Per the introduction, told via an animated slideshow with elegant voice-overs provided by a female narrator, Poseidon’s none too happy with Atlantis’ residents. Over the years, they’ve forgotten to give the deity his due, and as such, a magical undersea altar – from which the fabled city draws its power – has been sealed away. Only by traveling to seven exotic lands (Egypt, Carthage, Greece, Babylon, etc.) and making regular pit stops at the 66 stages which populate a lovingly-rendered campaign map can the gems which unlock it be recovered. Cue a surprisingly engaging journey across realms of storybook fantasy, made all the merrier by an awe-inspiring presentation and the unexpected introduction of hidden object-style play elements.
Between each self-contained scenario, you’ll be regaled with fun facts about the places you’ll visit. Similarly, prior to journeying to each new land, spectacular cut-scenes further the storyline, all of which can be revisited from the main menu once unlocked. Upon arrival at actual playfields though, expect to be greeted by a familiar grid of tiles. (Layouts take different forms from simple rectangles to large boxes surrounded by smaller, satellite-like squares and self-contained islands.) Naturally, all are stamped with varying icons including horses, shields, gems, rings, scrolls and so forth.
Assembling horizontal/vertical groups of three or more similarly-branded objects – accomplished by swapping two tiles at a time with a click – is essential. Doing so removes these squares from the board, with higher-situated tiles tumbling down to fill in the gaps. The core objective ultimately being to move all pieces of a particular item you’re trying to collect (e.g. shuttles, lyres, coats of arms and such) to the bottom of the board, where they’re instantly retrieved, before time runs out.
No surprises here. You get the usual mix of challenging and easily breezed through encounters, including ones where the designers purposefully place locked titles in the worst possible locale or deliberately try and orphan vital objects in a corner somewhere. Likewise, collectible power-ups – e.g. hourglasses that add precious seconds to a slowly-dwindling meter, bombs which remove whole sections of tiles and lightning bolts that destroy all objects of a certain type – aren’t particularly inspired.
However, three tries deep, creator Playrix Entertainment has game balancing down to a fine science, ensuring everything handles well and moves along at a brisk clip. The action’s nicely facilitated by the Amulet of Poseidon too, an ever-present bonus (charge it by making matches of four or more tiles) that helps prevent players from getting stuck. To wit, this gizmo sends a spray of colored streamers flying out on-command, conveniently destroying a selection of tiles that proves most helpful to your cause.
But where the game really shines is twofold: Specifically, in terms of both its charisma and willingness to take some risks.
For starters, expect to be amazed by the outing’s sense of personality. Background environments from outdoor gardens to lavish armories and harbor views complete with day/night cycles and occasional thunderstorms are par for the course. Rustling leaves, dangling grapes and shimmers of light – just a few of many tiny supporting animations you’ll note – further speak to the designers’ attention to detail. (You can actually click an eye icon to remove the grid entirely and just sit back and enjoy each scene’s winking flames and drifting clouds, or use unlocked backdrops as screen savers.) Heck, we even dig featured songs and supporting sound effects, which provide a riveting blend of lilting tunes, haunting ditties and chirping crickets alike.
Secondly, you’ll also appreciate the way the introduction of hidden object challenges also help boost long-term value, with certain stages requiring you locate shards of specific items or reassemble magic jewels from their individual parts. Scavenger hunts aren’t just for show either, as, towards the end of each sojourn, any collectibles you’ve pieced together need to be returned to the appropriate spot on certain levels. (Lanterns go in sconces, instruments in the hands of statues, etc.) Doing so lights flaming braziers, causes inlays to glisten and, predictably, unlocks the path forward.
Mind you, we don’t dig having to forage for tiny, obscure pieces of pottery or fragments of giant emeralds on a regular basis. But thanks to the fact that there’s no time limit placed on such scenarios, there’s good reason for performing these tasks and optional hints are provided every few seconds, hey... In a happy turn, the process actually proves more welcome diversion which serves to extend the overall lifespan of the tale than outright pain in the patookis.
In short, if you haven’t experimented with the series before, now’s the perfect time to have at it. And even if you have, there’s still plenty of incentive to come back and give the franchise a second look. While essentially reprising the same tale the third time over, what can we say? This lavishly-executed, director’s cut-type take on the old corker shows that even if you succeed once, well...Where quality gameplay is concerned, there’s no reason not to try and try again.
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