You are the King of Thieves, and you have a reputation to uphold. A rival challenges you to the ultimate test of your skill. Break into the powerful sorcerer Amatar’s castle and steal the oldest bottle of wine he has.
It sounds simple enough. After all, what bad has ever come from stealing from a legendary wizard?
Spellbind is a point and click adventure in which you play the part of Luppe, the King of Thieves. Players collect items and solve puzzles as they flit between rooms of Amatar’s castle. As the game progresses the player will learn more about Amatar, absorbing his wisdom and gaining the ability to cast spells.
The game touts itself as a point and click adventure, and while this is technically true, it probably isn’t quite what you are expecting. It is more Myst than Monkey Island, with the player flipping between screens, like a giant slideshow.
There are some good ideas in this game. A large portion of the puzzles can be auto-completed. A timer runs down while players attempt to solve a puzzle, and when it runs out, an option to skip the task is made available. It certainly allowed me to avoid the few puzzles that I wasn’t having success with, usually those involving rotating segments of coloured shapes to join them up.
Most of the puzzles themselves are actually quite challenging and well conceived. They range from riddles, to spatial problems, and of course the traditional ‘use-item-on-object’ puzzles that are a hallmark of the genre. There is a good mix used to progress the game, they build on each other quite well while not getting too repetitive.
Unfortunately, the positives of the game are outweighed by the vast negatives. While I am the first to admit graphics aren’t everything, Spellbind contains some awful visuals constructed from manipulated photos. If you size them down to what would appear on a phone, they are passable, but on a standard monitor resolution the game looks unconvincing and amateurish.
Menus and inventory are clunky at best, and frustratingly annoying at their worst. The main menu provides no visual feedback on what option you have selected. A main part of the game, Luppe’s journal, is a chore to scroll through as you look for the relevant information. There is little consistency in where icons appear throughout the game, with buttons used to close books changing position, even within the book itself. There are lots of little inconsistencies that make navigating the world confusing and disorienting, and it is easy to completely miss whole sections of the game. It took me half an hour before I realised that there were three additional rooms to Amatar’s castle!
The writing is handled very poorly, both from a story standpoint and in grammatical execution. For instance, Luppe is challenged to retrieve a bottle of wine, which is the very first puzzle you solve in the game. Inexplicably he decides to wander about the castle instead of taking back his prize. The excuse given is that there may be more to steal, but given what little is known of the castles owner, you would think the King of Thieves would know when to call it quits and return triumphant. It may be that Spellbind is intended as a tale of hubris and greed, but Luppe seems like a bumbling fool rather than a self-sure thief king.
Game progression is provided using Luppe’s inner monologues, as well as diary entries from Amatar, shown as text. There are no voice overs, apart from the grating reversed audio of some talking paintings. So it is unfortunate that the writing is baffling and nonsensical. Given that the game hinges so much on the written word some more care really needed to be taken in editing the text.
There also isn’t a lot of replayability in Spellbind. The most you will get is either going back to solve the puzzles you skipped, or to try and achieve one of the alternate endings. But repeating the puzzles you already solved, coupled with humourless writing, makes multiple plays an unattractive prospect.
SUMMARY: Overall Spellbind has an interesting core that is sadly surrounded by a thick layer of odd decisions and lacklustre execution. Even at USD$2.99 I would not recommend it, unless you are considering creating a game in a similar vein. Then this would be a sound investment, as you could plumb it for some ideas on what to do, and what not to do.
Spellbind was created by Spider Key Games and has recently made it onto Steam. It is also available for a number of other platforms and devices on the Spellbind website.
This article originally appeared on the ‘Hittin’ Crits’ website April 10th 2016 and has been copied to the Pixel Pop Network website with permission.