Juniper Crescent - The Sapphire Claw archived preview

A lot can happen in a year.

When Revolution Software was forced into extensive staff downsizing almost a year ago, the news came as another crushing blow to the adventure community. Not only did it throw Revolution's own future into question, it also meant the genre had lost some key creative forces behind a stellar catalogue of beloved games. Fortunately, there was a silver lining hidden in those storm clouds, as genuine talent refuses to be silenced. Much like several small development studios have risen from the ashes of former adventure giant LucasArts, now a new company led by producer/writer/designer/artist (etc.!) Steve Ince has emerged triumphantly from the aftermath of Revolution's upheaval. In an Adventure Gamers exclusive, Juniper Games is unveiling its debut project, Juniper Crescent -- The Sapphire Claw, a highly promising game proposal sure to excite any fan of golden era adventures (or just plain good ones).

If the name sounds familiar, you're probably no stranger to web comics, as the source material for the game is Ince's long-running newspaper-style strip, "Juniper Crescent". Centered around a diverse cast of residents in a quiet cul-de-sac in Northern England, the original comic produced an adventurous spin-off called "The Sapphire Claw". Ideally suited for an interactive medium, the latter provided the direct inspiration for the game (though alas, the early online chapters of the comic have been removed from the website).

Sapphire Claw (the game) is a third-person "cartoon comedy escapade" involving the endearing, talking animals of Juniper Crescent. The story sees the gang leave behind their peaceful homes to travel the globe through exotic but dangerous locations, on a quest to find the famed (and perhaps only mythical) sacred artifact, the titular Sapphire Claw. The expedition is led by Scout, the One-Eyed Cat, but he's ably supported by his feline, canine, and rodent (cute ones!) friends alike. Hot on their heels is Scout's nemesis, the local cat crime boss Big Mog, and his two burly, dimwitted henchdogs, who hound (sorry) the team every step of the way. During the journey, of course, our heroes are confronted with plenty of challenges and meet other interesting characters, and the requisite hijinx ensue.

Although still early in actual production, the game's conceptual development is well underway, with completed story and design, character profiles and dialogues, plus location and character designs, so there's plenty to talk about already. Offering a hint of innovation along with an intelligent, engaging story and the very best features of old-school adventure gaming, Sapphire Claw looks poised to deliver what so many jaded players currently crave. With these promises will come great expectation, but based on the prototype demo of the game, the anticipation is well deserved.

Okay, stop... slow down. I can hear the onrush of obvious questions from here: 2D or 3D? Point & click or direct control? This was inevitable, with Ince's last major project at Revolution being the controversial Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. There will be no such controversy with Sapphire Claw, however, as the game will be completely rendered in 2D, using an intuitive, mouse-driven interface.

Merely saying "in 2D" does the game no justice, though, as the few screens I've seen border on jaw-dropping. The locations will all be hand drawn and coloured, using a rich, saturated palette. The craftsmanship is instantly apparent, and even the characters and animations will be drawn by hand. For the technical-minded out there, the game will feature anti-aliasing which takes full advantage of the 1024x768 resolution. For the less technical, one word will suffice: sweeeet! (Yes, I know that's not really a word, but I bet you'll be saying it, too.) Although the demo includes no ambient animations, the gorgeous background graphics make wonderful use of faux-3D depth-of-field, and the game truly does feel like a drawing come to life. Surprisingly, I found myself favourably comparing Sapphire Claw more to Curse of Monkey Island than anything by Revolution. If the artists can maintain this standard throughout the game, players are in for a visual treat.

The game's interface is so natural that even genre newcomers (and I suspect this will be a game to draw plenty of those), will grasp it in no time. Many tried-and-true genre conventions are used here to good effect. Left clicking moves your character, while right clicking over highly-visible hotspots (no pixel hunting, I'm told) brings up a context-sensitive icon menu, allowing you to choose the appropriate action. The inventory is easily accessible, where you'll use and combine items to progress through the game.

 

One great twist on standard inventory use is Blinky, a chatty, bespectacled mouse that Scout is persuaded not to munch for lunch early in the game. It's a good thing Scout wasn't hungrier, because Blinky plays a vital role in Sapphire Claw. In addition to being a "usable" inventory item, he'll also become a playable character on occasion, when being tiny comes in particularly handy. While not being actively used, however, he can also provide a wealth of information. If, like me, you begin each gameplay session with a glazed, vacant look in your eyes while you vainly try to recall where you left off, Blinky is the cure for what ails you, as he'll offer a tidy summary of the current events and goals. Even better, he'll also provide hints to your current obstacles when requested of him. Sure, it's a little embarrassing to admit that a mouse is smarter than you, but I won't tell anyone if you don't.

Continued on the next page...


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Juniper Crescent - The Sapphire Claw





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