It is said that knowledge is power, and perhaps there is no greater repository of knowledge than books, making them very powerful indeed. Pahelika: Secret Legends, a new independent puzzle-based offering out of India, takes this analogy one stage further, with the eponymous volume being a seriously powerful magical artefact. Fearing the uses it could be put to, its original wielder arranged for a series of challenges to protect it from the unworthy. As an unnamed man who discovers the clues to tracking down the tome, your aim is to retrieve this mighty item for yourself. Unfortunately, the rather mild and sometimes uninspired challenges you face may lead you to wonder how unworthy you’d need to be to actually fail.
Pahelika commences with the rather basic task of tidying up an attic. This brief section provides a tutorial for players to familiarise themselves with the game's controls. The tutorial is not an optional feature and leads you step by step through this preliminary scene. Whilst I will generally play through tutorials when offered, the fact that there is no option to skip it is unusual, especially since the controls represent a fairly generic point-and-click interface. This is made worse by the insistence that its steps are followed in order (I wasn't allowed to pick up an interesting looking key until I had a use for it). Sadly, this is not the last instance where you will be forced to perform actions in a particular order, though at least there is a reason in this initial instance. Working through the tutorial leads to you finding a contraption that serves as a portal to the challenges guarding the great book. Using this, you will travel to six different fantastical realms, each bringing you one step closer to your ultimate goal.
Your search commences at a wizard’s tower, where magic and illusion are the order of the day. Elsewhere on an icy glacier, the cold will be both your enemy and your friend in finding a way out, and a later dimension will lead you to trying to work ancient mechanisms, among others. This variety of settings should have led to a diversity of puzzles to match each world’s theme, but that is a promise only partially fulfilled. Whilst there is usually a clear visual distinction between areas, too many of the obstacles you face come off as generic obstructions that could have fit equally well in any of the other worlds.
These worlds are displayed using a first-person slideshow presentation. Your perspective in any given room is fixed, with no camera panning allowed and no animations of your actions displayed onscreen, though some scenes have limited environmental animation (falling leaves, a flickering fire). For these playable sections, the graphical style uses realistic 3D modelling with clear detail. The compass room of a puzzle house lives up to its name, with giant compasses on the walls and floor, all with realistic reflections on their metal casings, and the gateway of a fairy garden is suitably imposing.
Most screens contain at least a small handful of inventory items to collect, and there is more than sufficient visual detail to save you from pixel-hunting sweeps. As an additional aid to locating hotspots in each scene, anything you can interact with gains a magical sparkle when the cursor is passed over it. Furthermore, any items important to your quest that you can't immediately use will continue to be highlighted by a different sparkling effect after the first time you click on them. This saves the problem of relocating hotspots once you have some idea what to do with them. Unfortunately, in one of the scenes, this sparkle overlay also obscured a vital clue to a nearby lock combination. Despite this flaw, I generally found the scenes to be pleasant to look at and I heartily welcome for once not cursing the absence of a vital item that I simply couldn’t distinguish from the background.
The cutscenes are the only place where the story is presented, and these feature more of a watercolour and line-drawing look, displayed in a comic-book panel format. Whilst not having the detail of the playable scenes, the resemblance to old book illustrations well serves the subject matter. On the downside, though these cutscenes are mostly brief, they are also unskippable. This limitation does give you the opportunity to appreciate the vocal narration, however. Though the worlds you visit are devoid of inhabitants, there is voicework within the game coming from an elderly narrator and the protagonist himself. The former, used only in the cutscenes to detail the backstory, fits well as an elder passing down the legend of the book to a new generation. The latter has a gruffer tone and gives a brief first impression of each scene as you enter it, though the dialogue never really reveals much of his actual character. According to the credits, both are apparently voiced by the same person, and the work exceeds what I've heard in some higher budget games.
There is good use of ambient sound during the game as well, with appropriate background noises to fit the location, be it the creaking of floorboards in an ancient tower or the birdsong of a garden. In both cases the atmosphere of the scenes is enhanced by these sounds, and even long repetition when stuck in a particular room does not serve to make them grating. These effects are further supplemented by a pleasing, gentle Eastern-themed soundtrack that runs almost throughout, though it occasionally ceases where a scene has significant ambient sound.Continued on the next page...