Adventure Gamers Awards
“Once upon a time there was a boy named Anka,” a narrator introduces what seems like a charming storybook tale. The child's self-titled adventure begins at an idyllic cottage in a forest of lush green, where he and his parents live. Like all fairy tales, however, nothing is as perfect as it seems. Though Anka lives a happy and carefree life, his parents are poor and struggle to make ends meet. When they don’t return home at all one day, Anka determines to set out on a quest to search for them. Along the way, he’ll also save a man’s life, solve a murder mystery and deal with cowboys and indians, plus overcome a whole lot of puzzles and minigames while he’s at it.
Anka is a puzzle-adventure game aimed at a younger audience, though not exclusively, as gamers of all ages may enjoy its activities, just not finding the same degree of challenge. The game plays mostly like a traditional first-person adventure, but it’s filled with minigames and other kinds of puzzles frequently thrown in. The first objective, for example, is to retrieve a missing door handle through a couple of inventory puzzles in order to enter Anka’s home. Once inside, Anka’s mother instructs us to search for forty missing eggs scattered about. Players must look everywhere in and around the house, as eggs may be in plain sight, hidden inside other objects or behind curtains and foliage. Some can only be collected after solving more inventory puzzles, while another egg needs to be obtained through a logic puzzle of strategically moving haystacks inside a chicken coop.
This first obstacle sequence sets the tone for the rest of the game, as Anka regularly presents combinations of different puzzle-adventure elements and minigames. As a children’s game, Anka is very accessible, with objectives spelled out in a straightforward way and never proving too difficult. Anyone unfamiliar with traditional adventures won’t be at a disadvantage, as the game handily introduces the concepts of inventory collection and use. The interface itself is basic but perfectly adequate, as interacting with the world is all done through simple mouse clicks. The cursor appears to be hotspot-sensitive, as it changes shape when Anka can walk in various directions or interact with certain objects on screen. However, for other hotspots the cursor doesn’t actually change shape. This seemed somewhat random, but isn’t particularly bothersome if you click on everything that looks important. You’ll never see Anka move around or interact with objects, but animations are shown when inventory items are used, so when an axe is used for a certain puzzle, we see the axe flying around as if wielded by invisible hands.
Even with the constant stream of activities offered, players should never find themselves stuck at any point, since a hint button is easily within reach and available in every situation, though it only activates two or three minutes after entering a new situation, encouraging players to solve them first. Similarly, Anka’s minigames and standalone puzzles are also very forgiving, as any of them can freely be skipped after a couple minutes by clicking the skip button. While these options are useful, since they remove any threat of insurmountable obstacles, experienced gamers will find them unnecessary, as most of the activities aren’t very difficult. There are no challenges in which you can actually die or lose, or any that require skilled hand-eye coordination. Players are free to get hints and skip challenges with no penalty, but unfortunately receive no tangible reward for completing tasks by themselves.
When a logic puzzle or minigame is finished in the main adventure, that particular activity then becomes available in Anka’s minigames section, accessible through the main menu. Even tasks that are skipped get unlocked, diminishing even further the ‘reward’ for completing these yourself. Once unlocked, these offer a lot of replayability, as many more difficult levels and challenges are offered. Some can be very engaging. I had a lot of fun with the seven additional levels of the chicken coop puzzle, for example. There are 23 activities that can be unlocked in all, though not all of them offer extras beyond the challenge present in the game itself. A few of these are riddles or brain teasers that have only one solution and therefore no replay value, such as dividing a pizza into seven slices with one olive each. Some unlocked tasks, such as a jigsaw puzzle, can easily be customized with pictures that are stored on your computer, which is a nice feature.
Speaking of jigsaw puzzles, some of Anka’s challenges are a little too unoriginal. Examples include standard games of mahjong, tangram or word search puzzles. These may be fun in their own right, but they add nothing new or refreshing to this game, included merely as one-time diversions to keep players occupied. The mahjong game is even given to Anka by a train conductor so that he has something to do while waiting for a train to arrive. Such tasks also lack any logical integration within the context of the game, doing nothing to further the story itself.
The obstacles that are relevant to the plot, however, are more fun and interesting. Halfway through the game, for instance, you need to pop a number of balloons using a bow and arrows through a cleverly designed minigame that takes gravity, applied strength, angle and distance into account. This is an entertaining activity that blends well into the game at the time. Even better integrated are some of Anka’s more traditional adventure game puzzles. In one of the more enjoyable sections of the game, you need to collect various kinds of evidence that exposes a murderer and clears Anka’s falsely accused mother of all blame. Players needs to ask witnesses for their testimonies, complete a jigsaw puzzle and a memory-game, and solve a couple of inventory puzzles such as casting a footprint in plaster. Once all the evidence has been found, the relevant facts need to be linked together and presented in response to the sheriff’s various inquiries.Continued on the next page...