Tales from the Dragon Mountain 2: The Lair review
Spoiler warning: Paragraph one of this review contains general information about the ending of Tales from the Dragon Mountain: The Strix.
The ending of Tales from the Dragon Mountain: The Strix provided satisfying closure at the time. Lord Strix was defeated, Mina Lockheart had freed the enslaved creatures, and everything was right with the world again. In Cateia Games’ follow-up The Lair, however, Mina learns that she did not completely destroy Lord Strix as she had thought, and that he is growing stronger again. With her green-skinned friend Malik again at her side, this time Mina sets out for Lord Strix’s lair to finish things once and for all. The sequel improves on its predecessor with better puzzles, but the non-ending this time around and lack of any depth to the story and characters doesn’t help this game stand out.
To travel to Lord Strix’s lair, Mina must find the four stones that were used to lock the portal to his domain. The stones had been given to inhabitants of different worlds to keep safe until they were needed, and Mina must help the inhabitants with their problems before they will give them to her. This is all that is told of the story, and even the ending is completely anticlimactic, leaving an obvious opening for another sequel. The characters that Mina meets are almost all elderly men that are difficult to differentiate, and there is no backstory for any of the characters to help flesh them out. Even Malik and Mina have no personality, appearing mainly just to introduce new puzzles.
Tales from the Dragon Mountain 2 uses the same first-person slideshow presentation as the previous game, and once again offers three ways to play: casual, adventure or challenge. The casual setting has faster recharge times for the hint and puzzle skip buttons, and a sparkle feature that indicates important spots, while the adventure and challenge settings remove the sparkles and have slower recharge times. Each setting has a hint button and a walk button, which shows all exits within a screen.
The hint system is an improvement over the first game. Last time the hint button would simply do nothing if you had completed everything on that particular screen, but this time it will lead you to the nearest screen that still has something to accomplish. It is also useful for finding objects you may have overlooked, though most objects can be easily observed. During the standalone puzzles, a puzzle skip button can be used after it’s been allowed to charge for a certain amount of time. These challenges do not tell you exactly what to do like in the first game, which can be nice since it allows you to figure out what the objective is. However, it would have been helpful to have a hint button for those who do not want to skip the whole puzzle but are having trouble getting started. Strangely, gone is the option from the first game that showed what there was to find on each screen. Fortunately, Mina’s diary is a good resource that keeps track of clues needed to solve puzzles and for quests she is still working on.
The Lair’s puzzles have improved, with more difficulty variation and types of challenges. Inventory items play a large part in the game, from finding parts to fix a windmill to combining objects based on a riddle and making a net to catch a fish. By clicking on a hotspot where combined items will be used, the game shows dark outlines of all the objects needed. There are tons of items to pick up, and if more than one of the same object is needed, the inventory icon will show how many you need, such as gears or pieces of wood. There are many other types of puzzles as well, such as logic puzzles, sliding puzzles, and the match-3 minigame that the first game introduced for battling the dark forces. The difficulty ranges from easy to hard, which is a nice change from the first game, which seemed too easy. There is no way to die, so even when your character is in “danger”, if you fail the minigame you just start the puzzle over again.
The graphics in Tales from the Dragon Mountain 2 are a treat to look at. Each setting has vivid colors, from the lush greens and yellows of the worlds with the four stones, to the threatening reds and blacks of Lord Strix’s world. The locations vary from a pumpkin house amid the fields to a lava pit and a flooded cavern. No screen is completely static, displaying such animations as butterflies fluttering around the fields, dandelions caught in the wind and bats making an exit above Mina’s head. The cutscenes are beautifully rendered and detailed, while still portraits of Mina and the character she is talking to are seen during gameplay.
Sound is a mixed bag. The music is fitting for the circumstances, with a violin playing a threatening tune in the opening credits and a whimsical piano playing for the different worlds. Ambient noises are done well and are found on almost every screen, from birds chirping to frogs croaking and water rushing by. The voice acting is very corny, however – or in the case of Mina, very stilted. The only dialogue is when a character is explaining what they want done before giving Mina the stone, however, so thankfully there isn’t very much of it.
As with most casual adventures, Tales from the Dragon Mountain 2 is a short game, only taking about four hours to complete. The varying difficulty in its puzzles is a welcome change from the first game, but the lack of depth to the story and characters, plus the completely anticlimactic ending really detracted from the overall enjoyment. If you’re satisfied with just solving puzzles in pretty environments, The Lair will amuse you for a little while; just don’t look too closely for any type of story along the way, or for any closure when you’re done.