9 Elefants review

9 Elefants review
9 Elefants review
The Good:
  • A clean, hand-painted look
  • One or two catchy tunes
  • Some riddles and brain teasers that actually make you think at times
The Bad:
  • Listless plot that seems to forget its own existence for most of the game
  • Deeply repetitive puzzle design
  • Inclusion of specific, minute facts and trivia disguised as “puzzles”
Our Verdict:

9 Elefants effortlessly copies what should have been a successful formula on paper, but a lack of puzzle variety and story relevance causes most redeeming qualities to get lost in translation.

The debate between those who defend the adventure genre’s balance between narrative and puzzles is in full swing these days. Coming in at the opposite end of the spectrum from games that choose interactive storytelling over puzzle-solving is 9 Elefants, Infernal Brothers’ answer to the Professor Layton series. Casting aside traditional adventuring gameplay and dishing out brainteasers and riddles like they’re going out of style, this mystery about Laura, a sleuth on the trail of her kidnapped inventor father, and her talking feline sidekick Eustache hopes to ensnare gamers looking to flex their gray matter. But ultimately it delivers only a limited range of repetitive brain benders that turn what should have been an entertaining romp of enigmas into a dull chore of “been there, done that”.

The plot – to the extent that it exists, though it’s perfunctory and offers really no impetus to move matters along – centers around Laura, who has arrived in an early, classically-styled alternate version of Paris (though this setting has little bearing on events and steers clear of leaning too much into any definable time period) just in time to find out her father is missing and his home has been ransacked. The local authorities, a pair of Parisian inspectors by the name of Lequais and Lequais, refuse to let her assist in the investigation, so, along with Eustache the cat, Laura sets out to gather information on her own.

Split into nine chapters (to match the nine titular elephants), each chapter features an individual who holds a clue that will point Laura and Eustache to a secret underground location deep within the Parisian catacombs, where she hopes to find the kidnappers and learn the whereabouts of her father. To get the clue that leads to each chapter’s subterranean showdown, Laura has to first perform a service for the person holding onto it. Invariably, this means she has to collect a certain number of cogs, pages, invitations, coins, and any number of other mundane objects the person has lost, then trade them in to unlock the chapter’s secret location for a “boss fight”.

By pure happenstance, the citizens of Paris have precisely the items you need. Naturally, though, the only way they’ll part with them is if Laura will solve their puzzles first. Spread out across four sections of a Paris map, locations can be entered by tapping on them. Each area features a mostly static background with one, or sometimes two, characters in the foreground, whom Laura can then interact with. As the game progresses, a few new locations and characters are added to the map to increase the total puzzles for her to solve. Succeed at every challenge they set for you, and you’ll be rewarded with a number of whatever item you’re currently collecting, at the rate of ten per solved puzzle. Each subsequent chapter requires a larger number of items to be found before they can be exchanged for the info Laura needs, so as the game goes on, the number of mandatory puzzles for each chapter gets bigger and bigger.

As it turns out, Laura’s father has been abducted by a cult whose members only appear wearing elephant masks. At first, their motives behind the abduction were purposefully unclear, but by the time I finally learned the extent of their plan, I really didn’t care anymore. The story lacks any air of actual mystery; instead, it has all the visceral impact of running through the motions (nine times in a row), only to show up at the final location to be told that the professor/princess is in another castle (nine times in a row). Side characters to flesh out the narrative are practically nonexistent. Most of the dozen or so characters Laura has to interact with (which include a dog, a rat, and a talking treasure chest, for no real reason) will briefly talk about their hobbies or professions with her – the baker enjoys talking about baguettes and croissants, the bird lady talks about her birds…you get the picture – and then get straight to the puzzling. Only one or two characters have anything interesting to say, and even then it has literally no bearing on the story whatsoever.

Having said that, the flimsy story wasn’t my primary concern with this game, though it certainly won’t hold anybody’s attention for long. The main draw of 9 Elefants should be its puzzles. At first, things go well and nothing seems to be amiss. But after the first few chapters, I noticed that I was solving the same few puzzles again and again, just dressed a little differently.

In a nutshell, the game has seven categories of puzzles it recycles and throws at you over and over. The first five are infinitely pervasive, and you’ll surely solve several of these in every single citizen encounter: Sliding Block, Memorize the Pattern, Untangle the Lines, Tangrams,  and what I like to call Right-Colors-Wrong-Sequence (a derivative of the old Mastermind board game where you must deduce the correct random sequence of colors and objects). Let me be clear: I have nothing against puzzles like this, but they are so highly overused here that they easily make up the bulk of the game’s 230-plus puzzles.

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Adventure games by Infernal Brothers

9 Elefants  2014

After arriving in Paris to present his latest invention, the Time Camera, at the Universal Science Congress, Professor Weissmann disappeared without a trace.