Sandra and Woo in the Cursed Adventure review - page 2

The Good:
  • Lovely cartoon graphics, faithful to the original comic
  • Quirky characters
  • Interesting story and setting
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Substantial length
The Bad:
  • Some puzzle solutions come out of left field
  • Setting feels underused
  • Minigames more frustrating than fun
The Good:
  • Lovely cartoon graphics, faithful to the original comic
  • Quirky characters
  • Interesting story and setting
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Substantial length
The Bad:
  • Some puzzle solutions come out of left field
  • Setting feels underused
  • Minigames more frustrating than fun
Our Verdict:

Sandra and Woo in the Cursed Adventure may have you cursing some of its puzzles, but its warmth, characters and gentle humour will surely leave you smiling.

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On the one hand, that means arriving in a new area to find a variety of seemingly unrelated items (with quirky commentary), being given a clear goal that doesn't obviously involve any of them, and being let loose to explore. For example, Larisa and Cloud turn up at Sandra's house to find she's not home and have to find a way in by exploring the garden. Let's just say it's not as simple as finding a key under the mat; instead, they both wind up having to solve the problem in their own, very different ways. By the time they make it in, they've tricked the lemonade stand boy next door, trashed the back garden, and driven away the neighbours. And then they have to explain it all to Sandra's father.

On the other hand, though, the solutions can be just a bit of a stretch at times. Despite the fantasy scenario, real-world logic applies most of the time, until it suddenly doesn't. For example, at one point a speech bubble appears above a character's head, filled with exclamation and question marks (you can probably guess how he was feeling at the time). One of the puzzles hinges on you realising that those are actual objects you can pick up and use, and this kind of whimsical cartoon logic crops up just enough to make you feel silly afterwards for not spotting it but not enough for you (or, to be fair, me) to actually think of it in the first place.

Just to rub salt in the wound, you can often ask characters for advice. In a different game, that would be part of the help system, but here it's a running joke for them to give totally useless (if amusing) opinions. Larisa in particular is prone to coming up with fantastically impractical ideas. The gameworld even has its own help system, triggered by the F1 key, that is entertaining but about as helpful as Microsoft error messages (and even gives you a blue screen of death at one point).

Finally, there are the (not so) mini games. There are a generous handful of these, and some of them are so involved that you could package them up and sell them as mobile games in their own right. For example, one has you "hacking" a system by trying to navigate a maze, except you also have to rotate the columns and rows as you go, with obstacles to avoid and a sometimes tight move limit. Another has you playing a Sokoban-like game to escape a cave system against the clock, plus a memory game and one where Woo has to get his DJ on to put together a tune. A lot of care and effort has clearly gone into these, but they all managed to fall just short of enjoyable for me. The move and time limits proved more frustrating than challenging, all the tune elements sounded very similar (but had to be put together in just the right order), and I hopefully don't need to explain why trying at one point to navigate a maze blindfold was less than fun.

The good news is that they can all be skipped, if you prefer, via an option that tells the characters to just do it themselves for once. If you do that with the last one, though, the ending feels anticlimactic: the whole game finishes with a minigame, followed only by a cutscene and the end credits. It's a shame to have to list skipping them as a positive, because they were very nearly fun, but maybe your mileage will vary.

I'm still not quite sure how to feel about the plot. In outline it's actually quite fun and novel, but while the contrast between the two worlds makes for an interesting dynamic, the gameworld setting feels underused. There was scope to make all kinds of jokes at the expense of (say) RPG or adventure tropes, or run into glitches in the programming, or break in and reprogram the game. Instead, for the most part Sandra and Woo may as well have been whisked off to Oz by magic. Also, the abundance of puzzles makes the story more meandering than dynamic.

Then again, it's not really that kind of game. Instead, it's about the characters and how they banter and the people they meet; more about quiet exploration than drama. There's the blustering, clueless king, the feeble prince trying to woo his warrior girlfriend, and the swan princess who might become dinner. There's brave but naive Cloud, mischievous Woo, flamboyantly imaginative and probably quite insane Larisa, and Sandra, just trying to live her life in the midst of it all. They feel like real people who've known each other for years, well enough to simultaneously care deeply about each other and find some of their habits deeply annoying. (Though how Landon and Larisa got together, when she can't stand his bug collection and he's perpetually terrified she'll blow something up, I still don't quite know.) 

Ultimately, Sandra and Woo in the Cursed Adventure is a game of heart and rough edges. It brings the web comic to life with some style, and tries to fill the protagonists’ world with chewy puzzles and meaty minigames, but manages to try a little too hard and winds up falling over the line from fun but tricky to hair-tearing and occasionally obtuse. The appeal is all about character, and sending the heroes to a fantasy world really helps to bring that out; just don't hope for too much of a tight storyline. If you're already a fan of the comic, it's easy to recommend this game. And even if you’re not, so long as you're patient (or like to think outside the box), you'll likely find Sandra and Woo to be entertaining companions for an unexpected journey. 


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