Now, where is my Crown?
The inherent rise in retro-inspired nostalgia has been an interesting roller coaster ride. While many find comfort in games seemingly ripped from their youth, others find monotonously obtuse controls and blocky pixel graphics slapped together and force-fed into a “trend”. Does Legends of Amberland: The Forgotten Crown scratch that childhood itch or does rake you across the face with the ferocity of 1000 rabid wolverines?
Legends of Amberland (LA), is a is First Person Dungeon crawler brought to us by developer Silver Lemur Games and published by Pineapple Works. To be fair, LA, nails everything it set out to do. Inspired by some of the 90s best western RPGs like the Might & Magic series, LA tasks you with assembling your party seven before undertaking the “Epic” quest. How epic you might ask? Well, the land is overrun by evil monsters and you have been summoned to find a long-forgotten crown to break the spell of… forgetfulness cast upon the kingdom. Ironically the forgetfulness is what ultimately describes the story. While there are side quests to be had the main overarching narrative offers no true inspiration for your heroic quest. The lack of any real dialogue options when interacting also detracts from the immersion of what could be an otherwise engaging game world.
Speaking of the world, the kingdom itself truly is the star of the game.
A sprawling open world filled with monstrosities and secrets. The land is littered with dungeons, ruins, caves, etc to explore as you make your way towards the end goal. You will pop into stores and Inns, buying essential supplies, weapons, etc. but the vast majority of this title is spent on the world map. Bright, chunky pixels fill your screen.
The 2D sprites in a 3D world bring back memories of a bygone era in gaming. Those old enough to appreciate the early attempts at 3D will appreciate that aspect here as you navigate around cardboard cutouts filling the screen. When you are in the dungeons however… ouch. The murky washed out visuals are an eyesore. While true to form, they really are at odds with the music.
From a sound perspective, LA is serviceable at best.
The weapons clang, magic has the proper accompanying crackles. The generic enemy groans, as well as your own, are there but do not add anything to the experience. The music as previously mentioned is worth a look. Initially, the sombre acoustic guitar was soothing on the ears in a way very reminiscent of the early Bard’s Tale games. When entering dungeons, the music takes on an almost mystical/ethereal sound. This is at odds with the majority of games that would build a sense of dread. From a world-building perspective, this does not fill the player with the typical anxiety or fear normally associated with adventuring in the unknown moreover no musical cue ever alerted the player to impending danger or if there is a higher significance to who you are battling.
This inconsistency extends itself into one of the most obtuse control systems found in an RPG. Those familiar with First Person Dungeon crawlers will be right at home navigating the physical world. Players are limited to 90-degree rotation as they plod along one grid square at a time. Contemporary titles like Quests of Dungeons & the Crypt of the Necrodancer series will see an immediate similarity albeit slight based on the camera angle. The map in the upper right corner fills in as you explore which makes sense and is great except in dungeons. Once in a dungeon, the map acts the same but one ugly oversight stares at you. Unless you physically step on the square it will not show up on your map.
So you may see a wall in front of you so turn left. After proceeding further into the depths and making your eventual return out you will encounter what looks like unexplored areas when in actuality it is a wall or traps you ignored but didn’t legitimately waste your time stepping on to fill your map. While I minor gripe this nuisance can extend your time in dungeons you’ve cleared because you think you’re still missing something. Again, minor but enough to be an annoyance during the review. The combat itself is just flat out annoying period.
While on the surface it is not complicated the issue lies in how nonsensical the button commands are. By default, the A button will attack but quickly you will learn that this does not hold true throughout. Any subsequent actions require that ZL be held and then a proper button pressed to either: open your spellbook, defend, flee, etc. Nothing is mapped directly and there are no on-screen prompts unless ZL is held.
The aforementioned default attack transforms into that characters last attack. So, when you battle a horde of 5 goblins with your 7 member party you must keep tabs on what you did in your last turn with each or run the risk of depleting your magic using an ineffective attack a second time. While this is frustrating it does highlight just how fast combat can be in the game once comfortable with the system.
Legends of Amberland is a modern take on a relic of our collective gaming past. Everything that is here is true to the early 90s. This, however, is the stumbling block. If you grew up playing classics like the previously mentioned Bards Tale or Might & Magic titles then this title will slot in nicely in your collection. While it will not replace those classics or even give them a true run for their money the devs did craft a large open-world begging to be explored. However, if you have no connection to these past titles LA is a tough sell. The clunky UI and visuals will be a major deterrent to anyone thinking this retro-inspired romp learned anything from the past 30 years of gaming.
Review code provided
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 20/04/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Adventure, RPG
Developer: Silver Lemur Games
Publisher: Pineapple Works
Download link: eShop