Weekly Time Waster: Gretel
For the past two months, platformers and puzzlers have been our temps-wasteurs du jour, but this week we're switching it up. Gretel and Hansel Part 2 is a charming and creepy point-and-click adventure featuring hand-painted art, clever storytelling, and a sick sense of humor.
You play as the famous Gretel (hence the reversal of the names in the title) trying to get safely back home from the forest. We're not sure what happened in Part 1, but Part 2 finds you quickly separated from your dolt of a brother, Hansel, and trapped by a demented and deformed tree demon who really wants you to like his cooking. Once you escape, several bring-an-object-from-there-to-here style puzzles await, bringing you to new areas of the map as you search for the exit from the forest.
The visual style of the game is very engaging, and the sound design adds to the eerie, washed-out emptiness of it all. The puzzles are clever enough, but the thing that really caught us was the use of the Glasses item that you collect early on. Put on your glasses at any area of the map and you reveal hidden objects or hidden stories that help you learn more about this strange land and its inhabitants, add extra visual pizazz, or just provide you with subtle hints.
There are many ways to die in the game, but the only consequence is getting to watch the gory animations that accompany each scenario -- which are actually pretty rad. There are also many places where you have to do bodily harm to other characters (mostly animals, though you do also have to steal some human faces) which also come along with their own gruesome visuals.
The controls of the game are basic, and are communicated to you solely through visual storytelling, the same as the rest of the game. The fact that the game isn't limited by language at all is a really effective way of submersing the player in the game's world. You get to read the clues using the symbols of the game itself, meaning no boring or poorly written text to break the atmosphere. The beginning of the game gets you up to speed quickly on how the puzzles and riddles work and what kind of thinking you're going to be required to do. Once you get out into the world, it lets you explore for a while before really having to get down to business. That being said, the middle of the game is where the meat is, and once you untangle the knots, the end comes rather quickly. There's no satisfying finale when you get there, although the fact that there will be a Part 3 is something to look forward to.
Because they require you to actually finish them in order to get a real sense of purpose or satisfaction, point-and-clicks aren't everyone's cup of tea, and most games try to make up for it by honing and custom tailoring the visual aesthetic. Every once a while, though, they feel downright exhilarating. Maybe you'll even get some good ideas for Halloween decorations out of it, like the understated rabbit with its heart ripped open, hanging from a tree.