Have you ever come across a character so intriguing that you couldn’t help but be captivated? I remember my first encounter with Emily the Strange in a quirky clothing store near my college campus back in the mid-1990s. With her dark hair, dark clothes, and dark expression, Emily stood out from the crowd. Fast forward fifteen years, and Emily’s empire has expanded to include comic books, a upcoming feature film, and even a Nintendo DS game called Emily the Strange: Strangerous. Naturally, I was excited to dive into this game, a combination of my favorite license and genre. However, my enthusiasm quickly turned into a feeling of déjà vu.
A Strange Beginning
As Strangerous begins, Emily awakens from a nightmare (her favorite kind of dream) to discover that her four black cats have been catnapped. The game kicks off with her search for her feline friends, taking her through her strange bedroom, her strange house, and eventually, other strange locations like a carnival, a twisted garden, a school attended by cat people, and even a ghost pirate ship. The primary goal is to rescue her cats and confront the abductor, who threatens to paint Emily’s gothic world pink. Although the storyline is fairly basic, it serves as a framework for the standalone puzzles that dominate Strangerous‘s gameplay, reminiscent of the popular Professor Layton series.
A Familiar Interface
The game’s interface is stylus-driven, requiring players to tap various objects, characters, and locations to interact with them. While this may seem straightforward, there are no hotspot identifiers, leaving players to tap anything that catches their attention. Navigation is solely done through tapping the screen, as the +Control pad is not utilized. The top screen displays important statistics like the number of cat treats and Oddettes (potato chip-like collectibles), point count, location, and current objective. On the touch screen, players will find Emily in her environment, along with icons for accessing the inventory, Emily’s scrapbook, and the four rescued cats.
Familiar Art Style
For fans who are familiar with Emily’s appearances in clothing and comic books, you’ll be pleased to know that the art style in Strangerous remains authentic. Emily and her cats are portrayed accurately, and the signature colors of black, red, and gray dominate the game’s visuals. While the limited color palette may result in somewhat drab backgrounds, they are well-drawn in a cartoon art style that remains true to the Emily the Strange universe. It’s worth noting that while background elements have smooth outlines, Emily herself appears somewhat jagged, which can be a bit distracting. However, the rendered cinematics in the game offer a smoother and more polished appearance.
Immerse in Strangeness
As you explore Strangerous, you’ll encounter a variety of bizarre props and locations that scream “strange.” From hulking gothic furniture to bug-eyed monsters, giant mushrooms, and even a talking spider, the environments exude an otherworldly vibe. Skulls and cobwebs are abundant, adding to the game’s distinct atmosphere. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t many interactive elements, making the game feel more like flipping through a comic rather than truly exploring a vibrant and interactive world. On the bright side, the music changes with each location, successfully immersing players in the game’s dark and peculiar ambiance. Although there is no voice acting, this allows players to imagine Emily’s voice in their own unique way.
With over 60 puzzles, Strangerous offers a wide range of challenges, varying from easy to mind-bendingly difficult. Each puzzle has its own interface, with instructions displayed on the top screen and the puzzle itself on the touch screen. These self-contained puzzles cover a range of puzzle types, including pattern identification, sliders, picture reconstruction, shape manipulation, line tracing, and math problems. While some puzzles are a breeze to solve, others can be frustratingly difficult. The line-tracing puzzles, in particular, require a high level of precision that can be tricky to achieve with the stylus. However, it’s worth noting that some puzzles suffer from confusing instructions, and occasionally, the provided solutions are incorrect.
Hints and Points
For players in need of assistance, Strangerous offers hints that can be obtained using cat treats. However, these hints often state the obvious and provide little real help. Despite that, most puzzles can be solved without relying heavily on hints. As you progress through the game, you earn points by correctly answering puzzles. It’s worth noting that the number of points doesn’t seem to affect the gameplay significantly. While the game attempts to integrate puzzles into the story, they often feel random and disconnected from the main plot and the essence of Emily the Strange. Given that the game draws inspiration from other puzzle titles like Professor Layton, Puzzle Agent, and The 7th Guest, some puzzles may feel familiar to experienced players.
More Than Just Puzzles
Aside from standalone puzzles, Strangerous incorporates additional gameplay elements, such as navigating mazes and limited use of items. These activities provide a more adventure-like experience for players, although they may not be particularly complex or thought-provoking for seasoned adventure gamers. Notably, the game does offer a handful of minigames that can be played at the carnival location. These simple activities involve interacting with moving targets, requiring precise timing and coordination. While the minigames are enjoyable, their primary purpose is to collect prizes like cat treats and Oddettes. It’s worth mentioning that these minigames can be replayed for those looking to stock up on rewards.
The Role of Emily’s Cats
Strangerous makes use of Emily’s beloved cats, each with their own special ability that aids in gameplay. However, the execution of these abilities leaves much to be desired. Some abilities, like Mystery’s hints, often result in unhelpful responses, leaving players disappointed after spending a cat treat. The other cats’ abilities, which involve finding hidden items or accessing high-up objects, are too similar and offer little indication of the specific type of “hidden” item involved. This lack of clarity becomes frustrating when players must search for multiple hidden items scattered throughout the game. Unfortunately, the game provides no clues as to where to search or which cat to employ, leading to a lot of trial and error and wasted cat treats.
A Linear Journey
Strangerous is a linear game, with little optional gameplay. Once you encounter a puzzle, there’s little else to do until it is solved. As the game progresses and more locations open up, navigation becomes cumbersome and confusing. The connections between various locations are often unintuitive, requiring players to remember specific actions like jumping out of a window or diving into a well. A quick travel map would have been a valuable addition to alleviate these navigation challenges.
A Short but Sweet Experience
Completing Strangerous took me roughly six hours, and that includes some backtracking in the second half of the game. While this may seem short for a DS game, it’s important to remember that Strangerous is aimed at a younger audience and offers a simplified experience compared to its inspiration, Professor Layton. Additionally, there is reportedly DSi-specific content that I couldn’t access as a standard DS user.
The Final Verdict
As a fan of the Emily the Strange license, Strangerous initially held great promise. However, it falls short of delivering a truly captivating experience. While the visuals remain authentic to the license, the writing lacks the caustic charm of the character’s original slogans. The gameplay, although reminiscent of Professor Layton, fails to bring anything new to the table. That being said, die-hard fans of Emily and newcomers to puzzle games may find enjoyment in this strange adventure. For those seeking a more robust and innovative puzzle experience, there are better options available.
So, if you’re ready to dive into the world of Emily the Strange, grab your stylus and embark on a puzzle-filled journey. And remember, for all things strange and captivating, visit Capturing Fantasy.