Arrrrr– *cough* *cough* *splutter* Terribly sorry, do excuse me, had something stuck in my throat there. Not at all was that an attempt at a pirate impression, oh, no. But pirates is exactly the topic to have in mind when considering Artifex Mundi’s Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart, pirates and point-and-click gameplay. The question is, does Nightmares from the Deep do either well enough to spend your hard earned plunder on?
Before you view the main menu, Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart will show you a cinematic that briefly outlines the violent life of Captain Henry Remington, doing so in a way that, when he’s resurrected ten minutes after you’ve started playing and kidnaps your daughter, makes you genuinely concerned over her safety. This Captain was a scourge of the seas, after all, and now he’s an undead scourge, which is just bad.
In the intervening ten minutes between starting the game and your daughter getting captured, you’re introduced to the gameplay mechanics that’ll see you through most of Nightmares from the Deep. There’s the simple traversal with A for forward and B for back; moving your selection cursor around on screen with a thumbstick; the Hint button on D-pad Up; and the Diary on D-pad right. It’s simple but effective – helpful, considering you’ll use these controls a lot throughout the game. You’re also introduced to the main flavour of puzzle: Hidden Objects.
Hidden Objects involves a screen full of, well, objects, at the bottom of which is a list of the items you’re required to find. There are many Hidden Object puzzles to complete in Nightmares from the Deep, progressively getting harder as the game goes on. Eventually, you’ll come up against screens brimming with all manner of curios and it can be a challenge finding those last couple of items, but that’s the point. You can use a Hint to aid you in locating the object or, if playing on Normal difficulty, could just rove your cursor around the screen whilst tapping the A button (if playing on Expert there’s a penalty for ‘misclicks’, however). It isn’t particularly fun to play the puzzles this way and the cursor is fairly tight for what it’ll accept, at times to the point where you’ve found the item but have to move the circle a touch more before it’ll acknowledge you’re on the mark. Overall, Hidden Objects are a fun way of progressing the game forward, as the items you find are required for something else, such as making a fishing line. The downside comes when you have to revisit the same Hidden Objects area again, not because there are fewer items to sift through but because the game doesn’t suggest to go back to them. Your map (readily available on Left D-pad) will have green ‘X’s on the places where there’s an action available and this is how, when you’re stuck and haven’t a clue, you’ll realise it’s because you need to go to a previous location.
There’s a puzzle within a puzzle when it comes to Hidden Objects: Mah-jong. Instead of finding the items on screen you can play the tile-matching game and unlock your objects by making pairs. I’ve never been adept at Mah-jong and ultimately found it more enjoyable to search for the objects on-screen, but it’s a nice alternative if you’re not the sort that enjoys trying to decipher between a wooden foot and a ladle (it’s not as easy as it sounds.)
Hidden Objects aren’t the only puzzle. There’s the infrequent Construct A Useful Item puzzle, which is simply selecting objects on the screen that go together to form a single item, though the screen covers such a small area of space you’ll be able to complete these in under a minute or so most of the time. Then there are the incidental puzzles, such as applying cogs to a door mechanism or rotating a maze for a fish to swim through. Much like the Hidden Object puzzles these latter two aren’t particularly taxing, at least not on Normal where there are no penalties and parts of the screen will sparkle to show there’s something to be interacted with. For the puzzle fiends, then, you might wish to try Expert the first time round; if you’re after a relaxing time with no risk of failure, Normal is for you.
As is perhaps evident from all the puzzles relying heavily on a visual element, Nightmares from the Deep‘s art style is important. Although some of the character animations are wooden, and certain cutscenes painted with a broad style, it’s representation of ghostly pirates, skull fortresses and all manner of glowing marine life is appealing. The locales and object designs are top rate. Aesthetically, it gets a big thumbs up, and musically, too. There aren’t many pieces in its soundtrack but what’s present is eerie, atmospheric, and just below that high volume/repetitive threshold to stop it from becoming annoying.
Swinging back to that first ten minutes, the premise of the game has no long preamble. You’re a museum curator putting together an exhibition on Captain Henry Remington, a nefarious pirate. You have the wet corpse of the man in question which, through your own meddling, is brought back to some form of life and kidnaps your daughter. Oh, and he crashes his pirate ship through your museum. The guy knows how to make an exit, but not before you clamber aboard the vessel. It’s then off to Skull Island as the Captain makes a bid to put the soul of his dearly departed into the body of your daughter.
Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a game where you play as a mother rescuing her child other than Nightmares from the Deep. If your daughter’s name is mentioned at all it utterly passed me by but that didn’t dampen my motivation to save her too much; and playing as Sarah Black, mother, museum curator, and someone who’s certainly not afraid of undead pirates was such a change of protagonist from many other games that it was exciting just to be playing as someone different.
The Optional Paragraph
You don’t need to read this paragraph to get an idea of Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart, yet I hope you’ll learn something if you choose to. I really commend Artifex Mundi for putting you in the role of a mother, however it’s slightly disappointing they continue the common stereotype of Voodoo (or ‘Vodou’, if you prefer). Some of the objects you’re tasked with finding in Nightmares are Voodoo dolls, the story partly revolves around the resurrection of the Captain’s wife and there’s a strong dose of dark magic in the story. Not all of that magic is supposedly Voodoo and it never makes a big deal about the bits that are, but Voodoo itself has nothing to do with dolls, little to do with zombies – certainly not the sort that immediately spring to mind – and deals with ‘dark magic’ about as much as any other religion. The superstitions come from plantation owners and slave traders in the 17th and 18th centuries who, apart from keeping despicable views about the humans they forced into labour, were simply scared of what they didn’t understand. If you get the chance to Google “what is Caribbean Voodoo” you’ll find some enlightening results.
The story itself has a few twists but don’t expect a lengthy play-time. I finished the main game and Bonus Chapter – which was a welcome addition – in about 5 hours. The achievements aren’t difficult though you’ll need two playthroughs to net them all; playing through on Normal the first time I’d be tempted to go back at a later date and get more mileage by replaying on the harder Expert difficulty.
Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart is a recommendable game if you enjoy point-and-click adventures, but is it worth £7.99? The game is free-to-play on the two top mobile app stores, and while good its not brilliant: the voice acting isn’t always totally convincing, you might find the story predictable, and there are instances of frustration, such as requiring a tool to remove moss from a wall when you could quite as easily use your hands (you’ve just been clambering about a slimy ghost ship, after all). So it’s up to player preference if you’re content spending £7.99 for something you could pay half or less for and enjoy on a smaller screen.
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Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart is only really let down by its price. If that’s no matter to you then dive right in, but if you’re cautious with your doubloons you may wish to seek your ghostly pirates elsewhere.