Emerald City Confidential
First posted on 19 April 2009. Last updated on 06 April 2012.
Welcome back to the magical land of Oz!
Published in 1901 by L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a popular children's novel about the fictitious fantasy world of Oz and its eccentric inhabitants. Since then, Baum had written 13 sequels to his original novel, culminating with Glinda of Oz in 1920. During this period, many new characters were introduced and many new adventures were told. In Baum's last novel, war was imminent in Gillikin Country, north of Emerald City, distinguishable by the color purple.
Emerald City Confidential is an extremely clever but loose adaptation of Baum's magnum opus, masterminded by indie game developer David Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games. Featuring the same characters from the original novel—including Dorothy (Dee) Gale, Toto, Tinman, Lion, Scarecrow, Queen Ozma, and Jack Pumpkinhead—the story continues from where Baum has left off, though the original characters have all been recast in slightly different roles and some new characters have been added.
Emerald City Confidential is set in 1940, some 20 years or so after the war described in Glinda of Oz. It is a troubled time in Oz, with its seedy characters, smugglers, extortionists, evil witches, and the like. The Phanfasms have regrouped and are again plotting war on Emerald City and Oz.
In classic film noir style, the game tells the story of a hardnosed, terse, and abrupt female detective named Petra. Always with an attitude and a dark sense of humor, she manages to find where the sun does not shine from people. Petra, a completely new character to Oz, is once a former army officer in the first war, some 20 years ago, who has quitted her post in the hope of someday finding her long lost brother, William. As a detective, she now has the means and resources to maybe find her brother again.
On a dark and gloomy night, a woman named Dee approaches Petra to help track down her boyfriend, Anzel, who has disappeared under somewhat mysterious circumstances. As Petra goes through her course of investigation with the help of knowledge pills, she discovers the seedy life of the inhabitants of Emerald City and beyond. Moreover, she finds out that there is a connection between her client's lost boyfriend and the disappearance of her brother. You, as Petra, decide to interrogate anyone and everyone to discover a web of deceit, betrayal and treason that is corrupting the land of Oz.
The game begins with as a tutorial that teaches you the basic controls of the interface. Navigation is simple to master. The game divides itself into 50 individual quests or episodes. At the completion of every quest, a jewel is added to a counter at the bottom of the screen. As you proceed through the game, you can also pick up colored buttons that are hidden throughout the various locations. At the end of the game, these buttons can be redeemed, from within the game's main menu, for medals that will then enable you to access extra goodies (such as concept art) from the publisher PlayFirst online.
In the game, you will explore over 50 set scenes and detailed environments. You will also meet (or interrogate) some 35 interesting characters. Communication with them is done via a dropdown dialog box. There are over 6,000 lines of spoken dialog in the game. Be sure to exhaust all the dialog to obtain all the clues necessary to complete your quest!
The game is a classic third-person, point-and-click adventure game. Whenever you click on an object or a person, a text box appears telling you what you are looking at or who you are talking to. The game is totally linear, meaning that every task has to be done in correct sequence to finish the current quest before starting another. Causal gamers may find this to be acceptable, but adventure gamers will likely find it to be overly restrictive. The advantage of linear gameplay is that it is easier to finish, as you cannot get lost and your perception cannot diminish through aberration or confusion.
All the objects in this game are relatively easy to find. There is no pixel hunting that can add to your frustration. In many instances, you are even told of what to look for exactly, so you cannot go far wrong.
There is no lack of puzzles, though the majority of the puzzles are quite straightforward and very easy to solve. Still, some of the magical puzzles require a bit of logical deduction. If you get stuck during the game, there is a built-in hint book at the bottom right corner of the screen that you can click to reveal varying levels of clues. This does away any possibility of getting stuck and is most beneficial for novice gamers.
Within the game, you have to locate 50 colored buttons, secure some 35 objects, and cast magical spells or potions 32 times or so. In most cases, the objects that you need to use are easy to figure out. Some magic requires a little more thought to use, especially if you have to reverse a spell.
The game only uses a single cursor, which is controlled with a left mouse click. When the cursor turns transparent, you are unable to do anything but hear what the other character is saying; when the cursor turns solid, you can select a dialog with that character or pick up and use an object from the inventory.
The game's story is superb. It is so hard to build on such familiar source material and still maintain the interest of its original characters. This game cleverly recasts the original characters into somewhat different roles, while adding its own new characters to complement the original cast, providing a perfect balance to the game and paying homage to its roots.
My own gripe about this game is its autosave feature. Unlike almost all other adventure games where you are allowed to make multiple saves and later resume from any of those saves, you cannot do so in this game. Your only save is at your last point when you exit the game. You can resume playing again by clicking on the resume button. This will take you to a point just short of where your last save is. This means that some prior tasks may have to be done again.
From the main menu screen, you can adjust the sound, music, and voice volumes. You can also adjust the walking speed of your character (my advice is to have this setting on minimum). You can select to play the game in full screen or windows mode.
I absolutely adore the graphics in this game. The set scenes are vividly colored and show a very high level of detailing, albeit in 2D. The background paintings (done by John Green) add much to the game's noir atmosphere. The Art Deco hard-lined art style does not detract in any way from the gameplay but instead lends much to the aesthetic visuals. Only the character animations are a bit lacking: the characters simply glide across the screen rather than walk across it in a normal manner; then again, perhaps this is also part of the intended art style.
I must admit that I have some reservations at the beginning about Emerald City Confidential, thinking that it is just a children's game. How wrong I am! The game is enjoyable for all ages. It is infectious, absorbing, and offers plenty of fun over the 10-16 hours of play time. For a budget title that is priced similar to a causal game, you get a great bang for your proverbial buck. I recommend this game to all adventure game fans. After all, Emerald City Confidential is different, unique in fact, and this is what makes a good game.