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Last King of Africa

For: DS

A good tradition of love and hate

Product: Last King of Africa | Developer: White Bird Productions | Publisher: Focus Home Interactive | Format: DS | Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Last King of Africa DS, thumbnail 1
'Point-and-click'. Hardly sounds like a recipe for absorbing, fun and entertaining gaming does it? You point at things, then click on them - the story moves on. You could argue the interactive element becomes limited, a bit like trying to salsa while wearing a pair of outsize wellies.

If you're unfamiliar with the adventure game format then we should mention that the point and click genre had its heyday in the '90s with notable titles like the Broken Sword series, Day of the Tentacle and Myst selling in their millions. But when 3D worlds came along they went out of fashion quicker than a Turkey Twizzler at a vegan market.

Fast forward to the present day and something strange is happening. The DS, armed with its dual-screens and touch-sensitive capabilities, is seen as the perfect format for resurrecting this beloved genre. With the stylus doubling as a mouse pointer and a new 'casual' audience queuing up for story-based games it makes perfect sense.

And The Last King of Africa typifies everything that's great about point-and-click adventures, as well as a few things that are tremendously annoying. But more on the negatives later.

If you've never played this type of game before it will probably feel a bit strange to begin with. First of all you have no direct control over the main character - in this case Ann Smith, the heroine of the piece. Instead of moving your character around with the D-pad you tap a point on the screen and she moves towards it like a dog following the smell of aniseed.

You collect objects by clicking on them, then they are added into your inventory where you can use them later by moving them over parts of the scenery to see if they trigger off any kind of reaction. As you can imagine, a lot of the game consists of waving icons over pre-rendered backdrops to try move the plot forward.

This is the reason why point-and-click adventures are a bit of an acquired taste.

What Last King of Africa does have going for it is a very compelling plot, some imaginative puzzles and a charming European flavour that values thought over traditional action. It's highly recommended if you fancy something a bit more laid-back and cerebral for accompaniment on your favoured mode of public transport.

The game opens after a plane crash which has left Smith recuperating from memory loss in a harem. Admittedly, the amnesia plot is so overused it has wear-patches on its sleeves but it does set up a number of intriguing story vignettes, the first of which consists of escaping from the harem by impersonating the 'favourite' of the incumbent prince.

To give you an idea of the game's generally great puzzles, your first mission is to steal the robes of the favourite by distracting her with a steam bath then concocting a perfume by mixing together some key ingredients (which will then give you not only her appearance but aroma). It's clever stuff and miles away from the usual finding-keys-for-doors puzzles of yore.

It's refreshing to find such imaginative conundrums and for the most part they are very logical in nature. What's not so smart is that the way objects are used, and the way they function on the environment is inconsistent.

In point-and-click terminology it's called 'pixel hunting' and it's not meant as a compliment. Sometimes you have an inkling of how a puzzle can be cracked but because you're not clicking the object on the exact pixel or area in the background nothing happens. This is infuriating and leads to a lot of wandering around and trying to wave objects over every part of the gameworld.

Although a hint system has been implemented (press the 'select' button and objects and locations of interest are highlighted with a gleaming star) this is equally inconsistent, with some key areas of significance omitted and other background areas gleaming for no apparent reason. So while the puzzles are often brilliant, do expect the odd bit of head-scratching and the try-everything-on-anything approach when all else fails.

Production values are high throughout and after you've begun to get caught up in the plot, which includes rich politics, a deep mythology, long lost relationships and a mysterious black leopard, you'll definitely want to see it through to the end. Visually, too, the backgrounds, locations and characters are richly drawn and just a little bit more quirky and interesting than your typical adventure game.

Only one thing may hold you back, a puzzle that snags you because of a slightly broken hint system.

So, the question you have to ask yourself is: do you like story-based games with clever, but sometimes obscure puzzles? Because Last King of Africa, as good as it is, is not going to convert many people who don't already like the genre. It's just a bit too obtuse in places and will infuriate those who can't understand the point of cryptic crosswords.

However, those who enjoy traditional adventures will lap up every minute and see this as one of the best the DS currently has to offer.
Last King of Africa
Reviewer photo
Mark Walbank | 30 September 2008
A fine adventure with a cracking plot and some imaginative puzzles, only let down by some interface inconsistencies
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