From a young age, I adored point-and-click games; I’d wander aimlessly trying to figure out how to grab an iron key using a semi-deflated innertube, or hypnotising a monkey so that it may be used as a literal monkey wrench. But the feeling of sheer joy that came when figuring out a puzzle was, and still is, was a real rush. Unfortunately, point-and-click titles are few and far between in modern gaming, so I was overjoyed when I learnt of Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit. Inspired by iconic, genre-defining franchises such as Monkey Island and Broken Sword, this throwback game developed by Tag of Joy will have you falling in love with its endearing characters, intriguing storyline, and some truly head-scratching puzzles!
Crowns and Pawns starts off with our main character, Milda, creating herself as a simple avatar in an online game, whilst speaking to her best buddy Dana. This actually serves as a way to create your own version of Milda, choosing how she looks by editing her online persona, as well as deciding on her personality and career as she answers questions from Dana. It’s a unique feature that instantly made me care for the character, and I decided that she would be a programmer, rather than one of the other job options, which changes the dialogue going forward. Regardless of the choices you make for Milda, she is overall a very likeable and believable character, with well-written dialogue (although I could say that about the entire cast) and a certain charm to her that everyone is sure to love.
Shortly after the introduction, Milda learns that her grandfather, who resides in Lithuania, has died. Sad news for sure (unless you decide she wasn’t close to him via dialogue options), but his will states that his house, and all possessions within, now belong to Milda. After getting in touch with her old friend Joris and securing a place to stay, it’s off to explore her grandfather’s place! Arriving at the home, it's clear something isn’t quite right, and when a voice at the other end of a discarded walkie-talkie seems to know who Milda is and begins to threaten her, the true mystery begins! Thus begins our adventure in Lithuania and beyond, with some genuinely interesting history surrounding the country and a captivating tale full of humour and clever writing that — in my opinion — is up there with the likes of the best titles in the genre. I wouldn’t want to spoil the story for any would-be adventurers, but just know that it’s definitely worth your time, although the final act felt incredibly rushed with very little puzzle solving, leaving me feeling a little underwhelmed once the credits rolled.
Crowns and Pawns isn’t a taxing game to run, but it still looks and plays really well. The visuals reminded me of the Telltale narrative adventures, but without the jankiness and framerate stuttering. Characters have exaggerated features along with facial expressions giving them a cartoon-esque look, and the environments are colourful as well as interesting to explore (I spent a lot of time just clicking on everything to hear what Milda had to say). I wasn’t a huge fan of the camera zooming in on occasions when walking around some areas, but it’s such a minor negative that it’s barely worth mentioning.
It sounds fantastic as well; each vocal performance hits the mark and the musical themes are beautiful. One example of this is early on in the game when a potential investor in Dana’s artwork tasks you with stopping a local street performer from playing some jazz music. The tune was so relaxing that I didn’t actually mind that it took me way too long to figure out the puzzle, and I was almost a little sad when I did!
Crowns and Pawns plays like most other point-and-click games: you move your mouse around the screen, collecting objects and speaking to people in order to solve some rather tricky puzzles to advance the plot. If you’re new to the genre, it isn’t a game where you’ll need to be constantly looking for an enemy to attack, or upgrading attack moves, but one in which you can relax and enjoy the story whilst becoming fully immersed in it. There are no game overs or fail states — apart from a few timed puzzles, which can just be repeated — and the whole thing can be played using just a mouse!
As in other similar titles, you’ll be combining specific items to create new ones that will in turn be used to solve certain puzzles or to uncover new areas. Some puzzles require a more logical approach; for example setting switches a certain way to power a fuse box or picking the correct words from a list to make a deciphered piece of text coherent. None of these border on ridiculous to solve (hi Discworld!) but the majority of them weren’t exactly simple either. At no point was I stuck for hours on end trying every item, or talking to every character multiple times — as seemingly casual conversations can actually hold solutions — to no avail. The few times I did get stuck, it was very much an “I can’t believe I didn’t try that sooner” moment. Blame my lack of intelligence for that, not the game.
I enjoyed everything about Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit; the small dialogue choices that shape Milda as a character, the interesting plot full of Lithuanian history, and enough puzzles to keep me guessing without being too obscure. Whilst the game was a little on the short side (although this is fairly typical of point-and-click games), and seemed to rush the ending — in particular, the final encounter which teases one last great puzzle, before all of it is swept under the rug as the ending cinematic plays — I genuinely hope it sells well enough that we get a sequel, and urge any fans of the genre to pick this one up!
Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
A charming cast of characters, engaging narrative, and enjoyable puzzles make Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit stand side-by-side with some of the best games in the genre.