I should probably disclose from the offset that I’m not exactly a huge fan of puzzle games. Give me the right puzzle game, particularly an action puzzle title like the recently reviewed Superliminal, and I can have a whale of a time; otherwise I’ll probably just get frustrated and never play it again.

Will Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale win me over, or should it be thrown into the castle dungeon?

Many thanks to GrimTalin for the review code.

A KNIGHT TO REMEMBER
From the offset, the game plunges you into a medieval setting, complete with whimsical music that is presumably played by an offscreen bard. The protagonist, a princess donning knight’s armour, is off in search of freedom. She achieves this by rolling a ball around labyrinthine puzzle arenas collecting coins and feathers. There is a narrative threading its way throughout the game, and it is beautifully narrated, but it’s entirely inconsequential and hard to focus on whilst trying to solve the tough puzzles. That’s fine though, since the story is only really there to set the mood, and it achieves it perfectly.

Everything in the game serves to reinforce the atmosphere within the game. The quaint music in particular is a treat, and even features some voiced singing that I found surprisingly enjoyable. Graphically too everything looks nice, for the most part, if a little basic. There’s nothing that will particularly impress you, but it looks quite solid for such a budget title. My main gripe with the aesthetics is with regard to the coins. The bright yellow coins look cartoonishly out of place, and I feel a more subtle texture would have been more appropriate. Perhaps copper coins would have fit the design a little better. 

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STUCK IN THE MIDDLE AGES WITH YOU
Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale is split into five chapters, each with sixteen different levels. Six of them are story based and see you collecting feathers while the story plays out in the background. You achieve this by rolling a ball around a maze. Be careful, as the ball only stops once it hits something. Everything is pretty responsive and I rarely had issues controlling the ball, but there’s an undo feature if you happen to mess up. Surprisingly, the game offers a variety of movement controls so you can find whatever matches your playstyle; I opted for direct control of the ball, as it gave me a bit of a Super Monkey Ball vibe. There’s also the option to shift the camera a little in either direction, but it’s so minimal that it renders the function entirely pointless.

The game starts simple enough with mere boxes blocking your path, but more obstacles get added as time goes by. It’s a gradual introduction too, so you never feel overwhelmed by anything since you have time to familiarise yourself with how stuff works. Many of them may share similar functions, such as spawning additional coins/feathers upon activation, but they all work differently enough to make them unique. They offer a real challenge all the way through the game, meaning that something as simple as the rotating signpost, encountered early on, can prove to be a real head scratcher.

As you beat each story level, you can choose to replay it again – this time with coins throughout the stage. Doing so will earn you up to three gems, which need to be gained in order to unlock the next chapter. The gem requirements are quite high, so not only do you need to unlock gems in the story levels, but you will also need to play all the ‘optional’ levels too. Typically you need around 35 gems from each chapter in order to proceed, which amounts to earning two or three on every level – no easy feat! Beating each level with the lowest rating can sometimes prove challenging, so you will need to be on your A-game if you want to see the story through.

… or you can just cheat. You see, there’s a hint system available in the game. It’s generally well implemented, with three hint levels that slowly build up over time; each level will grant you the solution for a higher gem score. It’s a nice touch that ensures all players are able to get through the game, rather than hitting an insurmountable roadblock. Despite this help, I wish that the the requirements for the story chapters weren’t so brutal since it actively seems to be incentivising you to cheat your way through to rack up the remaining gems you require. A better solution could have been requiring you to beat every level in order to proceed to the next chapter, but having bonuses that are unlockable by earning the maximum gems. The current system just feels more like padding.

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BALLS OF STEEL

So, you think rolling a ball around and collecting coins is going to be a cakewalk?

Let’s check out some of the obstacles in the game that will make you change your mind:

STATUESImageThese statues must be rotated to align with a nearby gemstone, which will cause more coins to appear. Make sure you rotate them in the right direction!

BRIDGESImage
The bridges in this game rotate 90 degrees after each use. Think carefully about how you use them, since one wrong traversal and you can screw yourself over!

PORTALSImage
Portals aren’t just limited to the future. Curiously they were a predominant feature in the middle ages, at least according to this game. Enter one portal, pop out of the other. They make things a lot more complicated than you’d expect.

 

Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale is a whimsical, if infuriating, puzzle game. Whilst offering a fair challenge for mere level completion, it’s stubborn desire for you to get the highest rating only serves to encourage cheating just to get through the story. Only hardcore puzzle veterans are likely to legitimately get the maximum ratings without the use of the hint system. It’s a shame since the puzzles are well thought out and offer real satisfaction when you finally nail a tough puzzle. If this type of puzzle game is your cup of tea, there’s a great game to be found here; for everyone else, perhaps wait for a sale.