All is not well in the Emerald City

As a kid I read just about every book I could get my hands on; especially if it had a story full of fantasy and adventure. My mother collected classic literature, specifically children’s literature, so I had a full bookcase to pull from right in my home. One of the collections she owned was L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. I had seen the series on the shelf but hadn’t really thought about reading them until I saw the movie The Wizard of Oz for the first time. Like most kids I was enthralled by the movie and immediately began reading the series. The books quickly became among my favorites and I read through them several times. They go far beyond the well known movie and introduce many strange and wonderful characters and places.

When I first heard about the adventure game, Emerald City Confidential I was intrigued.  It takes place in an Oz that’s slightly different than the books. The world is a gritty post-war place with an authoritarian government with strict rules governing the use of magic.  The game very much uses the 1940s film noir style in its dialogue and character types.

Emerald City Confidential -
I’m going to say from the start that I didn’t really enjoy this game. It has a lot of high points but its lows create a mediocre overall experience. Most of the voice acting is pretty good but the writing often seems forced. Characters engage in dialogue at inappropriate times and what is supposed to be witty repartee tries too hard.

The game’s quest mechanic doesn’t quite work either.  I understand wanting to give guidance to players who aren’t very familiar with adventure games, but often the quests were downright silly.  One quest requires you to find and talk to a character. Not too challenging when the character in question is standing right in front of you. Also the story is very linear and fairly straightforward – there weren’t a lot of places to wander off to – making guidance from the game much more unnecessary. There was never a point where I was unsure of what to do.

It’s too bad.  The game isn’t very expensive so I really hate that its deficiencies were such a distraction for me.  In the game’s defense, its different scenes and landscapes are very prettily designed— especially the overview of the city itself. 

I also like the general outline of the story.  There are many references to the original series and the game has many of my favorite characters, with a twist – Jack Pumpkinhead is a smuggler of illegal magical artifacts, the Tin Man is a drunken mayor, the Lion a sleazy lawyer, the Nome King now owns a bar, among other characters.  The story does improve toward the end of the game but I never felt drawn in.  Overall I found myself wanting to read the books again rather than continue playing.