For most of them the veteran’s report carried that special thrill of distant alarm. A great but far-off city reduced to ruin; a disaster from halfway across the world. Cataclysmic news, but an event comfortingly remote from the day to day affairs of home.
You are Evening Star, a hero in the making, about to find out what happened to your lost twin brother Morning Star. This is the setting of the mobile game Necklace of Skulls, set in a colorful, well developed world populated by myth and legend. Through your journey you encounter a variety of characters; from cannibals to albino dogs. You must face these things with the skills that you have, the tools you collect and your own wits.
The primary strength of this game is the rich fantasy world it creates. As someone well versed in Western mythology (Greek, Roman, Norse mostly) this foray into Mayan symbols and characters was a welcome and exciting foray. The art that accompanies the text is rich, colorful and fitting with the tale. While the story takes place in the second person, it holds a certain “campfire” quality. It feels like you could sit around a campfire with an older patriarch (or matriarch) of the family and listen to them create the same type of yarn. In that sense, it has mythology and folklore nailed.
The writing is of an acceptable quality and a play through can be completed by a diligent reader in about a half hour. The game teases the promise of multiple playthroughs with the available characters (Warrior, Huntress, Wayfarer & Sorceress), but this promise is one I would not suggest fulfilling. The prologue appears to be the same for all four characters — no matter what, in this tale you are Evening Star on a quest for Morning Star. There are routes tantalizingly blocked off from you from the beginning because you lack certain skills, but you can access them on later playthroughs. However, it didn’t seem worth the effort to replay some of the scenes over again for those few clues and objects. There is little reward for going a different route.
He snorts contemptuously. “You mortals are so predictable. There are greater victories than revenge.”
In what is problematic in most interactive fiction, including gamebooks, I managed to find myself “choiced” into a corner. I was near what felt like the end on my first playthrough of Necklace of Skulls only to find myself stymied at a four forked path. I tried all options, explored each path. It did not matter. I died anyway. With no way to return to a previous decision, to right my own wrongs, I was trapped within reaching distance of the games conclusion and had to just quit. It’s not an ideal situation, and it does happen, but I felt incredibly thwarted. My second playthrough was riddled with repetition before I died inelegantly in a forest without being able to find my way out.
This is a game with a combat system, and it was not my favorite. Without direction in my first fight, i found it truly puzzling. Here’s a picture of the interface:
This is a fight between your character and the cannibals. You have three options with limited stamina and you must land your blows. I might not have been getting it, but there didn’t seem to be a recognizable pattern of attack that I could plan for. Instead I just kept dying. Fighting became so troublesome that I took the coward’s way out in every battle. The fighting system is something that Necklace of Skulls could’ve done without.
I found Necklace of Skulls entrancing, with beautiful art and a tie to folklore that I truly appreciate. But I was stymied by the difficulty level and the repetition that made me unwilling to seek out more playthroughs. If you’re willing to fight past the difficulty, it’s definitely worth the cost. Necklace of Skulls is currently available on iOS and Android for $2.99.