Little Shop of Horrors Meets The Ruins (Meets Where’s Waldo)
In its continuing quest to dominate the casual gaming sector, Alawar Entertainment is this week introducing its newest title in its ever-expanding line of hidden-object games. Natural Threat: Ominous Shores is a flora-focused seek ‘n’ find fright fest, though its slightly creepy atmosphere is by far still apropos for the younger gamer.
Set on a desolate island in the Pacific, Natural Threat pits man against nature – horribly deformed and mutated nature, that is. After your boat capsizes during a pleasure trip with your friends, you wash up on the lonely shores of the aforementioned island, only to discover that your companions have been scattered all across it, and are now in peril from some rather unsavory, ill-tempered plant life. What happened on this island? What were the odd, reclusive scientist’s intentions when he conducted gene-altering experiments with his plants? And how can you save your friends and escape the island again? All these questions and more will be answered during the course of this adventure.
To some degree, similarities between hidden-object titles are to be expected; the charm of these games doesn’t lie primarily in how unique their gameplay is but in what worthwhile situations and puzzles it offers. However, in the case of Natural Threat, a closer connection must be drawn to recent Alawar release, Dark Strokes: Sins of the Fathers. The games play almost identical to each other, and contain nearly all of the same gameplay elements. Scenes and backgrounds have a hand-painted look to them, animated cinematics flesh out the plot, and adventure-style inventory management and puzzle solving co-mingle with the requisite searching scenes. Why, if Dark Strokes tickled your fancy (watered your sapling?), then Natural Threat will likely be right up your alley as well. The only question to consider is whether a mysterious jungle setting and offending plant life are what you’re looking for.
In our hands-on preview, a few technical issues did, sadly, rear their ugly, misshapen heads. For one, during certain actions, a noticeable delay occurred before the accompanying sound played. This happened quite frequently (no less than at least a dozen times for a relatively short demo), and each time, the game came to a grinding halt, with all further actions being disabled until the sound had caught up to the video again. A second problem came as an added punishment for random guess clickwork during hidden-object scenarios. After selecting the incorrect spot several times in short succession, menacing vines would creep into the picture, disabling the mouse cursor as consequence. The problem was that, after the brief time-out, the cursor wouldn’t appear back on the screen as it should have. My only recourse was to minimize the game window each time, and upon re-initializing it, the cursor would be back (I found out a little later that simply waiting for a bit also fixed this error without any need for minimizing the window, but the basic problem persisted).
The mix of hidden-object and adventure puzzles used in Dark Strokes was a winning combination, and using a similar ratio here will be a feather in Natural Threat‘s cap. However, the feel conveyed by the claustrophobic jungle foliage didn’t seem quite as engaging as Dark Strokes’ charming gothic horror setting, and a few bugs, while not breaking the game outright, created some unnecessary annoyance during gameplay. Hopefully, Alawar Entertainment will take the remaining time before release to iron out these problems, and give us another casual adventure worth slogging through the jungle for.