Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit (PC) Review

By Athanasios 21.05.2022

Review for Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit on PC

One thing that that refuses to die, is the classic point-and-click adventure genre. It's not extremely popular (and never has been, to be honest), but some good releases do come out every now and then (play Kathy Rain now!) to quench the thirst of those few(?) souls that still crave such experiences, with indie developers usually being the ones behind the creative process. One such small studio, Tag of Joy, has recently crafted Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit, a point-and-click with a retro vibe, but a modern look, that strives to be the Lithuanian flavour of the classic Broken Sword series, with its story of ancient mysteries and conspiracies revolving around the medieval history of this beautiful state. While quite flawed, this is recommended for all fans of that kind of games, as will be shown in the following review.

Beginning in a somewhat unorthodox fashion, the protagonist is tasked with creating a character for the new game she just started playing. "Oh, I'll make her like me" she proclaims, and after a while you realise that you've basically decided how Milda, the heroine of this tale, will look. It's nothing too extensive, of course. A handful of clothing choices and hairstyles (blond-only), and that's it. It's but a tiny part of the experience, but a welcome one, especially since it's super-rare for the genre, if not completely absent from pretty much all point-and-click adventures. Oh, and by the way, you can go back to the wardrobe and change your style whenever you feel like it - after all, there are some rare occasions where this feature will be used in order to solve a puzzle or two.

Screenshot for Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit on PC

Moments in, and it's easy to see that this doesn't have any fancy mechanics to speak of. Mouse controls movement and interactions, with items stored in a simple inventory, from where they can be then dragged-and-dropped in specific hotspots or be mixed with each other. Milda's smartphone can be used to communicate with a couple of characters throughout her quest, but a much more interesting part is the one where she can connect the dots by mixing and matching bits of info in order to reach a conclusion. So, the how-to-play aspect is a piece of cake. Note, however, that this isn't very keen on holding anyone's hands. This is somewhat old-school in terms of challenge, which is both a good and bad thing - but more on that later.

This follows Milda, a resident of Chicago, as she learns about the death of her grandfather, and the fact that she has inherited his house. Trouble is, the house is in Lithuania, and she can barely find enough money to survive, let alone travel to northern Europe to sign the papers. With a little bit of help from a friend she manages to go there, only to discover that the house in question has just been "visited" by someone, and by the look of things this someone is probably very eager to get whatever they were searching for by any means necessary - and thus begins a trip across Europe, in search of legends regarding the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the "King who was never crowned;" a trip were Milda will learn about the part that her family played in the keeping of a secret, and of the people that want to use it for their own, evil means.

Screenshot for Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit on PC

Crowns and Pawns makes good use of history in order to tell a story that's not exactly well known to the rest of the world, which is a good thing, as developers usually choose amongst the same three or four "safe" and more popular routes. As a result, this feels fresh, and it's all pulled off in such a manner that many will want to buy a book or open Wikipedia and learn more about Lithuanian history. The visuals are pretty good as well, with the super-vibrant, almost comic book-esque colour palette making the, mostly generic, places you'll visit look beautiful, raising your need to buy a ticket and start Eurotriping. This seamlessly blends 2D textures and backgrounds with a 3D perspective and characters, and occasionally uses some neat tricks like reflections and the like. Long story short, it's a looker.

Screenshot for Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit on PC

Now, if you expect something that will rock your socks off… keep on waiting. The story is good and all, but it's just that. Good. It does its job, but that's about it. Furthermore, near the end it sort of feels like it's in a hurry to reach a conclusion, not to mention that it generally lacks the feeling of danger and urgency that should be part of such an adventure. These don't really ruin what came before, but certainly put a stain on the experience. The characters are also one of the weaker aspects of Crowns and Pawns. There isn't any bad writing to speak of. If anything, it's quite good, and has some genuinely immersive, as well as funny moments (Lovecraftian invocation scene? Awesome). The problem is that the characters themselves are a bit one-dimensional - both in terms of looks and actual depth.

Who is Milda? She is… err, a young woman, and… and? Well, the game doesn't really say much about her. Is she clever, mischievous, sarcastic, pragmatic, hot-headed? What are her hobbies or flaws? Does she feel afraid or happy while on this crazy adventure? Some attempts have been made to include a bit of family drama into it all, but it will be hard to feel anything when, for example, Milda argues with her mother on the phone. No, Syberia this is not. The same applies to pretty much everyone from the small cast on offer. They are all… there. Now, there are point-and-click adventures that focus on storytelling, character development, or offer a balanced diet of story and puzzle-solving. When it comes to Crowns and Pawns this is clearly targeted at puzzle fans, so it's easy to forgive this for its somewhat weak narrative qualities - but how good are the puzzles?

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Okay, so there's a great variety of puzzles; puzzles that require thinking outside the box and paying attention to every single clue. At the beginning Milda is also assigned a job, which means that some will have different solutions depending on whether you are a programmer, psychologist, or photographer. There is also none of that annoying, crazy mix-and-matching usually found in older adventure games. It's all about your thinking skills, and that alone. Unfortunately, while the gameplay is where Crowns and Pawns is at its best, it's also the part that will test your patience, and be the deciding factor on whether you'll want to keep on playing or not. The word that describes the experience is 'inconsistent.' You'll be having tons of fun, only to then hit a brick wall, destroying the pace and enjoyment.

There will be times that players you will have no hints to work with, as well as occasions where you will have done nearly everything there is to be done but still be unable to progress, simply because you didn't ask a particular question or investigated a specific spot. These are small flaws compared to timed puzzles, which usually involve distracting a character for a couple of seconds to do something behind their backs. These sections involve lots of trial-and-error, are very strict regarding the openings they provide, and since movement is relatively slow, they also make the whole thing unbelievably irritating. Two of these timed puzzles happen right at the beginning of the game, sandwiching one of the many better parts between them, which means that most are bound to be annoyed very soon. Those who'll persevere will discover a pretty good adventure… but you have been warned.

Screenshot for Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

When it's good, Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit is really good. This love letter to Broken Sword and Gabriel Knight-style point-and-click adventures looks great, explores a part of world history that has rarely been touched, and offers plenty of great puzzle-solving that will make you feel like a modern Indiana Jones (or Robert Langdon). At its worse it fails to immerse players into its world, or seems keen on annoying players through puzzles that will test one's patience. Thankfully, while Tag of Joy's creation is very rough around the edges, it mostly leans towards the fun side of the scale.

Developer

Tag of Joy

Publisher

Thunderful Publishing

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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