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October 18, 2014

iPad Review – Love Story: Letters From The Past

by Master Pillow

Love Story: Letters From The Past tries very hard to emulate a Nicholas Sparks romance novel replete with tons of melodrama and aching sentimentality but the generic and highly repetitious hidden object gameplay torpedoes any hope of the game making an iota of sense.

As hidden object gaming matures the trend over the past few years has been to craft titles which feature a more organic melding between gameplay and narrative so that both act to complement the other.  Sure, there are still instances where gamers are tasked to find ridiculous items that have no relation to the ongoing plot as well as some totally bizarre object placement that breaks every single law of nature but by and large, software developers have certainly attempted to avoid these mistakes that plagued earlier titles.

Unfortunately, Love Story: Letters From The Past feels like a transition title where more thought went into crafting a tear-jerking romantic plot rather than presenting compelling gameplay and the result is a game that is filled with uninteresting item searching that rarely connects to the ongoing narrative.  Even worse, the gameplay actually forces the story to take totally unnatural turns that are present only to extend the overall playtime making the characters seem either absent-minded or incredibly clueless.

The game casts players as an elderly recently widowed woman named Mary who finds herself in an especially emotional moment in her life as her second husband has recently passed away.  Grief-stricken and alone she suddenly receives a package from an unknown sender filled with love letters from her previous husband, John, whom she thought had died in the Vietnam War.

However, before she can digest all the letters a “convenient” gust of wind, otherwise known as a hoary old plot device, blows the letters out of her grasp and scatters them all over her house.  The game tasks players to guide Mary through her home attempting to collect the letters, each of which causes her to remember past loving memories of her first husband such as the time they met or their first date.

To make things a bit more interesting the developer bifurcates the narrative, constantly switching points of view between the elderly Mary and the younger John who finds himself captured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and his attempts to escape and return to his love.  The split narrative isn’t exactly original but at least it allows the game to try a few different ideas in the form of many mini games and objectives.

For instance, half of Mary’s narrative revolves around traditional hidden object gameplay where players are given a long list of items to discover that are concealed within each location.  The hidden object stages are occasionally broken up by mini logic puzzles, none of which are too difficult or even remotely original, consisting of memory games such as trying to remember the correct sequence of flashing lights.  At one point Mary has to actually set each dinner table up with correct place settings so those players who have no clue might end up fumbling around trying to figure out where the small forks go in relation to the other cutlery.

Surprisingly, the game actually tries its hand at crafting a kind of Metal Gear Solid covert escape sequence from a maze where John has to avoid detection by the many light sources but it goes without saying that the clunky limiting touch controls make it more of a chore than it should have been.

However, the parts of the game revolving around John take a totally different tact asking players to find combinations of related objects without providing a list.  This means clicking on two different types of shoes to make a match.  At first glance this makes John’s gameplay sections more interesting as it actually forces players to try and figure out which objects relate to one another but unfortunately, it soon becomes a giant slog because oftentimes the relationships are extremely tenuous.

When players have completed roughly two-thirds of the game, coinciding with Mary retrieving all the letters, everything suddenly changes on a dime as instead of being a traditional hidden object game with a text list of items, the developers decide to try mixing things up even more.  Therefore, gamers now have to find items not from a list but based on pictures of the items themselves or, even worse, trying to find objects from an incomplete paragraph that is purposely missing words.

This is an incredibly annoying tactic as it forces gamers to try and fill in the blanks, some of which are vague to a fault.  Here is one verbatim example: “Our first date was perfect.  John _____ his father’s car behind the rest of the cars.”  What is the missing word?  Most people would probably fill it with “parked” but then how do you visually identify that word?  The game’s “correct” answer is a small blue “P” letter hidden within the picture.

Here is another example: “I wore my mother’s ____ that night.”  Now this is incredibly vague as well as it could be just about anything ranging from gloves, to purses to pieces of jewelry.  Granted, gamers who have been paying close attention to the plot might remember what to look for from previous parts of the game but those who have been bored stiff will undoubtedly either guess blindly away at the items on screen or just press the hint button.

Graphically, the game is not going to win any awards as the visuals are functional but rarely engaging.  The title says the game is in HD but the visuals aren’t particularly sharp, a fact made all the more apparent when using the zoom function as everything becomes jagged and pixelated.  As par for the course the game has an unlimited hint system that can be used at any time including the ability to skip the mini games.  The objects aren’t particular hard to find although a few are incredibly small and subsequently fuzzy in close-up.

I’m actually glad that a developer has crafted a game featuring an elderly woman as the main protagonist and though the narrative isn’t exactly fresh or subtle it at least tries to stay grounded in day-to-day reality rather than attempting something more fantasy/sci-fi oriented.  It is refreshing to play a title where the fate of the universe isn’t in peril but rather something more intimate and personal.  However, the truly dreary gameplay and inherent vagueness in the later part of the game is incredibly off-putting as are the moments of nothing but filler material that forces the narrative into an inexplicable tangent. Love Story: Letters From The Past might provide some fun but there are clearly better hidden object games out there that deserve your attention.

** out of ****

Developed by:
Published by: Big Fish Games
Updated: Feb 1, 2013
Version: 1.0.1
Size: 337 MB

© 2014 The Galactic Pillow

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