I was excited to take a look at Space Legends - Edge of the Universe because it seemed to be that rarest gem among the HOG genre - a hidden object adventure set in an outright sci-fi millieu. With most HOGs leaning towards supernatural horror, crime-solving, or some kind of fantasy/faery nonsense, Space Legends seemed like it would be a breath of fresh air. Little did I realize how quickly things would take a turn for the bizarre and inept.
The game starts off promisingly enough, establishing the main character as part of a two-person research team investigating a far-away planet. After a storm severly damages the station, the base, it's up to the main character to stabilize her love interest's injuries, gather their data, and fly back to Earth for medical assistance. This section is fairly solid - a logical threat bearing down on the player in an interesting and novel setting. Then the player blasts off and crash lands on a medieval planet, and everything goes straight to hell.
For reasons I can't fathom, the developers take the one unique thing that the game had going for it - a non-standard setting, and then decided to throw that away. By moving the action to a standard fantasy kingdom, complete with magic swords to repair and stricken princesses to cure, they make the game far less interesting by degrees - especially since the fact that the main character is from a far more technologically advanced civilization doesn't factor into the majority of her interactions once she arrives on the planet. What's worse, the one interesting mystery that the kingdom has to offer - why does a low-tech world have robot bartenders and industrial lasers lying around - has its solution spoiled by the game's map, of all things. Just minutes after arriving on the medieval world, the player gets access to a fast-travel map that depicts not only the castle they're trapped in and the surrounding village, but a secret monorail beneath it which leads to a futuristic city destroyed by a cataclysm sometime in the past. This is not how you build a curiosity, developers.
Now, on to the HOG criteria!
Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?
This is absolutely a problem, especially since the game has such a paltry number of Hidden Object Screens, most of which need to be visited twice. Absolutely no thought was put into the logic of what might items might be found in a particular location. The main character's closet on the research base is absolutely overflowing with the kind of random tchotchkes that one would expect to find in another game's haunted mansion. This raises the question of why someone would cart all of this junk halfway across the galaxy space. Naturally, the answer is 'the developers couldn't be bothered to conceptualize the type of junk that would be in a space closet, so they just went with cliched items'. Even worse is a subsequent scene in which a jail cell has a shelf in it fulled to bursting with random junk, much of which proves useful in planning an escape.
Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?
Only in the most basic sense. From time to time the player will need to find an item to unlock something, and then a standard HOS will pop up, allowing them to look for it, as well as fifteen other items that they don't need. Space Legends tries to make things a little more interesting by having items which require assembly, and while that livens things up a little, it can't cover for the fact that the main character has no use for a target with a bullethole in it, so taking the time to load and fire a flintlock pistol at a piece of paper seems like something of a waste of time. Just once the game attempts to colour outside the lines and offers a multi-stage HOS, in which the player has to find items and use them right there on the screen to unlock the next set of items and task, but the objectives are so poorly explained that it proves more frustrating than innovative.
Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?
Try as the game might, it can't make the puzzles and searches feel like a part of the story. Not that it tries especially hard. Most of the puzzles on display are of the most generic type imaginable - move blocks to slide a crate to the other end of a hall; spin knobs, but doing so causes the other knobs to spin as well. Most egregious is the cloaking device the player is asked to turn on by doing a jigsaw puzzle. It's hard to get more thematically irrelevant than that.
In addition to all of the design failures, the game's presentation is inexcusably sloppy. While I'm aware that the game wasn't developed by English-speaking people, I can't let translation that affects gameplay slide. A brush is not a 'comb'. A lightbulb is not a 'lamp'. An hourglass is not a 'clock'. There are another dozen examples I'm not going to list here. Beyond the bad translation, some of the puzzles are just poorly explained. At one point I was asked to brew a potion by following the steps in a recipe - except three of the ingredients I'd been told to gather didn't appear in said recipe. Which forced me to resort to trial and error to figure out when they were supposed to be used. That's just sloppy.
Here's a puzzle that perfectly illustrates the nonsense players are expected to put up with in Space Legends: The main character must use a crossbow grappling hook to snag a rope bridge so that she can cross it. But she's so bad at shooting that she hits the ceiling instead, knocking down some rocks, as well as the thing that was hidden behind them - the key to a cabinet in the princess' bedroom which contains insulating tape she can just to build a brace to allow her to fire the crossbow more accurately. Why was a key lodged in the ceiling of a secret cave that no one ever goes to? Why does a medieval princess have a roll of insulating tape? Did I seriously just have to go through a series of puzzle steps because the character I'm playing as doesn't know to fire a crossbow at the thing she wants to hit, rather than straight up?
With contrived nonsense, terrible presentation and generic settings ruining all of the goodwill built up in the game's full hour, Space Legends is a nearly-unplayable mess. In a sad final note, the game's end credits offer a possible explanation for its shoddiness. They start with an 'in memorium' photograph of a man who the credits quickly identify as the game's designer and scriptwriter. So it's entirely possible that all of Space Legends' problems owe to it being partially unfinished at the time of its release. That's tragic, but maybe they would have been better off simply dropping the project rather than releasing something this bad.
Space Legends: At the Edge of the Universe is available on Steam