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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus (Wii U)

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I just finished Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus.

The most difficult part of playing a very good game is walking away from it, feeling like the adventure is over. Chronicles of Teddy is a very good game- in fact, it ranks just about equal as another spiritual successor to Adventure of Link, Elliot Quest, which I have not reviewed yet because I am an idiot. However, walking away from Harmony of Exidus does not feel bittersweet- rather, it comes as sweet relief. If I ever return to this game again, it will be in a better state- because there is no way in hell I am playing this game again without more patches applied to it.

PROS:

-Gorgeous, atmospheric, and lengthy, Harmony of Exidus is everything you want from a low-budget independent title.

-Interesting blend of music and moveset mechanics merge to form something familiar yet unique to fans of the genre.

-Fantastic sense of progression in game design, from both level layout to usage of game mechanics.

CONS:

-Poorly optimized to the point of segments becoming unplayable, with progress often being lost.

-For all of its fantastic rewards for progression, Harmony of Exidus does not keep track of these elements very well.

THOUGHTS:

Chronicles of Teddy is an action adventure game with a unique mechanic that offers an Ocarina of Time spin in a 2D space, but is ultimately hampered by performance issues. Though games as good as Harmony of Exidus can feel like a joy to play, constant bugs that result in a hard-locked console make for a very frustrating experience. It is disappointing that this title has apparently already received a patch, yet retains these issues, as it does not bode well for a recommendation anytime soon and might steer players away from a truly wonderful experience.

Enough about its technical issues, however harmful they may be- what is great about Harmony of Exidus? Well, for one, it condenses and updates the mechanics of the classic Zelda II formula and adds additional exploratory elements to create a pretty comprehensive experience. The most impressive part of the game is that, as damage becomes less of a deciding factor in terms of hampering player progress, the platforming elements increase in complexity, demanding more of the player's precision in movement rather than their comfort with the insanely tight combat mechanics. However, this platforming is marred by slowdown, which makes its most difficult challenges even more daunting to accomplish.

Harmony of Exidus has a young female protagonist, though this contributes little to the plot outside of her titular teddy bear being possessed by a Spider King (it kind of makes sense in context- you can also play the vastly-different point-and-click Finding Teddy for more information). Her stubby sword and rather-useless shield make combat an extremely intimate affair. While some might consider this a flaw, it strips the original formula of Adventure of Link of its speed in regards to its one-on-one encounters, and instead focuses on maneuvering the player character close to the enemy in order to deal damage. As the player's power increases, an extremely useful dash-attack allows them to cleave through enemies once considered a threat, but doesn't eliminate the need to slow down and utilize precise inputs.

Also important is the Musicon, an Ocarina-like item that uses syllables to not only form the conversation and written language of Exidus, but can also perform spells in certain areas. While these find use prominently in the middle of the game, they are largely exploration and collection-based, rarely finding use in combat aside from two boss-battles. The Musicon is a great way of integrating speech and spell-based puzzles, but the vocabulary is rather limited, which might lead to some ambiguity. It's unfortunate that it cannot be used to speak with the natives of Exidus outside of pre-determined instances, as well- it might have enhanced the atmosphere even more if the player could craft their own conversations. But, it is a mostly-satisfying device with a number of uses.

In fact, with all of these solid gameplay aspects, four large maps filled with collectible items, additional, optional platforming and combat challenges to unlock further upgrades, and even a NG+ with additional unlockable items and increased difficulty, one might wonder why this isn't a top pick for one of the Wii U's best eShop games. Sure, it doesn't do the best job of letting the player know they have completed certain tasks in certain areas, but that just increases the desire to explore. Rather, as mentioned before, its constant hard locks, audio issues, stuttering framerate during inopportune moments, and other technical missteps create a difficult experience- a desire to continue playing and exploring, but an increasing frustration in dealing with the technical flaws. Simply put, Chronicles of Teddy is a game that could have been a hit, if it didn't take such a severe hit from its lack of polish.

Final Verdict: Although it is a delightfully charming, difficult homage to an old classic, Chronicles of Teddy will never be a reliable choice for Wii U owners if its technical issues are not ironed out. What could have been a wonderful experience is instead mediocre, and may dissuade potential consumers completely. Hidden behind these flaws is a wondrous journey to a fantasy world, but you'll need patience- and an acute awareness of the save button- if you don't want to find yourself constantly repeating the same tasks.

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