The first Escape From Paradise was a great game. It had good puzzles to figure out, generic but addictive mini-games, and it had a lot of charm with the chibi-like characters with their big heads. All in all, it was a good “island survival” game that incorporated other casual game genres. Its sequel, however, was a major disappointment.

Maybe I just had my hopes up a little too high, or maybe it was dumbed down because the challenges were deemed too tough for the casual gamer; either way, the game feels like a series of chores. A series of chores with sub-par minigames to make up for the lack of riddles.

The entire game focuses on collecting jewels and tikis, and in order to do so, you need to:

  1. Lead your monkey all over the place looking for tiny 2×3 pixel jewels hidden in the grass and trees;
  2. Complete quests;
  3. Complete mini-games.
  4. Catch all the fish, dig up all the fossils, and catch all the birds.

There are multiple problems with this way of finishing a game.

  1. Those jewels are tiny. If you realized that you missed any AFTER you’ve done point 2 as well as 3, you’ll end up leading your monkey around the entire map looking for a few colored pixels.
  2. The quests are easy – there is no challenge in them at all. They come with clear directions and end up being just a series of chores.
  3. The mini-games range from match-3, hidden object, click-management…to sudoku. Name any one person who’s good at ALL of those. You’ll have to be, since there are no hints or extra powerups in sudoku or match-3. And they’re long games.
  4. Birds are VERY hard to catch.

On top of that, there’s the control scheme. You can either left click and drag a person to a spot, or you can left-click and right click. Sounds simple right? Now add to it that right click and dragging the map moves it, and once you select someone, you can’t access the map. So in order to move someone across the entire map, you’d end up doing a whole lot of dragging. The map is this tiny box at the bottom of the screen that can’t be enlarged, and has no significant markers. In other words, getting around is very frustrating.

Graphics and sound of this game is just as good as the last one, if not better. The core mechanics – hunger, thirst, sleep and social – stayed the same. Load times are minimal, and you can quit and autosave any time you like.

Escape From Paradise 2 isn’t necessarily a bad game. It’s still a fine casual game, but it seriously pales in comparison to the original. It’s just a bad sequel. It’s a step backwards. For $6.99, it’s a deal if you enjoy any of the mini-games.

If you are getting this game, I highly recommend getting the strategy guide with it. It is superbly written, with clear directions and great screenshots, even a map with all the locations. The only downside to the guide is that you can’t print things out.

Having played many, many hidden object games, I can say that they fall in the these few descriptive categories:

  1. Hastily thrown together with objects all over the place, sprites reused everywhere you look, and so easy you could finish each level in 30 seconds
  2. With actual hand drawn visuals, but with objects that doesn’t fit in well enough to suit the game
  3. Well drawn sprites, good background art, decent story, good length
  4. Superb (jaw-dropping) graphics, good story, good puzzles, good game mechanics, painfully short.

What I’m saying is that there is definitely a value to quality ratio, and you can’t have it all. Games that BFG produce themselves definitely fall into #3, with some replay value thrown in. Visions of Gold firmly stands as a contender for #4. It’s probably the only one of its kind I’ve seen so far.

The first time I booted up the game, all I can think of was – THIS IS A CASUAL GAME? The graphics reminded me most of playing a classic point and click with pre-rendered 3D backgrounds.

When it comes to production values, I haven’t seen anything like this in a casual game. Everything is rendered. The background water ripple. The skies move. The breeze drifting through the leaves actually look like wind, and not like someone’s holdinng onto the branch and shaking it up and down. Everything is absolutely drop dead gorgeous. The music, though repetitive, never got on my nerves – there is a choice to turn it down, but it does change itself to suit the environment wherever you happen to be. Visions of Gold is a stunner.

On top of that, VoG gives me one thing I’ve always wanted – a clean minimal heads-up display. There’s a menu button, the key object shortcuts in circles along the bottom, a hint button on the right, and when applicable, a skip button on the left. The beautiful backgrounds are presented in their full screen 1024 x 768 glory.

The core gameplay of VoG consist of finding a “key” object, clicking on it, then finding the objects associated with said key. You don’t need to know what you’re looking for, just how they look. Each level will have a number of key objects, and once you go through them you’re usually presented with a puzzle, be it a light switch puzzle, a jigsaw and so on, none of them being especially difficult. Coupled with a hint & puzzle skip system with no timer, it’s defitely suited to casual gamers.

I only got stuck a few times, and this was solved by moving my mouse all over the screen in a case of classic pixel-hunting. What for? Key objects. One’s usually not available until you finish the one before it, and the only way to find out is to see when your cursor changes to a hand. No help whatsoever by logic. You might get stuck, but for no more than a minute. Just click the hint button. This was a bit of a pet peeve – logical hints somewhat disappeared by the time you get to the old house, and I didn’t want to rely on the hint button.

VoG is almost perfect, BUT the game is painfully short if you know what you’re doing. If you’re stuck all the time and waiting for that hint button to fill up, this will take you a whole week to get through. If you find things pretty quickly and only rely on hints once in a while, you can get through it in two hours. Maybe less. VoG eschews the usual hidden object game’s lengthening mechanic – reusing scenes – instead lengthens the game by putting puzzles in-between scenes.

Some of the puzzles are so easy you could do them with one hand tied behind your back. And remember, there is always a hint button. And a skip button. The little backtracking that the game sometimes make you do take up very little time at all, while the story goes along like a straight arrow so you never end up back in your bedroom. I wish it did, for when the whole thing ended I was quite taken aback. That’s it? To be continued, it says, well, it better.

Is it worth it? Oh yes it is. Even if it is only 2 hours long for me. It’s well worth it. It’s well worth knowing that buying this game means that we keep this great game developer stay in business so they can bring us a sequel. Can we preorder?