Localization, Localization, Localization
A good puzzle game is enjoyable no matter how repetitive the genre is simply because people who love puzzles don’t need much to get by. The Professor Layton series is a great example of this — I can barely remember the names of any of the characters and only fuzzily remember the storylines from the ones I’ve played recently, but their brainteasers are some of the best in the entire genre, making the overall experience an immensely enjoyable one.
It’s my love of the Professor Layton series that drew me to Dorian Morris Adventure in the first place, as the puzzles seemed incredibly similar to the genre giant going by their screenshots. Developed and published by Polish team Forestlight Games, Dorian Morris Adventure was ambitious in that it not only sought to provide perplexing puzzles but also act as a coaching game, shedding light on the personality of the player and helping them become their best self. In concept, the team aimed high — like a mix between Professor Layton and the Randumb Studios personal/spooky quiz series — but in execution, they fumbled, largely due to localization and UI issues.
Dorian Morris Adventure opens up quite similarly to Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town in that our hero, who I think is named Sam if one of the puzzles was right, receives a strange letter from his grandfather, who was supposed to go on a trip six months ago. I guess that’s not a good sign, so our hero must look around a house, solving puzzles that yield numbers to unlock a chest in the attic. From there, he has to go to his grandfather’s friend’s house, I guess a museum… in all honesty, the progression is not all that clear and the very last cutscene is in Polish so I’m not sure how the story ended, but hey, puzzles!
While the storyline remains unclear, the way forward is through solving puzzles, taking personality assessments, or answering questions in response to events that pop up from time to time. Players are dropped in the house without a real understanding of why they’re there and with no items that immediately jump out as interactable, it’s basically up to players to just click wildly at anything that piques their interest. There is a book in the bottom left corner that provides hints on where those puzzles might be located, but with English not being this game’s strong suit, you’re just as likely to find the puzzle by guessing as you are by following the book.
When it comes to the puzzles themselves, they’re more miss than hit. Some are incredibly straightforward, like laying pipes within a time limit, while others don’t make a ton of sense, like playing out scenarios with native villages. To make matters worse, it’s exceedingly common to have text cut off, poorly localized, or not translated at all, meaning half the time I didn’t understand the puzzle properly or simply had to guess until I got the right answer. That parrot puzzle screenshot above? Those are the right answers to it. I don’t know why a peanut isn’t considered a nut, why the parrot that likes hazelnuts doesn’t eat hazelnuts, why sprouts and shoots are the same thing, or why Budgie and Fudge are supposedly the same parrot, but there you go. It honestly gets worse as time goes on, so… you know. Let that be your yardstick.
The coaching quizzes in Dorian Morris Adventure aren’t positioned much better: you’re thrown into a situation, like encountering a dying man or a thief, and are given a series of questions that, coupled with some scales scattered throughout, are meant to judge what you’re supposed to be in life. So you see a guy bleeding out because the artery in his thigh has been cut, like… dude’s a dead man, and my responses are supposed to indicate my future profession? All this one seems to indicate to me is whether or not I understand first aid.
Additionally, the way in which the scales were presented were really odd. I spent all this time searching for a way to unlock this chest to figure out where my grandpa might be, and after unlocking it, I just decide to take an assessment I found that helps me figure out my self-esteem? Upon my arrival at the museum (after watching a dude die and not reporting it, of course), I check in at the front desk, and the lady won’t let me check out the exhibits until I take another assessment about how I feel regarding someone’s ability to perform tasks? I think the idea of trying to show players they can learn something about themselves is a cool one, but the way this was executed was rather clunky — even with perfect localization, it’s still an odd thing to cram into the game in this manner.
I wish I could say that at least the aesthetics were nice, and to a degree the art certainly was interesting, but that music was very obtrusive. I think there were two, maybe three songs in the entire game, all three very cinematic sounding and looped indefinitely. Puzzle games need unobtrusive music that isn’t annoying, as puzzles require concentration; Dorian Morris Adventure’s puzzles were hard enough to decipher on their own, so imagine how hard it was coupled with what sounded like Pirates of the Caribbean trailer music on repeat. The game’s trailer embedded in this article actually features the music played, so if you can solve puzzles with that blasting in perpetuity, you’re a stronger gamer than I.
I genuinely hate giving negative reviews, especially when I wanted to like the game. But when I can’t understand critical information coupled with other glaring issues, my hand is forced. I quadruple-checked to make sure this game wasn’t Early Access, hoping I could just give this a preview article instead of a numerical score, outlining issues for the devs to check before releasing an unfinished product. Sadly, Dorian Morris Adventure has been officially released, and as cool as it sounds in concept, is simply not ready to be played — at least by English-speaking gamers. If you’ve read this far and are still interested in what Dorian Morris Adventure has to offer, check out this walkthrough here; otherwise skip this title until this is proofread by several English-speaking copywriters.
Final Verdict: 1.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Developer: Forestlight Games; Publisher: Forestlight Games; Players: 1; Released: November 16, 2020; MSRP: $8.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Dorian Morris Adventure provided by the publisher.