AMPHORA

 

Genre:   Puzzle adventure

Developer & Publisher:   Moondrop

Released:  October 2014

PC Requirements:  

Operating System: Windows 7 or better
Processor: Dual Core with 3.0 GHz
Memory: 2 GB System RAM
Hard drive space: 1 GB free HDD space
Video: 1024 MB Radeon HD 5870 / GeForce GTX 560 Ti
Sound: Windows compatible sound card

 

 

by gremlin

 

What is it?

I don't know how many people know what an amphora is, so I'll explain. An amphora is a sealable container for fluids (usually), and most often used for wine, that has been around since ancient times. It's roughly tear-drop shaped, and has a long neck with twin handles on it - like a pair of big ears. Most people will think of them as being from Ancient Greece, but they were in use long before that, and also more widely around the Mediterranean civilisations.

Now imagine that there's an amphora containing something like a genie. That's you in Amphora, a new puzzle game from Moondrop - a small indie studio from South Eastern Norway.

Is there a plot?

Amphora follows the story of a young girl growing up, falling for her man, and their trials and tribulations through a war that hits their land. Your role is to help the characters to find their way through the stages in this story by manipulating the environment around them from your limited position of the amphora.

The amphora sits in a fixed location in every scene, and your sphere of direct action is limited to a circle around that location. You have a hand on the end of an arm of smoke which attaches you to the amphora at all times.

How do you play?

Playing Amphora is something similar to puzzle games like World of Goo or even Angry Birds, in that each scene is self-contained, and not tremendously long. There are usually fewer than half-a-dozen steps to solving each scene. The trick is in identifying what you need to achieve, and how it can be achieved with the limited powers you have. A need for decent timing and a modicum of manual dexterity also factor into the solutions of some levels.

The early levels are very simple, and include some guidance on how to use the controls to solve them; a set of tutorial levels if you like; but they do advance the story.

The controls are simple: your hand is the cursor, so the mouse does all the movement. Left click interacts with objects (when your cursor turns into a flower shape), right click to create a chain (more later), and the left and right cursor keys (or the A and D keys) will rotate an object you've picked up either clockwise or anticlockwise.

The chains I mention allow you to connect objects to the world or to other objects. Some chains are flexible, some are rigid, some are sticky; i.e. objects will stick to them. Learning how these chains work is critical to solving the puzzles in Amphora.

In addition to solving the game's puzzles there are the Steam achievements to go with them. There aren't very many (seven at the time of writing), but they span a nice range from obvious (the ones I've got) to devious (the ones I can't get).

Notable Features

I find it amusing that my last review (of the Vanishing of Ethan Carter) waxed elegiac on the subject of the photo-realism and beauty of the artwork, and now I'm going to have to be similarly complementary to the Moondrop artists but for completely the opposite reasons. The artistic style of Amphora couldn't be less photo-realistic, however, it is very pretty. Imagine a shadow puppet show from Bali, against a background of stained glass, using smoke effects to show the players agent in the world. It's a very stylised way of depicting scenes and people, but absolutely no less effective for that use of abstraction. At the same time, the artistic style never gets in the way of making sense of the game.

Of course, a good game is never just made up of a single element. Amphora may have a simple enough story and no dialog (though there are human sounds, fitting to the story), but it does have a lovely ambient soundtrack full of Eastern flavour. In fact I'm about to copy it to my music player (the .flac files are part of the game files) I like it that much.

Conclusions

Amphora is a little gem of a game. The art work is lovely, and the storytelling is simple and direct. The mechanic of using a limited sphere of influence with similarly limited powers within the world makes for an intriguing challenge. My only regret is that I would have liked it to have lasted a little longer than the handful of hours it took to complete.

Grade: A-

What do you need to play it?

Requirements:

OS: Windows XP (Windows 7 recommended)

Processor: Dual Core with 2.26 GHz (3.0 GHz recommended)

Memory: 1 GB RAM  (2 GB recommended)

Minimum graphics: 512 MB Radeon HD 4850 / GeForce 8800 GTX

Recommended graphics: Graphics: 1024 MB Radeon HD 5870 / GeForce GTX 560 Ti

Hard Drive: 1 GB available space

Sound Card: Windows compatible card

Additional Notes: Mouse with scroll wheel recommended

(I used a home-built 64-bit Windows 8.1 PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual 5200+ processor, with 6 GB RAM, and a AMD Radeon HD6670 1024MB video card, with on-mother-board, built-in sound card).

 

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