Thousands of games are released every year and keeping up with all of them is a pretty tall order. Often I find an amazing game months (or even years) after its release, and then lament the fact that I missed its all-too-short game review window. With that in mind, I came up with “Late to the Party”, a series wherein I acknowledge great games that I (and other gamers) might have missed when they were first released. This month, the title in question is Wadjet Eye Games’ incredible adventure game, Emerald City Confidential.
Released originally in 2009, Emerald City Confidential offers a Film Noir spin on the Oz (as in, Wizard of) book series. Like Pennzoil and Evian, you’d think the two would never mix, but crazily enough, they actually do. The story follows the casework of a female gumshoe called Petra who’s hired by “Dee” Gale (uh…wonder who that could be?) to find her two-bit hustler boyfriend. Like the best noir storylines, what looks simple quickly becomes complicated, and Petra gets sucked tornado-like, into an Oz-wide political struggle.
There’s no doubt in my mind that adventure fans will like this game, but I’m convinced that bonafide Oz-geeks like me will totally love it. There’s all kinds of characters from and obscure references to the other Oz books that have nothing to do with the Wizard of Oz, books that touch upon Oz’s four very different countries. Along with the Scarecrow, the Lion, the Tin Man and Toto (remade cleverly as characters in the noir style) you’ll see the patchwork girl, the Nome King, Mombi the witch, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Shaggy Man—you’ll even travel everywhere by riding a Gump.
Writer Dave Gilbert has paid admirable homage to the Oz stories here, while creating a truly engaging narrative of his own that’ll keep you guessing until the very end. In addition to a great story, the game offers amusing puzzles that always make sense and fit the narrative context perfectly. There’s also a comprehensive hint system built right in. On top of really smart design and a good story, Confidential also offers funny Oz in-jokes conveyed through character dialog and better still, the cartoony, 2D graphics are expertly done and really quite beautiful.
I sound gushy here, and I suppose I am. It’s just that Emerald City Confidential was such a surprise to me and I love when that happens. With its unique approach – not as casual as a hidden object adventure, or as heavy as a traditional PC point-and-click game—it defied easy categorization and as such, seemed neither fish nor fowl. My gut told me it wasn’t “my kind of game” and all I can say now is thank goodness I ignored that instinct and played it; otherwise I would have missed a one-of-a-kind adventure.
Adventure fans, if you’ve missed this one, you owe it to yourself to play it. You can find Emerald City Confidential on Playfirst’s website or on Big Fish Games.