Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Time Portal Review

The Time Portal, developed and published by Zhang Games.
The Good: Appropriate for all ages, lots of puzzles
The Not So Good: Some extremely subtle differences, only two modes of play makes the game monotonous, strenuous on the eyes
What say you? A picture puzzle game that’s challenging for the whole family, but it sorely lacks variety: 5/8

My first memory of picture puzzles are from reading Highlights Magazine in the waiting room at the optometrist, scouring a kitchen scene for a table leg that looked like a fork (good times). An extension of this concept is comparing two adjacent, similar pictures and finding the discrepancies between them, and that’s what The Time Portal is all about. Instead of having to use antiquated magazines or newspapers, The Time Portal utilizes cutting-edge computer technology to show the photographs on a screen. What a world we live in! How will this simple concept work in the computing realm? How long will it take The Time Portal to make my eyes bleed? Hopefully not until I finish writing this review.

The Time Portal features very simple graphics and sound, essentially consisting of the pictures themselves and limited music and effects. The pictures are low-resolution, and it sometimes makes it hard to find the correct alterations; playing the game in windowed mode only increases the problem. There are a good variety of pictures in the game (200), but they don’t have an overall theme and just seem to be thrown together at random. I’d like to see larger versions of the pictures in a game such as this, especially since many personal computers are running at higher resolutions these days. As I mentioned earlier, the sound in The Time Portal is limited, consisting of simple sound effects and generic background music: nothing spectacular. The Time Portal is simplistic in terms of graphics and sound, but that’s par for the course in puzzle games, so it’s not really a knock against the experience as a whole.

In The Time Portal, you are discovering clues hidden in pictures left by your lost uncle. The game consists of a linear set of 20 rounds of 10 pictures each. You are given a total of just over 20 minutes to solve all of the pictures in each round before moving on to the next one. For each picture, you must find (by clicking on them) either five mistakes between two versions of the same picture or find the locations of five small cutouts from the larger picture. And that’s it. You’ll do this 200 times before the end of the game and you’re required to pass each and every picture within the time limit. You are given four hints per round that you can use if you’re stuck, and clicking on an incorrect location results in a time penalty. Obviously, The Time Portal doesn’t have any replay value other than the first time through the game, and most people will have seen enough after the second or third round. The cutout location puzzles are far easier to solve, and some of the differences you’ll have to find in the other mode are tremendously slight and hard to find. This game is appropriate for all ages and easy to learn, but it wears out its welcome far too quickly due to its limited gameplay.

The Time Portal is a good idea, but I wish far more were done with the concept other than the two modes present in the game. I’m sure there are other ideas related to picture-based puzzles other than finding mistakes or hunting for small samples, and the feeling of doing the same thing over and over again wears on the player much too quickly. The Time Portal does have a whole bunch of puzzles, but they are all the same. There are some people who will greatly enjoy the concept of The Time Portal and will play it extensively, but most everyone will quickly grow tired of the repetitive nature of the gameplay. Only true fans of picture hunting puzzle games will spend more than 15 minutes with this title due to its lack of diversity.