Publisher: Red Hare Studios
Developer: Red Hare Studios
In theory, Page Chronica should be my favorite game ever. For one thing, it's a word game. I love — love, love, love, love — word games. Some of my earliest memories involve playing Scrabble, and, as my iPod would attest if it could speak, that love has carried on well into my adulthood. The game I've played more than any other over the last few years is Quarrel on my iPod (80+ hours and counting!); I seriously considered buying an Xbox 360 entirely so that I could get it as an XBLA game and play against other people. Basically, if the game involves putting letters together, you don't have to do much more to win me over.
But Page Chronica does do more… it's a platformer, too. While I don't have quite the same level of ongoing devotion to platformers that I do to word games, it's still a genre that, at its best, brings me back to the days when I was a young kid and I had to go over to my friend's house to play Super Mario Bros. on his NES. Logically, then, combining word game elements into a platformer, as Page Chronica does, should be a surefire way to hit all the nostalgic pleasure centers of my brain.
Unfortunately, what sounds amazing on paper (at least to me) doesn't quite translate itself to pixels. I can think of three explanations why this might be the case.
First, Page Chronica doesn't explain itself very well. I mean, I get the word creation side of things: you press L1, you pick the letters with the right stick, you press X when you've got a word. Likewise, the platforming: you run, you jump, you avoid enemies. To that extent, it's pretty straightforward.
Beyond that, though? I'm still not totally sure how things work. Creating words gives you spells, and special words give you special spells and rewards…but the game never fully explains what the special spells and rewards are, or how you trigger them rather than a normal spell. Similarly, you can pick-up special power-ups…but for the life of me, I can't figure out why I need to, and the explanations the game provides don't provide much illumination.
Which leads to the second reason why the game doesn't work as well as it should: because there's not really anything linking the two sides of the word game/platforming equation. I mean, apart from the boss fights, there's not any reason not to treat the game like a version of Super Mario Bros. where you can't jump on Goombas — you're being timed and scored regardless of whether you're spelling out words or doing the platforming thing, so it seems silly to focus on something that doesn't really help you get to the end significantly faster. In fact, seeing as how few enemies in this game can be disposed of with one shot, you're actually making it harder on yourself if you play the game the way it's supposed to be played.
Having said all that, I may be overlooking the most simple reason for my inability to enjoy Page Chronica: it's not exactly meant for me.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of games targeting a younger audience, and I've never let being well outside that age group stop me from playing them. But Page Chronica — with its bright (or gaudy, depending on your perspective) colors and word length limits — seems like it's geared towards a younger audience. Much, much younger. Like, Reader Rabbit/Oregon Trail/whatever passes for edutainment for kids today younger.
Of course, the fact that points #2 and 3 are kind of diametrically opposed speaks to Page Chronica's biggest problem: it's not quite sure what it wants to be. It's too challenging and confusing to be a kid's game, but it's also too overtly child-oriented to appeal to anyone outside of that age range. Without any clear sense of purpose or direction, Page Chronica ends up falling flat, which is a shame, because with a core idea like the one it has, it could have been a contender for my game of the year.