Travelogue 360 Paris
Developer: Big Fish Games
Requirements: 400 MHz G3-based mac, Mac OS X, 128 MB RAM. Universal.
Trial: Fully-featured (60-minute time limit)
My son loves the I Spy series of books from Scholastic. The books feature pictures accompanied by short poems telling the reader what to look for. There are the original I Spy books with Walter Wick and Jean Marzolo, followed by the rehashed I Spy Challengers! books, the Can You See What I See? spinoffs without Jean Marzolo’s poetry, the I Spy Claymation on DVD, and more. My son has them all. Naturally, I also wanted to collect all the I Spy computer games for the Mac. That I succeeded, but the latest I Spy game was a disappointment. Most or maybe all of the pictures were taken from earlier games, only with different items to look for. I wished that there were a new game for the genre and was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon Travelogue 360 Paris.
Developed independently from Scholastic, Travelogue’s contrived storyline has the player visiting different tourist traps in the City of Light to collect “souvenirs”: things such as a mousetrap, a flashlight, a comb, and straw hats. It is really just a game of the I Spy genre, so you will have to ignore the idiosyncrasy. You are given a list of items to find. Click on the found item, and it disappears from the picture in a flash of sparkles. There are two play modes: Tourist and Explorer. In Explorer mode, your search is limited by time, while with Tourist mode you have all the time in the world to find the objects. As you advance through the levels, you usually end up revisiting previous locales to find more objects.
Police light atop a rose bouquet.
In both modes, should you get stuck, you can turn on the special compass to better locate the objects. As the compass comes into an object’s neighborhood, its meter becomes greener and greener, and the object even throbs to help you see it. There is a limit to how many times you can use the compass, so use it sparingly, lest you want to have no help at the higher levels.
Comb see, comb sa? The compass helps me locate the stubborn comb.
To break from the monotony, after each level completion, you get to play a mini game, which can be a jigsaw puzzle, a mahjong tile-matching game, or fitting objects into a suitcase. Soothing music and ambient sounds, such as footsteps and cash register ringing, play in the background, although they can become monotonous after awhile.
What sets Travelogue apart from the other picture puzzle games is the ability to pan 360 degrees in the game environment. You can look left, right, and full circle. You can also look up and down and still have the ability to look 360 degrees around where you are. The game instructions rightly warn that motion sickness can occur. The scrolling is smooth, and the graphics remain beautiful while scrolling, as long as you don’t move too fast. At certain angles, some objects don’t fit into the perspective, but I am willing to overlook that. Last but not least, you can zoom into the background for a better look at what’s there, all the while still able to pan in all directions.
I wouldn’t stand to the right of that rhino if I were you.
After the novelty of panoramic gaming and the awe of the gorgeous graphics wear off, I find that the game is too easy to play. Objects are usually wisely placed to blend in with other objects of the same color or shape. However, sometimes the objects are bunched together in the same area. On the higher levels, where the player has to revisit older locales, there are more items to locate, but some items are from the previous search, exactly in the same place they were in the lower levels.
When it comes to the clue words, Travelogue could use a page from the I Spy series. It should make use of words that have multiple meanings. For example, make the user look for bats, which could turn out to be flying rodents or baseball sticks. Another idea to borrow from the I Spy computer game is to make the mini games freely available once the related levels have been solved. Of course, the content of the mini games would have to be altered upon subsequent visits, that is, different items to stuff into the suitcase or different postcards to match. My son has been known to play the mini games in I Spy over and over.
Without a doubt, Travelogue can be used as a learning tool. It should be made more so by having the English clues read aloud. English is a language with many words borrowed from other cultures, so some words are often mispronounced even by native speakers. Having the words read out loud would be especially helpful for the factoids that are rewarded for each level completed. The English-speaking player can certainly benefit from knowing how to properly pronounce the French names of places visited. Even better, if the game could have a switch to go totally French, it would be a boon for students of the French language.
It must be noted that for the review I used the downloadable version from MacGameStore.com. As I was writing the review, it was announced that Mac publisher Aspyr would be releasing a retail version of the game. I am sure that the two games are identical, perhaps with the only difference being the Aspyr logo added to the beginning of the game.
It should also be noted that Travelogue 360 Paris isn’t the first hidden object Mac game outside of the Scholastic games. Big Fish Games has a whole series called Mystery Case Files. The big difference with Travelogue is the panoramic experience. Already there is a Travelogue 360 Rome, released near the end of July 2007. It is currently available only as a download from MacGameStore.com.
Given its beautiful graphics and the immersing experience, I enjoyed Travelogue 360 Paris very much. My son enjoyed it, too. For him it is about just right in terms of difficulty, so perhaps for the little ones the game isn’t that easy. Still, revisited scenes should have all-new items to find, and the game’s factoids should be read out loud as a way for the player to learn the French terms. Overall, Travelogue 360 Paris earns a Very Nice rating.