Created by Desert Owl Games & Universal Studios
My rating: 4.5 of 5
An old woman sits by the fireside, telling fairy tales to the children sitting at her feet. Tales of great happenings, like the invasion of the snow queen Freya and her armies. And tales of things smaller but perhaps of no less import. Like the tale of Elizabeth, a young woman who took up her father’s sword after his death and went out into the wilds to seek her missing brothers. Or Marcus, the man she meets in the woods who insists upon accompanying her but keeps many secrets. Perhaps, in the end, all the old woman’s tales are really just a part of a greater story.
The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is an American visual novel that incorporates a card battle system into the gameplay. It’s a bit different–usually you get one or the other–but in this particular setting it works remarkably well. I should go ahead and say that I’m pretty sure this visual novel is connected to a movie (or movies) which I have never seen. I’m coming at this review purely from having played the game, so if you’ve seen the movie, your perception of the game may be markedly different. . . . I don’t know. Just playing the game, it’s clear that this is very intentionally made to appeal to the largest possible audience–which is both good and bad. Bad in that you don’t get all sorts of fun indie/nerdy jokes and references like you do in games like Impossible Quest. Good in that the gameplay is really polished. Seriously, the card battles are just challenging enough (but if you die, you get another chance, and another), the story flows well with some choices (all of which eventually lead you back to the same story path), and the balance between story and card battles is so natural feeling that it had to have been carefully researched. In other words, this visual novel would be playable even to those who aren’t particularly used to gaming, and it’s got enough variety to be interesting even to those who don’t like to sit still for visual novels. Also, the story is interesting, if a bit predictable, and the art is pretty, although a bit to Disney-esque in the character design for my taste. As a plus, although the game is technically rated teen, I think it’s fairly appropriate for ages 10 or 11 and up–there’s fantasy-style fighting, but it’s fairly clean and appropriate for the most part. All in all, I think The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is an enjoyable and playable visual novel/game that should appeal to a wide variety of players (although not perhaps to hardcore gamer types). Definitely worth a try.
Note: On the topic of giving the story a try, you can find it on Steam or on the game’s own website. On Steam (where I played) it’s listed as free to play . . . which it is for the first chapter out of five. So fair warning, you can try out the game for free (and there’s enough there to really get a feel for whether you want to play more), but if you decide to play the entire game, it’s about $18 for the whole thing.