STAFF REVIEW of Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan (Xbox One)

Friday, July 7, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan Box art It seems every month or two there’s a new Artifex Mundi release that finds its way onto my lap, and to be honest, I always look forward to it. I’ve become a fan of their simplistic HOG (hidden object game) gameplay over the last half dozen releases. I find these types of games quite relaxing, and even though puzzle games generally have the ability to frustrate if you become stuck, there’s a welcome hint system should you need to rely on it to progress.

Not all of their titles receive a direct sequel, and I quite enjoyed the first Grim Legends, so I was looking forward to continuing on this journey that had already played out its first telling. Does Grim Legends 2: Songs of the Dark Swan improve on its predecessor to call itself a great sequel, or is it more of the game with simply a shared name?

You play as a healer, summoned to the kingdom to help the Queen recover from a terrible sickness. As per the course with Artifex Mundi titles, the situation spirals completely out of control once you arrive, leaving you alone to solve the mysteries held within and save the day. Given that the campaign can be completed during a single sitting in two or three hours, depending on your puzzle solving prowess, I won’t give much away, but like nearly every other Artifex Mundi game, you’ll see the plot twist coming a mile away. Sure, the predictability may come down to its writing, but in the end it’s still an entertaining journey due to its gameplay.

If you’ve played any of their HOG titles before, you’ll know exactly what to expect with its search of items and solving of puzzles that impede your progress. Slider puzzles, check, rotating puzzles, check, HOG’s, check. It’s as if they have a master template of a game saved somewhere and just add in the new storyline elements and call it a day. While it should be becoming stale after this many titles of generally the same gameplay, I’m still finding myself enjoying each title that releases.

Given that I categorize these types of games into the HOG genre, they of course make a return in Grim Legends 2 as well, though I found the ones included here much more difficult than normal. Sure, you could simply spam the ‘A’ button and move the stick around to find all the items randomly, but part of the fun is to find each item legitimately, scowering the scene for items hidden in plain sight. If there was an award for being able to blend objects into the background, Artifex Mundi would certain be the champions, as I had to sometimes result in the hint system or the ‘A’ button spam to find those elusive objects.

Just like most of their titles, eventually you’ll gain a small sidekick that can help you reach or retrieve items, adding another subtle layer of complexity to some of the puzzles. Most of the games from Artifex Mundi allow you to have the sidekick for a short time, but in Grim Legends 2 you’ll actually gain access to three different sidekicks; an otter, forest spirit and a small bird. They don’t play a huge part of the gameplay, and will only be used a handful of times, but they are cute and resourceful as always.

You’ll complete the campaign in a handful of short hours, so luckily they’ve included a short-but-sweet bonus episode that gives you another hour or so of gameplay. Most of their games include this bonus story that plays as an epilogue, though this bonus story simply revolved around the forest spirits trying to get rid of a sleeping dragon. Not that I’m complaining, but it didn’t really relate to the main story as well as some of their other games.

If you’re concerned with longevity and replayability, the standard casual and expert difficulty are present, with casual giving you more hints should you become stuck. There are also hidden collectibles scattered throughout each of the scenes should you want to find absolutely everything and lengthen your gameplay.

I’ve always been impressed with Artifex Mundi’s art direction, as enough good things can’t be said about their hand drawn backgrounds. Each scene is seemingly hand painted, vibrant in colors, and each feels unique in its own way. The animations have become much better with each title’s release. Facial animations are much improved in Grim Legends 2, as they don’t look like puppets with stiff animations any longer. It’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement, which gives me hope that the next title will look even better.

As for the audio, they still have the same problem as before: very poor voice acting. It’s like a black spot on the series, and I would be willing to overlook it if the main characters were voiced decently, with the side characters being done poorly, but some of the voicing in Grim Legends 2 is absolutely cringe worthy. There’s a handful of characters that sound as if they’ve never acted before and will completely take you out of the immersion, and I truly hope this gets remedied in future titles.

I’m a fan of the HOG genre and nearly every Artifex Mundi release, and for $10 it’s a great diversion from your regular go-to titles if you simply want a break from the norm. While Grim Legends 2 wasn’t very challenging overall, save for a sliding puzzle or two, it doesn’t wear out its welcome. Even though it’s a sequel, it’s still a great title to jump into if you’re new to the genre and looking for a relaxing HOG puzzle game, even if it doesn’t necessarily add anything new.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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