A prehistoric adventure for a modern good time.
Developer: Azure Mountain
Publisher: Azure Mountain,
Release date: 6 Nov, 2020
As a lifelong dinosaur fan, this game piqued my interest right away. Although I had no expectation of scientifically accurate dinosaurs, my inner paleontologist was very happy about the attention to detail that clearly went into the accuracy in such a fictional universe. The meticulous artistry makes all the difference, making Zniw Adventure a delightful game with endearing graphics and challenging puzzles sure to hit the spot for classic point-and-click adventure enthusiasts.
Taking place in an anthropomorphic Cretaceous, Zniw’s eponymous adventure starts off when she sets out to find a gift for her mother’s hatchday. When Zniw gets lost, her original hatchday gift quest quickly becomes her secondary storyline as she tries to figure out how to get home.
I genuinely enjoy punny humor (which followers of my reviews may have noticed by now), and this game has that and Easter egg jokes in spades. The text that you get when you try to talk to something odd is comedy gold for people who like that style of humor. The game also does a great job of working tutorial aspects into the dialogue in a way that feels naturally rather than obviously expository.
Throughout the game entries are unlocked in an encyclopedia that, in addition to being chock full of flavor text, can sometimes help the player solve puzzles by providing useful information. The entries are a mix of fun real-world facts and specifics of the game universe. Real-world trivia includes details about dinosaur species and other creatures, plants, and particulars of the Cretaceous period. For example, there is an entry on what the continents and plate tectonics looked like at the time. The real-world information is gratifyingly accurate (e.g., not listing pterosaurs as dinosaurs), even acknowledging changes in scientific names that occurred during development.
Gameplay and Mechanics
The game makes use of classic point-and-click adventure mechanics. The player clicks and holds on an item to bring up action options. Take, look, and talk are always there as options, but other options may show up as needed (e.g., yell, search, read).
One unique aspect to this game is that Zniw doesn’t start off automatically with an unlimited inventory that mysteriously is able to hold whatever she needs to pick up. Instead, Zniw can only carry one item at a time until she makes a backpack, and the backpack has a limited amount of inventory slots. The initial backpack is later upgraded in the storyline to a slightly bigger backpack. Because of the limited inventory slots the player will have to manage inventory space, sometimes dropping items to pick up items more currently relevant for plot or puzzle progression, which is not common in most of the point-and-click adventure games I’ve played. Inventory management has had some quality of life fixes since launch but can still sometimes be a pain. For example, the money purse now is attached to the backpack rather than taking an inventory slot, and some passes will disappear from the inventory and be ‘applied’ forever once they’ve been used.
At a certain point in the game, Zniw has to earn money by doing chores or jobs to buy items essential for plot progression, although there are also non-essential items that can be purchased. Some of the non-essential items are for the secondary objective or achievements, although there might even be some decoy items thrown in there. The first job can only be completed once, and after that the second job is just repeated, so it’d be cool if there were either more variety to the chores or jobs that could be performed or if there was a mini-game/challenge component to doing the chore.
There are definitely a couple of tricky spots. There were a couple of times that I knew what I needed to have happen, but I couldn’t figure out how to trigger the game to recognize it. There is a “story so far” feature that is supposed to help with this, but I didn’t find it particularly illuminating in this regard. The hint system that does exist is for the collectible secret/shiny pebbles. Zniw needs to eat food in order to refresh her pebble sense. Initial pebble hints for a location will be how many are left in that area, but later hints will tell you the “name” of the pebble, which can sometimes be helpful if the name isn’t too vague.
Art Style and Graphics
The game’s art style is hand-drawn cartoon animation with a bright color palette that calls up the ‘90s. Even the iconography lends itself to this, with a CD icon for loading and disk icons for save files. The artistic representations are delightfully inspired more by science than pop culture, with several dinosaurs sporting feathers. The transition between FMV, dialogue portraits, and gameplay feels seamless, with the feel maintained between each element keeping the immersion.
Sound and Music
There is no voice acting, which is no surprise considering the game’s strong ‘90s vibe. Fun retro sound effects also evoke the ‘90s, like the sound of a laser printer when loading a save file. Although there’s no voice acting, the game makes use of classic sound effects for making a realization or angry face. To go along with some excellent sound effects work, the pairing of music with location is superb. Right from the main menu, the music evokes the jungle, and this continues throughout the game (e.g., cave).
Achievements and Extras
There are 32 total achievements possible. As is common, some can be achieved simply by playing the game, while some are missable. In the case of Zniw Adventure, some of the missable achievements can be quite challenging in terms of the order things have to be done (see more in the next paragraph).
In addition to achievements, as part of the secondary storyline/objective, Zniw is interested in collecting secret/shiny pebbles for her mother’s hatchday gift. Once certain amounts have been collected, extras such as concept art and mini games can be unlocked. Since collecting pebbles is related to some of the achievements, as mentioned above the order in which things must be completed can make some of them quite challenging. Some pebbles won’t be able to be collected if the player completes primary plot actions too quickly. This isn’t helped by one of the ‘quality of life’ improvements where a certain item will become unavailable once the primary story need for it is done, so if the pebbles that need that item weren’t collected beforehand, it can mean needing to backtrack several hours at times. To me this ended up not feeling like a quality of life improvement, thus why I put it in air quotes above. There are also a couple that can be quite challenging due to not having any clues in the needed item’s text, encyclopedia entries, or previous puzzles, so it ends up feeling more like trial and error.
Although Zniw Adventures is not without its flaws, its charms more than make up for them. At $8.99 at the time of review, approximately 10 hours for an initial playthrough, and replay value for achievements and collectibles, it’s well worth buying at full price for classic point-and-click fans. As of the time of review, the developers are still regularly releasing patches/updates (most recent at time of review May 14, 2021) and making improvements to the game. I feel like there’s room in the story, hints at something bigger, that could be used for a sequel if the developers want to, and if they did, I would be so down for that.