If the name Jules Verne rings a bell, it’s because he wrote several famous novels, and among his best known tales, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is one you’re likely to have come across at some stage in your life. Perhaps it was while perusing the classics in your local bookstore or watching the 1998 film Sphere with Samuel L. Jackson and Dustin Hoffman, either way, Verne’s work has permeated various mediums and is still relevant today. At the time his works pushed the boundaries of imagination and he was known for getting creative with science fiction, so it makes sense that modern day creatives would use his works as inspiration and even foundations for their work. This is where we find ourselves with Gametopia’s point-and-click adventure Verne: The Shape of Fantasy.
Your home, the Nautilus
The Shape of Fantasy is set in 1888 and stars none other than Jules Verne himself. Taking place in the world of Hemera, Verne finds himself onboard the Nautilus, an underwater vessel helmed by Captain Nemo who is on the hunt for an ancient artefact known as the Flame of Hephaestus. It’s all because Hemera is at war with a force known as The Nation, with The Raven (The Nation’s equivalent of Captain Nemo), who is also hunting for the Flame of Hephaestus, bearing down on the Nautilus. The belief is that the mythical object, which resulted in the demise of Atlantis, can give whoever is in possession of it the upper hand to end the conflict.
On paper, the riff on a historical figure and Greek mythology as a premise is quite intriguing. Unfortunately, the narrative never lives up to its potential, and what unfolds is a bland 4–5 hour trudge elevated only by the beautiful pixel art locales it takes place in. The lifeless narrative is also not done any favours by some subpar writing and voice acting that are likely to make you wince during the majority of the cutscenes.
The bulk of the game will see you walking between areas of the Nautilus looking for objects of interest or information and engaging with its inhabitants. Other times you will be exploring gorgeous underwater locations and delving into Verne’s mind to explore his memories to get a clearer understanding of his backstory. It all boils down to fairly bog standard adventure game design, which is not inherently a bad thing, but the majority of the time I just felt like I was going through the motions.
Quoth The Raven
The unique hook the gameplay has is an ancient tool called the IMAG, which for whatever reason seems to respond to Verne’s commands. The IMAG allows Verne to alter time and environments to bypass areas that have collapsed or been walled off. When significant moments involving the IMAG play out, you’ll need to complete a sequence of QTEs to be successful. It’s a neat idea in theory but the disappointing thing is that it’s only really used as a means to access areas and there are no real ramifications for playing around with time.
Point-and-clicks aren’t necessarily renowned for their deep gameplay mechanics, but puzzles are a staple of the genre, and here the game is a bit of a letdown. Puzzles are simple and easily overcome, and the only one I needed to force myself through I didn’t understand the solution. On the one hand, it’s nice to not have to rack your brain all the time, but on the other hand there’s a lack of reward when you do solve them.
Gametopia also decided that throwing some stealth sections in would spice up the mix. However, while fairly straightforward, these sequences are rather tedious and serve very little purpose to the overall experience.
Some locations are a true pixel art delight
There’s no denying that this game is a looker, with its pixel art full of vibrant detail, especially the more exotic locations. There is a particularly breathtaking underwater section which is an absolute credit to the artists behind this game. It made me wish that Verne’s journey had ventured to more of these locations instead of spending most of the campaign on the ship.
Verne: The Shape of Fantasy isn’t a bad game by any stretch. There are some neat moments and ideas, and the pixel art style is a delight, but the overall experience does little to stand out among the crowd in a genre teeming with creativity.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Assemble Entertainment
- August 14, 2023 (Australia)