Broken Sword, first released on the PC in 1996 as Circle of Blood, makes its GBA debut with some sacrifices made to fit the game on the handheld. For those unfamiliar with the adventure series, Broken Sword is the first of a planned trilogy of games starring American tourist George Stobbart. Known for its film-quality animation, top-drawer voice acting, and gripping storylines mixing elements of Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Agatha Christie, the series has earned critical acclaim within the industry, especially in Europe.
While the extensive amount of voice acting could not have been re-created considering the system’s limitations, the colorful graphics and fluid animation have fared reasonably well. George Stobbart moves into and out of the hand-painted backgrounds using a scaling effect that has the character getting smaller the further he travels into the screen. While it’s nice to control Stobbart with the directional pad instead of pointing and clicking, the fixed perspective on a tiny screen means much of the background detail is lost. It’s hard to distinguish things on the ground, for instance, as most objects are too small to see.
To get around this potentially serious problem, akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack, players can press the shoulder button to reveal all of the available “hot spots” where they can interact with the scenery. Thus it’s a quick and relatively painless process to find the important areas on the screen and then press a button to initiate the action. The cursor automatically changes depending on the possible action allowed, from a magnifying glass to inspect a doorway or sign, to a hand illustrating an object Stobbart may be able to manipulate.
Animation is uniformly smooth, but the pace of the game is slow and methodical. After talking with a character, for example, players may have to wait until he or she walks from one edge of the screen to another before being able to move again. Conversations are lengthy, and without the voice acting found in both the PS and PC versions, there’s an inordinate amount of reading required. In fact, Broken Sword easily has the most text in any Game Boy Advance title yet released, so those who lack patience may want to skip this game entirely.
Fortunately, there are some helpful features. One of these is the game’s use of icons to expand the dialogue tree instead of selecting from a long list of possible responses. Clicking on a clown face, for example, will have George ask potential witnesses if they have seen the suspect behind the café bombing. More icons will become accessible the more people you talk to, and items can also be interacted with in this manner. Another plus is the ability to save anywhere at anytime. Broken Sword is a long game, spanning around 35 to 45 hours of play.
Still, it’s hard not to be disappointed by the resolution and graphics, which is more a fault of the screen rather than the game. Perhaps a few more concessions could have been made to make things more palatable for the tiny system, such as the ability to zoom in on an area. A graphic adventure relies almost entirely on an individual’s ability to see the surroundings or listen to visual cues, and both have been compromised to a degree by the format on which they appear. Broken Sword offers an absorbing and literate story, but this is one of the few instances where you must judge a book by its cover. The verdict? A fine example of the genre that doesn’t quite belong on a handheld system.
Right from opening scene, players must squint or hold the system close to their eyes to discern what exactly is on the cobblestone streets and what the flickering animation is supposed to represent a mere few paces ahead. Animation is silky smooth though, and the backgrounds are colorful.
Despite the lack of voice acting, the sound is above average considering the system. A woman will play a piano in a scene, for example, and this music plays on the system. When she stops, the music stops.
The limitations of the screen hurt the overall enjoyment you’ll have while playing the game. A great story is hampered by tiny visuals.
Once players have completed the adventure, there’s no point in revisiting again. Nothing has changed from the original game story-wise, either.
The manual clearly explains the control interface and how to manipulate items within the scenery.