previews\ Nov 3, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Zanzarah:The Hidden Portal - PC - Preview

Beauty can sometimes hide evil and challenge. And imaginary lands can be more colorful than reality.

Take the world of Zanzarah for example. It is colorful and bright, and in sharp contrast to the dreary sepia-toned visage rendered of London. Of course, that is intended in Zanzarah: The Hidden Portal, a Xicat Interactive release for the PC.

First, this is a game that is targeted for teen-age girls. However, the beauty and challenge of the lands may well attract other gamers as well.

Having no manual for outline to strategy was a bit daunting, but nonetheless the privilege of previewing the game beckoned.

The game centers around a teen-age girl named Amy. One day, while her mom is out and she is left alone in the house, she hears a noise and follows it to the attic where she finds a mysterious box. Inside is a rune that transports her to a magic land, filled with pixies creating chaos, wild fairies running amok, owls that talk and give counsel, elves and a wonderful assortment of creatures.

The land of Zanzarah is in trouble and it was prophesized long before that a hero would come to the land to save it. It would appear that the hero, as a matter of course, is Amy.

But before she can begin her journey through the lands, she must accomplish a few simple tasks: getting and training a fairy is the first thing she must do. But in order to train, you will need spells for your fairy to use. You can buy them at the local shop with fairy coins, but you need to clear the pixie out of the store in order to purchase anything. You do that by using a pixie bag, which you can get from another elf, but only if you can get to his place. The only way to get there is through the garden, which is full of fairies looking for a fight. Lose the fight and you will repeat the level from the entry point.

Ah, a puzzle. No spells equal no firepower in the arcade fight, opening you up to defeat unless you run away.

“We didn’t have an instruction book so it was hard to figure out how to fight with the fairy,” said Jessica, age 14. “The fighting is hard because you have to fly and shoot, like you are in one of the war air combat games my dad has.”

The flight combat is controlled through keyboard arrow keys (for movement), the left mouse key for free look and direction, and the right mouse button to flap the wings and elevate.

“Graphically, it’s pretty,” Jessica said. “You can really see the details, but the house in London is not as detailed as the forest. Amy can go back to her home in London, but there doesn’t seem much reason for her to do that. The music is really pretty.”

This is an amazing looking game graphically. The details in the water when you trudge through a stream, or even Amy tripping slightly over plants in the bushes if she tries to go across the landscape rather than follow the path, are extremely well done.

The game does sport some arcade style power-ups along the way – potions and coins that float in the air waiting for Amy to walk through them to collect them.

Other features include the third person perspective, a variety of spells, a multiplayer deathmatch via LAN for up to 10 players, and more than 80 hours of single-player gameplay.

Xicat research has found that 62 percent of new game players are female but only 8 percent of all new games have a female character in the lead role. It is hoping that Zanzarah will have a built-in audience waiting for its November 12th release. However, this is a game that should appeal to anyone looking for a fantasy adventure with challenging combat, a variety of puzzles and amazing imagery.

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