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a terrific game for kids and adults
Published on April 28, 2008 By warreni In PC Gaming

 

I recently played through the story mode in Snapshot Adventures: The Secret of Bird Island, Gametunnel's 2007 Casual Game of the Year award winner. The game was created by Large Animal Games. This game, like many so-called "casual" games is clearly aimed at kids, but the gameplay will also appeal to adults. The idea is that you are travelling around the country, meeting with acquaintances of your grandfather, a renowned bird photographer, and attempting to unravel the circumstances surrounding his mysterious disappearance.

What this translates to is that you will click on a place on the map, like Abilene, Texas or Ithaca, New York, and see a dialog screen with one of the many characters in the game who has either a camera attachment or a piece of information regarding your grandfather for you. You will have to assist the character by obtaining certain photographs of birds to go in the publication that corresponds with that area (a series of fictitious papers, newsletters, and scientific journals). If you are successful in getting the requisite shots, you will be provided with a series of bonus challenges you can complete until the timer runs out on the photo screen. You will then go to a selection screen where you pick which images will go into your "field journal," a collection of your best photographs equivalent to a birder's "life list." The idea is that for each of the 114 species you have a slot for one stationary photo and one flying photo. The pictures are ranked (by the program) on a scale from one to five stars, based on how large the bird is, how centered it is in the image, whether it's doing anything like preening or eating, whether there are other birds present, and whether you accidentally "cropped" out part of its body. When choosing images to place in your journal, you must use your best judgment to determine whether a new photo is "better" than an existing one, based on the aesthetic qualities described above. Occasionally, I found myself disagreeing with the software on its choices but that was actually pretty rare.

I'll give away two-thirds of the secret here, because it's not much of a secret: 1) there is a Bird Island, and 2) it's shaped like a fish. The other part you'll figure out pretty quickly. At any rate, some of the clues you are given along the way about a particular bird that your grandfather was interested in protecting don't really seem to lead to anything in particular, as the story more or less fizzles out once you reach point where you uncover the first two items in this paragraph. In that sense, the story is actually the least interesting part of the game, as it simply serves as a skeleton upon which is strung the series of avian photography opportunities that you are given as you move around the map of the U.S.

The graphics are deliberately cartoonish, so don't expect realistic, pre-rendered bird models or humans, for that matter, and there is no actual spoken dialogue. On the other hand, the birds shown in the game are clearly recognizable as their real-world counterparts--at least for those that have real-world counterparts. As you'll discover along the way, the designers have thrown in a few recolored variants of real-world birds, like the Fantastic Loon. There isn't anything particularly special about these except that they're oddly-colored. The real birds all include samples of real calls, courtesy of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, in your field journal, so when you reference each bird, you can press a button to play a sample call. When you switch to the photography interface, which is as simple as zooming in and out with your mouse wheel and left-clicking to take a picture, the birds will also use their real calls when calling. Music consists of a few simple pleasant acoustic guitar themes.

Speaking of Cornell, the story prominently features a Cornell graduate student, documenting bird calls as part of this dissertation and Ithaca, as I mentioned earlier, is one of the places you will visit in the story mode. The Cornell Laboratory has a webpage mentioning the game here: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/birdingnews/snapshot/document_view.

There is some replay value because you can go back to any location whose challenge you've completed just to take photos for your journal, and the unlockable "Create-a-Bird" mode allows you to create your own birds like the Fantastic Loon and upload them to Large Animal Games's servers as well as emailing them to friends and family. I created a blue-and-orange War Eagle and emailed it to my wife, an Auburn University alumna.

I would recommend this game to anyone who has an interest in ornithology and/or photography. My interests lean much more strongly to the latter, but the game still has a lot of practical value as edutainment for people of all ages interested in enhancing their abilities to identify birds by sight or by call. It's a no-brainer for those with fairly young children looking for a nonviolent but nevertheless immersive gaming experience. It's available for $19.95 at largeanimal.com or from a number of third-party, indie-game distribution channels like bigfishgames.com.

Now I'm waiting for Large Animal to release Snapshot Adventures: Mystery of Frog Island.


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