Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit (Tag of Joy/Thunderful) is a traditional point-and-click adventure when it comes to the mechanics, however, the uncommon setting and strong historical connections made for an experience that was both entertaining and educating.
Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit may begin in an all too familiar North American setting, but it’s not long before Milda – whom you can lightly customise with one of three backgrounds and a selection of clothes – receives an inheritance letter and legal notice from her Lithuanian grandfather. If she can get to Europe in the next two weeks to sign for his property, she could take ownership, sell the property, and get back to growing her career in the US.
Naturally, a short trip to Lithuania to sign documents and catch up with an old friend goes wrong when she arrives at her grandfather’s house and startles a burglar. After solving a few light puzzles in the ransacked house, she discovers mysterious letters and notes left for her and receives a threatening call from someone also after the documents.
Free history lessons
These events kick off an entertaining back-and-forth trip to several historical sites in Vilnius and two short detours further afield, as Milda teams up with an old Lithuanian friend to pursue clues to discover the fate of an ancient crown and its connection to her estranged father and grandfather. As a bonus for history buffs, the developed have mixed myth with reality. Not only will you visit significant historical sites in Vilnius; you’ll also have access to a ton of documents and expository dialogue – some essential to the plot but not all. It helps that each location is compact, with only a few important NPCs present, keeping you on track and avoiding the red herrings found in so many classic games.
Many of the characters feel like stereotypes, with some cringe-worthy dialogue, but they come across as charming rather than irritating. That charm, however, brings me to my one criticism of the story. Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit feels like a cartoonish adventure, yet there are several references to real-world events worked into the narrative – think medieval purges and the murder of Lithuanian partisans and Jews under Soviet occupation. I can understand why Lithaniun developers would want to include reference to these events in the game, but these moments feel at odds with the light-hearted and often goofy tone.
Fresh but familiar
Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit begins with a novel and almost RPG-like twist, letting you pick from three potential backgrounds for Milda that influence later encounters, and even solve an early puzzle by customising her appearance. The story, outside of an illogical end-game choice, is not divergent, but these rare moments offer an alternate paths forward based on your early choice. That said, for the bulk of the experience, Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit follows a classic point-and-click template for better and worse.
When it comes to exploration, dialogue, and puzzles, you’ll be bouncing between locations collecting clues and puzzle items, solving riddles, and – infrequently – trying to solve puzzles under a time constraint. Milda always has her phone, which provides access to a list of clues and contacts you can call in key locations. In addition to trying to mix and match items in your inventory – a genre staple – you can also link notes on her phone to create new leads, and “use” inventory items on document images to identify a link.
Traditional to a fault
Unfortunately, Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit still features some classic but anachronistic designs. There are modern touches like toggling hotspots in the environments or within documents but the bulk of the game involves single-solution puzzles that require specific interactions and items. Often the first step is obvious or logical, and trying to mix and match inventory items is a breeze, as is providing key items to other characters.
On the other hand, combining clues or linking inventory items to images in a document feels less intuitive and resulted in a few brute-force, use-item-on-everything moments. This would have been less of an issue if Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit didn’t feature another classic element – overlong animations. You can skip directly to area transitions when exploring but, if you interrupt a character from their task for dialogue or interact with the environment, you’ll often trigger a slow and unskippable animation. It’s fine if things are going to plan – and there are some humorous responses to guide you in the right direction or mock illogical decisions – but it gets frustrating whenever you’re stuck on a puzzle.
Some good, some bad
Aesthetics are always a subjective opinion but I found Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit was inconsistent when it came to the visuals. The detailed hand-painted backdrops are often vibrant, look great from a distance, and capture the atmosphere of each scene – especially when coupled with the unintrusive but excellent soundtrack from Daniel Pharos. An unexpected plus – despite some cringe-worthy writing and terrible jokes – was the voicework, which sounds believable throughout. It was odd that almost every character in the English dub has an American accent. It would have felt a little more immersive using Lithuanian with subtitles, or heavily-accented English.
What I liked less was the stylised 3D character models that have a low-poly, cartoonish appearance that often stands out from the backdrop. Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit attempts to make interactions a little more cinematic by zooming in during conversations or panning across backdrops but the downside to this is that the backdrops look pixelated up close and the 3D models, still rendering at the default resolution, stand out even more.
New dog, old tricks
Overall, I enjoyed Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit as a budget point-and-click adventure, given the uncommon setting, charming characters, and a mix of myth and real-world history worked into the narrative. Most of the puzzle solutions felt intuitive or logical, making for a brisk experience – though there were some roadblocks as I scoured documents for clues and systematically smashed inventory items together. I’d argue so long as you’re simply after a quality point-and-click adventure and not a game that’ll redefine your expectations of the genre, there’s a lot to like at a great price.
A review code for Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit (PC) ReviewCrowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit (PC) Review
Story8/10 Very Good
Audio8/10 Very Good
- A good balance between research, clue hunting, and inventory management
- Milda’s chosen background and clothing can slightly influence some encounters
- An entertaining, charming, albeit stereotypical cast
- Humourous feedback that guides you toward the correct solution…
- …but connecting clues or combining items can still feel obtuse at times
- Some darker elements of the plot feel out of place
- Inconsistent visual quality