I know a lot of people who picked up a Nintendo Switch in order to play the first party games and the big AAA exclusives which won’t be coming to other platforms, games such as Mario Odyssey, Pokemon, Bayonetta 3 and more. However, I usually pick up a new console to play the more niche and lesser known titles which also can’t be played on any other console, such as the upcoming Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, Tokyo School Life, and Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle. However, there was another game which actually influenced me into finally picking Nintendo’s console up, Secret Files: Tunguska.
For those out there who have never heard of this title, it’s a point-and-click adventure game which originated on the PC back in 2006 and was developed by both Fusionsphere Systems and Animation Arts. Over the course of seven years, we had the opportunity to embark on four adventures. These games reminded me of classics such as the Black Mirror series (no, not the TV show), the Broken Sword series, and the Cognition series. As soon as I saw that the Switch was getting the first title, and possibly more, I had to grab one so I could play through the series once more!
However, was I correct in reliving the past or should I have left my nostalgia glasses on and played ignorant to this latest re-release? Let’s find out…
The stories within the Secret Files series always intrigued me. Unlike some games which confine you to one area or those that go the opposite route and have you venture into vast fantastical lands, Secret Files: Tunguska keeps the locations realistic yet also varied as we travel the world. However, the story isn’t exactly the strong-point of the series, especially when it’s almost in direct competition with masterpieces such as Broken Sword and the Deponia games (which are all coming to Switch very soon). But, it does offer a 12+ hour adventure for you to furiously work your way through, along with many rather cryptic solutions and combinations for you to work out. But let’s not get ahead of myself! What is the story about?!
You play as Nina, an energetic young lady whose father works at the local museum. Well, he did until he mysteriously went missing without a trace! Instinctively, Nina calls the police in order to gain assistance in the matter, something they seem very reluctant to provide support for as they shrug off the disappearance without a care in the world. So, with no one to turn to, Nina gains support from Max Gruber, a colleague of her fathers, as they set off to solve the mystery themselves and track down her father as best as they can!
After initially discovering that there were black-robed faceless ‘people’ involved, as well as a connection to her father’s expedition to Siberia, off you both go as you travel to places such as Berlin, Moscow, Cuba, China, and the Antarctic. As per the namesake of Secret Files: Tunguska, everything comes back to the Tunguska event of 1908 – finding her father is merely the beginning of the detective duo’s adventure…
Have you ever played a game that has multiple control methods yet not one single choice seems to do it correctly? I have. Not only is Secret Files: Tunguska a pain in the arse to control via certain methods, but games like Doom VFR on the PSVR system also annoyed me as it had multiple control options yet no option to customise your prefered method to suit yourself – it’s the same thing here. As such, I’m going to break down the controls into Touchscreen, Handheld, and Docked/Tabletop…
This is by far the best way to play Secret Files: Tunguska. Seriously, throughout my whole 15-hour experience I only played it via the touchscreen (after trying out all methods). As you can see by the images I’ve posted in my review, the game screen is only a small proportion of the actual screen, around the outside you’ll see icons for a magnifying glass, a book, your inventory, and the left-hand side has context-sensitive actions, such as look and interact. As you’d expect when using the game in touchscreen mode, all you have to do is literally touch the screen.
Everything works perfectly, for the most part, double-tapping will make you run to the next area, dragging items onto each other or over the environment will allow you to use them, and tapping whilst the characters are speaking will skip to the next part of the text/speech. This method can also be used in combination with the handheld mode, which I took advantage of all the time, as tapping L or R shoulder buttons whilst tapping away will be the same action as tapping the magnifying glass (highlighting every interactive item on the screen).
This mode isn’t ‘bad’ it’s just slow. Whilst both Joycons are slotted into the side of your Nintendo Switch (this is important), the left and right control sticks will slowly move the cursor on screen – as if it’s a mouse in standard point-and-click games. All the actions are then mirrored on both sets of buttons in a rather strange way. Up/X looks, Right/Y interacts, Down/B is Save, and Left/A opens your diary. As mentioned previously, L or R will highlight all of the interaction points on the current screen as well (this is the best button). In order to interact with things, as in moving around and clicking on objects, as you have to click on them BEFORE you can choose to look or interact with it, you press either ZL or ZR.
Now, at any point whilst using the console in either touch or handheld mode, you can alternate to the other method by either pressing a button or touching the screen. I basically used the touchscreen for about 90% of the game and the rest of the time I would use L to scan for items and move the analogue stick if I had to be precise on small objects.
As I said though, the main annoyance for this method alone is the fact that the cursor moves really slow and there doesn’t appear to be any way to speed it up or increase the acceleration. Hopefully, if we get Secret Files 2, we’ll see an option to increase the speed.
This mode is terrible. I seriously hope the developers rethink this part before they implement it into the sequels. Okay, let’s step back a little… as soon as you take the Joycons out of the Switch they become motion controllers. This wouldn’t be that bad, as Secret Files: Tunguska was released on the Wii and Wii U, so I imagine they are using the same tech as we saw over there right?! Wrong. On those systems we had the IR bar, this allowed the Wiimote to be a lot more accurate than the tiny gyroscope which is within the Joycon. As such, we’re left with a very underwhelming and almost impossible to use motion controller.
However, if you look in the menu you’ll see an option to increase the sensitivity of the motion controller – great! This means that if you put it all the way up, you can now easily move the cursor around the screen right? Again, no. It’s hard to accurately click on smaller items, you’re constantly having the Joycon re-adjust itself because you’ve hit the edge of the screen, and it’s just not a very good way to play the game.
There is one saving grace though, you can take out both controllers, tell the game that you want motion controls in one of them (either the left or right), then put that one back in the switch and just use the controller with no motion controls! Now the controller works just like it does in Handheld Mode – using the face buttons and control stick to move around and select things. However, do you remember the issue I had with that one… it’s too slow! This means traversing from one edge of the screen to the next takes a very long time, especially when you stack it up next to the motion controller or the Touchscreen.
As a test, I tried using the Joycons in their plastic controller device thing (which you get with the Switch) – this had the same results. It still forces you to use one Joycon as a motion controller, thus making your cursor go crazy if you move the controller about.
I don’t have a Pro controller, so I can’t comment on how that works.
Final thoughts on the controls
Okay, if you use the Switch as a tablet and utilise its touchscreen then you’ll get the best experience. I think this is mainly helped due to the fact that all the games are actually on iOS and Android, so the UI has already been adapted for such gameplay. If we’re getting the other games in the series, I would love an option to increase the speed of the analogue stick movement as well as an option to disable motion controls should we chose not to use them. Your actual thoughts may vary from mine, but as someone who has played a lot of point-and-click games on the PS4, some with a button to hold to speed up the cursor or even using the touchpad as a mouse, Secret Files: Tunguska got the touch aspect right, but not the standard controls.
so, enough about the controls – what’s the actual game like! Well, it’s hard. The game came from an age where point-and-click games were becoming popular again, after a drought of good quality titles, so a lot of the influences came from old-school games, games with many inventory-based and obscure solutions in them. For example, at one point you need to gain access to the sewers yet a worker is currently stopping you. After shattering a light so you can take a newspaper and finding a pencil, you find out the worker isn’t happy and he’s bought a lottery ticket. You now need to change the numbers in the paper so it appears he’s won and then you can gain entry to the sewers. It’s not impossible, but it’s very cryptic.
The game is absolutely crammed full of things like this as well, you’ll be not only combining items and giving them to people, you’ll be interacting with the environments and even solving logic-based puzzles as well. Thankfully, Secret Files: Tunguska has a built-in strategy guide – and by strategy guide, I basically mean a full-on spoilerific walkthrough! So, no need in Googling for an answer, just head over to your diary, click the lightbulb and you’ll be presented with a step-by-step guide on everything you need to do in order to pass the current scene you’re in. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to refer to this a few times as I got incredibly confused at a few points within my playthrough.
However, I still had to google two solutions because the guide the game gives you didn’t actually have the correct info. Well, it was correct but it missed out a step or had the wrong location which you had to be in. Also, some puzzles have multiple solutions to them, so the guide only tells you about one of them. There is no punishment or issues for using this walkthrough, I’d just strongly advise that you play as much as you can without resorting to it first as it’ll clearly ruin the game if you simply do as your told and miss out on all the random interactions you can have.
The final thing I’m going to touch on is the narrative – it isn’t the best. Some of the voice acting really wasn’t the greatest, yet the game gets a pat on the back for being 100% fully voiced as I know a lot of games that don’t do that these days. There is a balance of comedy and seriousness within Secret Files: Tunguska to the point where I don’t know if it’s trying to be funny or if it’s just coming off as being funny due to the silly situation the protagonist has found themselves in. For example, at one point a train driver has dropped his key into the toilet. You have to flush this out by catching it within a bag. However, the bag is also full of… well, I think you get the idea. It’s toilet humour on a whole new level!
This leads to the end of the game, I don’t want to ruin it for you as this part was really, really funny. The game offers a ‘where are they now’ segment where it literally goes through everyone you interacted with throughout the game. Seriously, there must have been about 20+ short segments at the end of the game. One stood out as being hilarious for me. Basically, earlier on in the game, you ask a young photographer if you can borrow her camera as she broke it. All you do is put in new batteries and it now works. Her ‘where is she now’ segment was the narrator saying she gave up on becoming a photographer because she couldn’t manage to change the batteries. Also, her dream of becoming a courier ended due to her bike getting a flat and nobody fixing it (something we do in the game but we don’t fix it properly)!
So yeah, humour is subjective yet I found Secret Files: Tunguska was quite good at it and I did find myself laughing out loud at quite a few parts within the game. The actual story of the game though was a bit weak and predictable, yet the game made up for it with its obscure puzzles.
Graphically, Secret Files: Tunguska looks great. When comparing the Nintendo Switch to the PC, the only difference I can see is a slightly brighter gamma on the Switch and dynamic sharp shadows have been replaced by dithered blobs on the ground. These aren’t anything which will impact your enjoyment and you wouldn’t even realise they were missing if I hadn’t mentioned them. The UI is clearly ported over from the mobile edition, yet the resolution/quality is higher on the Switch
Soundwise, if we ignore the poor voice acting from certain characters, everything actually sounds well recorded and the music is very memorable and exciting. Also, considering every line of dialogue is fully voiced, I’m willing to overlook a few dips in quality with the acting and writing here and there.
As stated in my moan about the controls though, if we get the sequels, or the Lost Horizon series (Please Deep Silver!), then please offer an option to disable motion controls as well as an option to speed up the standard analogue controls. They were the only things that let the game down for me in regards to the accessibility as it felt like I only had full control if I was playing the game in portable mode.
One rather critical and big issue I need to point out is the almost game-breaking bug I spotted. Every now and again, as you enter a new area or press the option to save, the screen will hang and then go black. Tapping on the screen will act like it’s doing things and moving the control stick will move the cursor – but everything is black. This happened when I’d been playing for five hours without making a manual save (there are no automatic saves), so I was rather annoyed. I figured out that the game is still live at this point so if you can work out how to progress to a new screen by going by memory of where the exit is, or you can navigate to the save menu and hit save, the screen comes back into play. It’s a strange bug but it happened to me six times during my fifteen hours.
I’m so happy that I had the chance to replay Secret Files: Tunguska on a modern console, despite its control issues. The majority of people probably won’t know about this series as it was overshadowed by the more popular Broken Sword series as well as the genre becoming rather a niche one, but I’d still strongly suggest gamers with a Switch check it out today. Even though the narrative is a bit weak and the humour swings between slapstick, toilet, and observational comedy, it was enough to make me chuckle and thoroughly enjoy.
I’d highly recommend playing the game in Handheld mode for the most precise control scheme, but the motion controls work ‘fine’ if you don’t mind waving your hand around like you’re Harry Potter trying to cast a spell! As a 10-15 hours adventure, Secret Files: Tunguska delivers more than enough content for me to highly recommend it to adventure game fans, especially if you’ve not heard of it and are looking for a game you can only play on the Nintendo Switch (in regards to modern consoles).
Secret Files: Tunguska (Nintendo Switch) Review£13.49
- - Literally full of puzzles and tricky predicaments
- - Funny dialogue with quite a bit of dark and light humour
- - Full walkthrough provided in case you get stuck
- - Lots of places to visit and over 100 scenes (supposedly)
- - Great music and the voice acting is good for the majority of the game
- - The motion controls are too inaccurate and the analogue stick is too slow
- - The dialogue isn't the best and the story is a bit forgetful
- - Issues with black screen (see technical issues above)
- - Loading between every single screen. It's not long but it will annoy you after a while