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Potions: A Curious Tale Review – It’s (kinda) magic!

Potions: A Curious Tale Review – It’s (kinda) magic!

Magic can be found here, but not without overcoming a slight learning curve first

When the opportunity arose for a member of the team to play Potions: A Curious Tale, all eyes fell on me because everyone knew I’d be chomping at the bit. Anything with so much of a cat’s whisker of cosiness and I’m all over; the fact that this title has magic is just a bonus.

This indie offering had been on my radar for several weeks prior to embarking on my adventure into witchcraft. I’d formed a simulacrum inside my mind, perhaps to the detriment of the effort Stumbling Cat put into developing this game. It feels unconscionable to say now, but I was ready to be underwhelmed.

Check out Potions: A Curious Tale below

Thankfully, my pessimistic planning was proven to be folly, as the story I found within the crafting mechanics of Potions: A Curious Tale has a big heart. I don’t wish to contribute towards another false image of this title, this time that it’s the greatest crafting game of its generation. However, I want to give it the praise it’s due. For saying such a small team developed this game, it’s nothing short of amazing. Granted, it has plenty of faults (which I’ll get into), however, no one can take away from the ambition and passion that’s gone into this title.

Playing as a young witch, you visit your grandma to learn the basics of potion crafting, your abilities bubbling to the surface like an unobserved cauldron. You find a town of characters, each with their own tales of woe and success, all of whom will eventually need your assistance in one way or another.

As far as narrative and characters go, there’s nothing innovative to be found here. That isn’t to say that there isn’t merit to a story steeped in generic conventions – arguably many players desire those elements so we feel at home with a game – just that it might feel too familiar for some. Fortunately, despite overlapping with other treasured indie games, Potions: A Curious Tale balances that out with unique mechanics when it comes to crafting the potions you'll need to overcome the challenges you’ll face.

The different types of mana, all connected to the four elements, helps make the mundane feel magical; there’s that spark of originality here that only indie games often manage to capture. Actually mixing potions isn’t difficult, however, you will need a cauldron to do this. That makes sense, granted, but when you’re lacking in a particular potion or two and must travel all the way back to the nearest cauldron, it becomes a thematic element that weighs you down.

Hawthorn Games

Another part of the journey I just didn’t easily gel with, was not having conventional weapons; when you battle enemies, you battle with your potions. Again, this makes sense given the genre, but it also makes for clunky battles where I always felt at a disadvantage. When a foe is charging at you, it’s not convenient to stop and try to aim accurately to throw an exploding potion their way. Perhaps it’s my hack and slash nature, forged in the fires of my favourite RPGs, but to not have the option to wield a weapon feels like a blunder.

What is far from an issue, though, is how the game looks, especially during interactions with individual characters. The artwork is sublime, with it feeling more akin to an interactive novel style-wise than a video game. Outside of those interactions, the aesthetic is a little rough-hewn, yet not unpleasant. Some might see it as “unpolished”, but I find it enchanting, as if a fairytale pop-up book has come to life. Certainly, there are more attractive renditions of similar aesthetics, but they’re not automatically better because of that fact.

If this is your first venture into these types of games, I wouldn’t recommend Potions: A Curious Tale. This is a game created with passionate knowledge of the genre, and, as such, is not easy to pick up for novices; it isn’t overly complex, but nor is it a beginner's entry into the fray. I’m not saying “STAY AWAY”, but nor am I saying the journey ahead is simple – you’re thrown into the game from the off. You need to adapt quickly, which, for some, is an immediate stumbling block.

Hawthorn Games

Sadly, possible stumbling blocks are many in this game, especially in the beginning. I’m not keen being left to my devices so early on into a game, yet there I was, thrown into a battle with a kraken without any backstory as to why. The why was added later, but the non-linear, abrupt reveal didn’t quite work for me, nor do I feel it works for this genre of game. That being said, I’ll concede that personal preferences are undoubtedly tinging my opinion.

Potions: A Curious Tale is just that: a curious tale. It doesn’t always provide that satisfying conclusion, but it has heart, gumption, and passion. Sometimes, that’s all a game needs to elevate it from being average to something special.

That’s what this game is: something special. All its potential doesn’t feel like it’s been given enough room to breathe, alas that’s the burden that all indie devs contend with. Still, despite its niggling flaws, it makes for an impressive, interactive illustration of how far your dedication can take your dreams. Uniqueness isn’t black and white. It doesn’t always make sense, nor can you always put your finger on the "x factor" that has you so taken in, yet you’re invested all the same.

Pros: Whimsical story, potion crafting, beautiful artwork during interactions

Cons: Awkward battle mechanics, tedious thematic interactions, too predictable

For Fans Of: Fae Farm, Stardew Valley, Wylde Flowers

7/10: Very Good

Potions: A Curious Tale is available on Steam (version tested). A review code was provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Hawthorn Games

Topics: Indie Games, Steam, PC, Valve