Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars for the GBA is not what you’d call a good port. The great voice work and animated cutscenes that made the original game so cinematic are gone, its beautiful sprites and backgrounds are compressed almost beyond recognition, and its iconic music is butchered by the GBA’s awful sound chip. It’s a testament to the quality of the game, then, that it’s still so enjoyable in this incarnation. And to the GBA version’s credit, it does a remarkable job of translating Broken Sword’s complex point-and-click gameplay to a portable-friendly format.
Shadow of the Templars introduces us to George Stobbart, and American whose vacation in Paris interrupted by a rude clown with an exploding accordion. The blast leaves a man dead, and in its wake George – an inquisitive soul at heart – scrambles for answers. He soon meets Nico Collard, a photojournalist on the trail of the assassin (who always seems to wear goofy costumes) and together they follow leads across Europe from Syria to Scotland. Along the way, the pair uncovers an intriguing Templar conspiracy has been copied many times over since the game’s release.
It might not be as pretty as it was on PC, but Broken Sword’s story and gameplay are compelling in any format. Dialogue is delivered through static text boxes, with little in the way of animation to indicate which character is talking. Outside dialogue, however, characters still have some semblance of the idle animations that helped each scene in the original game to come alive. These living scenes are a hallmark of the “Virtual Theatre” engine that powers the first two Broken Sword games, so it’s good to see that a bit of that charm has made it through the port. More importantly, the game’s stellar writing is all in-tact, so you’ll still experience each character’s funny quirks – you just won’t be able to hear them.
Every puzzle makes it over from the original game intact – even that one – but the way you solve them is a little different. Pointing and clicking would be an absolute nightmare with the d-pad, so instead the game gives you direct control over George’s movement. Rather than clicking on objects you want to interact with, you need only walk over to them and press the A button – B if you’d like to examine something. The L button brings up your inventory, and in an especially nice touch, R highlights hotspots in the immediate area, ensuring you don’t need to pixel hunt. The control scheme feels very immediate and intuitive, to the point that I’d prefer to play the game that way on PC if given the option. Cycling through dialogue and items one icon at a time is a bit of a pain, but it feels so good to really control George rather than just direct him that it’s worth the hassle.
It’s absolutely not worth the hassle of the port’s infamous Spain glitch, though. Shadow of the Templars is a somewhat nonlinear game, so it’s possible to visit certain countries in any order. Unfortunately, if you choose to go to Spain before you’ve been to Marib, it will become impossible to reach Marib after – effectively rendering the game unwinnable. If you visit the locations in the right order there’s no problem, so just be careful not to get mixed up – I’d advise making a copy of your save before you go to Spain, just in case.
Fatal bugs aside, Shadow of the Templars for GBA is a great way to take Broken Sword on the go. It might not have all the cinematic flourish of its PC big brother, but there’s something to be said for the immediacy of its direct control scheme. And really, Broken Sword could be a text adventure and still manage to charm your pants off. Great writing and puzzle design aren’t slaves to processing power or memory, and any way you slice it, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars is one of the greats.