X marks the spot…hey! Wait a darn minute!

While I’m waiting for larger (and possibly duller) games to download, I headed over to Kongregate to pick a five-minute game to pass the time. Thankfully I found “It’s just TIC TAC TOE” whose label appears to reveal the actual contents of the game. It does. It is just TIC TAC TOE, with a bit of something else. That something else I’ll leave for you to discover, but give yourself a few minutes to enjoy this new take on a classic game…with the sound on, if you can.

I have no idea if I’m the winner…or if we’re all winners.

 

Picking up garbage is not as unpleasant as it sounds in Vacation Adventures: Park Ranger 7

There are seven of these games. Vacation Adventures: Park Ranger 7, I’m assuming, picks up where the sixth iteration of the series leaves off. I think. I have no idea. This is my first time playing this game and while a person with a tiny bit more gumption might go back and research the rest of the titles, I’m of the opinion that I will find much more of the same. That doesn’t mean Vacation Adventures: Park Ranger 7 is derivative, but since this will be a short review, I will proceed with the assumption that the gameplay and objectives are consistent throughout the series. Also, I don’t care.

Vacation Adventures: Park Ranger 7 lacks pizzazz and visual depth, but the game never pretends to be something more than a casual distraction. Produced by Casual Arts (it’s in the name), VA:PR7 (as it’s known in the industry) consists of typical hidden-object games interspersed with a variety of other puzzles. There appears to be a story about a campground, or a national park. I didn’t pay attention. What did draw my attentions were to two aspects of the overall game itself.

Look, everyone’s going to start with the catfish and the eel. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

First, it feels slow. Not slow in progression or in story line, but slow to play. One of the non-HOG games was a typical memory card-flip game (that, for some reason I had to play twice, with the exact same placements). The action of flipping cards and then waiting for them to reset to flip two more cards was tedious. I’m not sure how your mind works, but in any memory game, speed is the key for me. If you give me one or two seconds to wait to flip some more cards, I’m going to lose interest and possibly forget one of the card placements. It’s not that my attention span is that short, it’s that your typical memory game is nothing more than pattern recognition and the faster I can create the pattern (in my head) the better. The slowness didn’t only mire this puzzle, but the overall game, with strange pauses after finishing a level before giving me the screen to continue. For a second or two I found myself wondering if I really had found all the items and then, slowly, the result square appears. Even in a relatively pedestrian game like VA:PR7, pacing can make or break a player’s enjoyment.

Which hammer do you want? There can only be one.

Second, and this is a little nitpicky, most of the characters are computer generated, yet in many of the HOG scenes there are cut-outs of real photographs of people vacationing. I’m curious if these are vacation photos of the development team or image gleaned from the internet. If the latter, I hope the team obtained rights for those images, because it would be weird to find a picture from my kayaking vacation in the middle of a casual game being retailed for $6.99. Just putting that out there so we all thing about fair use moving forward.

Overall VA:PR7 is an inoffensive, but slow HOG/jigsaw/memory/etc. game. The focus on spotting wildlife and picking up garbage that can be recycled is a nice feature of the HOG games and certainly made me concentrate on those two objectives before the run-of-the-mill items. There is some potential here with a little tweaking on the pace of play, perhaps VA:PR8 will take up the challenge.

The colorful, calm complexity of the new puzzler, Colorzzle

With fifty stages, Colorzzle, the debut game from Darong Studio on Kongregate, is a completely satisfying puzzler. Moving blocks of color together in order to grow a variety of flora, Colorzzle is one of those calm puzzle games that slowly increase the level of difficulty without forcing the player into a wall of frustration. With a lovely soundtrack (that I still have playing in another tab as I write this review) playing Colorzzle soothed my soul on a wintry morning.

This is a spoiler, but I just wanted to you to know that I love you.

The levels progress smoothly and the introduction of new mechanics feels natural, with a level or two to get used to the new item and then a gentle incline for the more challenging areas. Colorzzle’s sound, design, and gameplay all fit together for a relaxing experience that at times, especially in the later levels, will surprise you with its challenge. The game is available for iOS, Android, and Steam, and you can try the first fifty levels at Kongregate right now. Beautiful.

I’ve never felt more alone than while playing Solitaire Legends of the Pirates 2

Here’s the thing, gang…I came to flower in the 1980s, pre-Internet. That doesn’t make me better, just older. And since I didn’t spend my summers in front of a computer (well, 1984 I spent in front of my TV programming BASIC on a ZX81) my friends and I had different ways of entertaining ourselves. One way was cards and the card game we played most was “Spit.” This is kind of a reverse Tri-Peaks (Golf) card game and the most important factor in the game was speed. Speed and stamina.

So when I approach a golf-card game like “Solitaire Legends of the Pirates 2,” I sort of expect I’ll be able to utilize my speedy Spit skills and skid through those early levels for a nice mid-morning distraction. I enjoy solitaire (and card games in general) and I enjoy pirates (the entertaining, cosplay pirates) and when 8Floor Games puts those two things together (in a sequel, no less) is makes for a combination of mud and meh.

See that cursor, I’m still trying to get it across the screen and it’s been four days.

Mud because, in full screen and windowed mode, the mouse movement felt sluggish as if somehow slowed down which is in direct contrast to my style of play. I’m used to racking up a combo lightning quick and when it feels like my cursor is dragging a truck tire as I play, I’m bound to get annoyed. Meh because there are unnecessary “+$499” updates as you make combos, most frequently in the middle of making the combo. There is no reason the entire screen needs to be halted with this information. These are not real dollars. There are no real consequences. Put the bonus numbers in the top corner where I can ignore them like a person.

“Solitaire Legends of the Pirates 2” is a substandard game in an underwhelming genre, one that has a few shining stars and not much else. These kinds of games are usually relegated to casino-style game sites and the casual phone app, but there’s no reason to add this title to you list of either.

Don’t forget to write a salty headline for Dark Parables: Return of the Salt Princess

The most frustrating thing about Blue Tea Games/Eipix new release at Big Fish Games, “Dark Parables: Return of the Salt Princess,” is that the game itself is absolutely beautiful. The scenes are stunningly detailed and rendered with a mystic atmosphere. The items are baroque in their design and feel like true relics of a long past, rich kingdom. The jewels sparkle, the metals gleam, and each sprite seems lovingly crafted to be a stand-alone image. What makes this frustrating is that the game, itself, is terribly dull.

I dig the premise, as I have said before, fairy tales are kind of my thing, so while some story paths are well worn, “Return of the Salt Princess,” is a nice change. After a relatively impressive opening sequence (at least for this genre) our first interaction with another character unfortunately reveals the corrosive underbelly of this magical world. The voice acting…is horrible. See the image below and picture the dialog depicted as being delivered in the same deadpan drone that your average convenience store cashier uses you to offer you a bag for your late night Certs and Funyuns 1:

There’s practically an entire house on you. Just a mo’.

Honestly, if the game would have allowed it, I would have left her there forever. The bland icing on the bland cake is that in the following scene after I have gone to the trouble to rescue her, she uses her “fire power” to blow up the rest of the rubble. The game anticipates an attentive player’s reaction of “why the f*** didn’t you just do that, then?” with a throw-away line of dialog to understand why the f*** she didn’t.

Some of the puzzles, as well, were more complicated than necessary. I’m all for leaving most of the instructions out of unusual puzzles, giving the player a chance to poke around and see what happens (“Madame Fate” is full of those), but when the puzzle, while beautiful, is so clouded in mystery that after five minutes of clicking the player gives up, more testing is needed. I’m not looking for simple game play, but I am looking for just enough feedback in a complicated puzzle (especially if it is the first in the game) to not flail around like some madman wearing magic bracelets.

This guy’s growling and grunting was the highlight of the voice acting. I felt, so, almost scared, a bit.

There was also a strange shifting of game continuity, with a cut scene happening far too early for it to be narratively dramatic. The scene, featuring ole’ Shaggy up there, happens as he attempts to abscond with the Salt Princess herself. You have to shoot him with an arrow (“ranged” weapon the text prompts) and that was fine, but all I had was the arrow; no bow. The scene appears to have been set up to check for the arrow, but not the crossbow. As the cut scene happens, I didn’t have the cross bow because I missed the cuckoo figurine in the one statue base. Yet when I took that to unlock the bookcase in the alley, I only received the rabbit amulet and a goblet. Upon returning to the main square, I used the rabbit amulet on the wolf statue (since wolves love rabbits) and found the crossbow hidden within. Look at those sentences I just wrote. Look at them. All of that fetching happened while the thrilling music was playing and Shaggy, ever courteous, just stood by the precipice while I went through several steps to come kill him.

The map system is for visual purposes only (at least in the demo) no teleporting, so you rack up those steps on your imaginary Fit Bit. As I’ve already mentioned the terrible voice acting, take note that you will have to talk to some of these characters to move the game along and one miss click or two can send you into a repetitious drab dialog hole. These are not only critiques of this game, but problems across the genre and its a genre (as far as I know) that has fewer and fewer developers churning out new titles. Until there is desire (or money to be found) to shake up this style, we’re probably in for more of the same. The same game play, the same worn-out tropes, the same unnecessary back and forth collection to make up for the lack of story. Like I said in the beginning, this game is beautiful and shiny, though that only reflects its flaws much more clearly.

Cube Escape is the rightful heir to Submachine and is so good, we don’t deserve it

With all the Steams and Switches in the world, it’s sometimes hard to remember excellent game areas such as Kongregate. Last night, desperate to shake the unyielding crawl of Fetch Games, I stumbled into their puzzle section and found “Cube Escape: The Cave,” which is the ninth installment of the Rusty Lake series. I now find myself having to go back and play the other eight. The detail of the games atmosphere and puzzles left me bewildered and disturbed, a phantom shadow here, an unfortunate recipe there, and all the while I was wondering how could these puzzles be so challenging without being annoying. There is more than narrative magic in “Cube Escape: The Cave”: there is developer magic as well.

You want so much to feed the doggy. Then you have to feed the doggy. Oh, no doggy, no.

The escape-room genre, recently and not necessarily to its benefit, seen a bump in interest due to the prevalence of IRL escape room games; either permanent locations or pop-up events have become common in the city-scape. Yet, the idea of heading into a room with a group of people (known and unknown) to find the clues and perform the tasks needed to escape seems completely antithetical to the genre. You are alone, in a room, and there are a series of puzzles you must solve to escape and that solitude is what makes solving the puzzles so essential, and urgent. The idea of solving a complicated puzzle with a bunch of buzzed bros from the Bowery feels so much like torture, more akin to the Saw franchise, than a successor to “The Crimson Room.”

My stopping point when I played through. I’ll return to this room when I have the focus it requires. Probably after lunch.

“Cube Escape: The Cave” gives me the same urgency and desperate need for immersion as “Crimson Room” and “Submachine.” I need to solve each riddle and I need to move on, either escaping completely or on to the next adventure. That there are eight other iterations of “Cube Escape” leaves me anxious for a long stretch of time where I can work my way through its labyrinthine story and solve all the puzzles (with the help from a hint or two, not gonna lie). And while playing at Kongregate allows me to save my place, I would have gladly started all over. I highly recommend giving this chapter a try (as it’s the only one I’ve played so far) and let me know if you have a favorite chapter in the series.

Incredible Dracula IV: Games of Gods finds its personality in its graphics and sound design

Time management games aren’t usually my thing, though there have been a few here and there that I’ve purchased. When I grabbed the demo for “Incredible Dracula IV: Games of Gods” I’ll admit, I did it for Dracula. The Count falls into my area of academic study and I’ve always been curious how he’s portrayed in a number of medium. When I discovered that the games centers around a particularly bored Loki, I was even more intrigued. Now, here is where a normal person would reference the Marvel Universe and Tom Hiddleston. Since the last Marvel movie I saw was Iron Man 2, I am not a normal person. So feel free to “tsk” me from the sidelines as I deny that obvious segue.

Can we talk about Loki’s bunny slippers?

What I found was a charming and sometimes hysterical take on the time management genre. Bored to mischief, Loki tricks Dracula and his zombie butler, Rufus, onto a magical game board of delightful design. The paper/origami styling of the graphics particularly impressed me as a clever take on the board game theme. The characters have more personality than most casual games and the music, while not amazing, was not distracting or repetitive. This is a compliment.

These interstitial cards between levels feel like a confessional for the game writers. I get you, game. I get you.

I moved from Try to Buy with “Incredible Dracula IV: Games of Gods” after I heard the short responses to the various Rufus’ as they go about their tasks. “Ok Lord”, “Whatever” all performed in that deep, lazy drawl that instantly reminded me of Neil from The Young Ones (“Hello, Rick”). There is just enough variation that it never gets annoying (granted I haven’t spent ten hours playing the game) and the interjections when Dracula, himself, finally gets off his immortal ass and takes care of a task are equally funny. This may seem like a minor aspect to pick out and praise, but so many casual games underestimate the benefits of, not only good voice acting, but these little touches that go a long way to add personality to the game.

My Pretty Kitty leads kitten heads to the slaughter so your cat can have a $5 nap

I’m not gonna lie. “My Pretty Kitty,” a new match-3 game by Intersol released at Big Fish Games, is cute. It’s almost insistent in its cuteness. If I had to revert to saying it’s kawaii I would not only lose my sense of integrity, but would have to forfeit all the time I spent studying Japanese, for no one should use another’s language in such a remarkably silly way. Yet, “My Pretty Kitty” demands that you call it kawaii at least once, even if it’s just inside your precious pink mind. I won’t do it. I refuse. It’s cute. That is all.

You have to pay $5 to let Kitty sleep. My cat does this for free…well, for spite.

The developers market the game as “a unique combination of tamagochi and match-3” and I would say that is completely accurate. For myself, the same instinct that made me hammer my Tamagochi to death in the 90s 1 was a little more amenable to that part of the game play. However, the strange pricing of some actions and materials made me wonder why they even needed that part at all. $20 for milk? Not yet, Pretty Kitty. Not yet. The other unfortunate element of this tamagochi-style play is that “Kitty” – you are not allowed to rename your Pretty Kitty – is presented as gendered-female, or at least presented in a feminine aesthetic. Pairing that with the constant need to purchase new clothing, play with expensive toys, and coerce to sleep with money reinforces the “high-maintenance” female trope. The most unfortunate part of this decision is that the majority of players (most likely on Facebook where this game is available) will be female and therefore the trope may slowly edify already biased notions of how women react to and use money. Perhaps that’s putting too much burden on “My Pretty Kitty,” but hey…kawaii.

$100 My-Pretty-Kitty bucks for the colorful feather cat toy. One Hundred!

The match-3 element of the game is what you’d expect, with similar bonuses and power-ups that pervade the genre. Granted, there’s something weird about essentially exploding groups of jellied cat heads and I found myself wondering if we’d crossed from cute into cruel. The little mews as you match pink and purple puss-pusses and then the crash of the explosion when you clear parts of the board made me question why I kept matching and exploding, matching and exploding. I had to have a long talk with myself afterward to make sure I was okay. I am okay.

Without the tamagochi game play, “My Pretty Kitty” would have been a purr-fectly 2 good match-3 game and probably one that I wouldn’t have reviewed as there is nothing too grand nor too unsettling for me to call attention to. Yet the monetary element of the game – and yet I know, this is common, especially among mobile games – felt like a strange add-on and one that has far more connotations than I believe the developers realized. I will suggest that, perhaps, through some sort of expression of the subconscious, the kitties of “My Pretty Kitty” know they are merely paw-ns 3.

Look at the blue-faced cat heads. They know. They understand their own exploitation. They don’t want to be there. They know the others are just playing along. Look at them!

Enchanted Kingdom: Fog of Rivershire rolls in on fantasy tropes, skin conditions, and collection

While it’s possible that “Enchanted Kingdom: Fog of Rivershire” received its name from some Fantasy Title Generator, the title is quite accurate in describing the premise to the new Domini Games offer at Big Fish Games. Yes, the kingdom is enchanted and you, as a master healer must do something to save those afflicted with the “Fog”, but like it’s name, “Enchanted Kingdom: Fog of Rivershire” falls into some of the same worn out tropes of the genre, even while it stretches out with bits of interesting game play.

It is the Healer game mechanic that I appreciated the most. Given to you early on, you must find an assortment of ingredients to draft a potion to heal the afflicted person’s particular set of ailments. After the collection, you must discern how each ingredient is used in your Healer box and, while it’s not the most challenging puzzle I’ve come across, it is of a variety that I don’t see often enough.

This is the Healer box. I enjoyed this puzzle, though I could see it getting tiresome if used too frequently.

At the beginning of the game, when you meet Xander, Warrior of the Tar Empire, and he drops a ton of exposition on you, you may think that “Enchanted Kingdom: Fog of Rivershire” is not your usual adventure HOG, but after diagnosing and curing his sudden “spikiness,” you’ll find yourself falling back into familiar territory of hunt and place, find and collect. The most infuriating moment for me during the demo, is when Xander, grateful for being cured, hands you a daggar to help you along your journey. Guess what you will use once and leave behind?

I got a bottle of Excedrin and some cough drops if you think that will help, Xander.

The visual styling of “Enchanted Kingdom: Fog of Rivershire” is lovely, with over-saturation of greens and violets that emphasize the enchanted-ness of the game. The voice acting, as well, is above par, though the lip syncing, as with many in the genre, can bit a bit disconcerting. Unfortunately, and I’ll lean heavily that it is my own immersion in the genre at this point that informs this, most of the game contains elements that are pretty played out at this point and outside of some interesting characters and a few puzzle mechanics, “Enchanted Kingdom: Fog of Rivershire,” is merely a good example in an ever increasingly mediocre genre. I’m still searching for the game that will breath new life into the adventure HOG, but lately I’m more likely to have spikes growing from my head.

The only riddle you’ll be solving is why you tried Demon Hunter 4: Riddles of Light in the first place

The Egyptian theme of “Demon Hunter 4: Riddles of Light” should have warned me that I was going to have some issues with this game. Too often these games rely on tired tropes of the exotic “Orient” as a stand-in for narrative and game play. Yet, I am ever on the lookout for a game studio to actually try to make this adventure HOG genre into something new but Brave Giant Studio is not quite up to the task.

How many cliches and stereotypes can you find in this image? Bet it’s a bunch!

The voice acting was particularly dull, with the player-character enunciating her excitement or horror with less enthusiasm than a midnight-shift clerk at the Circle K. Aunt Dawn was voiced by an actor who sounds eerily similar to the late, great Carrie Fisher, but the similarity ends there. Even the accents of the two “Egyptian” characters (as far into the demo as I was willing to play) seemed to be variations on Oded Fehr as Ardeth in 1999’s The Mummy, which, I suppose they could have done worse. I’m not asking for Oscar-worthy performances in a low-level casual game, but I am asking to care enough to keep on playing (let alone, buying).

Aunt Dawn introduces you to her new “friend”…even as a joke, I don’t care.

The game play in “Demon Hunter 4: Riddles of Light” suffers from the same convolution-as-complexity as others in the genre. For example: while I have a Sharp Khopesh in my inventory, a lovely weapon, it’s apparent use is for some pruning and disassembly, as such –

Sharp Khopesh -> cuts branch -> cuts strap on goggles -> find pebbles -> create slingshot -> use slingshot on lamp of fire -> fallen lamp scares scorprion.

A better way: Sharp Khopesh -> bisected scorpion.

If your game story, or characters, or setting, or premise isn’t enough to keep my attention, this kind of over-the-top game play will not make up for it. Also, in the one area of the game that could be considered “action,” the double targeting system made the each encounter annoying rather than exciting. The one highlight of “Demon Hunter 4: Riddles of Light” is the visual design of their expositional HOG in the early part of the game, playing on a constellation theme and using ancient Egyptian imagery in a compelling way.

This is actually beautifully done, and I was so interested I forgot to get more screen shots.

I would give this game a pass and not even bother downloading the demo. The genre is filled with less mediocre games than “Demon Hunter 4: Riddle of Light” and studded with a few gems that are more worthy of your time.

Well, hello Clarisse: This game has a lot of energy and hopefully a full version soon

When I came to write this review of Not Human Games’ “Clarisse,” I wanted to do a little checking to see if the game was still in development. It had been months since the developers updated information over at Game Jolt and very little action on the Steam Greenlit space as well. The company’s twitter feed did mention that “Clarisse” won a Better Narrative Design award at the Valencia Indie Summit so it appears that the game will still find a full release date. My conundrum was wanting to review this prologue chapter to the game because I truly enjoyed playing it, but I didn’t want to recommend something that was dead in the water.

This is also the feeling I have when I read a review of a game only to be given a link to their Kickstarter. Dang.

“Clarisse” is a point-and-click game in the classic style, with nice interactive play, challenging puzzles, and a compelling story line. Your role is Clarisse, an AI developed by and assisting a scientist with a lofty, if not secretive, mission: “No more wars. No more hunger. No more injustice.” The stakes are enormous for the success of this new technology, but quickly you see that your human assistant is suffering from some unknown ailment. The demo of “Clarisse” is relatively short, but the dialog and story set up are so entertaining that the end comes far too quickly.

Mr. Cat is watching and judging your performance.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but I will add warn you that after coming to the end of your play through, you may find yourself frustrated that you cannot play further. The character design is particularly well done, giving us a complex personality through the use of dialog and high-quality pixel art. The sound design is spot on and one of the most jarring moments for me happened before the game even began. After loading the game, I turned away from the title screen to make a note and I heard a scratchy sound and I turned back quickly. I’ll admit I watched that title screen for many minutes, listening to the different shorts and zzts as the image glitches out for a moment. I was a nice little effect on an oft ignored area of any game.

When it came to the actual puzzles in the demo, of which there are basically three, I was at a bit of a loss. Either I missed, or the game didn’t provide, clear instruction on what I was supposed to accomplish on two of them – one game reminded me of the old “Reflections” flash game from the early 2000s, so I was pretty clear on that one, though it stymied me for a time – and I ended up fussing about with selections and controls until I basically stumbled upon the solution. I cannot be sure if this is my fault or a lack in the demo itself, but the story and characters of the game are so interesting that I’m happy to put the blame on myself until the full version is released.

I didn’t know if the beeps should go fast or slow, in time with the flashes or not, up, down, right, left, A, B…I got it in the end, though.

In a final note, if the developers of “Clarisse” happen to find themselves in this swampy corner of the Internet, please finish the game soon, because any game company who adds the following to an update list, is a company I want to give my money to:

Mr. Cat is being alive, he is a sweet and adorable cat.

Another Car Flip, Another Mystery, and a Paternal Talking Head in Grim Tales: The Time Traveler

According to the in-game screen, “Grim Tales: The Time Traveler” is the fourteenth game in the Grim Tales series. It shows, because Elephant Games appears to have weeded out some of the more exasperating elements of adventure games in the genre. Yet, that doesn’t mean the writers don’t fall into a few trope-traps here and there, especially by opening the story with another woman flipping her car. I’m not sure how many times I, the player, have emerged from the swampy side of the road, head fuzzy with concussion, ready to crawl around in the muck to find the car keys (and medallions, fishing line, and other sundries) only to unlock my upside down trunk and embark on a hidden-object puzzle. I have done this so many times I may as well forfeit my license right now and just travel the world solving mysteries with nothing but an illegible notebook and a crowbar.

What about the O’Grays? The Gradys? The Graysons? You’re gonna by busy.

But those are faults of the genre, and not necessarily this particular game, so it would be unfair to dump all of that criticism in Elephant Games’s lap – though, you did make me flip the car. I also want to reiterate that this seems to be the fourteenth game in the series and I have little recollection of playing any of the others – though I most certainly have – and the strangest, most bizarre part of the start of this game is the fact that I WILL MATTER-OF-FACTLY CARRY AROUND MY DEAD FATHER’S SKULL AS IT PROVIDES COMMENTARY AND CLUES. What the actually hell? Perhaps this is a feature that regular players of the series find endearing and even look for, but Murray the Talking Skull he is not. Granted, BoneDaddy is chatty, that’s for sure, but the Dad Ex Machina game mechanic of only finding certain clues because you have to go all “Alas Poor Yorik” in the middle of a murder scene is a little…disconcerting.

This is not okay. This is NOT OKAY!

One small delight I took from playing through the demo of “Grim Tales: The Time Traveler,” was in actually keeping the pliers and screwdriver in my inventory and using them for multiple tasks! The joy of holding on to a useful tool as I progressed from accident scene to murder scene to garden scene to foiled-bbq scene! This is a minor critique in this vast genre, but as I have said before, making the player discard a useful tool is lazy writing and an overplayed game mechanic.  While the voice acting was pretty good, the writing, particularly the dialog writing left a lot to be desired. I understand that we need to be thrust into the mystery straight away, but the nonchalance of our Aunt Gray as she searches the murder scenes of her nephews is troubling. I expected more trauma, more urgency, more thought into the narrative you want me to spend time with. What makes me place down dollars for a casual game is not necessarily unique game play or visuals, but a desire to see the story through to its conclusion. “Grim Tales: The Time Traveler,” while featuring some of the better puzzle mechanics of its contemporaries, suffers from dull writing and an interrupting ghost dad that, to be honest, talks to his daughter as if she were a moron. She should take that golf club and drive him into the sun.

The 111th Soul makes me admit to the Internet that I’m a big, ole scaredy-cat

There’s a lot to like about “The 111th Soul.” Created by a solo developer, Ricardo Pratas, and available on Steam, the sound-design and immersive feel to the game give this a deep atmospheric tone. Playing with mouse and keyboard was a little weird for me, as the fluid movement paired with my mouse settings made me a little woozy until I got used to it. I acclimated quickly, though, and was immediately absorbed into looking through the creepy house, checking out items, walking through doors, all the while waiting for the bad thing to happen.

That’s the atmosphere of “The 111th Soul,” knowing that the bad thing is right around the corner, behind a door, in another room. And, Internet, I’m here to tell you, I’m a wimp. I was a little stymied looking for a box of

matches, but once I set one thing in motion, I started to quaver. When the first bad thing happened, I took a few steps back and decided to try the front door again. Nope. I went room-by-room, willing the developer to give me some in-game release from the dread that was slowly taking over. I went back to the bad thing and discovered the way forward and for a moment, I thought, “it’s just a game, Girl Adventurer. You’ve got Adventure in your name for cripes sake!”

The creepy photos and grandfather clock really tie the room together….tick tock tick tock.

I tried the front door again.

“Nooooooooo,” my internal monitor screamed as I approached one of two closed doors. I knew there were more bag things afoot and as I approached the end of the hallway, one of those bad things made a noise.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. I hit the ESC key and quit. I’m a scaredy-cat.

This should be more than enough recommendation to try out Pratas’ “The 111th Soul.” If you enjoy this kind of immersive, shuddering experience, I think you will not be disappointed. In fact, go play it for me and come back and tell me how much fun it was. I’ll be sitting here, cowering by the front door, ready to run.

Dark City: London is an entertaining adventure mired with Victorian cliches…and one harmonica

Has anyone else wondered about the (probably not recent) trend of casual games suggesting that they are “best played with sound?” Has this been a problem in the genre, with millions of players missing out on the truly immersive experience of searching for items in a jacked-up carnival stand? While the voice acting and sound design of “Dark City: London” is well done, I can guarantee that presenting me with a harmonica-playing street waif isn’t the surest way to get me to turn up my speakers. Only second to the bagpipes, the harmonica is a guaranteed way to get me to turn the sound off. Make a note.

Well, old chap, looks like you’ve had a bit of a scrape.

The Victorian setting in “Dark City: London” goosed my academic gland, and while you play as a nondescript Sherlock Holmes type, the rest of the cast and settings are straight out of Olde Tyme Tropes catalog. The filthy-faced street urchin, the mysterious engineer, the cockney cab driver, and the headless demon haunting the newly erected clock tower, all of these are just variations on themes typically used to set the atmosphere during the time of Empire. Unfortunately, the writers at 4 Friends Games also sprinkled in a little of the “Oriental” stereotype, introducing us early on to the Romany “gypsy” fortune teller who signals the doom of the city: “When the great clock strikes, London shall fall.”

Yes…yes. I am sure this banana will be essential to my investigation.

The beginning of the game, working its way through some tutorials of its special features, feels slow and I felt as if it did much more hand-holding than was necessary for the average player. While I appreciate the deduction mechanic, the assembly of clues into particular circles, and then disseminating that information in separate steps felt redundant. Too many years playing escapes games have trained my brain to remember clues and patterns that the mere fact that I have to put the paper on the contraption in order to read the code seems so…elementary to me.

“Excuse me, gov’na, but I’m not sure what kind of ‘play’ you’re wanting, but it’ll cost extra.”

“Dark City: London” is perhaps the beginning of a new adventure series coming to Big Fish Games, and I would be interested to see where they place their protagonist next. The HOG games and puzzles are adequately challenging without being irksome and the time setting and sense of Britain’s empire lends itself to a multitude of adventures, as long as the writers become of aware of lazy stereotypes. If you’re into the Victorian era, Sherlock Holmes, deduction, or just an interesting story, definitely give “Dark City: London” a try.