It’s gonna take more than dry wall and a succulent garden to flip Cursed House 5

Cursed House 5 is, apparently, the fifth iteration of the Cursed House series available at Big Fish Games. Having missed the first four in the series, I had no preconceived notions heading into this sequel. Cursed House 5 is pretty much a straight up match-3 game with some interesting game mechanics that makes the matching game unique.

The overall premise of the game is to restore a large house that has fallen into demonic ruin. Each batch of three puzzles passed allows you to resurrect a new area of the dwelling. What impressed me the most about Cursed House 5 was the minimal interference of instructions or a guided tutorial. At first, this was refreshing, as I usually get frustrated at having my point-and-clicking predetermined by the game. Yet, there were moments when I was at a loss of what to do, in part because of the unusual features of Cursed House 5’s match-3 play.

The images are quite beautifully done even if those gold medallions reminded me of the Nazi eagle symbol.

I’m a firm believer in what made Bejeweled so popular early in casual gaming wasn’t the addictive game play or the sound design, but the ability to stare endlessly at the shiny, shiny jewels. Humans are attuned to shiny and Bejeweled, knowingly or not, played into that. Cursed House 5’s match-3 graphics fall into a similar vein and their design and detail avoided becoming mundane as I worked my way through fifteen iterations. While some of the mechanics are familiar – a power-up that lets you remove all of one type of game piece – others were new to me, such as making matches to move fire along the board to unfreeze pieces, or being able to choose out of a number power-ups to use. This kept the match-3 games from being boring and, at some points, made me impatient for the occasional card game that pops up as you progress.

Cursed House 5 is a great match-3 puzzler, without a forced story line that interrupts the game play. For an innovative approach to this type of game, give it a try.

Fairy Tale Mysteries restores most of my faith in the genre

After my less-than-lovely review of Forgotten Fairy Tales, I wanted to give the casual game developer community another try and downloaded another title in the genre: Fairy Tale Mysteries: The Puppet Thief. Originally released in 2012 by Gogii games, Fairy Tale Mysteries succeeds in nearly all the areas where the newer game fails. The voice acting is convincing and committed. The graphics are dense, but not overwhelming. And the puzzles are not the kind that insult the intelligence of the average, or not-so-average, casual gamer.

There is a fine line between too much direction in a game, and not enough. I pondered this furnace for a while.

As I played, it felt familiar, not in game play – these kind of games rarely break out of their molds – but in atmosphere and imagery and it’s quite possible that I played through the demo when it first game out. And while I think Fairy Tale Mysteries is an example of how good voice acting and story direction can elevate what would otherwise be a mundane HOG adventure game, I’m curious why I didn’t purchase it back then.

Puzzle of this type can get annoying quickly, but, if they’re visually stunning, I don’t mind.

The downside of playing a lot of these games is that aforementioned lack of “break out.” Even though I’ll continue playing and reviewing them, perhaps this genre is in need of a break away disrupter. Year after year, the HOG adventures may shift a little here, add a feature there, but they continue on with the same, old game mechanics and tired themes. Perhaps there is a philosophy that developers shouldn’t deviate from a formula that clearly works. But for how long? I also began reviewing smaller, independent games on this site and I am much more optimistic of finding something new and interesting there.

Nothing good ever comes about with a group of torch-wielding peasants.

Ultimately, while I would definitely recommend trying out this older title, Fairy Tale Mysteries: The Puppet Thief lacks a few features prominent in later HOG adventures: a map for navigation between areas, and an annoyingly hiding inventory area. If you can cast your game playing hands back a few years, these two missing mechanics won’t bother you too much, mainly because you’ll be so impressed that, at least at one time, a game developer cared about the voice acting in a HOG adventure game.


Forget you, Forgotten Fairy Tales, forget you

Full disclosure: I’ve studied fairy tales. Wrote my Master’s thesis on fairy tales. So when I downloaded the second game in the Forgotten Fairy Tales Series, I was a little curious as to what kind of stories were going to be featured. How would the game makers approach different folklore? Would the stories be mostly European in origin or would they plum the depths of our collective human creativity and reach beyond Perrault and the Grimms?

These are actually my hands, in the game, trying to hold this nonsense at bay.

Boy, those questions were a waste of time. So was this demo of The Forgotten Fairy Tales: Canvases of Time. The story line bored me from the moment is started, sprinkled with “Alice Carpenter’s” stilted and far-too-cheerful voice acting: “Hello Queen of Creation,” she says like she’s running late for a fucking parent-teacher conference. The villain hisses and gargles his dialog like he’s woken up with a case of pebble-throat, and the elf goes from high-pitched crying to some butter-smooth cooing. “You saved me a second time…” I shuddered. Blech.

Fiverr, probably.

The game play is your standard find, collect, walk back-and-forth, match, blah. The only interesting moments come from reanimating the golem – the least stony of all the acting – and creating a new lens through the magic of smeltery! The game’s protagonist, Alice Carpenter, is a folklore lecturer and, since she’s currently trapped in some Biff Tannen alternate fairy tale timeline, I’ll be more than happy to take over her classes.

“Welcome to the Biff Tannen Museum! Dedicated to Hill Valley’s #1 Citizen. And America’s greatest living folk hero. The one and only Biff Tannen.”

Assignment number one: 289 words on why this is a bad game.

Rewind Review: Azada

When I originally purchased Azada in 2008, it appears that I was looking for a straight forward puzzler without a lot of story elements. Azada delivered then, and still delivers now, though with ten years of casual games of all shapes and varieties coming after it, the game play does not completely hold up.

The lean story premise is about a curious man named Titus who was fiddling around with a book of puzzles and got himself cursed into a painting. You’re job, master puzzler you, is to move through ten chapters of puzzles (nine puzzles per chapter) to eventually free the curious scamp and declare yourself as the greatest puzzler of all time. That’s the entire premise and coming to Azada after all these years of heavily-themed casual games, I can honestly say it was a bit refreshing to have only one character with which to deal.

Granted, the puzzles themselves are relatively simple and you begin to wonder, around Chapter 3, if Titus’s judgement on this magical text isn’t a bit skewed. After the second round of matching butterflies, you even begin to wonder if Titus isn’t a magnificent idiot.

There are two factors of the Azada game play that make the game less enjoyable than I remember. One, there is no compelling reason to binge-play this game. If you’re looking for a casual game to spend an hour or two with on a snowy day, Azada isn’t a great choice. Quickly the puzzles become repetitive and the drive to move from chapter to chapter, at least for me, deteriorated into a necessity for completion. Second, and greatly related to the first factor, the variety and complexity of the puzzles becomes rather weary. With only around ten or twelve different puzzles to choose from, and nearly 90 moments of game play, the repetition leaves a lot to be desired. Also, in some cases the what the repeated puzzle lacks in difficulty it makes up for in length, thereby transforming tedious, basic puzzles into never-ending, tedious, basic puzzles. By Chapter 8, I was spending my “Skip” bonuses left and right.

The music of Azada reminds me of the Harry Potter soundtrack and was unobtrusive during game play. The graphic styling is typical turn-of-the-20th-century academic with a dash of the mystic; the “Orientalism” theme is particularly strong. The Azada book itself, is described as an “Eastern” text and the word “Azada” meaning “freedom or release” from some “Eastern language.”* Titus also assures you that the book is filled with the “greatest brain teasers of Asia, Africa, Russia…” giving us a general feeling of non-Occidental geography, though Russia is technically mentioned twice.

Azada is not a game to be played all at once, but taken a chapter a time. The story line is not so imperative that you can’t leave Titus in the painting for a day, or two, or ten years. Yet what shines about Azada is the staying power of pure puzzle games in general. So many of the casual games being distributed by Big Fish Games (Azada was made by them) owe something to Azada, whether it is the mystical theme or the hidden object mini games or the overarching genre of puzzling itself. Being trapped in a book/painting is very Myst-like (the granddaddy of the modern puzzle game) but Azada casts a spell of its own.

*I could not confirm azada’s meaning and I spent too much time trying to.


Delicious: Emily’s Moms vs Dads gave me indigestion

What bourgeois hell have I stumbled into? What deviant upper-middle-class purgatory has spawned the time management game that is Delicious: Emily’s Moms vs Dads? What loathsome specter of capitalism has wrought this foulness of casual gaming? Who the hell wants one olive in a large, plastic bag?

Moments into my game play I cringed at the sitcom-inspired insipidness that is Delicious’s version of the modern American family and, all the while, sitting mouth agape at the cringe-worthy dialog and dimwitted domestic drudgery, I struggled to get to some actual gameplay. There are screen shots I wish I’d taken, moments where I “ewwed” out loud at the wanton display of inanity. Yeah, it’s just a fun, little game, you say, but it upholds some of the most insidious narratives around gender roles in Western society.

Look at those Baby Boomers. Look at Patrick. Everyone should be ashamed of themselves.

Let’s talk about Patrick, the likable father figure, rendered totally inadequate within all the scenes I was willing to stomach. Taking vacation from his job at the florist, Patrick is caring for the children while Emily – up-and-coming food blogger, of course – is helping out at the local yuppie bodega. Look at his face. Look at it. The poor man is trying his best to be the perfect modern father, but the story won’t let him. The story is intent on Emily being a supermom and relegating all of Patrick’s parenting as inefficient. The game equates the parenting of children with emasculation and then insists that men will fail anyway.

I’m not only here to defend Patrick. I’m here to excoriate the types of narratives that have been plaguing the Western mediascape since the 1960s. By instilling the idea of the inadequate-domestic father into the backstory of American existence, we come to expect less of our father figures and expect everything from the mothers. We expect women to be harpies and men to be children. We say that since only women are effective as caregivers, they should only be caregivers. We appear to be honoring women, putting them and motherhood on a pedestal. What we are actually doing is shackling them to a domestic role and ostracizing men from parenting. It’s insulting to men and women. Patrick is trying, but the story won’t allow Patrick to succeed.

I want to know Patrick’s desires. I want to know if Patrick would like to leave the flower shop and be a full-time dad. I want to see Patrick say “Daddy is taking a vacation to be with you,” without the “help mommy” part of the equation.

I don’t want to even talk about the game play in Delicious: Emily’s Moms vs Dads because it’s rote store-based, time management game play. I do want to talk about a store that appears to have as a selection one small olive in a large plastic bag? This store is supposed to be about healthy choices – the scene at the beginning with the skeptical mother, a screen shot I wish I had, establishes this – and generally, ideally, environmental consciousness goes hand-in-hand with this ethos. But I’m nitpicking again, because there is so much more to dislike about the premise of this game and its characters that the game mechanics hardly matter.

“Please don’t hit me in the face with your pathetic attempt at disrupting gender roles!”

I don’t review many time management games because when I play them, I rarely get something different and their story lines are not particularly compelling. However, Delicious: Emily’s Moms vs Dads‘s story line was so insulting from the get-go, even if the narrative improved later, there was little to keep me playing to find out.

Rating: Why!?


Hunting for something more in Mystery Case Files: The Revenant’s Hunt

Mystery Case Files: The Revenant’s Hunt is the latest entry in Eipix’s Mystery Case Files series. Our intrepid detective must travel to Vermont to investigate the reanimation of one of Avondel’s prominent artists. As is typical with Eipix’s games, the openings and cut scenes truly shine in The Revenant’s Hunt, but the gameplay is plagued with some overdone adventure tropes and mildly annoying puzzles.

This cut scene before the end of the demo is great. Very…The Crow.

Excited after the introduction to dive into the game, it was the first puzzle – the valve/hatch puzzle – that turned me a bit sour. Personally, these types of puzzles, where the strategy does not outweigh the annoyance factor make me hit “Skip” even though I would eventually solve the puzzle. I tried, I really did, to concentrate and get all the little dials in the right position, but the mechanism was so uninteresting, by the time I got to more interesting puzzles – such as the pay phone puzzle – my heart wasn’t in it anymore.

It’s not The Revenant’s Hunt’s fault though; it is one more game in a long line of HOG/Adventure games that suffer from “it-worked-before” syndrome and, as I’m still early in this review blog’s renaissance, perhaps I’m just looking for that one title that disrupts the genre.

Maybe what The Revenant’s Hunt, and to a larger extent the Mystery Case File series represents – as it is a major series in the genre – is more of the same . Most likely this is because we, as consumers of casual games, aren’t necessarily asking for something new. Over the last couple of weeks I have found a slew of unusual independent games to be more enjoyable than the latest offerings at Big Fish Games and this saddens me. For years I took pleasure in trying out the latest game and buying those that truly intrigued me. Looking back over my past purchases, some dated all the way back to 2007, I had fond memories of playing some of those titles and quite possibly I’ll add some posts reviewing some of those classics from the past.

Ignoring The Count of Monte Cristo for a moment, there existed a Bertuccio Valiero who was…wait for it…the Doge of VeniceSo mysterious…much politics.

I still think Mystery Case Files is a great series – Madame Fate, my personal favorite – and The Revenant’s Hunt is a good edition to that line-up, however, I just want to see companies like Eipix, Madhead, etc. stretch the boundaries a bit, shake things up. See where the genre can take us.

Rating: Try

They Got No Strings in Puppetshow: The Curse of Ophelia

Before the opening sequence, Amax Interactive’s “Puppetshow: The Curse of Ophelia” has an essential warning:

“Please note this game contains dolls and puppets of all kinds.”

There are ready-to-animate demon dolls spread around and an arm dripping blood, but you want me to just shuffle past all that and head upstairs? Ok, game. Ok.

Never has there been a more essential warning in the history of casual gaming. I’m not new to the Puppetshow series, though it has been some years since I’ve played it, yet The Curse of Ophelia reminded me of how much I enjoy this series. While, at least during the demo, there doesn’t appear to be a crowbar at your disposal – something that would allow the player to dispatch of these porcelain nightmares with swift justice – I was pleased that I did not immediately abandon the knife I quickly acquired. Well done on allowing me to keep a useful tool!

The story in The Curse of Ophelia centers on actresses vying for the lead role in a play – possibly Hamlet. The unfortunate narrative of pitting two women against each other for some assemblance of success is tiring, but perhaps the turn-of-the-twentieth century timeframe allows for it. Still, since the game allowed me to pick from one of six characters on the outset – I picked the successful writer, obviously – it is possible that I am supposed to get my feminism on by role playing her.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than a mysterious cube.

Puppets are weird, little homunculi just waiting for a soul, and the puppets and dolls in The Curse of Ophelia bring the right amount of creep and dread that the story demands. Why anyone would willfully wind-up a possessed doll, I’ll never know, but she proves helpful in a few situations. Unfortunately, her inevitable betrayal is, well, inevitable.

Puppetshow: The Curse of Ophelia is well worth a try and, if you like, check out some of the other games in the series. Keep in mind, here there be dolls.

Rating: Try leaning toward Buy

Brothers are nothing but trouble! Shadowplay: The Forsaken Island

Big Fish Games, in their wonderful game manager, informs me that Shadowplay: The Forsaken Island from Madhead Games is their number one hidden-object game (HOG) right now. I can understand why. “Shadowplay” sounds like a Hallmark Channel adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey and “The Forsaken Island” hearkens back to those glory days when Lost was still fresh and fans weren’t yet arguing over the internet how bad the ending was.1

Our character is on a mission to find out what happened on an island dominated by a research facility looking into ways to harness the energy of the atom. As a student of Western humanities, I can guarantee this has never happened before in history or has ever resulted in really bad times. Ambrose Island, a not so subtle call to ambrosia (the nectar of the gods), is home to Corptex, those scrappy pioneers of near limitless energy. Somehow our brother Mark got caught up in all their zany shenanigans. And, just like in middle school when he ran away from home, it’s our job to head out into the night and save his ass.

Course, this ain’t no walk to the Piggly-Wiggly.

I really do attempt to get into the story of a game, but I believe that language is B-Movie-Robot.

Shadowplay features the kind of multi-level hidden object games that alleviate some of the duller aspects of the typical HOG puzzle. Multiple items to find, manipulation of the environment, and the assembly of certain objects give the player a little more than the usual clip-art hunt that most HOGs rely upon. The game also features expositional HOGs, where the items needed to be found are in the narration itself. I appreciate those, as sometimes I find myself ready to take on the next challenge and flipping through the story line. However, it’s the story of Shadowplay: The Forsaken Island that is the most compelling.

There is so much going on in this screenshot. Who is Mark warning to “Go Away?” How was the energy crisis solved? Why are there cobwebs in a room that was only recently a functioning workshop? What’s with that half-assed map? How is that metal stripping reinforcing anything??

Not having a sibling of my own, I can still sympathize with the player-character’s need to save her brother from the ill effects of Corptex. Unfortunatly, in 2018, I think the evil corporation scheme has been played out as an archetype while it’s playing out in front of our eyes every day. The inevitable twist is less inevitable than ealier in the game than I would have predicted and the puzzles, while sometimes clever, often rely on the annoying movement back and forth between rooms to gather pieces of items that are single use only. Seriously, I just had a pocket knife a little while ago, why the hell am I wasting time putting together a garden scythe?

Zane is pretty adamant about us sitting down and watching Property Brothers. “There are two screens because they are twins!”

Yet those are complaints I have with the entire genre of hidden-object puzzle games. Far too often the adventure relies upon the need to get a bolt here, and a rag there, and then stumble back to the starting area to finally open a box that has the pliers…which I will immediately discard after one use. At least Shadowplay: The Forsaken Island has an interesting story line, attempts some jump scares, and contains a helpful map that makes all the backtracking less painful.

Rating: Try


Totally-not Aladdin match-3 is totally-not good.

My god.

I have nothing against an inoffensive match-3 game. I was playing Bejeweled back in the day. Cubis was my jam, and Qbeez, my only friends. So I get the appeal.

But Legends of India*, newly released at Big Fish Games, is what happens when you take a simple gaming mechanic, wrap it up in some ethnic stereotypes, and desperately try to skirt the copyright lawyers of Disney Studios.

Let me introduce you to Totally-not Jasmine.

I’ve got no words for the gameplay, because I was so offended by the stereotype (I’ve a humanities degree, I am legally obligated to be offended) that I powered my way through eleven or twelve levels of mundane matching.

Correction: there was one mini-game where I had to find ten bananas.

We’re moving past ethnic stereotypes and straight into species-ist territory here.

Totally-not Abu may have stolen some bananas from Totally-not Aladdin, but the two become quick friends and help each other out because, as we all know, Aladdin, I mean Totally-not Aladdin knows what it is like to be hungry.

“monkey Shiny” is the name of my Bloodhound Gang cover band.

Ganesh appears in an LSD-induced slide across the screen to teach you how to match-3. Every time. Every level. Ganesh does not trust your intellect.

And by rights, he shouldn’t. I mean, look at the type of game you’re playing.

Legends of India is the casual game equivalent of those sketchy Lord of the Rings DVDs your grandmother bought you from the dollar store. Don’t bother. Stay away. Go read a good translation of One Thousand and One Nights or Hitopadesha instead.

Totally not a street rat.

Rating: Why?!

*I ain’t even linking to it. Go find it yourself.


Shouldn’t Germans sound German?: Hidden Expedition: The Golden Secret

Eipix Entertainment are the masters of the casual series. On their HOPA (Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure, I think) page, the never-ending scroll of titles gives you a taste of their place in the genre. Hidden Expedition is a series I’ve encountered before, but, as I will continually remind you, dear reader, for at least the first month, I’ve been away from casual gaming for quite some time, so I was looking forward to playing this chapter of the saga.

The logo cut scene for Eipix is impressive and lends some weight to the company as a major player in casual entertainment. The opening title for Hidden Expedition: The Golden Secret Collector’s Edition (no standard edition as of yet) suggested that Eipix knows how to market a series and while the game was “loading dangerous situations,” I expected to enjoy my 40+ minutes of demo play before deciding to ultimately buy the whole game.

Alas, it was not meant to be. While the initial puzzles were entertaining, particularly the exposition/puzzle with the auction manager, soon the puzzles either became routine HOGs at best or insulting hand-holders at worst.

Thanks, Carol. Do you accept Bitcoin as payment for your ridiculous database access?

For example: at one point you need to secure a key card to enter a locked office. The order in which I found items were – card maker, spreadsheet with key codes, actual locked door, map designating room number behind locked door. The order here hardly matters, but what does matter is that I had, just in procuring that list of items/information, more than enough to create my shiny new key card. I was ready to hit the “Hint” button until I thought, “what would a simple person do.” Without spoiling the terrible mechanics, suffice to say that there are a number of steps between knowing and doing in that one puzzle to put me off the rest of the game.

The voice acting is fine so long as you don’t look at the characters in the game while they’re talking. The German guard lacks even the slightest German accent (I mean, we did just land in Munich, the cut scene said so) and while narratively pointless hoops go hand-in-hand with most HOGs, or HOPAs, I found I couldn’t get the hang of caring about this game and probably by extension, the rest of the series. Hidden Expedition: The Golden Secret is available at Big Fish Games and if you’re looking for an easy casual game for an afternoon, or you’re a big fan of the series, give it a try. Otherwise, this HOPA is a bit hopeless.

Rating: WHY?!

Now we dance! Cadenza: The Eternal Dance

One thing I’ve come to expect, after years of playing and years of not-playing, the typical Hidden Object Game (HOG) is that you can pick two of the following: 1) intriguing storyline, 2) clever puzzles, 3) enchanting visuals. Cadenza: The Eternal Dance skips out on number three, as I see it, because I have no idea what is going on with Elaine’s neck in this picture.

Look at my fancy mask, Theo. You cannot deny its fanciosity.

The latest available on Big Fish from Madhead Games, Cadenza continues a narrative from an earlier game that I have not played. Yet, the notion of selling one’s soul for a particular talent permeates Western and non-Western stories that the karmic comeuppance is darn near universal. Unfortunately, Theo has apparently sold his soul to be the virtuoso of the local pizza parlor. Way to keep the bar low, Theo.

The game elements were enjoyable. The hidden object puzzles contained some nice side bits instead of just searching for clip-art. The narrative puzzles were not so tangential that one had to travel forever collecting a myriad of non-related items just to fall into a solution. We were given the elusive tire iron (a kissing-cousin of my beloved crowbar) and a map that made travel more bearable.  However, the logical peril of most of these games is why the character would chose to keep an empty paint can over the much more useful axe.

Yes, it is a narrative necessity, but it is currently 2018, we have moved beyond this, no?

Cadenza: The Eternal Dance is another HOG in the classic style and doesn’t necessarily stand apart from genre. It is inoffensive, mildly challenging and at moments, entertaining.

Rating: Try

Hiddenverse: The Iron Tower

It’s been over three years since I prowled the grisly edges of this blog and after attaining a black belt in criticism, I have returned, ever ready to apply my honed perception upon the land of casual games.

“I should do this again,” I said, “it will be fun.”

Had my first casual game not been the Big Fish Games’s offering of “Hiddenverse: The Iron Tower,” I would have readily scheduled my way into a long series of game analysis and casual championing the like this corner of the webbar-verse has never seen!

Alas, “Hiddenverse” has nearly killed my will to game. I have been away from casual gaming for some time, but I had come to expect some challenge, perhaps even a heightened challenge due to my absence. Would I still be able to find those hidden objects? Would I be able to match three, let alone four or five? What, if anything, will I be able to do when I find the mighty crowbar? All of these worries left as I trudged through ten or so levels of object matching stuffed in between what appeared to be, in the tiny snippets that are allotted to the player, a much more interesting story.

Your task is to match pairs of objects. Robots, levers, tea cups, statues; a whole array of ephemera for your clicking pleasure. And as a casual gaming level, that is perfectly fine. However, the next level, and the next, and the next, all possess the same startlingly dull array of game play (match the pairs, match the trios, OH! MATCH THE PAIRS AND THE TRIOS) and the same startlingly dull array of objects.

I can’t read that many words. Pairs? Threes? The hell do you want me to do?*

This is the fundamental fault of this game: no variation of objects. I found myself enjoying (in relative terms) searching for the blue crystals to gain hints rather than matching pairs of decorative tchotchkes that would be more home on the walls of a Romanian T.G.I.Fridays. While I fully understand the self-imposed limitation of a low-risk casual game–one that will fall quietly into Big Fish Games’s calendar of past releases–I unfortunately chose “Hiddenverse” as my triumphant return into casual gaming reviews.

Here’s to better choices in the future.

Rating: Why??