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.

Skirting a religious minefield and falling asleep playing The Chonicles of Jonah and the Whale

If there is one thing of which I am certain, after twenty-plus years online, is that there is no better place than the Internet for well-behaved, deliberate conversations about religion. Now, with that welcoming environment in mind, I still downloaded the demo of “The Chronicles of Jonah and the Whale,” a match-3 game recently released at Big Fish Games. Considering my own stance on religion and personal faith 1 I went into this game only with an interest in the approach itself, not with a notion to reifiy or deify its message. And while e-fun soft, the makers of “The Chronicles of Jonah and the Whale” seem to approach this game with a clear agenda, the actual fun 2 of the game is what I want to explore.

The ladies in the back are impressed with my spirit.

I would continue by explaining that I don’t see too much evolution in match-3 gaming presently, yet my recent playthrough of Cursed House 5 suggests there are still some games that surprise me with their mechanics and puzzles. Unfortunately, “The Chronicles of Jonah and The Whale” put a premium on preaching and not enough on play. The story of Jonah could be ripe with adventure and daring, presented in a certain way, but this game delays the story until certain amounts of bonuses are achieved. The story is given through “scenes” that have to (have to) be watched in order to continue to the next stages. With strangely Celtic-sounding music in the background, the slow-moving story relies heavily on the Word and less on the words themselves. In a nutshell, “The Chronicles of Jonah and The Whale” is dull.

“Really? I always pictured you taller.”

I only made it to the second scene, “Revelation from God,” expecting something more than dove clip art and a deep voice. God should be thunderous, formidable, and dang-near unintelligible, right. This is God we’re talking about, right? I’ve never understood why some of his biggest followers make God so uninteresting. Yet in the end, my wait to get to scene 2 was in vain. The journey there was relatively passive as well, with what few mechanics outside of matching there were, the instructions for which were sparse, leaving me to decipher their mysterious ways. Near the end of my playthrough I found myself letting the game’s AI make suggestions, guiding me through the puzzles, releasing myself from all sense of personal responsibility as I came to the point of “Revelation.”

“The Chronicles of Jonah and The Whale” may find faith in true believers who continue to explore the narratives of the Old Testament and delight in navigating those stories. But the game will do little conversion, if that’s its goal, and only find itself lost among the waves of better, more innovative match-3 games. If Nineveh is the center of sin, with its scantily-clad women and general fun, “The Chronicles of Jonah and The Whale” is its anathema. The book is better.

“God? Do you know where my shirt is?”

Remember kids, arrows that go up, eventually come down

Ah, this game is too much fun. If I ever need a reminder of how bad my aim is in games, particularly side-scrolling games, this little bow-and-arrow shooter will put me in my place in no time. Feeling the need to play something new, I headed over to the Unity game room and found this little gem by Garakuta called (maybe) “Demon Attack [魔物討伐].” Here’s my advice, don’t let the large, red skull surrounded by small skeletons skulkily skulking in the sky distract you. For if you do you miss out on two things: one, the small skeletons hop down to the ground and git ya; and two, arrows you shoot up, can come back down on your head.  Head over and give it a try, if not to impress me with your mad bow skills, then to just sit there while the epic music plays in the background.

After lasting nearly six seconds, I let the music play in the background. There are a bazillion skeletons eating my face right now.

Stumbling through boredom and wishing for death while playing Donna Brave: And the Deathly Tree

Normally I don’t read the reviews on Big Fish Games when I’m searching for something to review. I have found them to be a little to skewed on the positive side, quite possibly due to the avid players on the forum and their love of the genre. I don’t discount them either. We just come to these games from different avenues. Yet, when I saw that Donna Brave: And the Deathly Tree received only two stars out of five, I knew I had to play it.

There is part of me that wants to believe that Madhead decided to create an ironic game that comments on the overall HOG adventure genre. This part of me desires to picture the developers in a far away land, coming together in a meeting and deciding, “let’s take some of the most annoying elements of the games we’ve made so far, add a terrible story line, and produce a game that actually makes the player want to sacrifice themselves to the Deathly Tree.” The meeting ends with many high-fives and the smug satisfaction that their product will be lauded as the death knell of a genre only to be the harbingers of some new exciting medium.

Ha!

Just sit tight, Kathi. Be glad you don’t have to search around for drawer handles and thimbles, mkay?

The collection aspects of Donna Brave are so redundant and ridiculous that any suspension of disbelief left over from accepting the “Deathly Tree” in the title is quickly spirited away from the sheer drudgery that is this game. It’s only saving grace is the map mechanic, allowing the player to see what areas have active puzzles and what areas have been cleared. Trust me, clearing an area has a euphoric effect as you’ll never have to stumble into that morass of a dining room again. Unfortunately, I feel as if I’ve logged my 10,000 steps playing Donna Brave without anything to actually show for it.

“Zey’re……….lethal.” The voice acting would be superb is there was any self-awareness.

Reuniting with an old school friend, Donna Brave is thrust into a arboreal nightmare as her friend, Kathi, succumbs to the lascivious roots of the “Deathly Tree.” 1 Immediately you will see how Donna Brave refuses to subvert the genre by handing you a strange set of tasks to complete while your school chum struggles mere feet away. “Hold on Kathi,” you say, “I have to do a number of strange and inconsequential tasks in order to find the one tool I need to get to you, which I will then promptly abandon. Won’t be a sec.”

Those surrounding Kathi are a cadre of Clue discards and vaguely European relatives. The rooms of the house are a shambles of puzzle boxes and incomplete mechanisms that convince the player that the “Deathly Tree” couldn’t have found a more deserving garden in which to grow. It’s a wonder Kathi and her ilk can function on a daily basis, tree notwithstanding. “Leon! I can’t use the toilet paper unless I unlock the bathroom cabinet after finding both halves of the ostrich key and all I have is half a shovel and a blue gem! HELP!”

The only help this guy gave me was a playing card and a case of the heebie-jeebies.

Generally, as I played through the demo, the switch back between collection and game was so unbalances that frequently I had an inventory full of disparate items that I frequently forgot where the hell I needed them. As the game went on, I frequently forgot to care as well. Thankfully, at the end of the demo, as soon as you find the most important botanical diary – I guess – the leaf, “the one that marks a person for death,” falls on your wrist and the demon roots surround you before the world turns black. I have never wished for a such a woody embrace in all my life.

Reflecting on the mirror imagery in Lost Grimoires 2: The Shard of Mystery

Why does everything have to be “_____ of mystery?” The “Book of Mystery.” The “Cat Hair of Mystery.” The “Discarded Mitten on the Side of the Highway Mystery.” 1 Lost Grimoires 2: The Shard of Mystery leaves little mystery or, for that matter, shards, for the player to suss out. In the opening scene (I never skip scenes) we’re reminded that the evil Drosera, mostly malicious at her malevolent moniker, will find her vengeance against the King and his son for imprisoning her in a mirror. Here is where we are introduced to the mystery of the shard as we see a pair of child’s hand picking up the piece of the broken mirror that has fallen away. Why a magical mirror containing and evil priestess could be accessible to children is a discussion for another day. 2

I’m rooting for you Drosera. Go!

Lost Grimoires 2: The Shard of Mystery is a pretty standard casual adventure game, filled with the occasional HOG and combination puzzles that have become standard in the genre. The game also features what looks to be an underutilized alchemy system that, at least in the demo, is only used thrice. The voice acting ranges from okay to annoying (especially with the prince) but he grows up soon enough and you’ll be rid of that meddlesome cloying chirp. The background music in Lost Grimoires is also among the highlights of the game, though unfortunately it emphasizes the clunkiness of the sound effects during game play. With such urgency in the story line – save the Prince! – it’s a shame that I wouldn’t have found an ill-placed “SPROINGGGG!” out of place.

The mirror imagery isn’t to be ignored. A well-known trope of fairy tales, mirrors are often associated with women, typically women of power. In the patriarchal rewrites of most folklore3 this was meant to connect vanity with evil; self-reflection with ambition. Women, in these rewrites, are to be submissive and uncaring of their own beauty. Oh, they absolutely must posses beauty, but they must be completely unaware of it and unwilling to maintain it, even though it must persist. Drosera’s graying hair, her powerful aura, her villainous up-do, all signal to an aging woman desperate to hold onto power through sorcery, since the beauty of youth has faded. When all your princesses are young, what’s a mature woman to do? Also, notice that there is no queen in this story. Older women are to be distrusted, unless you are the protagonist of this game, the royal medic (whose name I have forgotten), yet that only reinforces my point. As the good older woman, your job is to serve and be invisible. As the playable character you never get to see yourself (at least in the demo), no matter how close you stand to the mirror. Only Drosera can be seen reflected. Perhaps she’s there as a reminder of what happens to women when they become ambitious.

One of the best comments I can give to Lost Grimoires is that I was so bound up in progressing that I forgot to take regular screenshots, yet that also may exaggerate my enjoyment. While the garden maze and exposition puzzles were interesting, Lost Grimoires 2: The Shard of Mystery is still not the game to shatter this genre. The search continues.

Get your errand-girl groove on with the fun Tales of Nebezem

Lost in a sea of adequate, but repetitive casual games from Big Fish, I decided to branch out a bit and look for some interesting games father afield. I’d been an avid player at Kongregate years ago and returned to see what was currently trending. Tales of Nebezem: The Golden Scepter was recommended to me early and it was spot on. This small RPG game was not only entertaining, but dang, it had a nice groove.

In fact, “Good Music” is one of the ways players have tagged Nebezem and trust me, it’s worthy of it. You play as Danu, a young girl in town who is quickly punished for having a big heart and a menace of a dog. To her credit, she only finds the dog at the start of the game, but the terrorizing terrier wreaks so much havoc so quickly she is immediately sent upon a quest(s) to make restitution to all of the injured neighbors. The collection trope is strong in Nebezem, but don’t let that dissuade you from playing. While every successive character may have a desire that Danu must fill to progress, the hopping music and easy game play make it difficult to stop playing this little gem. The game play is typical of an RPG game, though some of the puzzles are quite unique. I’ve yet to find the magical item that will make the chicken lay an egg, yet, if video games have taught me anything, getting a chicken to do something is damn near impossible.

Creator Beranek has also released a larger RPG game called Tales of Nezebem: Elemental Link. Set in the same world as the Kongregate game, this promises to be a much larger adventure, full of the same charm as the shorter game. After playing Golden Scepter I went ahead and purchased Elemental Link and look forward to playing and reviewing it soon.

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.

FairyTaleMysteries02
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.

FairyTaleMysteries01
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.

FairyTaleMysteries06
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.

 

Dord is Doughy and Delightful

There was no way to resist the puffy protagonist of NarwhalNut’s Dord when I saw him over at Game Jolt. It’s the bow tie. I’m a sucker for bow ties. This 2D puzzler certainly delivers the cute as you navigate the colorful world with Midy, the little ghost that wants to become a real knight.

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That berry girl is totally stanning Midy.

I’m still playing the game and while the objectives are clear, some of the puzzles are surprisingly challenging. Yet the music and visuals of Dord make the game nearly impossible to put down. Do you get the sense that I like this game?

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What do you mean I gotta defeat this bunny? Woook a his big ole eyes!

Dord reminds me of the pixely detailed worlds of early NES games and PC point-and-click adventures, and as those were my gateways games years ago, the aesthetic works on my nostalgia glands. Thankfully Dord offers a story line and game play that does not disappoint. Get your puffy little hands on it today.

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The wandering post-person, who reminds me of a kodama, allows you to save your progress. He is a little suspicious, though.

Moral Obligation in Don’t Take This Risk

I downloaded this game by Poison Apple Tales on a whim based on the screen shot of the menu. I had no idea what was in store for me, nor any idea what the game was about. Unless I’m on the fence about something, I tend to stay away from promotional material, letting my high-quality visual acumen be the judge of what game I will play next.

Thankfully, Don’t Take This Risk comes with a warning that gives me a glimpse into the journey the player is about to take.

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It took me a while to click to continue.

After this, it goes without saying that there is a big trigger warning when approaching Don’t Take This Risk and I want to underline that here. I played through three times, the first two time I earned the same ending, #1, out of a possible nine. On the third play through, I earned ending #2. I wasn’t able to sit through ending #1 a second time. This game, in the early areas at least, is devoid of graphical distractions. It’s just you and another voice and this blackness erases any visual stimulation. The player and the character are connected only through language, verbal or written, and this makes for a more exhilarating experience. On the first play through, my heart raced a bit as I struggled to answer questions within the time limit, yet on the second, I found myself rushing through the character responses so I could get to a place to make a different choice. Still, after earning ending #1 again, I was troubled enough to take out my ear buds while the ending “happened.” Even the second time, the emotional work wore me down.

I can’t and won’t speak to the other options in Don’t Take This Risk, as I don’t want to lead you down one path or the other. Yet, if you do decide to play this game, please be warned that it deals with disturbing subjects such as abusive relationships and suicide. If those hit too close to home, feel free to take a pass.