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.

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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.

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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?

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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

 

Up is Down, Left is Where? The Night Henry Allen Died

I really want to love “The Night Henry Allen Died.” Everything about this browser game at Armor Games appeals to me. I love the isometric graphics. I love the music and sound design. I love the story. I love the whole idea of this game.

I just didn’t love playing it.

This is probably more about my own inadequacies than any of the game, but I found myself completely stymied by two things:

The controls: I’m not new to isometric gaming, nor keyboard gaming, but intuitively I found myself thinking that the upper-left direction was “up” and not “left” as coded for the game. There are only a few areas to explore but because my hand would not adapt to the game’s cardinal north, I found navigating terribly frustrating. This could also be due to the starting area, where the exit is found in the upper left.

The dialog: I’m all for a game that’s based solely on dialog, but I would have liked to see conversation choices that I had already run through eliminated, especially as you gain more information or meet more characters there are more items to scroll through. As with the movement controls, this is only done through the arrow keys and by the time I tap down to the newest topic of discussion, I’ve forgotten why I’m even asking.

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The moon probably kept hitting the left arrow instead of the up arrow and got lost.

I played one time last night after seeing it mentioned on Twitter. I went in with the best intentions and felt frustrated by the controls. I decided to leave it for the day and come back to it fresh in the morning. Unfortunately, I had the same issues, my right hand unwilling to reorient itself to the controls and the incessant down-arrowing to get past old dialog became stale quickly. I proceeded further than yesterday, but I can’t say that I found the second play-through better than the first.

“The Night Henry Allen Died” is a potentially interesting game, particularly in its story…goal(?), however some basic control issues keep it from being a more immersive narrative.

Rating: Try

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I wanted to stay, but…

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Escaping from SBKMan

Continuing the Renaissance of Girl Adventurer’s Casual Reviews, I combed the last few weeks of Weekday Escapes over at JayIsGames.com. Apparently ole “Jay” is looking for writers, and yours truly was dang near ready to log into my Prodigy email account and send over an how-do-ya-do. Buuuut, perhaps let’s wait until I’ve had more than a few reviews spread over a four year period, ya?

SBKThis little gem caught my eye, and while the quick write-up in the original post didn’t make much sense of the SBK escape game, those commenting picked up on its charm. The cliché description would be “escape room inception,” yet, that is also the best description. The gameplay is what you would expect from escape games, but the twist in SBK was delightful. With each, let’s call it an iteration, I found myself smiling at the creator’s cheekiness. Well done.

SBKMan’s other games include: Cat Escape (猫の脱出)- which is adorable and features a cat that shoots invisible lasers (apparently); Charlotte’s Room and Charlotte’s Room 2 (I admit I got stuck on this one) which work as companions to Cat Escape (if not early proof of concept). Desk (机) is frustratingly adorable, yet the only thing you have to escape is your own messy surface. It was nice to discover SBKMan’s games and not suffer through the 400th version of Monkey Go Happy.

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.

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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??

*Izayaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

 

The Empty Kingdom

The Empty Kingdom
Nothing out of the ordinary here…

Featured on jayisgames.com a few days long ago, The Empty Kingdom is a subtle bit of narrative game play that, in light of the full story, is quite touching. I’m not giving too much away. The game is by Daniel Merlin Goobrey, who’s website e-merl.com features comics, hypercomics as well as some of his academic writing. I’m looking forward to delving deep into his site and looking forward to what he creates next.

Ancient Forest Escape

This is a short but beautiful escape game. Ancient Forest gives you subtle clues to find the four keys to unlock the magic gate. Similar to Esklavos’s Paper World series, the atmospheric background music and visuals hide the fact the game is so short. I’ve included a walkthrough below the picture if you need help, or, smartypants, try it on your own.

Ancient Forest is Ancient
Ancient Forest is Ancient

Ancient Forest Walkthrough:

  1. Go to the Right Screen and pick up the Stick and the Knife (click on the bag on the ground). The big, bad spider is preventing you from doing more. With the Knife, grab the Flower (bottom left).
  2. Go the Left Screen and read the inscription on the top right stone: “Flowers for the ghosts, roots for the dead, poison for the living beings… And burn!” Well, you’ve already got the Flower, so place it into the bowl.
  3. Cut the string on the left stone with your Knife and get the Cloth. Combine the Cloth and the Stick to get an unlit Torch.
  4. Go back to the Center Screen and click on the lamp to light your Torch 
  5. Now, scare that bad spider away in the Right Screen. Now you can access the rest of the items on this screen (but not the bag, it will just twitch when you click it, you can’t pick it up.)
  6. Grab the Shovel, the Urn and read the note on the pillar, it gives you a leafy pattern for a puzzle in the Center Screen, so let’s do it.
  7. In the Center Screen, click on the branches on the right corner and see the “pipe” puzzle. When rotating the angles, you will find that after one rotation, the branches will turn straight and then back to the angle again. Reproduce the pattern on the note and receive the White Key.
  8. Let’s head back to the Left Screen. Now, use your mighty Shovel and dig up that obviously pink mound of dirt. Congrats! Now you have a Root. Add it to the Bowl.
  9. All you need is the poison. One of those mushrooms is not like the other. Using your Knife, cut it loose and add it to the Bowl.
  10. Remember the inscription said “…And Burn!” Well, you’ve got a Torch, don’t you? Congrats! You’ve got the Yellow Key. But we’re not done here yet.
  11. Click on the Crystal in the middle of the circle of stones and read: “Deep in the crystal, a voice says: Look at me…” Well, someone needs attention, don’t they. Now that you have those handy, glowing symbols on the four stones, change each one to an Eye and, tada, the Red Key is now yours.
  12. But what about this Urn, you ask? Well, seems that the demons are on the loose. Have you been noticing those scary, glowing eyes watching you from the background? Click on them (one in each screen) and you’ll fill the urn. Put the urn back on the pillar in the Right Screen and you’ll earn (or urn) you the Blue Key.
  13. Now use your keys in the Center Screen and you’re out!

Candy Rooms No. 13 – Black Modern

Sometimes the Weekday Escape at Jayisgames.com pisses me off. Actually, it’s these damn Candy Room games that piss me off – and I KEEP PLAYING THEM. An easy way to spend ten minutes while putting off things that actually earn me money – brains are weird.

Here! All the candy is here! Why does this game not have a crowbar?
Here! All the candy is here! Why does this game not have a crowbar?

Another room, similarly set up with a new design layout. Think of an escape room game played on the set of Changing Rooms (not the terrible US remake that was Trading Spaces) and you’ll get an idea of what Candy Room’s about.

At first I thought, 'how does the pic on the left mean "8"', then I was all, 'oh..I have to figure it out.' Good one, Candy Room.
At first I thought, ‘how does the pic on the left mean “8”‘, then I was all, ‘oh..I have to figure it out.’ Good one, Candy Room.

That’s already two paragraphs dedicated to a flash game. Go play it if you must.