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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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