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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we talk about Loki’s bunny slippers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?”

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.

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.

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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.

 

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?

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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!?