There’s really little more I can say about the run-of-the-mill paranormal HOGs. I mean it, they are all the same and each time I try out a new title thinking I can find something worth critiquing, increasingly I am coming up empty. Yet think about how delighted I was to stumble upon “Whispered Secrets: Enfant Terrible” over at Big Fish Games. Here was something upon which I could hang my morphing hat/beach ball. Finally I had something to say.
Ethan sucks and he should die.
Your pathetic attack is easy dismissed by collecting green orbs and the movies of Pauly Shore.
At first glance, “Darkarta: A Broken Heart’s Quest” plays like your run-of-the-mill HOG game: tracking and backtracking, finding pieces of strange objects, unusual amulets that unlock mysterious books. Further playing reveals that “Darkarta” is remarkably dull and I’ve channeled most of my opinions into snarky photo captions. Yet, there are two high points that make the game worth trying out.
First, some of the puzzles are quite beautiful and entertaining. While I usually lose patience with “move the pieces until they’re in the right order” puzzles, a few of the incidental games are challenging enough to be enjoyable. While overall “Darkarta” is typical for the genre, there are incidental areas and objectives that feel carefully thought out and crafted.
Secondly, and in my opinion, most importantly, “Darkarta” features some of the absolute worst voice acting I’ve heard from HOG games. The male antagonist sounds like the manager your car salesman brought into the office to sweeten the deal and the female antagonist harpily harpies as if The Little Mermaid’s Ursula didn’t change everything when it came to the female villain.
And don’t get me started on your playable character. She is supposed to be trying to find her kidnapped child after discarding her injured husband, yet the emotional acting comes out in spits and spurts, not unlike the diesel fuel you’re tasked to find. The games does come with a CROWBAR OF DESTINY, which is always a treat, but there is very little here to warrant playing beyond the demo, which I didn’t and you shouldn’t. There are better HOGs out there. I promise to let you know when I find one.
I’ve mentioned “Orientalism” before when discussing a game, but “Persian Nights: Sands of Wonder” is one of the more blatant examples of using another culture—or the Western fantastical narrative of that culture—as setting for a story. I use the word setting not merely as the physical space where the story plays out, but as a visceral backdrop, a design element that informs the plot and characters of the story. And while in my previous invocation of the term on this site it was merely as accent to an otherwise enjoyable game, “Persian Nights” relies on its exoticism as an excuse to deliver an amateurish hidden object game (HOG) with little to no challenging elements.
Your character is Tara, outlined in the beginning exposition as a local healer trying to discover the source of the blight upon her land. I use local lightly here as she is portrayed as an American-accented white woman, at least in her voice and the few moments where we see her hand. Soon she teams up with the blue-eyed Darius, also trying to keep a magical talisman away from the evil Zaved, a bearded grand vizier to the ailing king. We’ve seen elements of this story before, done better if not done more accurately.
When Jake Gyllenhaal was cast as Dastan in the Prince of Persia film, there was some talk of white-washing, but the full force of that critique would come for later films as we all became a little more aware of the way entertainment continually plays to the lowest common denominator: a white guy. Author John Scalzi once said: “In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.” Developers decided that their main demographic was and always would be white men, who either wanted to play a hyper-masculinized version of themselves, or as a female character whose body was up for continual critique. Game creators still make those choices today, sometimes making the default-white-male intentionally as a provocation to what is deemed a loss in status; aloss that largely exists within their own minds.
However, in the widely ignored realm of HOGs, the demographic appears to be the white female. So often these games, particularly on the Big Fish Game platform, have a curious vanilla woman in the protagonist role. Her actions are nearly always reactionary as she stumbles from room to disorganized room to reassemble one puzzle or another to rid the land of evil. “Persian Nights” falls into this category as well, giving Tara no larger roles than nursemaid to Darius and the figurative laundry-picker-upper of a world in disarray. The exoticism of the scenery, the “Other” nature of the villain, even the fantastical creatures, all serve to allow this woman to have some culturally-adjacent adventure and join her male companion in becoming the white savior.
As I have mentioned before, you may argue that I look too deeply into a $7 game few people will hear of, let alone play. Yet, I need to emphasize that it is sometimes the “lowest” forms of a medium, those most accessible to the most people, that require the greatest scrutiny. There are enough people critiquing the world of AAA games—some much better than myself—but on this site, I have to look at these middling games, because what begins as casual soon becomes conventional and even small games should do better.
I don’t know if there is a prequel to “League of Light: The Game,” but there has to be some previous explanation to the pumpkin-headed golem sidekick our investigator carries around. While the impish gourd is quite useful in some areas, its sudden appearance in the carriage/car (inevitable accident in 3…2…1…) left me slightly disconcerted. Granted, I’ve been away from the HOG genre for a time, but to think that we’ve turned our fall harvest into slave-like automatons will give me pause the next time I need to bake a pie.
Ok, I’ve checked. Apparently this is “the latest thrilling adventure in the League of Light series” so I’m guessing Pumpkin Head has a back story. And while I may dive into the series’ catalog to shed some light on its manifestation, I’m not keen to do it now as I’ve just slogged through the demo portion of this current chapter.
I have to give “League of Light” credit where it’s due: the graphics are visually appealing and the motions graphics in the manipulation scenes are better than the norm. Pumpkin Head, for all its creepiness, is especially well acted by the animators, and perhaps its that sense of personality that drives me right into the uncanny valley. So, well done? Yet the game, like most of its cousins, suffers from the same bloated hide and seek gameplay that has, unfortunately, completely redefined the HOG genre. Room by room, area by area, the most challenging puzzles amount to nothing more than those that take the most time, have the most tiles/items to manipulate, have to most tracks to…back track. Only the inclusion of an interactive map actually makes these games playable.
What “League of Light” does okay visually, it makes up for in horribly dull voice acting. My character — I chose the female voice — is so completely uninterested in her investigation, in the happenings around her, of the strange vegetable companion she travels with, I found myself rooting for her complete demise. Thankfully, the demo ends with a cliffhanger after you’ve been poisoned, but I’ll stake a slice of pumpkin pie on it that you don’t actually die. You’ll want to, but you won’t.
The story in “League of Light” is hardly worth mentioning, but I will, since I’ve already started the paragraph. A masked man has captured the world’s best…thingies? thieves? investigators? red-heads? I’m not sure, but they’re pitted against each other in the most dangerous dullest game. You will eventually team up with buxom red-head named Fox — because of course she’s named Fox — as you battle against the evil…Mads. I can’t…anymore…wait! You get to collect owls. Owls are nice.
If you want me to respect your story line over multiple issues/books/movies/games, then put a number in your title. Make it plain to me that I’ve missed something important by jumping ahead to number seven and damn me if I decide to proceed forward without that backstory. Yet, it is still your responsibility to make number seven just as compelling and playable as number one, otherwise, why would I bother? “League of Light” is pretty middle league as far as HOGs go and pretty light on enjoy-ability. I wish there was more for me to critique, but there’s just not a lot of “there” there.
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:
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.
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.