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.

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

They Got No Strings in Puppetshow: The Curse of Ophelia

Before the opening sequence, Amax Interactive’s “Puppetshow: The Curse of Ophelia” has an essential warning:

“Please note this game contains dolls and puppets of all kinds.”

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There are ready-to-animate demon dolls spread around and an arm dripping blood, but you want me to just shuffle past all that and head upstairs? Ok, game. Ok.

Never has there been a more essential warning in the history of casual gaming. I’m not new to the Puppetshow series, though it has been some years since I’ve played it, yet The Curse of Ophelia reminded me of how much I enjoy this series. While, at least during the demo, there doesn’t appear to be a crowbar at your disposal – something that would allow the player to dispatch of these porcelain nightmares with swift justice – I was pleased that I did not immediately abandon the knife I quickly acquired. Well done on allowing me to keep a useful tool!

The story in The Curse of Ophelia centers on actresses vying for the lead role in a play – possibly Hamlet. The unfortunate narrative of pitting two women against each other for some assemblance of success is tiring, but perhaps the turn-of-the-twentieth century timeframe allows for it. Still, since the game allowed me to pick from one of six characters on the outset – I picked the successful writer, obviously – it is possible that I am supposed to get my feminism on by role playing her.

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There’s nothing I enjoy more than a mysterious cube.

Puppets are weird, little homunculi just waiting for a soul, and the puppets and dolls in The Curse of Ophelia bring the right amount of creep and dread that the story demands. Why anyone would willfully wind-up a possessed doll, I’ll never know, but she proves helpful in a few situations. Unfortunately, her inevitable betrayal is, well, inevitable.

Puppetshow: The Curse of Ophelia is well worth a try and, if you like, check out some of the other games in the series. Keep in mind, here there be dolls.

Rating: Try leaning toward Buy

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

 

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