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.

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.

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.

 

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