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.

Cube Escape is the rightful heir to Submachine and is so good, we don’t deserve it

With all the Steams and Switches in the world, it’s sometimes hard to remember excellent game areas such as Kongregate. Last night, desperate to shake the unyielding crawl of Fetch Games, I stumbled into their puzzle section and found “Cube Escape: The Cave,” which is the ninth installment of the Rusty Lake series. I now find myself having to go back and play the other eight. The detail of the games atmosphere and puzzles left me bewildered and disturbed, a phantom shadow here, an unfortunate recipe there, and all the while I was wondering how could these puzzles be so challenging without being annoying. There is more than narrative magic in “Cube Escape: The Cave”: there is developer magic as well.

You want so much to feed the doggy. Then you have to feed the doggy. Oh, no doggy, no.

The escape-room genre, recently and not necessarily to its benefit, seen a bump in interest due to the prevalence of IRL escape room games; either permanent locations or pop-up events have become common in the city-scape. Yet, the idea of heading into a room with a group of people (known and unknown) to find the clues and perform the tasks needed to escape seems completely antithetical to the genre. You are alone, in a room, and there are a series of puzzles you must solve to escape and that solitude is what makes solving the puzzles so essential, and urgent. The idea of solving a complicated puzzle with a bunch of buzzed bros from the Bowery feels so much like torture, more akin to the Saw franchise, than a successor to “The Crimson Room.”

My stopping point when I played through. I’ll return to this room when I have the focus it requires. Probably after lunch.

“Cube Escape: The Cave” gives me the same urgency and desperate need for immersion as “Crimson Room” and “Submachine.” I need to solve each riddle and I need to move on, either escaping completely or on to the next adventure. That there are eight other iterations of “Cube Escape” leaves me anxious for a long stretch of time where I can work my way through its labyrinthine story and solve all the puzzles (with the help from a hint or two, not gonna lie). And while playing at Kongregate allows me to save my place, I would have gladly started all over. I highly recommend giving this chapter a try (as it’s the only one I’ve played so far) and let me know if you have a favorite chapter in the series.

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.

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.

The only riddle you’ll be solving is why you tried Demon Hunter 4: Riddles of Light in the first place

The Egyptian theme of “Demon Hunter 4: Riddles of Light” should have warned me that I was going to have some issues with this game. Too often these games rely on tired tropes of the exotic “Orient” as a stand-in for narrative and game play. Yet, I am ever on the lookout for a game studio to actually try to make this adventure HOG genre into something new but Brave Giant Studio is not quite up to the task.

How many cliches and stereotypes can you find in this image? Bet it’s a bunch!

The voice acting was particularly dull, with the player-character enunciating her excitement or horror with less enthusiasm than a midnight-shift clerk at the Circle K. Aunt Dawn was voiced by an actor who sounds eerily similar to the late, great Carrie Fisher, but the similarity ends there. Even the accents of the two “Egyptian” characters (as far into the demo as I was willing to play) seemed to be variations on Oded Fehr as Ardeth in 1999’s The Mummy, which, I suppose they could have done worse. I’m not asking for Oscar-worthy performances in a low-level casual game, but I am asking to care enough to keep on playing (let alone, buying).

Aunt Dawn introduces you to her new “friend”…even as a joke, I don’t care.

The game play in “Demon Hunter 4: Riddles of Light” suffers from the same convolution-as-complexity as others in the genre. For example: while I have a Sharp Khopesh in my inventory, a lovely weapon, it’s apparent use is for some pruning and disassembly, as such –

Sharp Khopesh -> cuts branch -> cuts strap on goggles -> find pebbles -> create slingshot -> use slingshot on lamp of fire -> fallen lamp scares scorprion.

A better way: Sharp Khopesh -> bisected scorpion.

If your game story, or characters, or setting, or premise isn’t enough to keep my attention, this kind of over-the-top game play will not make up for it. Also, in the one area of the game that could be considered “action,” the double targeting system made the each encounter annoying rather than exciting. The one highlight of “Demon Hunter 4: Riddles of Light” is the visual design of their expositional HOG in the early part of the game, playing on a constellation theme and using ancient Egyptian imagery in a compelling way.

This is actually beautifully done, and I was so interested I forgot to get more screen shots.

I would give this game a pass and not even bother downloading the demo. The genre is filled with less mediocre games than “Demon Hunter 4: Riddle of Light” and studded with a few gems that are more worthy of your time.

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.

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.

FairyTaleMysteries02
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.

FairyTaleMysteries01
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.

FairyTaleMysteries06
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?

FairyTaleCanvas03
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.

FairyTaleCanvas01
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.

FairyTaleCanvas02
“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