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.

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.

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.

Delicious03
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.

Delicious07
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.

Delicious06
“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!?

 

Totally-not Aladdin match-3 is totally-not good.

My god.

I have nothing against an inoffensive match-3 game. I was playing Bejeweled back in the day. Cubis was my jam, and Qbeez, my only friends. So I get the appeal.

But Legends of India*, newly released at Big Fish Games, is what happens when you take a simple gaming mechanic, wrap it up in some ethnic stereotypes, and desperately try to skirt the copyright lawyers of Disney Studios.

legends-of-india01
Let me introduce you to Totally-not Jasmine.

I’ve got no words for the gameplay, because I was so offended by the stereotype (I’ve a humanities degree, I am legally obligated to be offended) that I powered my way through eleven or twelve levels of mundane matching.

Correction: there was one mini-game where I had to find ten bananas.

legends-of-india04
We’re moving past ethnic stereotypes and straight into species-ist territory here.

Totally-not Abu may have stolen some bananas from Totally-not Aladdin, but the two become quick friends and help each other out because, as we all know, Aladdin, I mean Totally-not Aladdin knows what it is like to be hungry.

legends-of-india06
“monkey Shiny” is the name of my Bloodhound Gang cover band.

Ganesh appears in an LSD-induced slide across the screen to teach you how to match-3. Every time. Every level. Ganesh does not trust your intellect.

legends-of-india03
And by rights, he shouldn’t. I mean, look at the type of game you’re playing.

Legends of India is the casual game equivalent of those sketchy Lord of the Rings DVDs your grandmother bought you from the dollar store. Don’t bother. Stay away. Go read a good translation of One Thousand and One Nights or Hitopadesha instead.

legends-of-india02
Totally not a street rat.

Rating: Why?!

*I ain’t even linking to it. Go find it yourself.

 

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.

hiddenexp01
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?!