Casual Friday – Week 45, 2015

My first Casual Friday is a day late but hey, better late than never… right?

So I play a lot more casual games than you’ve seen so far. But if you’ve read any of my previous reviews you’ll know they’re pretty long and in depth, he said while breaking his own arm patting his own back. But while I may be awesome, the point wasn’t necessarily that but rather that each review takes me a very long time to write. And if you play any number of casual games per week plus anime and various other projects, there simply isn’t time to review them all.

But I also felt like I should, partly out of obligation but also because some of you might actually want to know about the games I play… so I tried to come up with a way to review all of them without putting my normal amount of time into it. It sounds weird, surely I’d want to put my all into every review but unfortunately life simply doesn’t allow me to do that right now. I am unemployed and looking for work, working on a project on the side, getting my driver’s license AND writing this blog so time simply isn’t my friend all the time.

Which is why I said early on that I write on this review when I feel like it and not according to a schedule. It sounds harsh, anyone who reads this is my friend and I love you and everything and if this ever becomes profitable, I promise I will put all time I can into it. But for now, this is simply how it has to be.

But I still want to give more than I have so to try and get a few more reviews out there, I figured I had to scale them back. But I also refuse to become like other casual game sites that post thinly veiled market speak as reviews and I don’t want to trick you into thinking this is a full fledged review.

So for now, until more time becomes available, Casual Friday will be a thing, starting November 2015. They won’t necessarily be a weekly thing but I will try my very best. What it basically means is that on Friday, as often as I can, I post a group of small reviews for games I’ve played throughout the week. If I missed last week then I’ll include them in the next week. So the amount of games I review will vary, I don’t play a set amount of casual games per week so it will be rather fluent. Some times I might just review two and other times I’ll review ten.

This really isn’t a permanent thing, I do want to give every game their due but for now this will do. The reviews will be shorter, giving you a bit of an idea about the game rather than go into detail. Some end up here simply because I don’t have a lot of interesting things to say and if you’ve read any of my HOG reviews before, you know I find it incredibly difficult to justify page after page of criticism when I’m basically only repeating myself.

I’ll also put reviews of time management games here as I have even less to say about those but I do play a fair share of them these days so I thought some might be interested. Other games will end up here as well, those that aren’t really HOGs but still casuals like simple adventure games and the like. And others will end up here because I simply don’t have time to review it right now but want to get it out while it’s fresh in my mind. Some games I might return to and review in full while for others, this is all they get.

So, on to our first Casual Friday!

Northern Tale 2 BannerNorthern Tale 2
(Realore Studios, 2013, Time Management)

I reviewed the first Northern Tale in my introduction to workforce time management games and everything I said about that game can practically be said about this as it’s virtually the same game, just with a few more bells and whistles. There’s a few additions to the games that call for slightly different tactics but at the basic level, it’s virtually the same, really.

Northern Tale 2 Screen 1

You might think that’s a bad thing but where the game has changed for the better is in its objectives. Where the first game felt incredibly samey because the story didn’t do much of anything to the gameplay, here the plot’s presence is much heavier. The story goes through distinct phases which change the environments and what it is you do. Where before it was often a matter of repairing bridges, banishing monsters and/or destroying boulders, now you instead have to save mermaids or block slug caves or fight a dragon.

It helps make each stag feel more unique and a more present story means you’re more involved. A few buildings have also been added that deepen the strategy levels, often forcing you to think in more layers and it’s rare for a single tactic to work across many different stages. It took me a while to rethink my approach, coming to a point where I simply could not get that third star. But once my thinking was retooled, the game because a lot more fun and a bit easier.

One thing I really wish they had done, however, was stick to the rebuilding of the city story that they start with instead of going back to something very similar to the first game. We’ve done that, been there, the city rebuilding was a far more interesting spin on it.

Though I do suggest to anyone who wants to play it to wait for a while between playing the first and second game. I didn’t and it definitely hurt the game initially. Still, if you liked the first game, check this one out when you get a hankering. The bonus levels are vastly improved as well, making them worth the effort as they’re not only unique but also adds to the story. It’s almost worth it for that alone.

12 Labours of Hercules Banner12 Labours of Hercules
(Zoom Out Games/JetDogs Studios, 2013, Time Management)

12 Labours of Hercules, don’t give me grief about the spelling, that’s on them, is a time management game extremely similar to Northern Tale and the only reason I didn’t include it in my introduction was simply because I hadn’t played it yet or it would’ve made a fine addition. It’s practically the same gameplay but a fair bit simplified and with far more of a story.

12 Labours of Hercules Screen 2

The story is told in cutscenes in between levels and there’s a very humorous tone throughout it all. It’s not a very serious retelling of the myth but something closer to what Terry Pratchett might do to the story if he felt like it. Which is good because I like Pratchett and it was pretty much the only thing that kept me playing the game.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game but rather… well, forgettable. It’s a great introduction to time management if that’s what you’re after but if you ask me in a year or so what the game was even about and I don’t think I’d be able to answer you very well. It lacks the challenge that Northern Tale had but for the moment it makes up for it with humor and color. It’s very colorful and I love that. There’s not enough color in games today. The graphics are very crisp and sharp and the interface is minimal but so it should be, there’s not a whole lot you need.

However, one thing the game did that was quite frankly amazing was that I could cue actions that weren’t necessarily available yet. In games like Northern Tale or Rescue Team you had to wait for an obstacle to be removed before you could pick anything it obstructed. In this game, on the other hand, you can cue actions to be performed as soon as they can. Whether it’s because they lack the resources or there simply isn’t a path yet, you can cue up to three actions that your workers will get around to as soon as they can.

It’s a brilliant system that needs to be adopted ASAP by all other time management games, it changes everything to the better.

Overall, great entry level time management game with a good dose of humor. It may not be the most memorable one out there but I definitely did not dislike it.

Brownies BannerBrownies
(Sugar Games, 2015, Time Management)

Yet another time management game that didn’t really impress me. It failed to impress me so hard that I never even finished it so take this “review” for what it really is: an early impression. I got about a third of the way through when I gave up, not because it was difficult or significantly challenging (it most certainly was not) but rather because I could not be bothered.

Brownies Screen 2

It plays exactly like any other time management game and really only had its unique setting going for it. Granted, that’s what a lot of these games have that I review, the setting. When you get down to basics, what really separates HOPA from each other is minimal at best. But with Brownies I just couldn’t get over how incredibly samey it was. It’s like they took any generic time management game and put it in another skin.

The only thing that seemed to be any different was how the bonus powers worked. Rather than having to wait a set amount of time for bonuses to activate, you had to collect beads and each power then cost a certain amount of time. On paper, at first glance, it sounds pretty clever but in reality the beads seemingly show up at set intervals so it kind of is time-based anyhow.

One other thing that was also different was that you could speed tasks up by clicking on them but I never really ended up using this as I was comfortable as long as I got the three stars. If I had one second or a minute to spare was never really a big deal for me. But if you’re looking for a time management game that draws inspiration from old fairy tales then this might just be for you.

Insane Cold BannerInsane Cold: Back to the Ice Age
(MysteryTag, 2014, HOPA)

Oh boy. Back when I wrote my time management introduction, I mentioned a game I’d rather not talk about. This is it. This is the game. This is the HOPA that, to me, defied reviewing. I hated it. I hated it from the moment I started playing it until I stopped playing it. I don’t even know why, I just greatly disliked it from the very beginning and it never stopped. Any sort of annoyance just grew and grew until it was way out of proportion.

Insane Cold Screen 1

I think it started already with the name itself: Insane Cold. Did they mean insanely cold? Or does the cold itself has a mental state? Why not just Ice Age? Why was that relegated to subtitle? That’s what the story is about so it’d make sense for it to be called Ice Age or even Back to the Ice Age, not Insane Cold. Insane Frost I could accept if Jack Frost was the antagonist!

But beyond that the game is just unimaginative and uninteresting. The sound is just meh, the story nearly inescapably generic and the gameplay never once finds something interesting to do with itself. It’s a HOG in all the worst ways it could possibly be and it seems to wear it proudly.

That’s not to say the game is without merit. The cutscenes are all 3D and you all know how I’ve been calling for that.


LOOK AT IT! It’s blue! Now listen up, here’s a story, about a little game that lived in a blue world. And all day and all night and everything he sees is just blue, like it, inside and out. So, seriously, developers, stop. Stop with the ice themes and stop with the blue color palates. Taking an ice theme and using blue as the predominant color is just such low hanging fruit it’s rotting on the ground. It needs to stop and just go away. It’s uninspired, it’s lazy and it’s really, really boring. At the very least throw in some other colors because holy crap does blue wear thin after a while.

I used to like blue, blue was a nice color but then it started following me around and get in my face all the time. So on top of just being overall uninspired, it makes me depressed…

Journey Heart of Gaia BannerJourney: The Heart of Gaia
(Frogwares, 2012, Adventure)

This is one of those games that I’m glad I have Casual Fridays because otherwise I’m not sure how I would’ve reviewed this game. It’s not a HOPA, mostly just the two last letters there, and while good, there’s just not enough for me to review. I don’t want to spoil anything about it and it’s… well, it’s just worth the effort.

Journey Heart of Gaia Screen 2

What first took me by surprise was the artstyle as it wasn’t like anything I’d seen in a long time. I’ve gotten so used to semi-realistic HOPA styled adventures that a cartoony adventure game feels new and inviting. I went in expecting a HOPA but while there are some mild aspects of it, for the most part it’s just adventure and puzzles as far as the eye can see. And… I needed that.

Storywise there’s nothing really special which is perhaps its biggest flaw. But the world we explore more than make up for it, even if we don’t get to spend nearly enough time in it. Hopes for a sequel seems unlikely since it’s now three years old but I won’t give up, it practically makes itself with that ending so… why the hell not?

It’s not very challenging but I was unable to put it down for even a single minute. Its length is nothing to brag about but it’s about as long as is really necessary. It was a bit rough around the edges and it sucked at giving directions but no flaw was really all that offensive, only barely managing to register as issues. It was cute, charming and fun while it lasted which is more than I can say for a lot of games.

Royal Trouble BannerRoyal Trouble
(Orchid Games, 2010, Adventure)

Yet another game that isn’t a HOG but well worth speaking about. Where Journey was charming and cute, Royal Trouble is funny. The story may be a generic romance but it’s written reasonably well and there’s a natural progression to the story that makes sense. Centering around two royals who end up being locked in the same dungeon, despite hating each other’s guts they’re forced to work together, slowly falling in love.

Royal Trouble Screen 1

The graphics are very good, lots and lots of color which is always a bonus for me (unless it’s just blue) and there’s a pretty steady pace, constantly having you move forward. That’s perhaps my only real complaint, there’s not much in terms of exploration but the game instead has you find items, use them to figure out a puzzle so that you can then progress to the next area.

Some hidden object scenes do exist but it’s not enough to really call it a HOPA as it’s far from the focus or even a significant enough part. Instead the narrative and humor together with the puzzle are what’s in focus and it works. The game has you constantly shifting between prince and princess to progress together as one often needs the other to progress. If you’d been allowed to shift at will, the game would’ve earned an additional couple of words of praise but it works as it is.

It was actually the sequel that got me started on this game so I’m really looking forward to seeing what they did with the sequel.

Chronicles of Emerland Solitaire BannerThe Chronicles of Emerland Solitaire
(Rainbow Games, , Solitaire)

I don’t know what to say about this game. It’s solitaire. Do you like solitaire? The answer to that is sort of the deciding factor if you like Emerland or not. I mean… did solitaire really need an update? Did we need to make a solitaire with an adventure mode? Is that a thing? A genre? A need people have?

Chronicles of Emerland Solitaire Screen 1

Yeah, I’ll admit, curiosity got the better of me but I used to love solitaire. Hell, I still do, every so often I get a serious hankering for it and play nothing else for days on end. I get it from my mother. But I don’t think I ever once thought “Gee, solitaire is getting really boring. I sure wish there was a story here…” It does sprinkle in some additional gameplay here and there, adding some hidden object scenes in the mix which is fine and all but… yeah, it’s solitaire.

What I do know about it is that it has one of the most beautiful scores I’ve ever heard. Why they felt they had to hide this away from me and not allow me to listen to it outside the game is beyond me. I want it so bad.

I only add this here for fun’s sake as I never really plan on finishing it or try very many of its kind. I know there’s a few out there but… yeah, I still like just plain old solitaire so I think I’ll stick to that.

So there you have it. My first Casual Friday. Is this something you’d like to see more of? Or less of? Do you have any suggestions for changes? Lay it on me as this is all one big process. Obviously these’ll be posted as I have stuff to talk about, some weeks I don’t really have anything to talk about so there can’t really be any reviews. But we’ll see how it goes!

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