Casual Friday – Week 17, 2016

It’s hard to come up with blurbs for these things so… let’s just get right to it!

Riddles of Fate WH - BannerRiddles of Fate: Wild Hunt
(Elephant Games, 2013)

Cases come and cases go, one is almost never the same as the other, but nothing could have prepared you for the case in Osville. Dragons, ghosts, monsters, they’ve all appeared and laid siege to the small town. But worse than that, the four horsemen are on the hunt and they seem to be hunting for something. Before long you’re wrapped up in an adventure of love, betrayal and death and if you do not solve this riddle of fate… the whole world could come to an end.

Riddles of Fate WH - Screen 2

For all my talk about HOPA, I rarely seem to talk about Elephant Games. Which is strange because they’re easily one of the top five biggest HOPA companies so you’d think they’d show up more often on my blog. Truth is that I rarely play their games and rarer yet is me being thrilled about it. But even if I find their games average, worse yet is the fact that they’re so typical and most people who play HOPA, including me, take them for granted. I can’t even begin to imagine a HOPA industry without games like Surface, Mystery Trackers or Grim Tales. They’ve always been there and I can’t imagine they’ll ever go away.

But upon playing Riddles of Fate: Wild Hunt I remember why I don’t care for their games particularly or cover their games to any great extent. They never stick with me for very long, they’re so¬†easily digested that there’s nothing left almost as soon as you press QUIT for the last time.

And it’s a shame too because Wild Hunt definitely had potential. It hooked me really quickly but its inability to reel me in ended up with me rather bored with the whole thing. The very first screen had me like none other, showing me ghost dragons and it didn’t take long before I ran across other monsters and witches and all manner of awesome creatures. But an inability to capitalize on these things really drove down my enjoyment. I mean, a ghost dragon! That alone should be worth a whole game but instead it’s a sidenote in what’s otherwise a pretty pedestrian love story with the only unique twist being that it’s supernatural in nature.

To make it even more disappointing, the puzzles were actually a lot of fun. Not the hidden object scenes, though, they were dull. But the puzzles were hard. Proper hard too, making me sit for minutes on end just fiddling with a single puzzle. Some went on for too long, some were too hard so I had to skip, but overall… I greatly enjoyed the puzzles. It’s just too bad that they were smack dab in the middle of every trite story cliche conceivable.

Mind Snares AJ - BannerMind Snares: Alice’s Journey
(World LooM Games, 2014)

Alice is bored with her life. She’s stuck where she doesn’t want to be and she’s unable to get herself free. Free from the crushing work and expectations of having a family. There’s so much more that she wants to do but something always comes up. Fill in for someone else, go on this business trip, do this report. When will it end? Sadly, for Alice, it may be over far too soon. When on her way to another business meeting, she loses control of her car and goes over the railing on a bridge, plunging into the water below. Or did she? When she wakes up she’s in a hospital but… something is wrong. Very wrong. Dragons, witches, demons, robots, all things that do not exist and yet here they are. And what’s worse, someone seems to be keeping her here, a man in a dark robe. What is going on!?

Mind Snares AJ - Scene 2

Hey, at least it’s not blue and yellow.

Mind Snares then. Right, an Artifex Mundi game, or so I thought, the game lists World LooM Games as the makers so they’re the ones I’m going to credit here. It’s one of those “cerebral games”, a game set inside the mind of a character and all we’re really seeing are the representations of her fears and hopes and dreams and all that stuff. The game likes to pretend that this is some big secret but it really isn’t. If the game had just started at the hospital, with the protagonist waking up, then maybe I would’ve been a little less aware of what’s going on but the intro pretty much spells it out.

I was going to do a full review of this game but just a day or two after finishing it, I’d kind of forgotten what it was that irked me so about it. I didn’t really enjoy playing it at all, the graphics were pretty and the music was nice but everything else was just too by the numbers. The puzzles were basic, the hidden object scenes were average and the adventuring was very straight forward and cut into nice, easily digestible chunks so you never had to worry about backtracking or thinking back too much.

But what really let it down, in my eyes, was the fact that the narrative didn’t do enough. The game tried to pretend what was going on was vague but it really wasn’t and every time the game tried to convince me otherwise I just scoffed. And even if it wasn’t all in her head and there was some malevolent force trying to keep her wherever, everything was still a manifestation of her own worries and doubts. You literally go through the quest of recovering your courage to do what needs to be done so if it takes place in her head or in some magical dimension is rather… unimportant at that point.

And yet I still found the game to not do enough with it. There definitely needed to be more doubt about what was going on but more than that it was just too straight forward. This would’ve been a perfect opportunity to play around with perspective and if we knew anything about her life and the people in it, see how she sees them or how they see her. It starts out that way, and the first chapter is easily the best, but quickly devolves into standard stuff after that. Where’s all the surreal, Dali-esque landscapes or the M.C. Escher puzzle solving to really mess with your brain? That’s what I expect out of a game like this, not standard HOPA stuff.

Grim Legends FB - BannerGrim Legends: The Forsaken Bride
(Artifex Mundi, 2014)

When your twin sister is about to get married, you could not possibly be more happy. Rushing home to be there on her most important day, you hold the gift you got for her close to your chest. But weddings are tricky things, lots of things that can go wrong. But a bear kidnapping the bride to be? Probably unheard of until now. Desperate to save her, you join the groom into the forest where you’re about that to find out that not everything is as it seems and that the legends of the Abyss might be true.

Grim Legends TFB - Scene 2

I was actually set to review this in a full review but time and energy conspired against me for reasons I’ll talk about more next week. But in an effort to get some of my schedule cleared up, I’m sticking it in here.

For the last few months I’ve been doubting Artifex Mundi pretty hard. They are one of the greats in the HOPA industry and I used to think they were pretty swell but a string of mediocre games published by them (I think) I didn’t have much faith in them anymore. And it didn’t help that I thought for sure that I’d played this game already and was about to pass it up. Why? Well, because Elephant Games’ Grim Tales series. No, really, even the first game in that series is subtitled “The Bride”. Could you get any more annoying with your titling?

But Grim Legends really did restore my faith in them in a big way. Not only is the game gorgeous to look at, using green, blue and red as their main colors in expertly crafted scenery, but it’s fun too. Not particularly challenging and it was almost 100% linear except for a few variations which is a bit of a disappointment. And the story was pretty basic with very few twists that surprised anyone except, possibly, a very young child. That hasn’t seen Frozen, at least. But it was fun which is more than many games can say. Despite being linear I found the world a thrill to experience and the designers and artists definitely applied all of their imagination and soul to the scenery. The variety definitely helped as well.

Plus there were some pretty clever twists on recognizable puzzles though I wish they were a bit harder. The hidden object scenes switched between lists (normal and silhouettes, I think) and fragmented objects which was great, making sure I never grew tired whenever I saw a pool of sparkles. But my favorite type of puzzles in this game were the “assembly” puzzles. It’s equal parts puzzle and minigame, though, and it involved you putting something together in the right order. Sometimes that’s a potion that needs all the ingredients brewed and collected in a certain manner and sometimes it’s crafting and assembling a thing for you to use. I can’t really say why I enjoy it as much as I do but… well, I do.

So in the end, I came out enjoying Grim Legends quite a bit. It’s not going to set the world on fire or anything but it’s definitely worth looking into for HOPA fans. And it’s a great place to start, for sure.

Hallowed Legends S BannerHallowed Legends: Samhain
(Elephant Games, 2011)

Something has gone horribly wrong in a small town holding an ancient Gaelic festival. But after receiving a horrifying phone message from your ex, you make your way over there only to find that you’re too late. People are dead or missing and a mysterious, ancient spirit stalks the streets. Is your ex still alive? If so, where is he and what part did he play in all of this? It’s up to you to set things right again but to do so you must go up against one of the oldest entities in the world. And if you fail, the whole world will pay the price.

Hallowed Legends S Screen 2

I totally stole these screenshots. I’ve done that before but never this blatantly. I didn’t set out to review this game, actually, hence why I didn’t snap any pictures and that’s because I thought I had played it. And playing the first half hour or so pretty much confirmed that I had. Everything from the intro cinematic to the menu to the first few screens screamed “I remember this!”

Turns out that I hadn’t played the game, though. At least not all of it. I’m not sure why that is, if it was a game that appeared on my radar before I was into HOPA (it is five years old after all) or if I played a demo or if I played the full game but couldn’t get it to work. Getting “old” games like these to work are a hassle, more so if you’re using an unconventional screen with a weird aspect ration. Like my TV. The games either refuse to work, become buggy messes or you have to play them windowed which is kind of awful because you’re looking for tiny little objects. That plus the fact that the graphics are relatively low definition and it’s not a very good time.

But I finished the game this time, at least, after much agonizing over hidden object scenes way too small. And all I can say is… eh. It’s an okay game, very classic in its design for a HOPA and does use some 3D characters which entertained me greatly. The scenery is very nice and you go through a wide variety of locations, almost too many. Starting out near an old church, you’ll go through ruins, snowy mountain peaks, a bog and a city (in that order, I think) and it feels very jarring at times. And then they don’t even use their greatest asset very well: the Sidhe.

The Sidhe is what the Irish call the supernatural and this game refers to as a magical plane beyond our own. You’ll visit it a total of three times and that’s a shame because those visits are brief and only serve to make me want more of it. More of that definitely would’ve helped to combat the monotony a great deal and could’ve helped to tie the different environments together in a more logical way than what they came up with. Entering the Sidhe at one point only to emerge somewhere completely different is better than “yeah, the church was really just a stone throw from a snowy mountain peak even though there were totally no mountains in the background”. I’m not saying this chain of locales can’t exist, I just find it a ridiculous journey.

Still, the Sidhe is the thing that saves this otherwise mediocre game but it almost dooms it as well. It introduces elements far more interesting than what we get to explore which almost annoys me. Almost because I’m sure if it was better focused on it probably wouldn’t be very interesting. But the game is one of Elephant Games’ first so I’m likely to forgive them for it. Perhaps the sequels did a better job?

Yeah, I just don’t think so.

The Far Kingdoms BannerThe Far Kingdoms
(Lazy Turtle, 2013)

Returning home from a long journey, you find your kingdom under siege. Your parents, the king and queen, have been trapped by an evil witch who wants all of the kingdom for herself. You must immediately set out on a journey to free the kingdom from this evil magic and… yeah, you’ve heard it all before.

The Far Kingdoms - Screen 1

This was another game that I wasn’t planning on reviewing. Not from the start, oh no, I was all set, but after about ten-fifteen minutes of playing it I just kind of… didn’t want to review it anymore. This game so desperately wants to be the Awakening that it cannot WAIT to introduce stuff that made that franchise the legend it is today. Elves, golems, dwarves, things! Yeah, they’re not exclusive to Awakening but even looking at the screenshots is like looking at the early Awakening games… and that’s not a good thing because this game is three years newer than The Dreamless Castle. Supposedly, that’s what Big Fish Games kind of claims but I doubt it.

I almost stopped playing this game, actually. The gameplay is a mix between hidden object, adventure and match-3 and not particularly adept at either. The hidden object and adventure aspects were mediocre at best but where the game fails completely is with the match-3. If you don’t know what a match-3 is then look up Candy Crush Saga and be amazed. In short it’s a game where you match 3, or more, symbols for whatever reason. The objectives vary but the most common one is that you need a certain amount of points to proceed. Now, normally a game like this have some incentive for you to work your ass off. Limited amount of time, limited amount of moves, that sort of thing.

This game doesn’t have that. You can match forever if you wish because there is no reason for the player to ever attempt to do it quickly or get enough points or anything. As long as you reach your goal, whatever it may be, then you’re fine. Unlimited moves, unlimited time. This sort of takes the edge out of the gameplay… completely. But one variety of this is so aggravatingly difficult I quit in a rage and didn’t want to return to it. I’d describe it in detail but it relied so heavily on luck and I had no luck at all that it wasn’t fun. To make matters worse, you couldn’t just outright skip but instead had to “shuffle” the board three times before you were allowed to skip which just took up more time because there was a recharge timer between each shuffle… despite the shuffles being finite! What’s the point!? If I want to skip, let me god damn skip!

So I didn’t enjoy this game one bit. It’s too messy, unfocused and ultimately brings nothing new to the table. It doesn’t satisfy the match-3 people, it doesn’t satisfy the hidden object fans, it doesn’t satisfy puzzle addicts, it really doesn’t satisfy anyone. And it got sequels, somehow!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s