Dangerous Games – Prisoners of Destiny

You’d think something like Dangerous Games would be a name for a game studio and not a franchise (does two games make a franchise?) but Blam! Games does things their own way! Blam! You’ve been played… ’cause we’re talking about games so… you know, you play games… it’s a joke.

It wasn’t that long ago that I played and reviewed Surface: Game of Gods and pretty much tore into that game for wasting an interesting setting. If you’re gonna base a game around a board game, feel free to actually include board game mechanics into the game and not just use it as a lazy excuse to have unconnected environments strung together.

I mean, at the very least, if you’re gonna start the game off with a crazy axe murderer, then at least have him come back throughout the game instead of writing him out immediately. Have some bleed-through if you’re just gonna keep jumping between scenes like that, get things a little messy and weird.

After that I was in the mood for something new, something not offered by one of the big, established studios and the first of those was Mariaglorum’s League of Light: Dark Omens. Though I was fairly familiar with Mariaglorum due to their Mystery of the Ancients franchise, this was the first time I tried the League of Light series and I came away pleasantly surprised. But still hungry for something new, I decided it was time to check out something else, a studio I wasn’t on particularly good terms with.


dangerous-games-pod-bannerDangerous Games: Prisoners of Destiny
(Blam! Games, 2014)

Times are tough for everyone, jobs are hard to come by and it’s not getting any easier. But when a friend of yours says there’s plenty of opportunity in Brownsville and it’s the place to be, you quickly hop on the bus and get ready for a new life. But it doesn’t take long after arriving that you realize that things are simply too good to be true. Fresh of the bus, you’re sucked into another world… where nothing is as it seems and your continued life relies on how well you play the game.

Last time I talked about a Blam! game it was European Mystery: Scent of Desire and I was less than impressed with what was on display. I called the game boring and bland and to this day, not having replayed it, I stand by my memory. If anything, writing the review today, I might actually have been much harsher. Their other offerings, Fierce Tales, are part of the time when I didn’t spend too much time on any one HOPA but jumped from one to the other so I quickly forgot a lot about them.

But despite that I found it was time to give them another try, try one of their other franchises and see what’s what. And I’m glad that I did because:

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This game is gorgeous. Calling it anything else would be a lie and a very unfair one at that. I may not have cared much for European Mystery or Fierce Tales but credit where credit is due and Blam! really does blam the competition out of the water with these displays. Not only are the graphics of high quality, there is an impressive array of colors on display and for the most part the colors are used very well to highlight areas of interest.

dangerous-games-pod-cardsBut more than anything, the game is really creative and inventive with its settings, not relying on anything immediately established but instead crafting its own little world to really draw you in. Like your little purple monkey helper friend, a rock creature with a fish bowl for a stomach or islands floating in the sky that you push around with windmills. All in all, it’s a fantastical little world that I would love to return to one day.

Especially if they keep developing the card mechanic in the game to be an even bigger, more interesting part. Because if you remember my Game of Gods review, you’ll remember I really wanted more actual board game mechanics in the game and that the card-aspect went horribly underused as they were a one-time-use object. Prisoners of Destiny also has cards but these are actually reused throughout the entire game as recurring objects. You get the freeze card early on and it’s used frequently in the game. And the same is almost said for all the other cards as well though the later you get them the less frequently they’re used as their actual uses narrow significantly from freeze and burn to revive, for instance.

And I’m a little disappointed that the whole thing didn’t end with a big showdown between you and the big bad using the cards to battle as that would be the logical way to end it. He casts a spell, you cast a spell, he counters, you counter, someone loses, the end. Though the end is still card-themed, it’s not a magical battle at all, instead introducing a card game from absolutely nowhere and the odds are so stacked in your favor you have to really try to lose. I beat the big bad on the first try and I suck at card games in general.

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But the game won so many brownie points with me thanks to their puzzles that it’s hard to stay mad for long. For the first time in a very long time, I was truly challenged by the game and it actually felt like a puzzle game instead of just minor inconveniences, speed bumps on the path to greatness. Take the Towers of Hanoi puzzle pictured above… it has seven discs. Most games settle for four, some go as low as three. With seven discs it takes at LEAST 127 moves and that’s if you do it perfectly. I did it in 128 moves because I messed up once. And I was HAPPY.

Sure, it’s a bit of a busy work puzzle because once you figure out how to do it, it’s just a matter of doing it exactly the same until you’re done. But it still required me to do it and think ahead which is… surprisingly rare. And while this was easily the hardest puzzle, the game was filled with pretty challenging puzzles, mostly standard types but with the difficulty simply amped up a bit. Sure, I should once again complain about the difficulty not being changeable but I’m so happy that a HOPA actually contained difficult puzzles for once that I can’t really bring myself to complain too much.

I mean, if 95% of all games are gonna have easy puzzles, then at least give me these 5%, okay?

Ultimately I think I play HOPA primarily for the puzzles. For the same reason that I play Professor Layton and similar. Good stories, gorgeous graphics and additional gameplay is just a bonus, icing on an already delicious cake. That’s not to say you can get away with any old hidden object scenes, no, sir, and Dangerous Games does an okay, if not particularly inspiring job here.

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I don’t think there were any variations on the list at all, at least not that I remember, and that’s a bit of an issue. Sure, this came out two years ago, almost three now, but even back then developers had started pushing the limits of what you could do with hidden object scenes and what format they used. Silhouettes, riddles, pairs, fragmented… there’s a whole big list of things you could do but they chose not to do.

Add to that quite frustrating interactive objects that could be a real pain in the ass to figure out and the hidden object scenes were merely… okay. Graphically they’re stunning, tons of colors and a lot of pretty things to look at, reminding me of those children’s books where you had to find certain things in a huge crowd of stuff happening. And half the fun was just looking at stuff going on on the page rather than actually finding that thing you were supposed to find. I remember I had one particular book that I kept coming back to for at least a year or two and I kept finding more stuff. It was great. And I had one where each page was just a few seconds further into time and you could see everything happening kind of in slow motion… but I’m drifting from the topic.

My point is, as much as they want to dress it up, this is just… basic hidden object scenes which is a shame. Just going the Dark Parables route and having fragmented objects only would’ve given the game a shot in the arm.

dangerous-games-pod-bizarr-pigInstead the game, again, relies entirely on its environment and story to keep you engaged. And it works for the most part. Jumping from area to area is a double edged sword. On one hand you get to explore a lot of different places. But on the other, if you end up in one you really like, you won’t be staying for long.

This happened to me in this game when you ended up in the part with a lot of statues, possibly of former contestants who didn’t make it out alive. The game suddenly got a lot more bizarre with its weird, symbolic statues. It was a perfect shift from the fantastical, cutesy place you were before with darkness suddenly looming over you and a sense of real urgency. Sadly the game never did much with this beyond this scene and once you left it this same sense of dread never really returned. I immediately assumed that the statues were former contestants who failed to win the game and while we see plenty of contestants dead in other ways, being turned into a statue, perhaps always living until you inevitably erode and fall… that’s dark.

They would’ve won so many brownie points if the statues had come to life in a grotesque, twisted display in a parody on humans and their various sins and flaws.

And fantastical, fairy tale-esque stories like this need that darkness to be really complete. Even our favorite fairy tales own their own darkness and it’s what makes them special. The darkness is eventually overcome. With no darkness, there’s nothing at stake and that’s how I felt a large part of the game, I had no reason to continue as I would’ve been perfectly happy to settle down in the game. Can’t escape from the game? Oh no, I guess I’ll just settle down in this tree house over here, living the rest of my life out quite comfortably.

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Perhaps a bit extreme but at the same time, I always felt like this was a world I’d like to visit, not one to be feared. I want to explore this world further, not escape from it. I want to know more about the fate of the other contestants and why they inevitably ended up losing. I had a similar complaint about Game of Gods but at least here there’s a possibility for the sequel to actually give me some insight.

dangerous-games-pod-creatureAnd I also loved the purple monkey helper thing that you got pretty early in the game and he (or she) was used very well throughout the game. I’m also up for some cute helpers and this one was no exception so to see him used so much in the game was great. Usually it was pretty obvious where he was supposed to be used but it wasn’t always that obvious and there were times when I thought he should’ve been used but wasn’t and that… kind of irked. But it’s one the restrictions of the genre, I think. Either way, loved the guy and I hope they bring him back for the sequel.

I even want to know more about the little hint button. That little crystal chameleon thing there in the lower right corner? Yeah, never explained and that makes me mad. He (or she) is so awesome and really doesn’t deserve to be relegated to a forgotten part of the UI that I never really used.

Okay, that’s not true because the strategy guide button is right beneath him WHICH IS WHY I NOTICED HIM ALL THE TIME! It, I’m just gonna call it ‘it’ from now on. I don’t mind when a game includes little extras that you can find scattered around the map but I have an issue when it’s not on every screen, making you doubt if you actually found everything and there’s no indication of whether there is a secret object or not on that screen. Especially in this game where the little secrets vary wildly from it’s the first thing I saw entering the screen-easy and I looked in the strategy guide to find it and I could still barely see it-hard. If I knew the objects were on every screen, fine, hide them as well as you want, I’ll scour the the screen until I find it. But not knowing if there is one or not just wastes my time.

And I missed one! I followed the guide and I STILL missed one! How is that even possible!

And there’s another reason why I had to use the strategy guide so much: at times this game operated on some Sierra-level logic when it came to solutions. You see a pit that is clearly meant to be on fire. What do you do? Scour the accessible world until you find something that burns (like all the lava two screens over)? Figure you’ll get access to that area once you unlock the fire card? No, you use the freeze card to freeze a fire then physically pick it up and bring it to that pit… are you f—ing kidding me? Roberta Williams called, she has a Sierra job for you in the eighties.dangerous-games-pod-scene-1

I thought we left this kind of adventure game design behind but I guess I was wrong. Yes, I know that the game spells it out for you if you actually click on the fire but that’s bullshit, I shouldn’t have to be told what to do! And while that is the most egregious example of wonky logic, there’s a few more instances of it in the game that totally bring me out of it. That and the minor performance issues, like the game missing your clicks, and the one huge glitch I found that almost made the game unplayable (the entirety of my inventory just disappeared) and it gets significantly harder to love the game.

The bonus chapter doesn’t help either as it’s… kind of just there. I would’ve preferred if we got to see how the big bad was corrupted by the game or perhaps play as a previous contestant or something similar but it’s just a continuation of story, an additional ending that seeks to redeem the big bad in a way, that was really not necessary. Again, it didn’t really change the story as we knew it, just what happened after, and it didn’t deepen my understanding of the world which is… kind of a shame.

Beyond that the Collector’s Edition contained the usual music, wallpapers and ability to play the puzzles again plus a little more. I really liked the concept art (that seems to be my new thing) and some of it intrigues me even more than the finished products in the game did, like this concept:

dangerous-games-pod-concept

Great scene in the game, even cooler in concept art form. Hell, I’d play an entire game in concept art… art… form… or whatever.

My overall point about this game is that I liked it. Its setting and challenging puzzles make up for so much else that is wrong that I don’t find the faults THAT hard to overcome. Sure, if they had fixed these flaws it could have been an all-time classic but what is here is very impressive. Every new scene you stumble upon feels like stepping into a beautiful painting and the promise of an exciting world with fantastical adventures and darkness to overcome inspire so much excitement in me that… again, I can’t dislike this game.

I don’t know if this was their lucky game. So far three out of four games of theirs that I’ve tried were incredibly forgettable so maybe it was pure luck. That doesn’t really change the fact that I recommend the game, though. It’s definitely a better showing than Game of Gods anyhow.

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