Every now and again as you wander through your Friendly Local Games Store, you see something that makes you go “Eh?” quickly followed by “Noooo, they can’t have done” and “How in the blue blazes is that going to work?” (Or, you know, something along those lines). I had that very experience last weekend, when a tootle round Grainger Games revealed this intriguing oddity:
Yes, that is H.P. Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness. And yes, that is a jewel puzzle game. My one previous attempt at a jewel puzzle game ended badly, but this was something I just had to see…
At its heart, Mountains of Madness (well, this version anyway) is a hidden object and match-3 puzzle, with a bit of “figure out how to get the jewels out of ice/hideous statues of Elder Gods” action thrown in for good measure. It must be said, carrying out a hidden object search through the frozen corpses of hideously murdered Antarctic explorers isn’t something you’d want to do every day, but its certainly a new twist on the format (particularly when, if you click on said corpses, there are some pithy statements made about the poor person involved). One particular comment about a person trapped under an overturned sled looking a bit distressed made me laugh somewhat inappropriately (and he, at least, was still alive).
Some of the match-3 games are tricky, but not in a “throw your DS across the room in a fit of pique” way. Plus you earn tools that, once you figure out how to use them, can be tremendously useful in beating some of the harder puzzles. Although be warned: one of the tools lets you switch the colour of every stone on the board, which can actually put you in a worse position than the one you started in. You also earn trophies as you progress through the game, although it’s a bit idiosyncratic as to when it hands them out. I received the one for playing for three hours before I got the one for playing for two and I’m still waiting for the one you get for achieving 12 other trophies.
The story, as you would imagine, has been massively abridged and monkeyed with to make it fit the game format. Some of the translation leaves a lot to be desired, both in what some of the objects in the puzzles are called (I’m sorry, but a glass beer stein is not the same thing as a jar) and also in terms of the passages of narrative text, particularly at the end of the game where it all gets very confusing.
One of the main ways the game shines, though, is in the artwork. The backdrops for the puzzles are beautifully painted and very atmospheric. You’ll again get comedy comments if you click on certain items (“I wouldn’t want to meet the thing that posed for that statue!” etc) which shows that although their translation skills may be a bit duff, the designers have a very good eye and a sense of humour.
It’s a truly oddball thing, this game. I suspect hard-core devotees of Lovecraft will hate it because of what it’s done to the story, but it actually gives a little more interest to the proceedings. After all, if I hadn’t been bamboozled by the concept in the first place, I never would have bought it. And that would have been a real shame; it neither drove me mad nor reached new peaks of gaming experience, but it was fun and compelling and that’s pretty much all of what I ask for in a game.
Still on the search for a cracking puzzle game to tide me over until the next Professor Layton dramafest, I picked up a pre-owned copy of “Hidden Mysteries: Salem Secrets – Witch Trials of 1692” by GSP. It had good reviews elsewhere (when will I ever learn?) and it looked sufficiently different plot-wise to pique my interest.
You arrive in Salem to investigate the disappearances of four girls, only to find that the entire town has shut itself up and there’s no-one to help you. And this is where the major problem with the game arises: in any other puzzler like this, you’d go and talk to people to try and get an idea of where you have to go next and what you need to do. Not here; there are no clues, which tends to leave you blundering about rather a lot. The little booklet that comes with the game doesn’t explain much either, to such an extent that towards the end of the game I discovered a hints option hidden on a menu screen that isn’t even mentioned in the guide. It might have made things easier earlier on, but long before then I’d resorted to a walkthrough (something I usually avoid using at all costs because it always feels like cheating).
In terms of the puzzles, you have reasonably standard hidden object games, some logic puzzles and some that I have absolutely no idea how you’re meant to solve without the walkthrough (unless you’ve psychically discovered the hints menu right at the beginning and even then, I’m not so sure). Puzzle games are great if you know what the rules of the puzzle are, but far too often in this game you’re left dangling as none of them are explained. I’m still not sure how, as a character with no knowledge of witchcraft, I was supposed to figure out what to do to release the second girl from her ensorcellment, or know what the components of a spell recipe are. But then, I’m not sure how I should know which way the town’s apothecary likes their shelves arranging, either. Part of this isn’t helped by the tiny graphics on the DS’ upper screen, but this isn’t true in all cases. If you do get utterly fed up, there is a skip button which allows you to bypass the puzzles, which on one occasion I did actually use because even with the walkthrough and the hints menu, I still had no idea what I was supposed to do.
Other platforms’ version of this game apparently have a map, which would have been really useful, given that until I caved in and found the walkthrough, I was convinced there were only two streets in the town. There are no arrows to show you possible directions for investigation, leaving you randomly tapping bits of the screen just to see if there’s a hidden footpath somewhere. On top of that, the game does a stunning Michael Crichton and just stops all of a sudden, even though the on-screen dialogue suggests there should be something more.
All in all, it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, this game. The atmosphere is spooky and the storyline not that bad, but a few suspicious townsfolk to guide you on your way would have given it a huge boost in terms of both tone and playability. Maybe if I’d found the hint menu earlier, I wouldn’t have felt so flummoxed. But because of that frustration, I’m not willing to go back and give it another go just to see.
And so, the hunt for the perfect puzzle game continues…
You don’t get a great deal for trade-in games for the DS at the moment; I suppose that’s because its old-hat now, what with all this shiny 3D malarkey. Still, the shops don’t do too badly out of the deal and it must be said that if I’m not sure about a game, I’ll pick it up second hand rather than fork out for the brand-spanking new version. Sorry, should really say “pre-owned”, shouldn’t I? I wonder why they do that?
Having had a bit of a bad day (long story, involves handbags and shoes), the Prof (also one with an eye for a bargain) arrived home with a pressie for me in the shape of “Amazing Adventures: The Forgotten Ruins”, a puzzle game from Ubisoft set on a South American archaeological dig. Its your task to rootle around in the jungle in search of a missing Mayan Temple, all the while thwarting your arch-nemesis, a rather pudgy, beardy and rather naughty Indiana Jones type. Actually, if you think Indy versus Belloq, you won’t go far wrong. Except the special effects aren’t as good. There’s no giant rolling boulders, for a start. Or Nazis. But other than that…
Predominantly a hidden object game (there’s a lot of ‘em about), you do get to play mahjong, spot the difference and do jigsaw puzzles for a bit of light relief. It’s also a surprisingly long game. You have to find 17 specific items to unlock the various mini-games and I assumed that after you’d found those, the game would end; but no, on you go for another ten chapters. And you can win trophies too, which is all very nice.
The plot is wafer-thin with a fairly predictable twist, but the music is jolly and there’s a lot of play in it. It does get a bit wearing
as you go back to the same locations over and over again (just how many times do you need to search an aircraft to prove there isn’t an ancient religious site hidden somewhere in the onboard loo?) but at least you can see the objects clearly and unlike some other games I could mention, you’ve really got to be going some to trigger the random tap penalty.
There are other games available in the Amazing Adventures series, but they all appear to be for the PC, which is actually a bit of a shame. Despite the repetition, I wouldn’t have minded learning a bit more about our hero’s adventures. Fingers crossed they get their act together and bring out a new one soon, or at the very least, translate the existing ones to hand-held.
It’s a bit weird when Deities have kids. Take the Greeks: they either leap out of their parents’ heads, or discarded testicles end up morphing into grown women. Then if they’re not eating each other, they’re breeding with each other.
Thankfully Okamiden‘s tale of the prodigal son is not quite as decadent. The main protagonist is Chibiterasu, son of wolf-Goddess Amaterasu of Okami fame. As the cute and excitable Chibi, you must follow the path set by your mother with the guidance of chirping bug-guide Issun.
I’d like to point out that despite my best intentions, I never sat down and played Okami properly. However, I did manage to wrangle myself a quick demo thanks to a Game store manager friend. Maybe I’m a little under-qualified, but the main differences between both games are pretty obvious.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to guess what the main differences will be: just look at the platforms. You could never hope to recapture the visuals of the Wii on the handheld DS – at least not at the moment. Look at Mariokart DS versus Mariokart Wii: there’s no comparison. So perhaps it isn’t fair of me to say that if Okami is akin to Hokusai, Okamiden is a crayon replica. Brush strokes aren’t quite as smooth, and scenery didn’t quite ‘blend’: Chibi stood out as a completely separate object from the background, reminding me of a time when polygons ruled supreme and everything looked like a virtual Mount Rushmore. It made me feel a tiny bit like Okamiden was a step back a few generations rather than the bright young thing it promised to be.
For all my (possibly unjustified) picking at the visuals, the gameplay is as fun and frisky as Chibiterasu himself. Your circle pads unleash a bundle of smooth melee attacks so Chibi can bash and crash his way through enemies, bushes and crockery like there’s no tomorrow. Chibi can now leap and even vine whip his way across the landscapes, but beware of lag between sections of the game: sometimes you can find yourself having to wait (admittedly only a few seconds) for the game to catch up. The stylus lends itself elegantly to sweeping brushstrokes, and it’s a lot of fun to swirl and sweep your way through battles (although you do have to watch your ink pot level, running out mid-flow is a bit of a downer).
We all know how much kids hate being compared to their parents, but you can’t help but notice that Okamiden feels like a big game stuffed into a small console when stood beside Okami. Play on and you’ll be rewarded with Chibi’s new abilities, innovative boss fights and lush dungeons.
With its dynamic battle system and dungeon-style route map, it’s easy to compare Okamiden to the Zelda franchise – in fact, reviews from ONM to IGN have recommended Okamiden to fans of Link’s adventures. If you’re not a fan of Zelda, I say pick up Okamiden anyway. The puzzles are more likely to raise a chuckle than a furrowed brow, but the game itself is just like Chibi himself: cute, charming, and easy to follow.
Never believe everything you read in a review. That’s probably not how you would expect another review to start, now is it? But it’s true. Hunting round for a puzzle game to tide me over until the next drama-fest that is Professor Layton, I looked up a few reviews on Amazon to see what was lurking out there in the shadows. And I do mean shadows; the good Professor casts quite a long one, making it very difficult for a lot of games to gain any purchase in a market that has been well and truly spoilt rotten with lovely animation and devilish conundrums. Most of the reviews I read said that GSP’s “Jewel Quest: Curse of the Emerald Tear” was a goody, so I picked up a pre-owned copy, just in case. Which was just as well, as it turned out.
It doesn’t start off promisingly; a very shady character bwahahas his way through the briefest of introductions and it soon becomes horribly apparent that this game is one of a series. A series that the writers have no intention of bringing you up to speed with, should you not have had the misfortune to play any of the earlier ones. Okay, you could overlook that; I mean, it’s not desperately complicated. Basically, two bright young things travel all over the world looking for prophetic jewel boards and other exotic treasures by way of hidden object puzzles and the most piggingly awful and frustrating Connect-4 type game (helpfully called “Match 3”) I’ve ever played.
I didn’t finish this game. I don’t care if I never see it again; it makes the frustrations of “Flower, Sun and Rain” pale into insignificance. And the reason is this: each chapter has a series of quests leading up to a final puzzle on the jewel board, where you must turn all of the squares gold within a set time limit by matching 3 jewels in either a vertical or horizontal row. Should you fail, not only will you have to do that particular puzzle again, you’ll have to repeat the entire sodding chapter from scratch. Even if you quit out part way through that chapter, saving your progress as you do so (or so you thought, sucker).
The rules for how the end-game works are never really made clear, changing every now and again as they do with the introduction of some new random factor to the equation. After several hours of being bunted right back to the beginning of a chapter, my mind started to blank every time the jewel screen came on and it became, in the end, a truly vicious circle of panic and shouting. Maybe my mind just isn’t programmed that way and maybe this really is a good game for those who’ve followed it from its first incarnation, but nothing will make me go back to find out what happens in the end. “Curse of the Emerald Tear” has just joined “The Hobbit” as one of the most traumatic gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
On my last visit to our FLGS, I picked up two DS puzzle games: James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club and Cate West: The Vanishing Files. After our not exactly positive experience with a certain DS game a few weeks ago, my good husband (the Prof) had kindly checked out other reviews for Cate West before I bought it. Basically, they recommended getting it either on the PC or the Wii but we couldn’t find those versions, so plumped for the DS one instead.
The game format is hidden object, where you must find X number of named objects across Y different locations. To spice things up a bit, you also have spot the difference puzzles, whodunits and, quite bizarrely, putting things back where you found them puzzles as well. Our heroine is Cate, erstwhile author and budding psychic, whose father was murdered many years ago. Suddenly she finds herself embroiled in a spate of weird and wonderful cases revolving around religious iconography, all linked to the church where her father was killed. She is accompanied by two rather dishy policemen who help her solve the crimes and present the evidence in court.
Having played the game, I can see now why the other formats are recommended over this one; the density of objects and relatively low level quality of the graphics do make it difficult in some locations to spot the hidden objects in amongst the background fuzz. There’s also a random screen tapping penalty, which is fair enough in some cases, but it does get annoying when you get penalised for tapping something that really looks like the thing you thought it was, only to find it isn’t. With fifteen chapters, the game also starts to get really repetitive, particularly as after a certain stage there are few new locations added. This is definitely a game to play one mystery at a time with a good break in between; played over two days it has a tendency to turn your brain to mush.
Despite that, the game does pull you in; the story is madder than several sacks of ferrets but is sufficiently intriguing to keep you fighting your way through the far too numerous junkyards of Arcadia. Mind you, the police here are a bit thick; if they really wanted to cut the crime rate, it would have been far more expedient to just leave a detachment at each of the locations, seeing how often the bad guys return to the same place. Still, that might have made the game a bit short. There’s also some great comedy mileage in the links Cate comes up with between the hidden objects and crucial pieces of evidence (that for some reason someone has cut up into bits and scattered here, there and everywhere). I still can’t quite work out how you get from a chilli and a map of Portugal to a set of false teeth and some roller skates, but there you go…
It’s fairly obvious who the bad guy is from very early on, using the standard mystery solving technique of the least yet therefore most obvious person has to be guilty, but that’s really all by-the-by; its why he’s doing it that’s important in the end. If you like your puzzle games a bit left of centre, then The Vanishing Files is worth the effort but unless you have Action Man’s eagle-eyes, get it on the Wii or PC, or you’ll probably go blind.
Having had my appetite for murder mysteries whetted (and most definitely not satisfied) by “Flower, Sun & Rain”, I wandered into our FLGS to see what else might be available. The first game I picked up was “James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club: Games of Passion” from THQ. Of course I’d heard of Patterson, even if I was only really familiar with his work through his guest appearances on Castle with Captain Tightpants, Nathan Fillion. Other than that, this was going to be a bit of a leap of faith.
Interestingly, the game runs not in the standard DS orientation but in a more traditional book format; I actually found this far more comfortable to hold, particularly during extended play sessions. The music is suitably US cop show, the female protagonists suitably glam, the men suitably slobby and/or gruff. The language is also right out of your average glossy crime drama, which may make it a bit rumpty-tumpty but also strangely endearing. This is safe, comfortable gaming; you know exactly what you’re going to get, with no nasty surprises.
Our feisty, gorgeous female detective and her feisty, gorgeous friends (a lawyer, a reporter and a police coroner) meet up at the end of each day to discuss the current case over the best food San Francisco has to offer. Equally gorgeous young women (and a fat bloke) are being dumped in the Bay (amongst other places) and it’s your job to solve the crimes and discover the link between them. The game is predominantly a hidden object mystery, where you must identify key clues scattered about various locations in order to answer prompt questions on the left-hand screen. But there’s also an LA Noire style bit during the over dinner case summary where you must remember what bits of evidence support your case (even if in some cases working out what these are is sheer guesswork because of the somewhat obscure wording of the prompts).
Patterson cheats in the same way that many crime authors cheat, by not giving you enough information to really solve the crime until he wants you to (although it is actually quite obvious who the criminal mastermind is very early on). In fact, I still have no real idea why the fat bloke gets it or how our feisty, gorgeous and really smart female protagonist doesn’t spot the bad guy right off, but it remains a perfect example of its genre: mildly diverting, gently entertaining and ultimately, utterly disposable. It’s a very short game, so if you have an evening where mildly diverting is about all you can cope with, then you could do worse than organise a dinner date with Mr Patterson and friends.