Monday, October 24, 2011

Paige Harper and the Tome of Mystery

The most danger my job has ever put me in involved paper cuts. Okay, there was that time we had the lockdown and the SWAT showed up, but that hardly counts. Poor Paige Harper is a librarian (some of my favorite people, btw) and she goes into a back room of the library to get a book. Taking the book off the shelf opens a secret passage that she explores without giving anyone else a heads up. While exploring secret passageways and swimming, always take a buddy.  As anyone in their right mind would expect, the door closes, locking her inside with the ghost of the last person to get trapped.  Yikes!

The odds of escape don’t look good and you begin to wonder where this game is going to go. As it turns out, it’s about to take a hard turn into weird and wonderful. Remember your old pop-up books from when you were little? I always wanted to say “Ta Da!” when I turned the page and the diorama appeared, I always felt such a sense of surprise with one, like the book itself was trying to say “Ta Da!”

Our hero/librarian must open a magic book which transports her to pop-up versions of classic books and plays like Treasure Island and Romeo and Juliet. Once she gets there, she has to find objects and solve puzzles. The game supplies many different camera angles so you can see the page from almost every angle. It took a couple of minutes for me to get used to it, but I found it a fascinating process. Something I found odd and mildly disturbing is that moving between chapters in the book involves a burning page transition. I’m not sure if it’s a nod to banned/burned books, but it sets me back just a bit when it happens. 
The game has both a hint button and a magnifying glass, for which my old eyes are very grateful, because of the unique nature of the graphics it can be hard for me to make out the objects sometime.  It’s also helpful that you have to find objects that you actually use in the story, I get bored of games where you have to find random objects like feathers. Almost every hidden object game requires you to find feathers, but I can’t remember every using one in a game. With Paige Harper, no feathers and you use many of the objects to solve puzzles.

I like this game a lot, it’s fun and stays true to the classic stories it highlights. Its graphics are unique and challenging and the hero is a librarian with amazing eyebrows. I love it when designers do something different and do a good job, it makes me come back and play again and again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dream Chronicles

Ever played a game that was so beautiful that you wanted to move there? Where every scene took your breath away and could even make you gasp with the sheer loveliness of it all? Dream Chronicles is that game for me. The artwork is ‘break your heart’ beautiful. The architecture of the game has literally made me gasp out loud.  The first time I played it I was moved to tears because something so beautiful could only exist in a game.  Did it spoil it for me to discover it’s all based on real Art Nouveau architecture and furniture? Nope, it actually made it more awesome, that someone went beyond the usual plain grey concrete walls and floors.

Dream Chronicles is a puzzle style game loosely based on the Scottish legend of Tam Lin, which was based on the story of Thomas the Rhymer.  This game has a Spanish design team using Scottish legends and Belgian, French and Spanish Art Nouveau art and architecture. Welcome to the amazing new world of gaming.

You play the game as Faye who wakes up to discover that her husband is missing and her daughter is under a sleeping spell. You have to figure out how to get out of your amazing beautiful house and search for your husband, Fidget.  Like Tam Lin of the Scottish story, Fidget gets kidnapped by the Queen of the Fairies and is held, maybe, against his will. You can talk to him long distance thoughtout the game so he’s not in prison and in a later game the Queen turns out to be pregnant.  Hmmm…

Speaking of the later Dream Chronicles games, don’t bother. The story in the original has a few plot holes, but the story in later games in the series suffered greatly, maybe from the speed of launch, maybe from their own success, it’s hard to tell. Many times I have found that after a great game comes out, its sequel strips out everything that made the first game so awesome. Kind of like Iron Man 2. Like a lot of fans, I pretend they never made a sequel and just enjoy the original. It’s not just that Robert Downey Jr. is beautiful and fascinating to watch, the character of Tony Stark illustrates one of my favorite examples of dealing with failure. While Tony is in his lab, trying to design a better suit, he fails constantly. He learns from it and keeps trying. The first time I tried to install a towel bar I kept replaying that scene over and over in my head. Don’t quit, learn from your mistakes, move on. It’s an awesome towel bar, btw. Maybe the best in the house. Plus, an afternoon spent thinking about Robert Downey Jr.? Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Yum!

Something I like about most puzzle games, when you fail, you get the chance to figure out what you did wrong and try something different the next time. I learned in Dream Chronicles to take detailed notes during the musical puzzles, it is very hard for me to tell the difference between tones but I can see the order of the keys on a keyboard. I also find the ‘Simon Says light pattern’ puzzles almost as hard as the musical one. Lots and lots of detailed notes. Scientists call it ‘hard play’, work that we choose for ourselves and get no reward for other than satisfaction. And I really enjoy it. Challenge me, help me when I ask for it and otherwise, let me play. Too bad more of real life is not like games; it could be both beautiful and fulfilling. But maybe I could get my daughters to help me on the musical part!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dress Up Pups

Sometimes, I take requests. My sister Mary asked me the other day if I had a game that required less concentration than the puzzle/hidden objects games I love so much. I laughed because I know she loves dogs and I love the game, Dress Up Pups.

Puppies! Puppies dressed up in people clothing! Normally this would appeal to me about as much as a root canal. Without anesthesia. But Dress Up Pups is appealing in a way you don’t normally discuss. It’s cute. Really, really cute. Cute like ’underground dachshund derby’ cute. I’m told that the first rule of dachshund derby is that you don’t discuss dachshund derby. Except I guess, with your aunt, who is giggling so hard she falls off the couch. My niece used to have a dachshund and lived close to a house that had an underground dachshund derby. On Halloween, the dogs, dressed in costumes, competed in several competitions, including the obstacle course. In my mind’s eye I can see the little dogs, dressed to the nines, racing down the course, gearing up for the high jump. Excuse me, I have to put my head down on my desk and giggle for awhile.

Okay, I’m back. Dress Up Pups is fun like that. In a guilty ‘I can’t believe I’m playing this’ kind of way. It’s a match 3 game that starts in a puppy fashion agency. You know, those are words I never expected to put together in a sentence. Puppy fashion agency. The story of the game is surprisingly good, you play Patti, a design assistant who is tired of being a secretary and wants to create her own designs. All she needs is a chance. She gets that chance when the owner/designer goes to Italy on a job for a few weeks, leaving her in charge of the shop. Patti has brief interactions with each of the owners, then you match 3 in Swap, Chain and Group mode. I like that the objects you match are all dog related. At the end of each round you start to put together a puppy costume using jigsaw puzzle pieces. There is even a dachshund that you get to dress up, but sadly, no derbies.

So Mary, here you go, Dress Up Pups is silly, easy, interesting and very, very fun. Relax, enjoy, and say hi to your dogs for me!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

City Sights – Hello Seattle

I love Seattle! I want to marry Seattle and have its little Seattle babies. The rain, the people, the tech, Pike Place Market, I really, really love Seattle. So it should surprise no one that I’ll try any game that includes the word ‘Seattle’. With City Sights-Hello Seattle I get to have Seattle, hidden objects AND I get to pretend I’m a professional writer. I love ‘writer’ games and have bought several. Win, win, win!

The game begins with an assignment from your editor, something that makes me giddy in a ‘going to a magnet school where everyone else loves computers and I’m no longer the freak who sits in the back’ kind of way, then it’s off to Seattle! Can you have a love affair with Seattle if you don’t love coffee though? Must do more research…

The hidden objects are in locations all over the city and you get to explore those locations while you look, the catch being that you are timed and there are certain conditions to the search. One of my favorite parts of the game is at the end of each level you get an award. I love getting awards and adore the sheer narcissism of lining my virtual walls with them. Bring on the awards, I’m awesome! The music seems to agree, it’s peppy in a kind of 70’s movie vibe, weird but good. Also like Seattle.

When you finish each location you are treated with some fun facts about that location, I’ve actually learned a great deal about Seattle from this game, allowing me to fall deeper and deeper in love with the city. Really Seattle, I think you are gorgeous and we could really have something, Call me! 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mushroom Age

Ever wondered what it would be like to play a game where the designers must have been on serious hallucinogenic drugs?  Have I got the game for you! 

Mushroom Age is, well, Mushroom Age is… different. The graphics are beautiful, the storyline involving, the puzzles challenging and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. 
You play the game as Vera and you’ve come to the lab where your fiancĂ©e works to search for him. It’s two days until your wedding and you can’t find him anywhere. You get stonewalled by his wackjob boss (who looks like Einstein) and you have to both threaten and finesse him to get information. 

You end up traveling through time, hanging out with talking dinosaurs (people are friends, not food!) taking care of a hung-over Socrates, and solving problems for robots, aliens, a pervy Nostradamus and a bored Supreme Being.  And that’s not even the weirdest part! 

I never did serious drugs in my youth, always preferred chocolate, but five minutes into this game I was sniffing my tea and wondering if hallucinogens smell like chai. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rhiannon-Curse of the Four Branches

My sister Laura came and visited recently from Louisiana. After she did Disneyland and Sea World, she was ready for a little break. So I introduced her to this game. Night after night I could hear her up late playing. And probably cursing my name. She’s pretty casual game advanced, she finished it in a couple of days, the first time it took me almost a week. To be fair, we couldn’t play continually, but we did spend many, many hours on it.

I have been obsessed with Welsh mythology since I read Evangeline Walton’s Mabinogion series as a teen and I’ve always wanted someone to base a video game on the legends. This game almost does that, then, oddly, misses. Strangely, I still love the game and play it again and again.

Rhiannon-Curse of the Red Branches starts with an email, read to you by your friend Jen detailing your tasks, thanking you for the favor and hinting at trouble with her teenage daughter Rhiannon. After the email you end up at the house and grounds of their new country estate, Ty Pryderi . The navigation is a little clunky, the inventory is at the top of the screen and I still forget where it is! The map is pretty useless, you investigate the entire house, but cannot use the map at all to navigate through the house. Lame. The artwork sometimes looks a little unfinished, but I did find the music and sound effects interesting enough to leave the sound on, very unusual for me.

Things get spooky right away and the game forces you to do things in a certain order, regardless of how you might want to experience it. I don’t like it when games will not allow you to take something with you, even if you are not able to use it yet. Sometimes it will not even allow you to pick something up, which is not the way I battle long dead wizards in real life!

One of your tasks will be to start a fire to heat the house and water. Anybody ever hear of central heating? Or a freaking water heater? Some of your tasks are beyond annoying; it took me forever to figure out how to turn the pages on the books I needed to read. My e-reader took 10 minutes max the first time and that included a factory restart and a firmware update! More navigation clunkiness! Not my favorite thing? You end each chapter by passing out. So not kidding.

And the first time you meet the ghost? He speaks English. Really. Double lame. 

Where this game succeeds is in the total creep factor. You have to have the sound on to get the full effect and understand what Jen’s daughter was being subjected to. Several minutes into the scare aspect of it, I realized that the ghost had been putting a 15 year old girl through this. That was it! I went straight into Momma Bear mode! I was going to make that ghost my bitch! Nobody messes with kids on my watch, even in games. It was totally, game on! 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Clockwork Man

I love Steampunk! The whole idea that science doesn’t have to be beige and boring is one that has delighted me for years, ever since I got to see Galileo’s actual instruments.  Functional and amazingly beautiful. Why have we lost that?

Clockwork Man is a hidden object game, my personal favorite kind of game. There’s something about finding lost objects that is approachable. I’m not likely to solve mysteries or fight demons in my real life, but I’m really good at finding things. So much of real life is about the forest, the bigger picture, sometimes its fun to be able to focus on the tree.

No movie intros or cut scenes on this one, we are briefly introduced to our Steampunked Victorian era heroine Miranda and her fateful sidekick robot (that she built herself) and then straight into finding things.  Actually, Miranda is missing something and discovers that to find it she must clean up. I have long suspected my Mother is a consult on these games, cleaning was always a lot higher on her lists than mine. Like Miranda, I’m a slob. I only clean when I absolutely have to. After a brief cleaning of Miranda’s room, she learns she has to complete her college essay to be admitted to the university of her choice.

Okay, right now I’m looking over my shoulder for my Mom again. College is also very high on her list. Also Volvo station wagons. Well, she has a point about the Volvo station wagons, I had one for awhile and never had a more maneuverable car. I could do a 180 in the middle of a San Clemente street, no small feat.  It might have had something to do with speed also, I have had one or two issues with going a tiny bit over the speed limit. Mostly on the freeways though, fewer pedestrians there!

Miranda ends up having to go to South America in a dirigible to rescue her Grandfather and does some repair work and a lot of cleaning up. Is it a woman’s game if there is stuff to clean up? I do like that the stuff she interacts with is mostly of the time period. What she finds usually allows her to build something, my engineer Mother would be very pleased. 

 I also really like that although she cleans up a lot, she bargains for the service and gets pissy when someone tries to screw her over. She’s a lot more polite about it than I would be, but it’s a causal game, not Bioshock. Sadly Miranda doesn’t get to shoot anything or anyone, but she does get to build some cool Steampunk stuff. Almost as good.  The artwork is pretty amazing, sometimes I get distracted while searching because of the gorgeous graphics. Beautiful and functional, the epitome of Steampunk!