Monthly Archives: March 2016

Recettear: An Item Shop Tale

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Recettear: An Item Shop Tale on Steam (demo available)

MSRP: $19.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 9/10/10


Before I tell you anything about the actual game, I’m going to attempt to help you avoid the frustration I experienced.  If you’re ever not sure what to press, try Z. Seriously. I won’t tell you how long I tried to work the opening menu.  Z is your Enter Key. I cannot explain that particular choice, but there it is. Use Z.

Now that that’s out of the way, Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is an oddly compelling game.  It’s part time management game, part economic sim, part hack-n-slash dungeon crawler all wrapped up in an anime package. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

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Recettear is an odd little game – an English translation of a Japanese game with a setting that will tend to remind one of France.  It begins with a bunch of backstory with bits of tutorial sprinkled about. In fact, coming up on the end of the first week of game play, I am still getting bits of tutorial. This game wants you to know how it all works.  Which makes sense, I guess, since the person who is teaching you things is also the person who’s looking for you to repay a loan.

Each day is broken into four sections, and it’s up to you how to use the time.  Most activities take one day segment, except dungeon crawling with an adventurer, which takes two.  You probably could play the entire game just buying things in town and selling them at a profit, but the ability to hire someone to go dungeon crawling for your stock is kind of fantastic.

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Upon completion of the game’s story mode, additional modes unlock, and given the way that information is passed out to the player, it’s likely that there’s far more to the game as you progress (I’m particularly curious about the unidentified ingredients that keep dropping in dungeons).  I can absolutely see spending many hours with Recettear.

I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend it at a $20 price point, however. It’s the kind of game that one person might find irritatingly hard, while the next would feel like it was entirely too easy.  Going on dungeon adventures isn’t as compelling as it could be – it seems to be reliant more on luck than skill. It’s not a bad game, but all the hybridization makes it difficult to categorize, and it may not please all the people who would normally love an aspect of it.

 

Dropsy

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Dropsy on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

Release: 9/10/15


If you loaded up Dropsy for the first time knowing nothing about it, you would swear that it was an adventure game from the early 90s, but that is not the case. This is game release in 2015 by someone who thought “Old school adventure games weren’t nearly disturbing or incomprehensible enough! I should do something about that.”

And 2015 ate it up.  Dropsy got reviews that ranged from good to great, but for me personally? I just don’t get it. And worse, I don’t want to get it.  I don’t want to run around as a creepy clown with a bloody-faced pup companion giving people gifts and hugs. None of it makes a bit of sense to me.

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As far as I’ve played, which admittedly is not far, you basically walk around, picking stuff up, and giving it to other people & creatures when they ask for it in poorly rendered pictograms.  As far as I can tell, there is no dialog in the game.  In fact, there is such a commitment to style that I can’t even figure out what things do in the options menu.

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Dropsy also features poop humor in the first five minutes.  I pretty much guessed at that point that I wasn’t going to fall madly in love with the game. Add to that some deliberate obtuseness, and a relentlessly chipper soundtrack, and I’m not even going to try to push myself. I’m guessing you can turn the music off, but unless you can also turn on a pretty robust hint system, I can’t bring myself to care about Dropsy and his need to hug all the things.

(also, that dog? I’m sure that’s blood on his muzzle and that, my friends, is worse nightmare fuel than the creepy clown could ever be.)

Magicmaker

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Magicmaker on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows

Release: 9/22/14


We’ve been here before: I’m bad at platforming games. Very bad.  One of my favorite things about Magicmaker from the demo is that the enemies ALSO seem to be bad at platforming games, so I have a fighting chance.  Sure, they probably get better as time goes on, but I might get better too, right?

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But that’s not supposed to be the allure of Magicmaker.  Magicmaker is all about the spells. Instead of there being silly stuff like gold in treasure chests, what you discover as you go through the levels is spell ingredients.  There’s a lot of spell ingredients. And you can combine them however you please to create spells with different effects.  You have a wand, which will cast an infinite amount of low damage spells, as well as being to able to cast a different spell in hand using mana, which regenerates over time.  In hand spells do about 10 times the damage of wand spells.  You can also enchant your clothes for permanent effects on yourself.  So if you like making up your own spells, this game has that.

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Of course, if you don’t want to make the hard decisions (and if you didn’t why are you playing this game?!?!), you can always hit the random button.  If you find a particularly effective combo, you can save it to use at another time, and then load it in where needed.

In each level you will have a quest or quests to complete, and a number of gems to find which will unlock bonus treasure at the end of the level (as well as healing you up when you loot them). At least in the early levels playable in the free demo, the boss battles are challenging without being frustrating. Magicmaker doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s all the more enjoyable because of it.

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Once you’ve beaten the levels, there are new game+ options, and there are oodles of achievements to get on Steam.  There are also a ton of NPCs that will assist you with character customization when you’re between levels.  All in all, it’s a fun little time-waster, and I’ll be picking up the full game while it’s on sale for half price this week on Steam.

Millionaire Manor

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Millionaire Manor on Steam

MSRP: $4.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 12/17/10


There are two main types of games that fall under the hidden object umbrella; the story-heavy adventure games with hidden object components, and the more pure hidden object games with a minimum of fluff.  Millionaire Manor falls into the second category; I have yet to find any kind of puzzle other than different iterations of hidden object scenes, and the story is pretty sparse.

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You get a message from your grandfather saying he’s going to be on The Hidden Object Show, which has long been cancelled, so you set out to find him.  Some creepy master of ceremonies tells you that you can try to save him by winning the game, but there are four other cages containing previous contestants that need freeing first. That’s the story in a nutshell.  In order to open each of the cages, you’ll go through a series of hidden object scenes after selecting the type of objects to find via a spinning wheel.

Sometimes, during a scene, the words “Bonus Round” will appear.  If you click on them, you’re given a scene and a short timer in which to find as many token parts as possible – there are quite a few different kinds of tokens, but you don’t have time to be choosy, just click on whatever you can find.

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The bread & butter of a hidden object game, though, is how good the hidden object scenes are, and the best I can say for Millionaire Manor is that they’re okay.   Some weird decisions were made in regards to lighting, which sometimes makes objects hard to see.  There has been an effort made, however, for most objects to be something that might reasonably be found in the setting.

To be honest, I wasn’t wild about Millionaire Manor.  I found the voice acting to be campy and on the verge of grating.  I didn’t always understand why things happened the way they did (sometimes you get a second or third object scene after the first but there was no pattern I could see), and some of the clue types were irritating (I’m looking at you, Combine). It’s not the worst hidden object game I’ve come across, not by a long shot, but it’s nothing genre-changing either.  If you’re a fan of pure hidden object puzzlers, then it might be worth picking up at a discount; there just isn’t a whole lot of content or replay value here.

Zombasite

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Zombasite on Steam (demo available)

MSRP: $14.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

Release: Early Access (since 10/13/15)


Sometimes, when I open up a game (or in this case, a game demo) for the first time, I have no bloody idea what’s going on, but I have an almost overwhelming need to figure it out.  This absolutely happened to me with Zombasite.  I was expecting a garden variety ARPG with zombies, and I got a game that feels like it almost defies description.

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There are 8 character classes, plus the ability to turn any two classes into a hybrid.  There are also a bunch of advanced options for experienced players giving you tons of ways to ramp of the difficulty if you get to the point where it’s just all too easy.  Everything seems to be procedurally generated, so you never know what kind of world you’re going into.

Zombasite forgoes the classic tutorial in favor of a pop-up help system. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get caught up in the hack-n-slash and forget to click on the pop ups and then you have like two dozen help topics at the bottom of the page, and some of those really would have been good to read about five minutes ago.  No? Just me. Okay then.

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I really appreciate how alive the world feels – it’s not just you against a horde of monsters, there are clans (some friendly, some not so much) of other adventurers, and more than once, I’ve come across two different kinds of monsters duking it out and was able to swoop in and finish them all off.  And, like all APRGs, there’s more loot than you could possibly carry.  I’m hoping there’s a bag vendor somewhere.

I’m also not really sure where I’m supposed to sell the stuff I don’t want (or even if I am supposed to sell the stuff I don’t want; there are crafting tables that allow you to salvage unwanted equipment). I also managed to lose or break my weapon at least once, and couldn’t figure out for several minutes why everything was taking so damn long to die. Clearly, I have a lot to figure out here.

So far, the only thing I’m really not a fan of is the use of foliage given the games perspective.  I’ve totally gotten myself killed under trees because you can’t really see what’s hitting you.

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I’m not sure how strong the allure of the zombie-tastic setting is – I do know there’s an infection mechanic, and I can only assume that turning into a zombie is Not Good. So far, every time I see information about being infected, I start chugging healing pots like I’m at a kegger, and it seems to go away.  Did I mention I have no idea what I’m doing?

Personally, I am unlikely to pay $15 for an unfinished game, even considering that the developers have already created several other successful games in this vein. However, the demo has convinced me to keep a close eye on this title, and I would consider picking it up, even in its current unfinished state, if it were to go on sale.

 

Teddy Factory

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Teddy Factory on Shockwave

MSRP: $6.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 11/20/06


Teddy Factory is an odd game.  It’s a casual game where you build teddy bears from parts on conveyor belts, which would seem to be aimed at a pretty young crowd.  However, once you get through the first handful of levels, the game really gets to be too hectic for it to be an entertaining diversion for a child. But, if you can get past the cute, there’s enough challenge here for it to be an interesting diversion.

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So, you’re working at the Teddy Bear factory so that you can bring the “excess” bears to orphans. It’s a noble cause. However, there aren’t always too many excess bears left over at day’s end.   You’re fighting the Veruca Salts just waiting for their ideal bear impatiently at the bottom of the screen, as well as the haphazardness of the conveyor belt giving you the right parts.  Basically, if you’re going for speed and max score, you’re not making a lot of bears for the less fortunate.

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However, if you ignore the story and just focus on making the kids who are buying bears happy, it’s a decently fun casual game, and it’s definitely outside the mold of all the hidden object / match 3 games (although it’s on the edge of the third part of the casual game trifecta, the time management game). Teddy Factory isn’t going to change your life or haunt your dreams, but it’s decent for what it is – a time waster game.

Phantasmagoria

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Phantasmagoria on GOG.com

MSRP: $9.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 8/24/95


Phantasmagoria isn’t an amazing game, certainly not if held to modern standards, and you’re unlikely to find it on any “Top Horror Games of All Time” list no matter how big they are.  What it is, however, is an amazingly important game from a historical standpoint.

When Phantastmagoria released in 1995, nothing of this kind had ever been done.  It utilized the talents of 25 different actors, with a 550 page screenplay and more than 1000 unique backgrounds, and it shipped on a mind-blowing 7 CD-ROMs.  Phantasmagoria was an absolute behemoth of its time, written by one of the top names in adventure gaming, and grossing more than 12 million dollars during the week of release.

Despite the limitations of 20 year old technology, it still doesn’t suck.

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I honestly didn’t expect to find it all that creepy anymore, but it holds up decently, if you don’t get hung up on the graphics.   It is not a text input adventure game, everything is point and click, which help it feel a little less dated.  This is both good and bad, as sometimes, clicking on something will give you a reaction you’re not expecting, but it still feels mostly logical (at least as far as adventure games logic goes).  Early on, I found a trap door in the floor of a closet, but I couldn’t open it.  Walking into the next room, there was a fireplace poker I could pick up.  When I went back to the trap door and used the poker on it, the character used the tool to pry open the door.

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There is an in-game hint system, but as long as you’re willing to click on absolutely everything that’s clickable, you shouldn’t need to rely on it overly-much. You can also still find walkthroughs, but I cannot advise strongly enough against it – beating the game in this case is not remotely the same as fully experiencing the game. Just click on everything, ok?

The violence and gore that was super-controversial in 1995 doesn’t remotely compare to what you see on network TV nowadays, although some scenes may be triggering for domestic violence and/or rape. There’s still an option to hide the most violent scenes – from the menu, choose “uncensored” (which is the default) and enter a password of your choosing to turn on censored mode.  If you change your mind, you will need to reenter your password.

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The one thing I haven’t talked at all about is how to make this game play nice with modern operating systems, and the reason is that you don’t have to do anything if you purchase it from GOG.com. The game runs flawlessly and even comes bundled with a manual and a graphical configuration option. I recommend putting the in-game option to full-screen video; although it was a concern at the time, I’m pretty sure even a modern toaster could handle the FMV.

As an old school adventure gamer and horror game fan, I think Phantasmagoria is still worth playing, especially if you never had the opportunity to experience it the first time around.  For me, it was worth the purchase price not to have to try to figure out DOS Box and compatibility issues, but if you’re more technically savvy than me, feel free to look for it for free on an abandonware site. It’s also available on YouTube as Let’s Play videos if you’re more interested in seeing than doing.

Sinister City

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Sinister City on Steam

MSRP: $0.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 10/18/14


Sinister City is a fantastic example of how hidden object games can very easily go very very wrong.  I can tolerate a fair bit of nonsensical story, and weirdly unintuitive puzzles.  However, when pretty much nothing about the game makes sense, you have to wonder how it got pushed through, even if it does retail for less than a buck.

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I decided to play on the easier difficulty, figuring if it was obnoxiously easy, I could always restart it.  Oddly, the game will tell you exactly what it wants you to do, but not how to do it.  In fact, instead of the ubiquitous “Press Any Key to Continue”, Sinister City gives you “Touch Anywhere to Continue” which leads me to believe it’s a mobile port, although I can find no evidence of this.

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A hidden object game really needs its hidden object scenes to be good if it wants the player to forgive other flaws, and this one doesn’t have that.  Firstly, you occasionally need to move things in order to look behind them, but there are no visual hints to which objects are moveable and which aren’t, which leads to either a ton of misclicks, or abuse of the hint button.  The second issue is that the “special” items you’re looking for in the upper left hand corner? Aren’t all in the hidden object scene!  Again, abuse of the hint button led me to discover there are other interactable spots in the main scene (and sometimes, in other scenes entirely).  This sort of feels to me like a cheap trick to make it appear that there’s more content.

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I was willing to try to muddle through some more of the bizarre story – no, creepy hotel guy, I wanted a room, I don’t want your hypnosis machine, god.  However, I soon hit the point where it was impossible for me to continue.  The last of a set of special items I needed was hidden behind something, which the hint button solved for me, however, no matter how many times I clicked on the revealed piece, it wouldn’t register.

That was the end of my time with Sinister City. The plot is inane, the hidden object scenes – when they work – are irritating and neigh unsolvable without hints. I picked this up for $0.50 packaged with Alchemy Mysteries: Prague Legends, which was at least decent, so it wasn’t a total loss, but even $0.99 is way too pricey for this mess of a game.

Black Rose

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Black Rose on Steam

MSRP: Free

Platform: Windows

Release: 3/12/16


Black Rose is a free first-person atmospheric horror game that was recently released on Steam. I made a point to read as little as possible about it before firing it up – spoilers don’t necessarily ruin a scary game as much as a story driven game, but they’re still not fun.

There are two modes: timed, and story.  Now, normally, I feel like you start with story, and timed ramps up the difficulty, right? Not so here.

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So, trying to be good, and follow directions, I hopped into timed mode.

You spawn into what looks like an old house, although it didn’t take me long to figure out that I was in a funeral home (not a spoiler: when you choose story mode, you’re told that much). You have a flashlight, movement is WASD by default, and you click on things to interact with them. The background sound is light, but a little unsettling – all the better to jump-scare you with.

Timed mode gives you a score that’s a combination of your time & the number of close calls you manage to achieve.  When you’re close to an enemy, your close call meter starts filling up, and it’s advisable to get the hell out of wherever you are.

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Suffice it to say, I didn’t last long.  And here’s the problem, without the cushion of story mode, I don’t know that there’s enough to hold my attention to start over.  Timed mode doesn’t allow for saving, where at least in Story mode, there are check points that will allow you to reload from an earlier point in case of failure (or in case you need to go take your heart medication and come back to it later).

Based on my short time with Black Rose, I’d advise not playing while home alone or in the dark or whatever, but I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to horror games. It’s a fast, free download, so as long as you’re not prone to seizures caused by flashing lights (yes, there’s a warning in there), I’d say give it a go, but I won’t be held responsible if you need to change your pants afterwards.

Hitman: Codename 47

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Hitman: Codename 47 on Steam

MSRP: $6.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 11/23/00


Someday, I will get past my desire to play games of a franchise in order.  Because without the nostalgia goggles, the older games tend to be … disappointing, at best, and cause my enthusiasm for the rest of the series to fizzle.

Hitman: Codename 47 is the first game in the long-running Hitman series.  However, for me, it might have been called “Struggle with Wonky Controls Simulator” because oh god, did I struggle.  Firstly, the default control system has you playing with the number pad instead of WASD. So for the first several minutes, I couldn’t even get out of bed.

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Once I changed the default controls to WASD, my experience improved, but the tutorial is also sorely lacking.  I zoomed through the first room, more on instinct than on actually knowing what I was doing.  I was feeling okay with things until I got to the elevator. Then I stood there for several minutes, unable to push the button to continue on.  I ended up exiting out of the game in frustration.

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Take two went slightly better. It dawned on me that maybe the key to changing the highlighted floor was to press the “Next Item” button, and hoorah, I was moving onward.  The second tutorial level introduces you to melee weapons and a few guns.  I did fine in melee, but everything was so damn sensitive (even with mouse sensitivity set to the lowest possible setting), I could barely hit the broad side of a barn.

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Still, I muddled through, and eventually, was brought to a floor where I saw my first other person.  However, I had holstered all my weapons, and besides, weren’t we all on the same side here? Apparently not.

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They dragged me back to my cell, where I discovered the result of failing was having to redo the entire tutorial.  Thanks, but no thanks.

I might return to Hitman: Codename 47 if I find that I completely fall in love with the rest of the series (I purchased four of the titles in a bundle awhile back).  However, my experience has been that if I can’t get through the tutorial fairly painlessly, the game as a whole is just going to be irritating as hell to try to get through. At this point, I’m going to assume that a lot of the issues I came up against are due, at least in part, to a technology mismatch, and try one of the later games instead.