Monthly Archives: April 2016

Coffee Mahjong Online

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Coffee Mahjong Online on GameHouse

MSRP: Free

Platform: Browser-based

Release: 5/20/14


We all have that game we go to when we have just a little bit of time to waste.  For some people it’s Solitaire, or Minesweeper, or Bejeweled.  For me, it’s always been Mahjong solitaire or other tile matching games.  Coffee Mahjong doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from the million other Mahjong solitaire games out there, but it’s not bad, and it is free.

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You’ve got a 15 minute countdown timer to make as many matches and clear as many levels as you can.  Any tile you that is not greyed out can be matched – it does the work for you of determining whether or not a tile is properly exposed for matching. All the tiles and backgrounds are at least coffee-related (it took me several screens to realize that those little white things are actually spoons, in case you were wondering).  Each completed level gives you an additional 500 points onto your score and new board.

None of the boards I played through were the most common Mahjong solitaire layout, but only one or two felt entirely too simplistic.  You can shuffle the board at any time, and if you do run out of matches, it will automatically shuffle it for you.  There is also a hint button, although I can’t tell you whether or not getting hints shaves time or points off your total – I didn’t use it.

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There is music and sound effects throughout, and some of it sounds just like running water – this game is probably better played with the music off.  The board is also pretty damn small, and I couldn’t find any option to increase the size, so this isn’t a great choice if you have any kind of visual issues. Coffee Mahjong is also available for iOS and Android.

 

Bejeweled 3

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Bejeweled 3 on Steam

MSRP: $4.99 (price may vary by platform)

Platforms: Windows, Mac, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS, Windows Phone, Nintendo DS,

Release: 12/7/10


The original Bejeweled by PopCap Games was the first truly successful of the casual match-3 games, which has lead to countless similar games (and not a few sequels).  I’d played Bejeweled quite a few times in a web browser, as well as the Bejeweled Blitz version that’s popular on Facebook, but I’d never actually owned a Bejeweled game until I picked up Bejeweled 3 in a bundle.

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In case you’re one of the three people in the known universe who have never played a match-3 game, you do get a little mini-tutorial (as well as tips during gameplay) unless you elect to turn off hints.  Bejeweled 3 comes with four “standard” modes, and four unlockable “secret” modes, which is a fair amount of content variation for a casual game.

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In Classic mode, you match gems in order to fill up a score bar at the bottom of the screen.  Once the bar is filled, you proceed to the next level.  All the gems are rearranged, but you retain any unused special gems from the previous level. Once you cannot make a match on the board, it’s game over. There are no time limits in the mode – you can take as long as you like to make matches, and hints are available if you just can’t find that match.  Reaching level 5 in Classic unlocks poker mode, where you need to create poker hands by matching the same colored gems.

Lightning mode is the timed-mode: you will have to make matches quickly, and there are special gems with numbers on them which will go into a time bar at the top of the screen. After the time is up, your timer will refill from the bar, and you’ll have that long to continue making matches (and to again refill your time bar).  The game is over when you run out of time and you have no points in your time bar.  Reaching 100,000 points in this mode unlocks Ice Storm, where you need to keep ice blocks from reaching the top of the board by making matches to decrease the height of the columns.

In Zen mode, you get more relaxing music, unlimited time, and the game makes sure that there is always another move to be made. This is a nice feature for those of us who like to use low-thought repetitive game tasks to unwind (although personally, I’m much more likely to go to a tile-matching game accompanied by my own music). Reaching level 5 in Zen mode will unlock Butterflies, which is perhaps the least zen-like mode, where you have to make matches with special butterfly tiles before the reach the top of the gameboard.

Quest mode involves match 3 puzzles, and minigames. Once you complete four of the minigames, you will open up Diamond Mine mode, which is a timed mode that awards points for clearing dirt & stone tiles by matching gems next to them, enabling you to find the treasure underneath.

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If you are a fan of basic match-3 gameplay, there’s certainly a good amount of variety in this little $5 package. One of the things I like about most casual games is that they have pretty much infinite replay value.  Bejeweled 3 is a game I find myself going back to fairly regularly, because it’s so low commitment, and yet still satisfying.

 

 

The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne

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The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne on Steam

MSRP: Free

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

Release: 4/19/16


The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is closer to a visual novel or a choose-your-own-adventure story than an actual game.  Except that the adventure story doesn’t seem like such an adventure to most people – this game puts you into the mind of a young woman with pretty severe social anxiety on a mission to make herself something to eat.

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For a lot of people, this is going to seem like a very odd concept for a video game, but as someone who has dealt with moderate to severe social anxiety, I get this game. I get it more than I like to admit. The whole idea of needing to do something, but not being able to cope with even the possibility of it leading to human interaction is something I’ve personally experienced.

However, I honestly believe that the people who could most benefit from playing this game are people who know and maybe even love someone who deals with social anxiety, but don’t really understand what that means.  When you have to make all the tiny decisions for Samantha on her quest to just have some oatmeal, and you see how she analyzes the decisions you make, you just might start to get it.

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There are multiple fail conditions, but only a single path to success. You may need to play through multiple times if you want to have actually “beaten” the game, but I feel like this is so much more about the process than the win condition.

The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is not a happy game, and you aren’t likely to feel good about much of anything after you’ve played it. It is, however, a very illuminating snapshot of what it’s like to live with social anxiety, and I’d recommend that anyone who wants to understand that world a little better give it a play through or ten.

 

Driftmoon

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Driftmoon on Steam

MSRP: $14.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 2/26/13


Driftmoon is an ARPG of a different color – in this case, the A stands for adventure, not action. This is not a game you play to feel powerful, or for all the amazing loot (spoiler: there isn’t much in the way of loot).  You play it to be charmed, to go on a journey, to get lost in its world.

Character customization is minimal – in fact, other than giving your male player character a name, the game asks nothing from you. There are four difficulty levels, and there are no achievements tied to playing on a higher difficulty level.  Combat is probably the weakest part of this game, so it’s likely to be most enjoyable at a lower difficulty.  There is some light crafting, some puzzles, and a whole lot of reading you’ll need to do.

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In the earliest moments, I wasn’t sure if I was going to care for Driftmoon.  The camera angle is odd, and the conversational choices you make don’t seem to be impactful – I don’t believe it’s possible to say the wrong thing and lock yourself out of important game options later on down the line. Combat is click-to-stab, although as you level up, you can choose abilities to make it somewhat more interesting.

But the moment Driftmoon sucked me in, when I realize that this game was just goofy enough that I had to see it through is when I rescued a pirate crab.  Then, the game gave me karma for it. I don’t even know why I want karma, but now I do. I want lots of it.  And as a bonus? Rescuing the pirate crab turned out to be the key to a very early puzzle.

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If you’re at all familiar with adventure games, the puzzles aren’t going to seem all that hard, even if you don’t stumble over the solutions before discovering the puzzle, like I did more than once.  If you only play more traditional RPGs, the puzzles may feel like frustrating speed bumps. In a way they are, they’re there to slow you down, to make sure you’re really taking a good look at your surroundings.

If you’re a die hard hack-n-slasher, you probably want to give Driftmoon a pass, but I can’t wait to spend more time in this odd little world.  The estimated play time of the base game is about 15 hours (which puts it right on that optimal $1/entertainment hour mark), but the game was also created with nearly seamless mod support, so there’s more to do after the big bad is vanquished.*

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*I’m assuming there’s a big bad. I mean, isn’t there always?

9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek

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9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, WinPhone

Release: 7/18/13


I’ve been playing a lot of hidden object adventure games lately because things around here have been less conducive to long periods of uninterrupted gaming than I would like.  These games don’t have deep and/or unique mechanics, usually have an ok to good story, and are easy to put down and come back to. That said, they’re rarely worth the full asking price because most games of this type cap out at about 3 hours of play, with very little replay value.

First off, a warning, in case the title didn’t give it away – this game contains animated representations of snakes. Lots of ’em. If you twitch at just the thought of snakes, give this one a pass, ok?

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The hidden object scenes play fair – there’s usually at least one item that’s hidden or that needs to be assembled (indicated by the blue text), but the logic behind these “tricky” objects is just fine.  There’s no weird lighting or extraneous movement to distract you, and things pretty much look as you’d expect them to based on the descriptions.

9 Clues also has a lot of other types of puzzles to solve – some more challenging than others.  There are several instances where you need to pick locks, and each time, you get a variation on a “lock pick” puzzle as seen below.

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There are also several detective mode scenes, where you have to find clues without any text help.  The cursor icon will blink faster as you approach a clue, adding a bit of hotter-colder game play into the mix.  My biggest disappointment with the detective mode scenes is that once you’ve clicked on all the clues, the protagonist explains what they mean; I think it would have been more interesting if you needed to put them in order or something instead of merely finding them.

Completing the game took me just shy of 2.5 hours without skipping any puzzles, and with only leaving three achievements unfinished. I didn’t skip any of the puzzles, and I didn’t even think to use the map to fast travel until more than halfway through the game. For $10, that’s almost disappointingly short.

9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek is a decent game in a genre where really terrible games abound.  Although I have no real complaints, other than the length, there’s nothing fantastic to recommend it either.

Terraria

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Terraria on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

Release: 5/16/11


I feel like, at this point, we really need to start calling these games something other than “Minecraft-clones”. Someone more clever than I am will have to come up with the name. I tend to call them digging games (see? Not that clever, is it?). Maybe we need to take a page out of the book that resulted in 4X strategy games and call them 3C sandbox games (crafting, combat, and construction).

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Next to Minecraft, I think Terraria is probably the most successful of these types of games. If you haven’t played it, you’ve at least heard of it. Terraria is a 2D, side-scrolling, procedurally generated game where you cut down trees and dig tunnels and build shelters and kill monsters. It features cooperative multiplayer, and has over 120,000 positive reviews on Steam.

And all of that was procrastinating putting this unpopular opinion out there: I don’t get it. My early experiences with Terraria have been full of frustration. Sure, I could chop a few trees, dig a hole, and kill a slime, and then night would fall and …

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I exited completely out of the game, took a deep breath, deleted my characters and my worlds and vowed that I would start over and play smarter and maybe start to figure out the love for this game. I knew I’d have to slow up on the exploration and digging and build myself some kind of shelter.  This went okay, except for the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to install the damn door.

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This did not make for an interesting or successful first night in the game. I lived, but I was bored and irritated and I did not want to mess around with those zombies, and I didn’t want to wait. So, I scrapped play two, and decided to come back to it after doing some research and with a clearer, less aggravated mind.

So I cleared all my saves, and spent some time with the beginner’s guide on the Terraria wiki, and I remembered being equally frustrated with Minecraft when I couldn’t figure out how crafting worked.  I don’t understand the subset of people who actually enjoy games where part of the challenge is having no fucking clue what to do, but they must exist, because someone keeps making these games that explain nothing.

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Over an hour of time invested, and I could not figure out by myself how to place a door, or that I maybe should talk to that other person wandering around. However, after some time with the wiki, I let Brian talk my ear off (and some of the tips he gave me I don’t expect I’m going to need for a very very long time), and I successfully build the saddest little house. Apparently, the ground is not a good enough base for a house – it needs wood flooring. Blocks, not platforms. Yep, I made that mistake too.

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By the time night fell, I managed to make a house for Brian, and a slightly larger one for myself, and then I discovered that even with fully functional shelters, the night is long and boring and since I knew I had enough to talk about, I saved my game and called it quits.

It took me 90 minutes of in game time, plus another half hour or so of out of game research to build a shelter, and I hate to say it, but I’m not exactly jazzed to go back to it. While I understand that the whole point of sandbox games is to allow one to play the way that they want, I feel like a little guidance for a brand new player wouldn’t be remiss.

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Now that I have a basic handle on at least the very start of Terraria, I may give it another go. In a lot of ways, Terraria reminds me of Craft the World, which I still love, and repeatedly start over from the beginning. There has to be something fantastic in here somewhere. But if I had played Terraria without knowing anything about it, it’d already be relegated to the “Fuck This Noise” bin.

FATE: Undiscovered Realms

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FATE: Undiscovered Realms on Steam

MSRP: $7.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 7/17/08


ARPGs all play in a pretty similar manner: you kill things, you break things, you pick up shiny things, you curse the limitations of your inventory, you portal back to town, and then you do it all over again.  If you don’t like the ARPG formula, you won’t like FATE: Undiscovered Realms.  Unfortunately, even if you do like the ARPG formula, well, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll like this game.

The FATE series was one of the earlier franchises to capitalize on the popularity of Blizzard’s Diablo II, but this second entry in the series seems to lack a lot of the depth of similar games.  At game start, you don’t select a class, rather, you’re given a rather generic hero.  It is possible to import a character from the previous FATE game, however, I am unsure of how that would effect the game; the early levels are so simplistic, a character of any power would only need to look at the monsters in order for them to fall down.

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The background of the universe is given to the player in a few screens before the game start, and for me, this was the most captivating part of the game so far.  The voice-over narration is well done. However, once the storytelling ended, my interest in the game started to wane quickly.

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Let’s look at a couple of things here.  First, the “action” bar (and I use the term loosely) contains nothing but potions. Combat solely consists of walking up to a bad thing and rapidly clicking the left mouse button. While I have no doubt that you get additional abilities as you go along, after leveling up multiple times and still having nothing else to do but left click & push a number key to quaff an occasional potion, I really had no interest in continuing along to find out when that actually happens.

Secondly, the first quest you are likely to complete – you’re sent into the dungeon to wrangle some Dire Walruses. Great. Except you really don’t know what you’re looking for, and when you walk close enough to one to mouse over it, it disappears.  Apparently, because you wrangled it. I figured this out only after checking my quest log after nearly clearing the level, and thinking I had yet to see a Dire Walrus. I mean. Dire Walrus people. You’d expect them to be pretty big, right? Nope. They look like bugs. I mean, big bugs, but nothing like I’d expect out of something called a Dire Walrus.

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I know some of you think I’m nitpicking here, but when there’s so little going on, being able to understand what the game actually wants you to do matters.  There are pop-up tips, but none of them mentioned a map (I took a chance and pushed M – it worked).  Then, I figured out on my own that those little green diamonds on the mini map were quest objectives. At least, they were Dire Walrus locations.

The biggest challenge I faced thus far was Wightcutter (pictured above).  It wasn’t so much that he was a difficult monster – he wasn’t – but that he kept getting stuck behind that clay urn I hadn’t broken yet, and his health kept resetting. Once I broke the urn, he died in about four hits. That moderately low health bar you see wasn’t from the big bad – it was from not being arsed to drink a potion through half the level.

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There are three realms full of deep dungeons and quests, but I’m just not able to bring myself to care.  I didn’t love Torchlight, but it was more compelling than FATE: Undiscovered Realms, but if I have an ARPG itch that needs scratching, I’m far more likely to revisit Diablo III, Torchlight II, or The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, all of which had more satisfying game play and more interesting stories & settings.

To be fair, it’s possible that the game is more enjoyable due to the available mods, but I believe that mods should only augment an already entertaining game, not create one when the developers have failed.  Maybe it suffers more than most due to its age.  I don’t know.  Personally, I don’t feel that this game is worth the $8 asking price; it doesn’t feel complete to me.

Girls Like Robots

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Girls Like Robots on Steam

MSRP: $6.99 on Steam – price may vary by platform

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, iOS, Wii U

Release: 10/11/12 (iOS), 2/14/14 (Steam)


I don’t use the word zany very often, but it’s the perfect word to describe this adorable, casual puzzle game.  At its core, Girls Like Robots is a logic puzzle.  Well, more accurately, a series of logic puzzles that have a steadily increasing difficulty as you go.

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The game is divided into three acts, each with over 100 individual puzzles.  I am that person who needs to max score on everything, and I was completing early puzzles at the rate of more than one a minute, but by the time I reached the fourth section of the first act, I realized that I was going to start slowing down – way down – so there’s a pretty good amount of content here.

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Clicking the heart button in the lower right hand corner will show you how the different characters feel about sitting next to the others.  If you long-click on an individual, it will let you know what characters of that type like and dislike. Your goal is to seat everyone in a grid and achieve maximum happiness (although the win condition is often far beneath the achievable max).

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If you don’t care for the default look of any of the character models, well, you can jump into the face-a-mizer and change up their looks. It’s a nifty little addition, but the game doesn’t need it. Still, never turn down a perk, am I right?

Overall, Girls Like Robots is an unusual sort of puzzler, with a quirky sense of humor, and – for me at least – a perfectly sloped learning curve.  It’s the kind of thing that you can play for minutes or hours, and it’s a good time either way.  I grabbed it as part of a bundle, but the $7 asking price on Steam isn’t exorbitant, assuming puzzle quality doesn’t get compromised in later levels.

 

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition

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Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition on Steam

MSRP: $19.99

Platforms: Windows, XBox 360, Playstation 3

Release: 8/24/12


Note: I’m not sure if you have to warn for spoilers for shit that happens in the tutorial level, but just in case, there may be spoilers ahead.

With the recent release of Dark Souls III, and my recent acquisition of a Logitech PC gamepad, I figured there was no better time to give Dark Souls a try. I was ready. I was prepared for death.  I was not entirely prepared for so many deaths in the tutorial level.

I mean I knew I was going to be bad at this, but this bad?

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Character creation was about what I expected, pick a class and a hairstyle and away we go. I was a smidge disappointed that you can’t see the pigtails because of the hood, but I assure you, they were adorable.

… and I just tanked my cred again, didn’t I?

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The intro movie was almost painfully pretty – I knew the in-game graphics weren’t going to compare, but I watched the whole damn thing, and I am usually totally impatient with intro movies. And this was a lengthy one. I really liked the voice-over too; the voice just sounded old and wise without sacrificing any clarity of speech.  Subtitles were on, but I didn’t need them. Perhaps I am dwelling too much on the cinematics, but my actual game progress was pretty limited.

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I made it up to the first bonfire without any real issues (I’m not calling my endless need to try to look at EVERYTHING an issue), and I was opening this door, and marveling at the fluidity of the animation and then it all went horribly wrong.

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Memo to me: Don’t attack the big nasty without your weapon equipped.

It took me three more deaths to realize that – SPOILER – you’re not supposed to attack the big nasty at all! Run right by him, and there’s more tutorial still to come. I felt stupid. I felt like Dark Souls wanted me to to feel stupid. And then I felt the burn of the challenge. I was going to continue on.

Which went okay. Not great, but okay. I discovered archers are irritating and can hit you from several states away.  I discovered that setting the brightness as low as was recommended wasn’t working for me, and I sacrificed a little bit of ambiance for vision.  I realized the monsters in the tutorial levels were dicks when one of them hit me with a big metal ball I’m pretty sure he couldn’t lift. And then I found this guy.

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(notice I have now equipped a weapon & shield – progress!)

This nice dying soldier guy gave me something called an Estus flask, which is a multi-use healing potion that you recharge at bonfires (which are also save points). Did I mention that Dark Souls is a save point-y game? Of course it is.

I went into the light when I don’t think I was really supposed to – that’s how you transition areas – and face planted right back into that asylum demon that I really didn’t want to scrap with. Which was just as well – he knocked me off the ledge I spawned on and that was it for me. Dead again.

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The “You Died” screen looks cool enough, I guess, but I really wasn’t feeling replaying the entire second half of the tutorial, so I decided to leave it, for now. But I can see why people plod along, struggling their way slowly to smarter play. I like the idea of an RPG where everything doesn’t just get handed to you for showing up, where all the monsters aren’t meant to be vanquished, and where bad choices hurt. I’m not sure I love it in practice.

I’ll likely return to Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition when I get a little more dexterous with the controller; from everything I read, playing without one is tossing yourself another giant handicap in an already challenging game. Personally, this isn’t a game I would drop $20 on, but for the $5.99 I paid on sale, I’m okay with the idea of never finishing it.  I just want to see how far I can go.

 

It’s Spring Again

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It’s Spring Again on Steam

MSRP: $0.99-$2.99 depending on platform

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android

Release: 2/2/16


It’s Spring Again is another game I stumbled across by way of my bundle issue: it’s not something I would have been likely to stumble across on my own. My first thought was that this was more art, less game, but then I realized I’m really not the intended audience.

This is an educational, interactive game for children. Small children.  Which probably explains why I managed to blast through the whole thing in less than 10 minutes with 100% achievement completion (spoiler: the achievements aren’t all that challenging).

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The narrator, a soothing female voice, will talk you (or, hopefully, your small child) through the seasons – when she says that flowers start to bloom, clicking the ground will produce flowers.  Everything is personified and pretty and you want to click on stuff just to see what happens.  I’m sure for a toddler, watching flowers bloom where he clicks would be beyond delightful.

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Deep game play, this isn’t, friends. And like the seasons, the whole thing just plays on endless loop until you either click the circle in the upper right hand corner to exit, or your small child wanders off to find something far louder he or she could be doing.  There’s even an autoplay button on the main menu screen for those little ones who haven’t yet gotten the hang of using a mouse or touch screen.

I debated not doing an entry for It’s Spring Again after realizing what I had stumbled into. Then I realized that gamers are very often also parents, and for those of you with small people at home that you want to ease into the gamer life, I cannot thing of a prettier, more benign, and less expensive intro.