Monthly Archives: August 2016

Neighbours from Hell

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Neighbours from Hell Compilation on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows

Release: 2/20/2004


Games that let you perform acts of malicious mischief without actually, y’know, killing people are few and far between, but there’s a certain charm to playing non-lethal tricks or scaring the pants off people. Neighbours from Hell is an old game that lets you ruin your neighbour’s day, reality-show style.  Its age shows, without a doubt, but due to its cartoony aesthetic, it hasn’t aged as badly as many of its contemporaries.

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The game starts with a three-scenario tutorial, where you get directed through the major concepts of the game – and there aren’t many.  The playable character, Woody, will look for items that he can either directly manipulate or use in combination with other items to make the neighbour character angry.  In these early levels, you’ll draw on a photograph with a marker, and put marbles on the floor.  This isn’t a Rube Goldberg-esque project, here; I have yet to come across a trick that was particularly convoluted.

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The trick, of course, is in not getting caught, and in creating enough mayhem to keep people watching.  While you left click to move, you can also right click to sneak around, and sometimes, there are conveniently placed wardrobes to hide in.  Sure, you may fail a scenario here or there, but once you understand how it works, it’s not particularly challenging.

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Which is both the good and bad of it, really.  Because the challenge level is so low and the levels so short, you’re only looking at about 6 hours of play – and that’s with the sequel that’s included in the compilation on Steam. Since everything’s scripted (not unlike most reality shows, now that I think of it), there’s no great incentive to replay it either. Sure, you maybe mix it up a bit and do things in a different order, or try to go fast to get perfect scores, but for me, it just doesn’t hold up to repeat playthroughs.

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I guess it says something when my primary complaint about a game is that I wish there were more of it.  Ten dollars is a little steep for a game this old and with this little content, but if you’re into mayhem, it’s certainly worth picking up on sale.  I was surprised to see that it still runs fine on Windows 10, but there are no resolution options, so you’ll be stuck with the default, and that may make it look a little weird if you have a widescreen monitor.

 

Eufloria HD

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Eufloria HD on Steam (demo available)

MSRP: $14.99 (Steam) / $4.99 (iOS/Android)

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, PSN, Blackberry Playbook

Release: 10/14/14


In case you all think I just keep playing something new every single day and never revisit things – well, that’s mostly true.  But the past few days, I’ve been binge-playing  RimWorld (Early Access) since the release of the new update, and after watching colony upon colony meeting dismal and bloody ends, I needed something a little happier to take my mind off things. Eufloria HD is a game I picked up in a Humble Bundle back in 2012 – almost 2 full years before the rework of the game.  Way back then, the words “procedurally generated” still scared the bejesus out of me, so it has sat, unplayed in my Steam library for a really, really long time.

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It breaks my heart a little bit, because it really is a beautiful and relaxing light strategy game, and relaxing strategy isn’t a combination you find too often. While it doesn’t have the instant pizazz of a title like PixelJunk Eden, it’s got a mellower ambient soundtrack, and fairly simple controls in an easy to understand framework.  Designed around the hypothesis of a tree that can grown on asteroids, you guide seedlings from one asteroid to the next, planting trees to produce more seedlings as you explore.

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And really, it’s just lovely to look at. Playing through story mode will introduce you to concepts slowly, and is highly recommended since many of the controls aren’t intuitive as the HD update also reworked controls for easier play on touch screens. Once you understand how it works, however, it doesn’t feel terribly clunky, which is nice.

Not everything is peace and flowers – starting with the third story mission you’re introduced to an enemy intelligence, and this is where the strategy portion of the game kicks in. There are 25 levels in story mode, as well as two alternate game play modes, and two difficulty levels.  When you consider that every level is also procedurally generated, making the game play slightly different every time, you’re looking at pretty much infinite replayability.

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While it irks me that there’s a full 200% markup on the non-mobile version of the game, it finally hit a 75% price reduction in the most recent Steam Summer Sale. However, you’re the type to unwind with your smart phone or tablet, $5 feels comfortable for how long you’ll be able to play Eufloria.  There is a demo on Steam, as well as as demo version of the Android app so you can try before you buy to make sure it’s a game that suits you.

Dark Lore Mysteries: The Hunt For Truth

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Dark Lore Mysteries: The Hunt for Truth

MSRP: $4.99

Platforms: Windows

Release: 4/8/14


Upon starting up Dark Lore Mysteries: The Hunt for Truth, I thought for a moment that this was the first hidden object game I’d played put out by Gogii Games.  Then, I took a glance at their catalog, and realized I had played games from them before – they just weren’t that memorable.  The best news you can take away from that is that none of them were awful – bad games tend to stick in my mind even longer than good ones. But they weren’t really good games either, and this one is equally mediocre.

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Hidden object games are not noteworthy for their storytelling, so really, if the tale is coherent, that’s pretty much good enough for me.  Where they tend to succeed or fail is on the quality and number of hidden object scenes and other puzzles.  Try to cram in too many cutscenes and exposition pieces with an average story, and your target audience is going to get bored.

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While there’s nothing wrong with the hidden object scenes, there’s nothing particularly challenging going on either.  I’ve been spoiled with games that require you to combine pieces or move things in order to reveal all the objects. Here, they all seem to be of the find-12-things-and-profit style. The puzzles I’ve encountered so far feel like they can all be solved with enough random clicking, which frankly, makes them less satisfying to solve.

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Which leads to what feels like – at least to me – to be the biggest failure in Dark Lore Mysteries: The Hunt for Truth: the flow is absolutely awful.  After having issues figuring out the next step more than once on the harder difficulty, I restarted the game on easy, and discovered that my issue was much the same. Although I have no doubt I could have powered my way through it, I just didn’t see any reason to. The puzzles and hidden object scenes were too easy for me, and figuring out what to do in between was frustrating and often seemed illogical when I chose to go for a hint. This would be a flaw in any game in the genre, but it’s compounded when it feels like the rest of the game was designed for someone new to the genre.

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In a week, I’ll have completely forgotten the time I spent with this game.  In a month, I’ll notice in my Steam library and wonder if I played it yet.  Although it’s nice to see someone putting out games in the hidden object genre for a more reasonable price, I don’t know that it’s worth it if the games we get are like Dark Lore Mysteries: The Hunt for Truth.

Picross Touch

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Picross Touch on Steam

MSRP: Free (Steam), $0.99 (mobile)

Platforms: Windows, browser-based, iOS, Android

Release: 8/24/16


I’m not entirely sure I understand the marketing behind Picross Touch – it’s completely free on Steam, with no ingame purchasing or advertisements. To get the full game on iOS or Android, it’s going run you a dollar, but I feel like this is pretty much the ultimate try before you buy. Or just try.  Whichever you prefer.

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The tutorial will automatically start when you first open the game, but you have the option to back out of it if you’re a Picross pro.  There are three sized grids, representing three different difficulty levels, totalling 366 puzzles. Fair warning – Steam reviews indicate there’s at least one puzzle with multiple possible solutions (something that shouldn’t happen in a Picross puzzle), but that the game will only accept one of those solutions.  I haven’t personally come up against this in the puzzles that I’ve played so far, but assuming it’s true, that’s a pretty big oops, even in a free game.

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The idea behind Picross is pretty simple – there’s a grid, with all the rows and columns having numbers assigned to them. The numbers indicate which squares you should be filled in.  In the 10 X 10 grid above, there are quite a few rows with 1 6 1 indicated.   What that means is that a total of 8 squares (1 + 6 + 1) will be filled in, with one or more spaces between the groupings.  Since there’s only 10 squares total, and 2 spaces, these rows are pretty easy to figure out: fill in the left most square, skip one, fill in 6 adjacent squares, skip one, and then fill in the right most square. Obviously, not all rows and columns will be quite so simple, but when puzzles are put together correctly, you should never need to guess.

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To me, this seems to be a good, risk-free introduction to Picross puzzlers. It’s very basic – completely monochromatic, but you can select the color scheme from the options menu as well as change it whenever you like. Despite clearly being designed for touch screens, it works just fine with the mouse. Considering the game is absolutely free, the number of puzzles included is pretty generous.

 

Hotline Miami

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Hotline Miami on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, PS3, PS4, PSVita, Android

Release: 10/23/12


I want to start here talking about hype. Whereas for most folks, hype is a fine thing, a lovely thing even, whenever everyone around me starts talking about something being the most amazing, I try to tune out.  Once the hype train passes a certain station, there’s no way the reality is ever going to live up to the expectation. I waited years to watch Firefly, because I knew that no matter how good the show was (and it was good, but it wasn’t my all-time favorite sci-fi, or even my all-time favorite Joss Whedon), I was going to be disappointed because it did not, in fact, change my life.

In much the same way, I have put off playing Hotline Miami, because I knew there was no way the experience was going to be satisfying enough given all the accolades piled upon it.

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The tutorial makes it look (and feel) easy. This game is not easy. This game is frustratingly difficult if you don’t have amazing twitch reflexes, and let me tell you, my twitch reflexes leave much to be desired. Through long and arduous hours of practice, I’ve managed to get to the point where I can play a MOBA or two without completely embarrassing myself, and I’m afraid at my age, that’s as good as it’s going to get. But that means, for me, Hotline Miami is going to be like Dark Souls – just out of my reach. I mean, I can’t even sneak up on some dude in the bathroom. This does not bode well for me.

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I pushed through a lot – and I do mean a lot – of restarts to finish off this very first stage, only to die almost immediately upon reaching the second floor, and I knew this wasn’t going to be for me. I get it – I really do – the sound and the visuals and the absolute mayhem and violence; Hotline Miami has its appeal for a certain type of gamer. I understand how the game has been elevated to crazy cult classic status.

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Of course, none of that means that I have to play it. Given the limitations on my time, and more importantly, the limitations of my skill, I don’t feel the need to throw myself up against Hotline Miami until I manage to do everything just right and maybe get through it one painful level at a time.  I’m just not that type of gamer.

Hero of the Kingdom

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Hero of the Kingdom on Steam

MSRP: $5.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 12/20/12


As someone who is as likely to fire up a casual game as a .. uh, non-casual … one, I find Hero of the Kingdom to be completely and utterly delightful.  It’s plays like a combination of a hidden object game and My First RPG, with just a smidgen of resource management thrown in for spice.  Although no single element of this game stands out as really fantastic, as a whole, it’s a charming game that will never ask you to work too hard.

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You’re initially only given a portion of a single screen, and instead of offering a classic tutorial, the game doesn’t just start out on rails – it ties you to the tracks.  However, if you are patient for about 10 minutes or so, little by little, it starts to give you some freedom to wander around a little.  Because of this, you’ll run into a couple of weird moments – like when every herb field in the game seems to be interactable, but you haven’t found anyplace yet to acquire baskets.

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The game runs on an energy system, and in order to track how much energy you have you need to actually open your inventory.  However, if you try to complete an action that you don’t have energy for, you will have to cancel out of it (and it shows you that inadequate energy is the reason you can’t complete that task at that time).  Energy is restored at certain “rest points” throughout the game, but different rest points have different requirements as well.  There’s a camp that requires you have to bread in inventory, another that requires fruit, and before too long, you find an inn where you can rest for the cost of 20 gold pieces.

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All the major interactables are highlighted with yellow, but there’s also some hidden object gameplay on just about every screen.  Some quests – such as helping the shepherd find his lost sheep – are of the seek and find variety, but you can also pick up resources, such as mushrooms, eggs, or crayfish on most maps, which can be sold for gold at various merchants throughout the game.  This part of the game is completely optional (although I don’t know how required the quests are, I just did them), but can certainly help smooth the way financially.

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There are a few irritations, but they’re minor, such as tools randomly breaking and needing to be repurchased, sometimes several screens away.   However, in another cue taken from hidden object games – the in-game map can be used for fast travel if you like.  I usually meander around, hoping to find a few more eggs along the way, but the option is there if you find meandering to be just too tedious. Character customization is non-existent; although there are skills, you unlock and improve them through gameplay, not player choice.

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Hero of the Kingdom is neither a large nor particularly deep game, and the story is just passable, but I found myself just continuing to click to see what lay around the next corner. It doesn’t feel like a game that even has a fail state, and isn’t likely to be much for replayability – even most of the achievements seem doable in a single playthrough. That said, I’m enjoying it far more than I thought I would, and with a playtime of only 3-5 hours, I’ll likely finish it up in my spare time over the next few days.  Although I’d recommend picking this up on sale if at all possible due to the length and low replay value, I would still recommend giving it a whirl, especially if you enjoy hidden object game play, or just need to play something relaxing for a little while.

Hexcells

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Hexcells on Steam

MSRP: $2.99 (Steam) / $1.99 (iTunes)

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, iOS (iPad only)

Release: 2/19/14


Most people, if they’ve ever used a Windows-based computer, have probably played Minesweeper.  However, Minesweeper can get really irritating for the player who wants to be able to always apply logic and reach a successful resolution – most game boards will lead to a scenario where you have to make your best guess.

Hexcells not only one-ups Minesweeper by giving the tiles six sides instead of the traditional square, every puzzle is handcrafted in such a way that guessing is never required.  You have all the information you need to succeed, as long as you have the patience to work it all out.

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Hexcells will also allow mistakes – there is no single click that means game over; at least not before you’ve already made more than a few misclicks. The first few puzzles are very simple, but as you progress, you’re given more variables to consider.  There are only 30 puzzles – depending on how quickly you think, you could be done with the entire game in less than an hour.  However, unless you have an eidetic memory, it’s likely you could replay it after some time away and enjoy it just as much as the first time through.

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There are two other games in the series – Hexcells Plus, and Hexcells Infinite (the latter coming with a random puzzle generator), and all three are available in the Humble Indie Bundle 17 as part of the beat-the-average tier until Tuesday, August 30th. I picked up the three games on a sale for less than three dollars, and for that price, I’m more than pleased with my purchase.  Hexcells is a game I play in bite-size increments, which will leave me with plenty of satisfying puzzling for a long time to come.

Plastiland

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Plastiland on Steam

MSRP: $7.99 (Steam) / $2.99 – $4.70 (mobile)

Platforms: Windows, iOS, Android, Kindle Fire

Release: 3/1/15


So, I kind of just want to say hey, this is Lemmings done in claymation and leave it at that. Because all by itself, that’s pretty freaking fantastic.  Let’s put aside for a minute that the developers have marked the target audience as “Ages 6-8”, that it’s a mobile port, and that someone somewhere felt it appropriate to tag the Steam version as a platformer.  Let’s just stick with claymation Lemmings, shall we?

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I’m sure someone will probably read this and say “Wait, Lemmings, what?”, and you have my condolences.  Lemmings was one of the defining games of my childhood.  Basically, you’re looking at a puzzle-focused game where little critters get dropped out of one hole, and must be led to another hole, but without your intervention in assigning jobs to certain creatures, they’ll just keep walking until they run up against something that will splatter their adorable little guts all over the place.

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Here we have little orange balls, and jobs that are pretty standard for people familiar with the game style.  It’s charmingly nostalgic, the art is fantastic, and the game works pretty well for being a mobile port without a lot of attention given to the niceties of non-touchscreen play.  Click on an orb, and a menu wheel will pop up allowing you to assign an available job, or to revert a ball with a job into a standard roller.  It’s functional, and you’re probably not going to play this looking for extreme challenges.

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There are 48 post-tutorial levels, spread across three worlds. Now, as much as I find Plastiland to be completely and utterly enchanting, let’s be real here.  This game is not long enough for its $8 price tag.  If Zillion Whales had kept it closer to the mobile price (really, anywhere from $3 – $5 would have been spot on), there might have been a better argument for this even existing for Windows PC.  But with only 48 post-tutorial levels, and a fairly low difficulty curve due to being marketed to children, there’s not enough game here for a full price purchase.

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This is one I would wholeheartedly recommend in a bundle, at a deep discount, or for your preferred mobile device.  I received a coupon on Steam for 90% off when completing a badge on Steam, and for $0.79, I decided to give it a whirl just because it looked pretty.  It’s nothing that would appeal to a hardcore gamer without any nostalgia goggles for the game type, but for gamers of a certain age, it’s delightful, even more so because it can be shared with the small people in our lives.

Violett Remastered Edition

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Violett Remastered Edition (demo available)

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 12/13/13


Don’t buy Violett Remastered Edition expecting a story rich, point and click adventure game. You will be disappointed.  There’s no dialog – no on screen text, and no voice acting. There’s the barest whisper of a story here, and at least in my world, the point and click adventure genre should be first and foremost a tale. As far as I’m concerned, this is a straight up puzzle game, and once I wrapped my head around that, I actually began to enjoy it. Mostly.

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I have to give the developers this much; it’s a damn pretty game.  It’s not a coherent or even a mostly logical game, but it’s gorgeous to look at. The music is lovely.  I’ve even encountered a really satisfying puzzle or two.  However, for the most part, Violett takes the worst of adventure game logic, and just expects you to keep up with some rather non intuitive leaps. I’m guessing that whoever was in charge of coming up with Steam achievements knew how esoteric the game could be.

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True confession: I bounced hard off the entire Myst series because it made me feel stupid, and I had no patience for it.  I play games for the good feelings – the feelings of being powerful, or smart, or heck, I’ll settle for clever. Somehow, Violett gives me a similar experience as Myst did, but instead of feeling like I’m an idiot, I find myself questioning the sanity of the folks who came up with these puzzles.  Maybe that’s something that comes with age, and has nothing to do with the game, but when the setting is so damn odd, and items behave in ways that defy any knowledge of reality, I think there’s more to it.

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If you’re a fan of puzzles that can (eventually) be solved by randomly clicking, a help system that’s anything but helpful, and a collectible hunt with absolutely no form of tracking, then maybe you’ll love Violett Remastered Edition.  I only have the patience to play it in short bursts, myself, and I’m forever feeling like the answer must be so obvious only to discover that, no, no it’s not.  There is a demo available on Steam, and it’s a game that you can frequently find on sale somewhere, so I wouldn’t recommend that anyone pick it up at full price, but it does have a certain charm that keeps me coming back to it.

Immortal Empire

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Immortal Empire on Steam

MSRP: Free to play with in-game purchasing / premium currency

Platforms: Windows

Release: 12/3/15 (Steam release, previously browser-based)


Let’s be real: the majority of free to play games exist not because of some altruism on the part of the developers, but to make money. Maybe that seems counter-intuitive to some folks.  Of course, free to play is most common to large multiplayer games where having a larger community (even if some of them never spend a dime) is beneficial. Still, I always start free to play games with very low expectations.

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Immortal Empire surprised me, in a good way. Not because there weren’t a million ways to spend your money in the game – because there are.  Not even because they managed to avoid looking like a pay to win game – I don’t know that there’s anything game changing exclusively available through their premium currency, but it definitely looks like spending to avoid grinding is very much a thing.  No, what surprised me most was that Immortal Empire offers the option to play it like a single player title, and that it actually works as such.

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What we have here is a turn-based RPG, complete with quests and story. You start earning radiance (the game’s premium currency) almost immediately after the tutorial segment, but not in any meaningful quantity. While it’s theoretically possible to buy things like character class unlocks as a free player, don’t expect it to happen in anything even resembling a timely manner.  Personally, I have no issue with this – I’m a firm believer that if you’re really enjoying a free to play title, you should throw some money at it, but it’s definitely the kind of thing that will tend to grate if you’re expecting the full experience with no investment whatsoever.

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For some, Immortal Empire is likely to turn into a black hole of spendiness.  For others, it probably won’t be too difficult to spend what you think the game is worth and get a satisfying (if not terribly deep) single-player or co-op experience from it.  There are two set class unlock packages that are available for $12 in game (or $15 if you buy them as DLC from Steam, although you get 500 radiance that way as well), or you can spend $15 on the first time radiance pack, which will give you enough radiance to unlock 4 classes of your choice, with 450 left over.

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Although I feel like there are some questionable design decisions going on here (having to level up members of your party separately, for example), so far, for me, Immortal Empire is an engaging but low stress diversion.  Daily quests reward frequent play, and in-game achievements award radiance, which I think is a nice touch. If you can tolerate the retro-esque graphics, it’s worth the download.