Sunday, April 28, 2013

Four Hidden Puzzle Games Reviewed

Shortly after her return from Canada this past Christmas, The Wife and I went on a bit of a computer game playing spree.  We actually finished these games months ago and promptly wrote up reviews, and I let those reviews languish on the desktop . . . until now!

Nightfall Mysteries: Curse of the Opera (SPOILERS):

This was the most rail-roady game ever. Sparkles to “guide” you are everywhere which made the game seem kind of stupid - you weren’t investigating so much as tooling around the village looking for whatever the game steered you to next. Searching was meaningless. The Hidden object scenes had nothing to do with the objects you need and the “tasks” after the hidden objects were lame.

When played after Asylum Conspiracy it seems really simplistic and boring - although some of the later puzzles were very well done and the final puzzle in the game was one of our all time favourites - very unique. When you understand this is the game produced first, it makes more sense that the next game was so much better - even if the “story” is earlier. 

This game is technically the sequel to Asylum conspiracy but was actually produced first. We’ve noted in our Asylum Conspiracy review how much superior that game was to this. We were disappointed (and a little amused) that the plot in this game didn’t tie in very well in later stages to the continuity established in the other game. Not to mention being freaked out by Grandpa Charles’ voice in this one.

Other goofy things:

We have no name and are referred to as “stagehand” throughout the whole game.

When we witness Christine/Carolina’s “suicide” our character’s internal monologue reflects ZERO emotional reaction. In fact, we instantly zero in on a shiny key on the ground. Yoink!

Basically, the heroes from the Asylum are totally mass murderers who show zero remorse and, from what we can tell, offed a bunch of other randoms while targeting the ones they indicated “did them wrong”.

This village has no people in it. That is never explained. As far as I can tell the “Count” is in no way a vampire so that is a big red herring.

At least in the abandoned asylum the idea that things were lying all over the place made sense. In this game you go through ridiculous lengths to “find things” for people that are hidden in stupid places like keys inside music boxes, etc, etc.

Overall: Far from the worst game we ever played, but no where as good as Asylum. We do wonder if we would have liked this game more if we had played it first.

Nightfall Mysteries: Asylum Conspiracy (SPOILERS)
This was was a great game with clever puzzle generation. Some creepy jump scares - really got The Wife. :-) The hidden objects actually tied into the game pretty well since you were actually looking for things you meant to use and there wasn’t as much hand-holding via “sparkly areas for you to look at”. Searching the rooms paid off, because that is how you found stuff. The tasks were a bit more self directed than the Opera game - which was good for experienced players. The plot was decent.
Some funny moments - spoiler: We rescue Grandpa Charles who was the one with the beef with Victor and he stays behind and lets us go off alone to fight him. Chivalry is dead.

Also, the whole idea that Christine is on this island all alone and that she seems to have no way off and no concern at all about the creepy homicidal doctor running around is a bit funny.

Some technical issues, but great service from Big Fish games.

Very compelling - we really wanted to keep playing. The game was also a decent length. Just tough enough to keep you interested without getting overly frustrated and the “isolation” of being on the island and in the asylum was suitably creepy. The opera game is supposed to also have an isolated setting but we just found it a bit silly.

The conceit in the game of finding audio tapes added to the creep factor. You didn’t usually find them all in order which made it even more eerie.

The climactic scene was also exciting and made for a dramatic end to the game.

Princess Isabella 2: Return of the Curse (SPOILERS)

We liked this one. The story is classic - remove the curse, rescue your family, particularly your kidnapped daughter - who is also named Isabella. There was a great sense of accomplishment as you cleared scenes and removed the curse - there was also helpful notation when you found everything you could, so you didn’t waste time searching everywhere. There were some cute side-plots that added to the game and kept it from getting boring.

You have a couple of “helpers” a fairy and a dragon and their powers made it interesting as you need them to solve puzzles. It was a little frustrating (to The Wife) that there were times the fairy pissed off and you still needed her and you didn’t know when she would be returning. The fairy’s voice bugs.

We had the Collector’s Edition which was cool, since it had lots of “extra” content. The only really valuable part of that was a bonus chapter, which we played before the end of the game - a good thing too, otherwise it would not have made a whole lot of sense given - spoiler alert - the ending. The other extras - soundtrack items which were kind of creepy - might make good gaming background music and some wallpapers we are unlikely ever to use.

The final battle was cool, since you had to finish it before you died, but the “ending” was so sudden and jarring that we weren’t sure whether we had ‘won’ - we did - or lost. It made it a bit of a let down. There is a separate teaser for the next game but no epilogue in the game itself.

It leaves a lot hanging, since your poor citizens are now apparently still stuck with this stupid witch and your husband might even be dead? Which, given the TRULY AWFUL animation for the Prince and his voice, might not be such a bad thing. We haven’t played the prequel game yet so perhaps we need to play that to actually like this guy.

The puzzles in this game were really enjoyable. You had to think them through but there enough hints to steer you in the right direction. We only got stuck on one and that was in the bonus chapter. I also enjoyed collecting the bits and pieces of stuff where you would eventually realize what you needed it for. Also collecting the jewels to free your trapped subjects was neat.

It had a bit more of a learning curve than most games of this type, but we were playing the “advanced” version.

We’d recommend it .

The Stanwick Legacy by Youda Games

We had vastly different impressions of this game.

The Wife: I give this one a thumbs down. Although I liked the voiceover options (American or British accent) and the graphics, this game failed to deliver. My high points were that the puzzles were half decent and the hidden objects contributed to the plot. The plot is really where this fell down for me. You are Emma, a young woman raised by her grandfather after her parents mysterious death. Now that Gramps has passed on, you’ve inherited the manor and are searching for the family legacy.

This was an intriguing set up, but I felt let down by the ending which was SO RAILDOADY! I also that the game was over too quickly with only two floors to explore.

We only spent $4 on this game, so that’s fine. I wouldn’t have spent $5 and I will likely avoid Youda games in the future.

Jhaeman: I thought this one was excellent except for the very end.  I liked the plot, I thought there was a nice level of difficulty in figuring out how to use the various objects, the hidden object screens were interesting and fair, and the puzzles were reasonable clever.  The ending seemed extraordinarily rushed, presenting an odd, somewhat random conclusion that came from out of nowhere and wasn’t particularly exciting to boot.  So all in all, great set-up, poor finish.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Damage Control (Volume 1, 1989) [COMICS]

After a successful debut in Marvel Comics Presents, Damage Control received a limited series each year for three straight years.  You don't often see characters popular enough for consecutive limited series but (presumably) not popular enough for an on-going series, so it's an interesting way of doing things.  I've always been a big fan of the Damage Control concept: they're a major construction/repair/architectural firm responsible for cleaning up and rebuilding all of the damage caused by the inevitable super-hero/super-villain fights in New York.   The series has a very light tone, but not to the point of treating the Marvel Universe badly or "unrealistically."

The 1989 Damage Control limited series takes full advantage of the "guest star bump" received from prominent cover placement of established popular characters:  issue # 1 features Spider-Man, issue # 2 features Dr. Doom, issue # 3 has Iron Man, and issue # 4 has the omnipresent Wolverine.  Unlike most limited series, the four issues don't tell one big story; instead, each is a standalone tale.

Issue # 1 tells the tale of Account Executive John Porter's first day in the office.  Following a new character's first day on the job is a classic way of introducing the reader to the concept of a series, as both the reader and the character are on the same footing.  The crew of Damage Control have to try to extricate a damaged robot (the Tinkerer's "Alternator Bug-Bot") from the World Trade Center after a fight involving Spider-Man.  It's a very funny story and sets the tone for the series well.

Issue # 2 sees an intern and Damage Control's comptroller, Albert Cleary, visiting Doctor Doom after his account goes into arrears.  The concept of debt collectors visiting the monarch of Latveria is hilarious to begin with, and the issue doesn't disappoint; I especially appreciated the intern asking Doom for photo ID before taking a cheque.

Issue # 3 isn't as good as the first couple are, but it has fun with the classic conflicts that can result when a business like Damage Control gets a marketing make-over.  The suits-and-ties are gone, and ill-fitting spandex is in, as the marketers try to make Damage Control into more of a brand.  Suffice it to say, it doesn't go well.

Wolverine gets a pie in the face on the cover of Issue # 4.  That's probably the highlight, as the issue itself is kind of a weird, dumb flashback to Damage Control rebuilding the X-Mansion after Inferno.

Not every issue is a winner, but all in all I remain a Damage Control fan 25 years later . . .

Monday, April 15, 2013

Gurkagh, Barbarian Shaman [RPG]

Gurkagh was a character I created as a teenager, and one I would like to return to someday.  A barbarian shaman, Gurkagh is full of superstition but reveres his ancestors and spirit guides, providing a very different take on what it means to be a cleric.  His personality and accent are a little over-the-top and goofy, which is very fun to role-play.

I have two different character sheets for him, the second indicating he must have appeared in a few sessions, but I only have one distinct memory of him in an actual game.  A friend and I were invited to join a gaming group that had just started up, and the DM had a reputation for being awesome.  So many people were there, it was hard to find space around a crowded table (there must have been 10 or more players).  Anyway, sometime during the session, a terrible flying bird-creature of some sort attacked, and no one could manage to hit it.  In frustration, Gurkagh through his war club at the creature and, with a natural 20, felled it to much glee at the table.  I think the campaign fell apart or something afterwards, as my friend and I never returned to that group, but at least Gurkagh got a moment in the spotlight.

Gurkagh, Barbarian Shaman (D&D 2nd ed. Player's Option Sheet)

Class: Shaman; Kit: Savage; Level: 2; Alignment: NG

Race: Human; Height 6'1; Weight: 220; Hair: Brown; Eyes: Brown

Distinguishing Features: Smelly, unkempt; Disadvantages: Phobia of Snakes (14) & Phobia of Undead (14)

Strength: 13 (13 stamina/13 muscle)
Dexterity: 9 (9 aim/9 balance)
Constitution: 17 (16 health/18 fitness)
Intelligence: 10 (12 reason/8 knowledge)
Wisdom: 14 (14 intuition/14 willpower)
Charisma: 12 (12 leadership/12 appearance)

Hit Points: 14

Base THACO: 20; Melee Adjustment: 18 (+1 choice, +1 class)

Armor Class: 4 (bone armor & shield)

Saving Throws:  Spells 15, RSW 14, PPD 10, P/P 13, BW 16

Weapons:  War Club THACO 18, d. 1d6+1;  Bow THACO 23, d. 1d4

Nonweapon Proficiencies:  Herbalism (7), Hunting (8), Fishing (7), Fire-building (9), Swimming (9), Survival: Forest (7), Tracking (8), Weather Knowledge (8)

Equipment: 5 days food, war club, stone knife, short bow, bone armor, medium hide shield, quiver, stone-tipped axe, large sack, holy talisman

Spell Point Total: 12; Maximum Spell Level: 1; Maximum # of Spells Per Level: 3; Int/Wis Bonus: 8

Spells Available (memorize 3):  Analyze Balance, Animal Friendship, Bless/Curse, Call Upon Faith, Calm Animals, Combine, Create/Destroy Water, Cure/Cause Light Wounds, Detect Evil/Good, Detect Magic, Detect Poison, Entangle, Faerie Fire, Firelight, Invisibility to Animals, Know Direction, Locate Animals or Plants, Log of Everburning, Obscurement, Pass without Trace, Purify/Putrify Food & Drink, Shillelagh, Strength of Stone, Wind Column


Name: Gurkagh
Race: Human
Class (Kit): Shaman (Savage)
Hair: Greasy Brown
Eyes: Brown
Age: 17
Occupation: Shaman's Apprentice
Father: Rolka (tribal shaman); Mother: Atko; Brother: Uteo (dead); Uncle: Shimo (dead)
Religious Affiliation: Ancestral & Animal Spirits


Gurkagh's father is the tribe's shaman.  Three years ago an outlander trader came to the village.  Gurkagh's elder brother was mesmerized by the trader's tales of adventure in the outlands.  Two weeks later, Uteo ran away from home.  He was gone for over two years before returning to the tribe.  Uteo had become a powerful warrior in the outlands, and told many tales of high adventure.  One night while Gurkagh and his brother were out hunting, Uteo brought forth a bottle of outlander wine.  Father always said "Outsider brew full of evil spirits & trouble," but Uteo convinced Gurkagh to share the wine anyway.  Gurkagh fell asleep while Uteo was supposed to have been keeping watch.

When Gurkagh awoke late the next morning, he was startled to see his brother was dead, with a python wrapped around his neck.  Gurkagh noticed his brother's dagger had not even been drawn.  His brother had died because he was careless.  To avoid the shame this would bring on Uteo, Gurkagh killed the snake and bloodied Uteo's dagger, placing it in his hand so it would appear a mighty battle had been fought.

When Gurkagh returned to the village, they were deeply saddened.  Gurkagh's mother has been in a state of mourning ever since, while his father has been forced to train him as the future shaman (Uteo was the eldest and supposed to be the next shaman), even though Gurkagh's father believes him to be lazy and absent-minded.  Many of the villagers blame Gurkagh for Uteo's death.

Six months later, Gurkagh was sent upriver to hunt a boar for the end-of-mourning feast.  Gurkagh killed the boar, but fell asleep on the raft while returning home.  He awoke in a land he had never seen before, and is afraid to return home because his father will be furious.

Gurkagh is curious and playful around others, but is deeply troubled and confused by his brother's death.  His first spirit-guide is his ancestor, Uncle Shimo, who was outcast from the tribe for cowardice.  Uncle Shimo usually gives sound advice, but occasionally his fear gets the better of him.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Buffy Comic Project: "Remember the Truth"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 37

(Dark Horse; Vol 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Tom Fassbender & Jim Pascoe (writers); Cliff Richards (penciller); Joe Pimentel (inker).

Setting:  Season Five

T.V. Character Appearances:  Buffy, Dawn, Spike, Anya, Xander, Willow, Giles

Major Original Characters:  Yuki Makimura (vampire)

Summary:  Buffy awakens from a strange dream full of foreboding to find Dawn standing at the foot of her bed.  Dawn and Buffy argue about whether Spike can be trusted, and Dawn says Spike is better than Buffy's previous boyfriends, Riley and Angel.  Meanwhile, Yuki Makimura visits Spike and apologizes for her minions attacking him earlier and pays him to lure Buffy to the site of the old high school on the following evening.  The next morning, Xander returns home from night-work at a construction job, much to Anya's dismay.  At the Magic Box, talk turns to Dawn and Buffy realizes that everyone else has a false memory of Angelus having attacked Dawn at the high school when they first discovered Angel had turned.  Buffy storms off and, that evening, walks to a cemetery where she is attacked by Yuki.  Yuki reveals that she was the missing Slayer and escapes.  Giles arrives and Buffy accuses him of lying for keeping the truth of Yuki's origins from her.  Giles says he's discovered why Yuki wants the mysterious Eidu amulet.  Meanwhile, somewhere near the site of the old Sunnydale High, Yuki and her minions discuss how their master will soon rise again to be incarnated in an existing fleshy vessel.  But before that can happen, a sacrifice is necessary; and at the construction site, Xander has just arrived to work!


I don't find the the Yuki Makimura storyline particularly interesting.  The big reveal that she was a Slayer came across flat, and another demon summoning? *yawn*.  I do quite like the idea of "flashbacks" showing how events would have been different if Dawn had been around during the show's first few seasons--something the show itself could have had a lot of fun doing.  The artwork remains strong, especially the bold coloring and depiction of Makimura, though sometimes the artists slack a bit on facial features. I'm not 100% convinced by Giles keeping need-to-know info from Buffy at this stage of the characters' development, and it comes across as forced drama.


* There's a mention of Joyce being in the hospital.  I'm fuzzy on what this refers to; I know what happens to Joyce in Season 5, of course, but I think that was out of the blue.  Maybe she was injured in a previous issue or episode.  [Later Edit:  Poor memory on my part--Joyce is in and out of the hospital a lot in Season Five]

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