2017 Game Review Haiku, #26 – Gears of War 3

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Find Adam Fenix
Save what humanity left
Hard to play post-4

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Figure out the connection between civilization and nature in Rituals

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I feel like I talk about bundles a lot here at Grinding Down…and for good reason. These packages keep me afloat through the years, often helping to fill in the gaps for those bigger games I missed out on or drowning me in lesser-known indie titles that are equally as entertaining. Well, Humble Freedom Bundle is one of the best yet, with a sickeningly number of games, digital books, and music to add to your respective libraries, as well as having all the money raised go directly to charity. United, we stand. As of this post, the bundle has raised over $5 million for the ACLU, the International Rescue Committee, and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, and it feels great to be part of such a gracious, overwhelming cause. I might not be able to do much, but I can do this.

I’m not going to list out every game in the Humble Freedom Bundle, especially when you consider they added a whole bunch more only yesterday. But there’s a lot, and a good number of them were already in my Steam library from previous bundles, such as Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Super Meat Boy, World of Goo, VVVVVV, and so on. Regardless of that, purchasing the bundle was still a no-brainer as it got me immediate access to many others on my wishlist, like The Witness, Invisible, Inc., and Subnautica. Plus, I now have a third copy of Stardew Valley, so if you are interested in that game and want a key, please reach out to me so I can share the love and joy that is pixelated farming. That said, I’m not in the right frame of mind to start a bigger game, and so I decided to see what Rituals, one of the more recent additions to the bundle, was all about first, given its small install size.

To get as simplistic as possible, Rituals is an adventure game clearly inspired by classic point-and-click romps. The kind where everything you pick up in the area is essential to you moving forward, as well as the kind that simply do not tell you the answer to every puzzle dangling before your confused face. I’m not going to call it a point-and-click adventure title despite the fact that you do often point and click on things. Just doesn’t feel right, and I think it has a lot to do with how you move around the game’s environments. More on that in a sec. You play as a nameless, faceless person waking up at his or her desk in a rather by-the-books office building. As you begin to explore the empty rooms around you, there are hints of bad things, and then suddenly you are transported to a mystical forest at night, hearing whispers in the distance. There’s got to be a connection between the two realms.

If that set-up kind of sounds familiar, then yes, I too immediately thought of The Stanley Parable upon loading Rituals up. It’s that minus the witty, sarcastic narrator. In fact, there’s not a lot of words here, with just a smidgen of text when you pick up an item or examine something important. The rest is up to you to deduce. Even with its minimalist, low polygon look, the game’s environments are fun to explore as the shapes and solid colors do more than enough to make you believe these places are what they are. And those places range from an abandoned office building to a dark forest to a lush jungle to a snowy graveyard and more. Getting to the next area is a reward in its own way.

Now, moving around is a different trick–the game is played in first-person perspective, but you can’t freely walk around. Instead, you click on navigation arrows to move forward or back or closer to areas of interest, and this can take a little getting used to. However, this means you only need a mouse to play the game, and I’m cool with that. Using an item is done by clicking on it from the inventory list at the top of the screen and dragging it on top of whatever you want, and this can be somewhat finicky, especially during the mortar and pestle part. It’s not the end of the world, except when it is.

Rituals didn’t take me very long to complete. My Steam data says around 77 minutes, and that’s a-okay with me. Again, from all the Humble Freedom Bundle provided (even more games were added since I started typing this blog post!), I wanted something quick and enjoyable, and that’s what this was. There’s a big ol’ decision to make at the end, but you can quickly reload the last checkpoint to see how the other option plays out. That said, I can’t speak with confidence that I don’t know what the relationship is between the tedium and struggle of the real world and the more fantastical aspects accessed via magical elevators, but sometimes it’s okay to not know. The important thing here is not being afraid to say so.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #25 – Rituals

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Civilization
Goes hand in hand with nature
Save or destroy it

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Searching high and low for vampire hysteria in Kisilova

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I don’t have an Android phone. Loyal Grinding Down readers will know that I have continued to tread water in an ocean of hungry sharks with my fancy-shmancy Windows phone, though I do expect my next upgrade to be something different. Yes, yes, I’m highly tempted by the potential of a new Animal Crossing game on phones in the future. So, no Android-based mobile device currently, but thankfully I have a laptop with Steam installed on it, which allowed me to partake in the Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi, as they all came with bonus Steam keys. At this point, there’s not much that can stand in my way of a bundle that can help my digital library expand.

Okay. Let’s do this. Are you ready for the list of games from this bundle that I never heard of beforehand and chances are neither did you? Good, good. Because here they are, in no particular order, but in all their generic name glory nonetheless:

  • Dark Heritage: Guardians of Hope
  • Vampire Legends: True Story of Kisilova
  • The Secret Order 2: Masked Intent
  • The Secret Order 3: Ancient Times
  • Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily
  • Eventide: Slavic Fable
  • Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride
  • Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan
  • Grim Legends 3: The Dark City
  • Mythic Wonders: The Philosopher’s Stone

Mmm-hmm. Also: yowza. It’s like the creators picked a bunch of videogame title mainstay words, threw them in a hat, mixed it up wildly, and created games based around whatever was pulled at random. Personally, I’m pretty tickled by Crime Secrets though. Crime…secrets. However, because I’m broken inside, I started with Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova. Not because I love vampires–though I did end up re-watching Twilight recently to see if I’d recognized any locations after visiting Seattle, La Push, and Forks in Washington with my father last summer. No, I picked it first for two simple reasons:

  1. It appeared to be a standalone game.
  2. It appeared to be, somewhat, rooted in history.

What do I mean by that second point? Well, Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is based on the first documented case of vampirism. Allow me to set the stage: it’s 18th century Europe. Fifty years after a great plague swept the land of the Habsburg dynasty, the subjects of the Emperor are in danger once more. A series of horrifying, mysterious deaths occur in the remote Serbian town of Kisilova. Residents, fearing that the plague is back, begin fleeing their homes. Summoned by the Prince of Württemberg himself, Imperial emissaries journey to Kisilova to investigate these events and prevent further deaths from happening. You play as one of these investigators, and I’m sure you have a name, but I can no longer remember it.

Have I yet said what kind of game Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is? No? It’s got puzzles and hidden objects to unearth and exploration, moving from one location to another to find clues and items to progress the narrative. Steam uses the tag “casual” on its store page, and I am in full agreement of that. It’s casual, and I played it casually. Like, I played a few hours of it when I got the bundle back in September 2016, and then I came back recently to finish the thing off in a few more sittings.

Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is a strange mix, both in terms of what you do, but also what you hear and see. There’s voice acting, and it’s a little rough to endure, especially the voice of the investigator you control. I understand this isn’t modern times, but everyone speaks so stiffly and uncomfortably that dialogue is a struggle to listen to. As it turns out, the puzzles are the meat and most enjoyable aspect of the game, and the narrative exists only to serve you more puzzles in the frame of roadblocks, and so the voices and dialogue can be completely ignored. I ended up playing the latter half of the game with Netflix on in the background. Many of the puzzles are of the “use the right item here” mindset, and sometimes you have to travel through several locations to find the key gizmo. Not hard, but satisfying. I personally found the hidden objects sections more enjoyable, remembering how much my mother liked this type of gameplay on her Nintendo DS. The hand-painted scenery, which is really jarring against the animated avatars whenever they take center-stage, is nice to look at and highly detailed, though that does mean some pixel hunting has to happen.

I have to imagine that I’ll be trying Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily next. Again…crime secrets. Makes me laugh. My best guess is that it’ll be pretty similar to this experience, but that’s okay. Like I said above, the puzzles are fun to figure out, and a good hidden objects checklist scene is something I simply can’t ignore. It also doesn’t punish you for clicking like a madman when you only have one item left to find and cannot see where it is. More is fine. There will be plenty more for the rest of 2017 too thanks to this Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #24 – The Knobbly Crook: Chapter 1, “The Horse You Sailed In On”

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Must turn ship around
Wreak havoc on its odd crew
Well…half boat, half horse

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Language is a reflection of ourselves in Missing Translation

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I originally ran through Missing Translation in a single, puzzle-driven sitting back in December 2016 and have desperately wanted to write about it, but other posts ended up taking priority over the wordless thing. You might view that as ironic, that I haven’t found the time for the right words yet to describe a project built solely on visual language. I definitely do. Fret not, for now I’m here, bright-eyed and inspired, with hopefully enough snappy prose to get the job done.

First off, Missing Translation is free to play on Steam, and for that fact alone, I do urge you to go play it before reading much more about it. Yup, I’m totally ushering you away from Grinding Down by the second paragraph of this post, which means I’m a terrible blogger. Also, it’s not because there’s insane plot twists or amazing watercooler-esque moments, but because it is the kind of interactive experience that is best experienced. It’s a game about language and, often, immersing yourself in something foreign and unknown is the best way to learn what is what and how the world spins. Like that time in college when I went to Montréal, Quebec, for Spring Break with only knowing a few French phrases. Spoiler alert: I totally made it out alive.

Right. Onward with the words. Missing Translation is a short game with intellectual puzzles that is all about teaching a visual language that’s based on drawing lines across a nine-node grid. By decrypting this secret language, one can really begin to understand what’s going on in this black-and-white-and-gray world full of foreign machinery, cats, and robots in funny hats. To be honest, I never grokked the entire thing, but was still able to complete the game and enjoy the uptick in difficulty for the puzzles.

You might have trouble believing that Missing Translation is wordless. Well, it is. From beginning to end. There’s no tutorial, hints, or text–as we know it–to be found, not even on the “start” menu. This means that anyone and everyone can enjoy the game regardless of their native language. It’s a universal conundrum for solving. There are about a hundred puzzles to figure out, varying from connecting dots on a grid in the right way to navigating through large screens brimming with totem-like blocks. Each one grows in difficulty and complexity as you dig deeper, and I couldn’t stop myself once I got started, for fear of forgetting what trick was behind each set of puzzles. This is why I ran through the entire game in a single gulp, unable to leave any bit unfinished. As they get solved, new friends and allies are unlocked to help guide the main protagonist–which can either be a man or woman–back to their world.

Missing Translation is more than a puzzle adventure game. Its got a wonderful premise, inclusive to all that want to click and think and learn, and while I might not know what every strange symbol means, much like in Fez, I had a fantastic and fulfilling time figuring out my way through its many locked doors.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #23 – Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova

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Inscrutable deaths
Explore that Kisilova
Find all vamp objects

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.