Monthly Archives: January 2016

Going too far to cure the Curse of the Mushroom King

the curse of the mushroom king capture 02

The Curse of the Mushroom King looks stellar, but inhibits every element of point-and-click adventure games that I absolutely loathe, which is a real shame as there’s a cuteness to its look and randomness. However, it never overshadows the frustration of clicking on every single thing a dozen times and brute-forcing your way ahead by trying every item with every other item in your inventory or object in the world until you want to rip the main character’s face off when he makes some snarky remark about you not even thinking about things logically. Phew. That was a long sentence. Keep it together, Abbamondi.

In Bad Viking’s The Curse of the Mushroom King, which can be downloaded for free on iOS and Android or played in one’s browser, you play as a character called…Bad Viking. Hmm. I’m not sure if “bad” is being used in the same way that my comics are or if he really is terrible at all things viking or if it’s just a nickname that stuck. Anyways, he gets on the wrong side of the Mushroom King fast by refusing to have some soup, getting cursed for his rudeness. The curse is that he’ll never again be able to enjoy the taste of PB&J sandwiches. This is upsetting to him, and I completely relate, but only if the jelly is grape and nothing else. In order to lift the curse, Bad Viking must retrieve an eclectic list of items–like a dragon’s egg and a banana–to make a special potion.

It’s a short–but not that short–point-and-click adventure game where you have a literal list of items to gather. This sort of scenario is fairly common for the genre. Unfortunately, while there may only be five items to collect in total, each item has multiple steps, with some paths crossing others before you can complete them. I’m okay with this, truly, but only if there is some in-game guidance. Don’t hold my hand, but at least give me an idea of what I’m supposed to be doing. Here, in The Curse of the Mushroom King, you barely get any nudge as to what to do next.

Let me give an example of a puzzle that I simply couldn’t understand; I was forced to look up the solution online. From the very beginning of the game, the bartender refuses to speak to Bad Viking until he has met the wizard. That’s all he says, and no other characters mention a wizard or give a hint to where he/she might be and how to summon them. Later, you find a stone plinth with a hole at the top by the tree with the bees; for some reason or another, if you place a cannonball in it, the wizard appears, ready to spit some mathematical riddles your way. Now, clicking on that stone plinth prior to placing the cannonball there gives no indication that you should do something like that or that even doing something here is how one could call forth a magical man from another realm. It’s a tortuous, convoluted puzzle, and only one of many more to crawl through.

My other problem with The Curse of the Mushroom King has to do with its art style, which I enjoy greatly from a cartoonist’s perspective. However, the colorful graphics make it hard to tell what it either an item or thing you can interact with. Nothing is highlighted differently when you hover your mouse over it, which resulted in my clicking like a mad fiend on everything I could before moving on to the next scene. You also end up having a ton of items in your inventory within a few minutes of playing, which meant I needed to try every combination of items possible, even if it didn’t make sense logically. I remember struggling with this issue in Deponia.

Sure, without a doubt, The Curse of the Mushroom King is nice to look at, but a soundtrack, dialogue tree system, and better way to distinguish interactive areas from background art would help make this a stronger recommendation. As is, there’s too much pixel hunting and guessing going on here. That said, a few other games from Bad Viking look intriguing, like The Dreamerz and Escape to Hell, so we’ll see if these problems are persistent across the developer’s other work. In due time, of course. I’m still feeling cursed from this one.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #11 – The Curse of the Mushroom King

2016 gd games completed the curse of the mushroom king

Cursed, never again
To enjoy PB&J
Tortuous puzzles

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

The fruit in Jasper’s Journeys is not for eating

jasper's journeys early imps gd

I guess I’m on an indie action platformer kick at the moment, having moved on from Jables’s Adventure right to Jasper’s Journeys. To further blur the line between those two names, I’m going to invent a title called Journey’s Adventures and play that next, right after another go at Journey. I kid, I kid. Though this also means I’m moving backwards in time, which happens when you begin to dig into my laptop’s videogames folder, where I dump a ton of downloads on a nearly daily basis with the hope of checking the games out much sooner than later. Still, Jables’s Adventure came out in 2010, and Jasper’s Journeys is from February 2008. Yowza. I wasn’t even blogging back then.

Anyways, Jasper’s Journeys stars Jasper, who is a Loffin, whatever that is. I think it is a race of people with long, purple hair that have floaty jumps and don’t take any fall damage. I could be wrong on all that. Also, still not sure if Jasper is a young man or woman; for the purposes of this post, I’ll go with female pronouns. Unfortunately, her cat Orlando got kidnapped by an evil witch on a broomstick while playing in the tall grass. Seems like she’s keen to use this cat as an ingredient in some spell she’s concocting, and so it is up to you to save the feline by traversing fifteen levels of danger, platforms, and lots of fruit to collect.

Completing a level is as simple as finding the blue dragon, which will pick Jasper up and take her to the next level. If you find a purple dragon, you’re in luck, as this one will take you to a special island full of fruit, which is your only source of ammunition for taking out the baddies. However, to find this dragon, you’ll have to noodle out some puzzles based around platforming and finding colored keys, as well as fighting off enemies and bosses with health meters. There’s no in-game map, so you’ll have to pay attention to your surroundings and remember where to return to once you have the proper keys in your inventory. Along the way, you can also visit an inn to save your progress, as well as purchase items with acquired gold, like shields and status-affecting potions.

I played on the easiest difficulty settings, and I’m fine with that decision. The most trouble I got myself into involved areas where there were moving spikes on the floor and platforms above and having to take Jasper and make her jump from platform to platform without dipping into the sharp bits below. Naturally, because I’m playing Jasper’s Journeys on a keyboard and not a gamepad, this was more tricky than it needed to be. Also to blame: her floaty jump, which made it challenging to land on platforms now and then, especially when guiding her via the arrow keys. Otherwise, it’s not too challenging of a game, certainly on easy, but I wasn’t looking for a challenge here. Instead, I liked seeing how the levels changed from one to another, with the former focusing on grassy hills and the next tossing you beneath a castle, and though the pixel art never hits any extremes it is still pleasing to the eyes, some eight years later.

The same could be said about Jasper’s Journeys‘ soundtrack, but to your ears, not your eyes. It’s gentle and laid-back when necessary, but can up the tension during boss fights. However, the songs don’t seem to loop after they finish, and because I’m a slow gamer and like to check every nook and cranny for secrets, the majority of a level ended up being played in silence, which is a bit weird. Sound effects for killing enemies and picking up fruit are goofy and call back to the days of mascot-driven platformers on the SNES.

For some reason, it feels more odd to play a game that is only eight years old versus something like Final Fantasy IX. I don’t know why. I guess I’m having a hard time comprehending what the world was like eight years ago, which, all at once, doesn’t seem like too far back, but is also an eternity ago. Both in my life and the industry. The AAA gaming landscape of 2008 consisted of work like Burnout Paradise, Grand Theft Auto IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Braid, Fallout 3, and Fable II. As well as Jasper’s Journeys. I wonder how big of a splash it made; I think I got my copy in late 2011 as part of the Humble Voxatron Debut bundle. Shame it took me nearly five more years to play it. I’ll have to get a jump on Chocolate Castle soon too, I guess.

Jerky McJerk complains his way to be everyone’s nemesis

gd sims freeplay jerky mcjerk nemesis of the state

I may or may not be nearing the end of my time with The Sims FreePlay, which I only really picked up again in September 2015 after not touching it for a good long while. I say may because I just popped the last, in my mind, feasible Achievement, which involved a lot of grinding and a solid time investment, and I say may not because, even though the remaining Achievements seem unattainable, there’s a part of me that wants to keep trying. In terms of goals, there’s really not much left for me to focus on, to grasp at achieving, and because this is a free-to-play game, restrictions abound when it comes to things like decorating your house, adding more Sims, and so on. I’d rather go play The Sims on a console or PC to get the full experience…or a fuller one via cheat codes.

First, take a look at this shiny thing, which required a lot of complaining on one man’s part, bless his terribly rude soul:

nemesis of the state achievement
Nemesis of the State: Have 1 Sim be nemeses with 16 Sims. (15G)

This took awhile. I’ve been actively working towards this goal for the last few months, and even created a specific Sim called Jerky McJerk to fill this role. That way it would be easy to track, especially once my Sims count reached over twenty, with only one Sim that everyone hated as a community. I made sure to dress Jerky McJerk in the pinkest suits ever seen to ensure I didn’t forget this man’s job in being rude and obnoxious to everyone he crossed paths with, except for toddlers and babies, as they are unaffected by impoliteness. Don’t know if that’s a hard fact or not, but I’ll believe it for now.

It’s a grindy goal, one that I often did while watching Giant Bomb or a TV show during my lunch break. Basically, I’d scan my list of villagers, see who wasn’t a nemesis with Jerky McJerk yet, send him over, and hit the “complain” interaction with them–for five minutes total, requiring about 30 interactions in the end. All without having my Windows phone’s screen time out. This resulted in me occasionally tapping the screen and checking it every few seconds to make sure all was going well. Rinse and repeat until Jerky McJerk is the bane of sixteen Sims total.

The problem was that, more or less, I had Jerky McJerk make enemies with about eight or nine people rather fast, but after them, I had to wait until more Sims were added to my town. Sometimes this didn’t happen right away because I’d rather spend my hard-earned Simoleons on buying new buildings pertinent to ongoing quests, like the stables or swimming center. It was only recently that I realized I had a decent amount of Lifestyle Points–that’s the orange currency in the pic above–somewhere around 80 or so since I never spent them. You can use these to buy new houses for rather cheap. Still, once you buy a house, you have to wait upwards of 36 hours for it to be “built,” which is why this process took so long. Good thing I’m Mr. Patience Man.

So, here’s what is left for me to accomplish in The Sims FreePlay: have my town be worth 12,000,000 simoleons, have it be worth 30,000,000 simoleons, and complete 1,000 goals. Sadly, after playing the game nearly daily for nearly five months, my town is only worth about 3,500,000 simoleons. That’s kind of harsh. I’ve not spent a single real dime, and I have to imagine that if I did plop down some digital cash my town’s worth be much higher. The “quickest” way to raise your town is to buy buildings and houses, both of which are costly and take time to complete after purchasing. Then you have to go through the long process of sending your Sims off to work every day to earn enough money to buy the next building or house, both of which go up in price the more you build. I’m not prophetic, but I think I can see the future, and it’s looking like a slow burn.

Evidently, there’s an exploit to help you boost your town’s worth by 30,000 simoleons, but it too is grindy and requires dedication. Not sure if it is even ultimately worth going after in such a manner. I’d rather hit these mile markers traditionally, and if I’m looking to complete 1,000 goals then surely it’ll happen along the way. The way could be years down the road. Also, one problem: I have no idea how many goals I’ve completed so far. Sure, sure–it’s feels like I’ve done a thousand and then some, but since there’s no stat tracking in-game, it’s impossible to tell, and I’m not about to start counting now.

I suspect I’ll keep tapping away at The Sims FreePlay for a bit more, just to see if I get any closer in a quicker fashion, but a part of me already feels ready to call this adventure dead and done. Which is strange, because I probably won’t uninstall the game right away, which means this cast of characters that I would play omnipotent being to and command they do my bidding will simply sit ignored on my phone, bereaved, with no chance of progressing. Huh, it’s kind of like when I’d play The Sims back on the PC, put a fellow in a row by himself, wait until he had to use the bathroom really bad, and then remove all the doors. Yup, I was that player.

Longest Night’s stargazing results in emergent music gameplay

gd longest night final impressions

I’m really excited about Night in the Woods. I mean, yeah, I was excited before, after playing Lost Constellation early last year and seeing what these cute animal friends can get up to and the staggering amount of imagination and creativity to everything surrounding them and their antics, but now I’m even more excited. Unsurprisingly, this all stems from my recent dip into Longest Night, which is actually the first of the two supplemental experiences from Finji, though I’m tackling it second. You know I never like to follow anything by the book…unless it is the Metal Gear series in order of release.

Longest Night is less game and more short story. Or short stories, rather. Snippets of fake history. A gang of four friends–Mae, Bea, Gregg, and Angus–gather around the campfire and trace constellations in the dark sky, bringing to life these legends of old. It’s a classic tradition as part of “Longest Night,” which is equivalent to Christmas or the Winter Solstice in this world. It’s become a part of life, and the older one gets, the further from it they go, which is why no one around the campfire remembers how to make any of the constellations, something they used to do all the time as little kids.

To learn about these historical figures dripping with lore, like Ibn, the First Singer, Quinona, and Tollmetron, you have to trace matching stars to one another. Linked stars all share similar audio clues, so match all the chanting ones together, all the ones that sound like bells, and so on. It’s easy to figure out, if you know that you’re supposed to figure these sounds out. Honestly, I didn’t even realize you could click on them and draw lines to other stars; I thought the whole point of the game was simply to swipe your cursor around, making pretty tunes and enjoying the cackle of a campfire, but eventually I got the feeling I was missing something and started clicking.

Like I said, I spent far too much time simply losing myself in the stars, adding my own beats to the already catchy and, on purpose, looping soundtrack. I didn’t want to trace the rest of the constellations, knowing this dream would come to an end. Here, have a taste of my cursor-moving skills:

To be real, I don’t even know what Night in the Woods is about. I’m being ignorant on purpose; I want to be completely surprised, not just in terms of story, but also gameplay, much like I was going into both Longest Night and Lost Constellation. Sure, a part of me would like to see elements from these incorporated in the bigger adventure, like creating your own snowmen and music beats, but they could also scrap all of this and do something completely different, something totally unexpected, and I would still be content. From a few GIFs that I couldn’t help not look at, it seems like an adventure game with some varying and stylized action scenes here and there. Oh, and it looks gorgeous too. Lots of oranges and blues, falling leaves. Ahhhh.

Now that I’ve played both of Night in the Woods‘ supplemental side stories, all that’s left to do is wait for its final release. Which is somewhere in 2016. Until then, I’ll be staring up at the stars, humming along to a song that never ends.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #10 – Jasper’s Journeys

2016 gd games completed jasper's journey

A witch stole your cat
Fifteen levels stand in way
Don’t understand fruit

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Help elf people survive in Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure

Lost Lands A Hidden Object Adventure early impressions

There’s a first for everything, and Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure is my initial dip into a free-to-play hidden objects game. Y’know, that mega popular genre where you examine a scene and click on items to check them off a list. Back in the old days, you used to do it on paper, in magazines like Highlights, while waiting in some reception area. It’s strange to see this genre smothered by staple free-to-play elements like energy and special currencies, but it’s free on Steam and sometimes all I want to do is scour a scene for the most random of items, and this kind of fills that desire, but only kind of. Unfortunately, while clicking on crabs, knapsacks, and hidden oars, I also found a number of problems along the way.

Allow me to get the silly out of the way fast and describe the game’s story. Yes, Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure has a plot, if you want to follow it. Right, here we go. A bunch of elves were forced to set sail for a new home after their kingdom ends up in ruins. A terrible storm ends up crushing their ships, forcing them to the shores of a lost island. Unfortunately, despite all the green grass and flowing rivers, this beautiful new world is filled with danger. The elves try to leave the island, but discover it is surrounded by an impenetrable magic storm. Survivors on the island recall a legend about the last of the ancient elves, who they hope will awaken sleeping for a thousand years to help them overcome hardship. Dream big, I guess.

Overly epic plotline aside, gameplay revolves around scanning a scene and finding a number of specific items hidden in the picture. Just like you’ve always done in these games, which my mother was a huge fan of on the Nintendo DS, with titles like Yard Sale Hidden Treasures: Sunnyville in her collection. Sometimes they will list the items by name, sometimes they are silhouettes, and sometimes you have to search the scene at night, which means your point of view is limited by darkness. Each scenario is timed, and if you finish finding everything fast enough, you’ll gain stars (three, two, or one), which feed into upgrading that specific level, allowing you to find more ingredients upon completion. Ingredients are used to complete other quests and help deal with different races without paying gold coins.

Shockingly, I’m barely paying attention to the plot, only interested in which locations I’m supposed to analyze for the right items. Since you have to deal with a limited amount of attempts, I’m finding myself min-maxing every choice to ensure I’m spending those energy points wisely. Occasionally you’ll unlock a treasure chest, but to open it you need to do a Professor Layton-esque mini-game, like hitting all beams of light in a certain order or connecting colored lines without crossing over each other. I am curious to know if there are boss-like battles down the road, and if they are anything more than gathering a bunch of items to clear the path.

Besides the fact that you can’t simply play this to your heart’s content due to a stupid energy meter, there’s a few other issues in Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure that bring the fun down several notches. First, no matter how many times I select “Click to continue,” the game still wants to force its intro movie upon me, which features an old elf speaking like you might suspect an old elf would speak; thankfully, it’s skippable, but the game should remember that I’ve already seen it. I think having a time limit, and a short one at that, negatively affects my enjoyment, forcing me to often click like a madman in hope of nabbing that last item that can’t possibly be found unless I had all the hours in the world to scan every pixel from left to right. Lastly, I’ve popped a bunch of in-game Achievements, but after nearly two hours with the game, not a single one on Steam has unlocked. Sure, that’s a small quibble, but I need my digital rewards, and I’m not sure if the whole thing is borked.

Similar to Taptiles and Microsoft Jackpot, Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure is a game I will probably check in on daily for another week or two, especially to get those daily rewards, and then walk away from entirely once I feel sated. I don’t care whether the elves make it off this island and are safe and happy and making future elf babies to rule the kingdom. I only care about finding the paw print, butterfly net, and shoe quick enough to get three stars and unlock more loot to finish that quest for what’s-his-name faster. Call me a monster, or call me casual. This is the way it is.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #9 – Longest Night

2016 gd games completed longest night

Stargazing to learn
The constellations of lore
Night in the Woods soon

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

This Isolated Subject is going nowhere fast

isolated subject screenshot 01

Man, I really wanted to finish Isolated Subject. Stopped on the seventh level, out of what I believe to be a total of twenty. It’s not that I’m too dumb to solve its multiple dimensions-based puzzles, though I suspect the later levels get really tricky once you are warping between four different worlds and juggling multiple super-powers. It’s not because the game is abusing some sort of free-to-play scheme and is only letting you play the first half at no cost and then demanding you pay cash money for the last chunk. No, it’s because I hit a point where I simply couldn’t play it any more due to extreme lag, a real enemy to games involving any sort of precision, and there are some tight jumps to do here, as well as switching between various phases.

Isolated Subject was developed by a user by the name of crneumre and is hosted over at Armor Games, a site I like for introducing me to the Deep Sleep series. In this puzzle platformer, the world is divided up, with each realm living by its own unwritten rules. In one world, you might be able to jump higher, and in the next you can walk on air. The test subject, who looks a bit like a robot alien and is totally okay with being sacrificed for the greater good, must learn these tricks and use them in collaboration to collect white cubes, which allow you to go through the exit doorway to the next level.

Nearly nothing is explained to you other than the basic functions: move with the [A] and [D] keys, with [W] letting you jump; pressing [1] and [2] will warp you between the separate realms; lastly, hitting the spacebar loosely connects you to both realms, giving you both powers to use. At least that’s what I think is going on. Again, it’s not clearly explained, probably on purpose, but that doesn’t make it any less intriguing and surprising when you discover you can walk across large gaps or clear out chunks of wall in your way. It’s all about experimenting, and thinking outside the box when even your best shots of experimenting fall flat.

Unfortunately–and I’m not one hundred percent certain whether this has to do with either the game or the browser or maybe even the website, though based on Isolated Subject‘s comments section I’m inclined to believe I’m not in the minority here–the game lags. I don’t understand why, but it is beyond frustrating, especially when you are trying to make a jump. Or simply switch to the other world, but it’s not registering your button presses. I also then ran into a situation where, right before a snippet of lag took action, the game registered me pressing the button to walk to the right, and thus that action became stuck until I reset the entire level. Boo. This was right when things were getting truly interesting, with level seven introducing more than two worlds to explore.

And so I must walk away, never to know if the subject in Isolated Subject ever stops being so isolated. A shame really, as there is some cleverness here to witness, and a good ramp in terms of complexity and difficulty. When it comes to puzzles, graphics can always take a backseat. Perhaps you’ll have better luck than I did. Perhaps the world never hitches for you, constantly rotating, like clockwork, as it should. Maybe some of us are destined to lag, to fall behind, and that this is the universe’s new way to separate the weak from the persistent. Perhaps this is a sign.

Journey to the Center of the Sun dreams up your new purpose

journey to the center of the sun screenshot 02

I questioned whether I should consider Journey to the Center of the Sun as a game I completed in 2016, seeing as it took no more than ten minutes to get through, ends abruptly, and doesn’t actually deliver on the promise of journeying to the center of the sun. That said, there’s definitely something here. A seed of an idea, an ocean of style, and it has the potential to be something grander, so I’m giving it its due in hope of pushing it forward to evolve into a more fulfilling experience.

Here’s the plot, which is far-fetched, but fun in a Pixar-like fashion: you wake from a vivid dream with a new purpose in life, which is to be the first human ever to fly a rocket into the sun. Your first goal is to get hold of a rocketship. Unfortunately, after finding one on your apartment building’s rooftop, you discover that it’s going to cost you $8 zillion to purchase. That’s quite an expensive rocketship, as well as an indeterminately large amount of money in reality. Might as well said it costs $567.9 million billion trillion jillion zillion.

Obviously, what really sold me to give Journey to the Center of the Sun a shot are its visuals, which are childish, but dripping with style. They are both vibrant and gloomy all at once, and they help distract you from the silly nature of the plot whereas if these were highly detailed people and environments you might just walk away from it entirely for being too goofy of a game. Some scenes look nicer than others, especially the sewer and inside the coffee shop, but there’s a foundation here to grow from. Evidently, this game from Chad Lare was inspired by and its “solar” theme from July 2015; you can read more about his thoughts postmortem its release over at his blog.

A couple of critiques, because now’s the time. I found transitioning between scenes involving doors to be jarring, as you’re stuck inside the doorway when in the next area and have to move out of it first before exploring, instead of simply appearing outside of the doorway. A bit hard to explain, but if you give the game a go–I’ll link to it in the last paragraph–you’ll see what I mean. The UI for the dialogue trees is a bit strange, though not a deal-breaker. Lastly, and I don’t know if this had something more to do with my browser since I didn’t download the Windows version, there’s no audio, which could really help give the ultra atmospheric visuals an extra punch.

I’m curious to see either this style or Journey to the Center of the Sun develop. Really, I’d be happy with either outcome. Until then, give this a shot, especially if you aren’t a big fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Trust me on that last bit.