Monthly Archives: October 2017

2017 Game Review Haiku, #113 – Midnight Scenes: The Highway

Detour leads to farm
Full of trouble, mystery
There are no answers

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.

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2017 Game Review Haiku, #112 – Layers of Fear

A disturbed painter
Striving for his masterpiece
Will do anything

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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #111 – Boo!

Color these pumpkins
Just right, find the best order
Fun, free–now want pie

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.

Begin your King’s Quest by outwitting four other knightly candidates

I have zero association with Sierra Entertainment’s King’s Quest series, despite its legacy in the point-and-click adventure game genre and my love for entertainment based on pointing and clicking. I remember hearing something once that these Sierra games were punishing and reveled in killing the player from time to time, and that’s lived inside of me ever since. From what I can tell, it helped pioneer the use of animation and pseudo-3D environments, as well as introduced the notion of players solving puzzles and advancing by using items found earlier and stored in their inventory, which is a big deal. It’s on my “want to play eventually” list, along with Loom and Day of the Tentacle, which I do own copies of the latter, but I don’t know when exactly that day will arrive.

Anyways, “A Knight to Remember,” the first episode of King’s Quest and free to download on the ol’ Xbox One, is a series reboot from The Odd Gentlemen, which you may know from their work on The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. Well, that’s where I know them. It tells the story of the likeable yet overly excitable Graham, who’s working on becoming a knight and, eventually, the king of Daventry. That’s not a spoiler, seeing as the main meat of the game is told via flashback, from an older, bedridden Graham in bed, many years later after he became king. He’s telling the story of his life to his granddaughter, Gwendolyn. Still, as a young knight-to-be, he needs to outwit four other candidates for the open position and make his name heard.

King’s Quest is most definitely a modern point-and-click adventure game, one clearly designed for a controller and home console, but still retaining many of its genre roots. For instance, there’s no tutorial or quest log to remind players about what they should be doing. One needs to quickly learn how to figure stuff out for themselves; that, or try every item on every other item, which is usually my go-to attempt when stuck. There’s also multiple solutions to puzzles, and, strangely enough, Graham can die, though since this is told via flashback the narrator quickly walks back any life-ending decisions like that. It also very much does not follow in the footprints of Telltale Games’ hand-holding, decision-makers, and for that I am thankful.

You control Graham like you would any avatar in a 3D character-action title, and there’s some sick cape physics to admire. Gameplay consists of exploring locations, talking to people and navigating through dialogue trees, picking up items, using said items, and surviving quick time events. You’ll put your wits to work occasionally and do a whole lot of walking. Let me touch on that last point a bit more because it is where I struggled with the game the most, to the point of almost walking away from it entirely, pun totally intended. See, King Graham, you’re not the only one with the good wordplay.

One of the better advancements in point-and-click adventure games is the introduction of a mini-map or the ability to double click on edges of screens to have the protagonist either move there automatically or simply jump to the next location. When a game is structurally built on revisiting the same locations over and over and over, some of which are four or five screens apart and broken up by loading screens, this is paramount to maintaining a good pace and not forcing the player to watch in stark boredom as Graham meanders to and fro like there’s nothing better to do. Lastly, you can’t skip dialogue, and I suspect that my six to seven hours with this first episode alone could have been trimmed down immensely if The Odd Gentlemen made room for a few more user-friendly design concessions.

Visually, King’s Quest is my jam. Specifically, my cel-shaded jam. This results in environments with a hand-painted effect that looks cartoonish, magical, and, somehow, completely natural. Characters stand out against these backdrops, but only initially. For this first episode, locations are limited, but strikingly varied. Graham ends up in the village of Daventry, inside the castle briefly, visiting a theater, exploring a darkened forest, and creeping through a cave home to a massive dragon, who may or may not be friendly, depending on how you interact with it. Strong, ambient lighting and minute details help round out this fantastical world into something believable and lived in. At one point or another, it felt like moving through a painting. This is also all backed by a good soundtrack and strong voice acting, specifically Christopher Lloyd‘s deadpan delivery of puns.

If I’m being honest, the reason I finally sat down and played King’s Quest is because it is a large, sizeable install and I wanted to open up some space on my console for other games. That said, I don’t think I’ll be purchasing the other remaining episodes any time soon, but maybe they’ll pop up in a nice bundle down the road or just eventually become part of the Games with Gold program. I mean, I already know Graham becomes king, but I guess it is all about the journey, after all. We’ll see if I ever see it through myself.

Gone Home, where happiness doesn’t have just one address

It’s been a few years since I first played Gone Home. This was back in 2014, when my life was wavering, changing into something new and different. I was, at that time, drawing small, teeny-tiny comics for each game I completed instead of my now much more popular standard of haikus, and the one I did for The Fullbright Company’s first-person adventure exploration debut remains one of my more popular pieces on the photo-sharing site Tumblr. Which I have always found interesting because all I did was use Sam Greenbriar’s words about her girlfriend with a few crude illustrations to accompany them. Art is odd.

A quick Gone Home plot summary for those that don’t remember what is going on here: 21-year-old Katie Greenbriar returns home in 1995 from being overseas to her family in Oregon only to discover the house is completely empty of life. As she begins to explore the house, she’ll discover clues and notes left behind that explains where everyone went. It’s a story about love and loyalty, abuse, friendship, religion, dedication, confidence, neglect, connections, mental health, and more things than I can list out here. The easy joke to make would be that this is one full house. I’m not going to re-hash what I previously wrote some years back, so please click here for a deeper dive into the game’s narrative and theme, among other topics.

Right. For the console version of Gone Home, not much has changed in terms of gameplay, though I do enjoy using a controller to navigate and examine neon-colored highlighters more this time. Also, there’s Achievements, and this is where I found new life in the rummaging simulator. A couple of them, specifically “Homerunner” and “Speedreader,” are all about completing the game quickly with next to no room for error. Another has you going through the Greenbriar house slowly, methodically, pausing with curiosity and searching every nook and cranny for the chance to learn more. I loved both plans of attack and want to talk about them individually below.

It’s official–Gone Home is the first game I’ve spedrun. Speed-runned? I’ve done a speedrun of? Ugh. There’s really no graceful way of saying it, I guess. Look, I beat Gone Home in under a minute. I never even knew this was possible. The “Homerunner” Achievement asks that the player complete the game in less than 1 minute with no modifiers enabled. That might sound crazy difficult until you realize that you can access the secret room by the front staircase at any point when playing to grab the attic key. After that, it’s all about cutting corners and navigating down a dark hallway to click on Sam’s diary. It took me a few tries, but I eventually did it, and that felt pretty cool. The next game I plan to speedrun is Animal Crossing: New Leaf, 100% catalog, all fossils, fish, and bugs. Just kiddin’.

For the “Speedrunner” Achievement, you need to complete the game having found all 24 journal entries, without any modifiers turned on, in less than 10 minutes. Hmm. Again, it sounds tough, and there is little room for wasting time, but once you know the best path to take and make a b-line for every audio journal trigger, it’s not too bad. I didn’t personally time myself, but the Achievement popped on my first go after thinking about where everything was for a moment, so it was obviously under ten minutes. Now, before I did this one, I also learned about the secret journal entry you get by bringing a tiny ball from the garage up to Sam’s room and dunking it in the basketball hoop, which I never did initially. The reveal is purrfect. So that was another fun treat to learn about, as well as the task of bringing Christmas duck to its rightful abode in the attic.

Lastly, there’s the “Behind the Scenes” Achievement, which wants you to find all the commentary nodes in the house after turning them on via a modifier at the start of a new game. Commentary in games, much like on DVDs, is something I find neat and cool from afar, but rarely digest. I don’t know why that is. Certainly, when it comes to a movie or TV show, I’d rather just watch the original material and read an interview with the director or actors later. However, games can be more interactive than this, which gives new life to the idea of re-exploring these environments. I enjoyed it in Blackwell Deception and Even the Ocean, and I greatly enjoyed it here, though some nodes offer more stories and details than others. The truth is, as an Idle Thumbs fan, I could listen to Chris Remo go on for days about composing music. Still, I learned a lot about hidden secrets and design choice from Steve Gaynor, Karla Zimonja, Kate Craig, and Emily Carroll, as well as got Sarah Grayson’s take on her character Sam, who drives the game forward with her painfully heartfelt narration. Finding each one was rewarding, and I refused to leave the area I was in until the recording was done playing.

Basically, in the last week or so, I ended up beating Gone Home several more times, all via different types of playthroughs, and I still think this is one of the more important games of the last decade. Play it, please. I suspect I’ll return to it again down the future road; until then, I really need to check out Tacoma.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #110 – Madarakinoko

Trapped, four walls cage me
Tenacious clicks, steadfast bricks
I will not be vines

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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #109 – King’s Quest, Episode One “A Knight to Remember”

Tale of king-to-be
Knights, a dragon, even squirrels
Some puzzles can kill

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.