Monthly Archives: January 2019

Alice in the Mirrors of Albion is stuffed with hidden objects

We’ve gone over this before, but I enjoy a good hidden objects game. Give me a list of things to search for, and I’m ready to go. Don’t need a lot of frills or extra time-wasting work. All I want to really do is look at an image crowded with stuff and find the canary, the umbrella, the globe, the oven mitt, and the tiny bust. Thankfully–or maybe not, depending on how you feel–the market is drowning in games like these. For instance, if you look at Microsoft’s online marketplace, the count is mega-high, and that’s where I found Alice in the Mirrors of Albion, a hidden objects game that combines some detective work with Alice in Wonderland‘s fantasy world.

Right. Well, this is the newest hidden objects game from Game Insight, the creators of Mystery Manor, which I have not played. They make a lot of mobile games. Alice in the Mirrors of Albion takes place in a mystical version of Victorian England, fraught with intrigue, crime, and suspense. The biggest story is that Alice–yes, that Alice–has gone missing, and it’s up to you to figure out what happened. Y’know, but only after you examine scenes for hidden objects. You’ll also have to solve puzzles and experience the game’s unique-if-long-winded story by tackling countless quests in your mission to foil the evil machinations of the Red Queen. Don’t be surprised by the addition of mini-games and an energy system; this is, after all, at its core a free-to-play game brimming with ads and a desire to get you to spend real money to speed up timers and accrue special currencies. No thanks.

For a while there, I was playing something called Twilight Town and Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure. Alice in the Mirrors of Albion, even though it is made by a different developer, follows almost exactly the same format of those two, plus countless others out there. I’m talking about its use of energy, its focus on completing collections, the overworld map littered with icons and things to confuse yourself on, and the different ways it makes you find items in a scene, be it either from a list or pictures of silhouettes. I wonder if all these developers got together in a room and decided this was the new modus operandi for all things related to hidden objects. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t; for instance, in Twilight Town, I could literally do three actions before running out of energy, but Alice in the Mirrors of Albion has been more kind than that.

So, yeah, it’s fine. I do find it humorous that the story kicks off immediately with Alice disappearing and then things drastically slow down because you have to find keys for so-and-so or a special hat for the Mad Hatter…because, well, the developers needed to pad the game out from the get-go. I’m slightly interested in the story, and the writing isn’t honestly terrible, but many of the missions do feel like filler, and this detective work is only inching its way forward at a snail’s pace while a young woman’s life hangs in the balance. Want to save her right away? Sorry, you’ll need to up your mastery in this one location while also waiting for your energy meter to refill. Look, I’m not insane, I know what this game is and am not expecting Hemingway, but it should be either all in on the story or just scrap it entirely and don’t hide the fact that you are meant to play these levels over and over again.

There’s a character in Alice in the Mirrors of Albion that really gets under my skin. His name is Cheshire, Jr., he’s a cat, but also a part of the police-force. Look, I’m not here to ask too many questions. Anyways, the voicework done for Cheshire, Jr. is some of the most atrocious I’ve ever heard, and it really does make nails on a chalkboard sound like a thousand angels singing. You’d think, with him being a cat, that he’d meow like a cat, but no…instead, he says the word “meow” and draws it out with some extra syllables, because it’s not enough to just make your ears bleed once. If he continues to make his presence known, I may not be sticking around too long for this one.

Wish me luck on continuously finding that fire extinguisher, as they actually do a good job of hiding it in the police office scene. However, if we don’t get closer to learning what happened to Alice, I’ll be saying goodbye quickly to Alice in the Mirrors of Albion.

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2019 Game Review Haiku, #11 – Storyseeker

A strange, quiet place
With talkers, whisperers, ghosts
Explore leisurely

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #10 – Dear Cousin

Find eggs for below
Ten total, some hidden high
I fell through the world

And we’re back with these little haikus  of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Merchant’s a classic RPG experience from the perspective of a shopkeeper

I’ve been getting a bit looser when it comes to installing or uninstalling games on my Android-based cell phone. By that I mean not everything is going to get a reaction out of me, such as a meaty blog post on Grinding Down, negative or positive. Some games I continue to log in to daily and tap on, and some I give a try for a wee bit, but find they don’t really hook me, which is a shame for things like Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Dragalia Lost, and, most recently, The Sims Mobile. However, one of the newer ones I’ve downloaded in preparation to stave off boredom during chemotherapy treatments–well, new to me–is called Merchant, and I’m digging it a whole bunch, pixels and all.

Well, the whole point to Merchant from Retora Games is to become the greatest merchant the world has ever known. You’ll end up hiring heroes, crafting items like weapons and armor, and defeating various D&D-inspired monsters, save for bushes that don’t fight back, in order to improve your heroes and grow your economy. However, as a burgeoning shop-owner, you’ll need to manage your resources properly and make tactical decisions to rise to the top. This means you can only craft so many things before running out of inventory space or gold and must begin selling your wares to traveling wanna-be heroes. It’s a solid mix of there always being something to do and something to plan for down the road.

I remember being fascinated with the idea of Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale when it came out way back in late 2007 despite still never having played it. In that one, you are Recette, a shop-owner, and have to decide how you’ll get your stock–either through playing the markets in town or going out into the wild with an adventuring friend and thrashing beasts until they give up the goodies. You also had to figure out how much to sell things for, what the shop should look like, and how to best go about getting the money needed to pay off the loan. Merchant is kind of like this, except you are always behind the counter, making things happen from the safety of your store-front.

Merchant is pretty chill, as will as plain ol’ pretty. I mean, I like pixel art, and this is some good stuff. You can unlock different skins for your shop and shop-keeper, but the game never pushes micro-transactions; instead, it looks like it would rather prefer you buy DLC and get more for the game in one big gulp. The music is actually nice, but I often play games on my phone with sounds off, so I don’t hear too much of it.

The game is also available for free on Steam, but I think having in on your phone to check in on now and again is more than perfect. Like, I’ve been doing this the entire time I’ve been writing this post–send a hero out to fight a monster, type some words, collect rewards, rinse and repeat. Sure, it’s another game of timers, but this one feels much more rewarding than many other idle games out there. I say, give it a shot; if not, you can always close up shop and spend your nights getting drunk in the local tavern, dreaming of a different life.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #9 – Dark & Cold

Light your way through dark
Find a stranger, a way out
Short journey upwards

And we’re back with these little haikus  of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

I can’t be alone in thinking Never Alone is cute yet disappointing

It was supposed to snow this past weekend, and while it did, all we got was a snusting, a new word I’m pushing to get into the OED. It means a light dusting of snow, in case that wasn’t clear. Anyways, this put me in a mood to play something snowy, and after scanning my list of games still to install on my Xbox One I saw it, the perfect winter weather game–Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa).

Ultimately, Never Alone is a puzzle-platformer developed by Upper One Games and published by E-Line Media based on the traditional Iñupiaq tale, “Kunuuksaayuka,” which was first recorded by the storyteller Robert Nasruk Cleveland in his collection Stories of the Black River People. I realize that is a lot to take in at once, so please, give yourself a moment before moving on. In terms of gameplay, you swap between an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and her Arctic fox companion to complete puzzles and navigate the wintry landscape. There are a total of eight chapters to get through, and the game was the result of a partnership between the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and E-Line Media. It is evidently one of a growing number of videogames produced by Indigenous people, and that’s really cool. Too bad I found the whole thing frustrating and disappointing, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep creating games that celebrate and explore different cultures. I do want more.

You can play Never Alone co-op, but I went through it by myself, which meant manually switching back and forth between Nuna and her fox companion. At first, during the early stages, this was fine, but later you have to take timing into consideration and it can be tricky to get both characters to work in unison. I wonder if the controls would have been better if they followed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons or ibb & obb. Anyways, Nuna can push/pull boxes around, as well as use her bola to destroy chunks of ice while the fox can jump higher and let down ropes from ledges. There are action sequences where you are being chased that require quick jumping, but most of the game is about moving from platform to platform, often using spirits as ledges to help Nuna get where she needs to be. This does become tougher later on when your fox changes and requires the two to work much more closely to get things done.

Look, Never Alone‘s story and its structure is based on the inter-generational transference of wisdom, and that’s mega neat. It is told in the form of an oral tale, and players are rewarded for collecting “cultural insights,” which are ultimately video vignettes of Iñupiaq elders, storytellers, and community members sharing their stories. These are all well done and produced, and this isn’t the norm when it comes to puzzle platformers, but I’d love to see more of collectibles like this. I ended up missing one by the game’s end, but the majority of them are along the main path, so you’ll find ’em easily enough and should dedicate some time to check them out.

Alas, here’s what I ended up disliking immensely about Never Alone. At first, the platforming and puzzles were rudimentary and simple, but became more time-based as the levels went on, which, when coupled with the fact that you had to switch between characters in a flash, resulted in many annoying deaths. The game is also glitchy, and I’m specifically talking about a tree I ran into during the last level that refused to walk forward; I had to return to the main menu and hit “Continue” for it to truly awaken, but this was only after 20 minutes of attempting to figure out if I just wasn’t doing something right. Ugh. Also, jumping and grabbing on to ledges with Nuna felt seriously inconsistent, and that’s a big part of the gameplay, so boo-hoo to that. I honestly thought, based on the first few chapters, that Never Alone was going to be a breeze, but found myself shouting curses at the TV screen near its conclusion.

It’s a cute game, doing really great things for the Iñupiaq community and culture, but it isn’t the most fun thing to play in the world. Sorry about that. I’m just as bummed as y’all.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Port Royale 3

I knew going into Port Royale 3 that this wasn’t a game for me, and, surprise surprise, it’s totally not a game for me. Except, on paper, it sounds a lot like many of the board games I’ve been getting into lately, what with its numerous systems and decisions to make, various paths to follow. Almost like a deck-builder. I mean, there is a board game with a similar name to this, but it’s not one to one. Either way, I gave it a shot, but was ultimately forced to walk the plank. Yarrr.

Here’s the lowdown on how all this starts in Port Royale 3. You’re in the Caribbean during the turbulent 17th century. The mighty kingdoms of Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands are fighting over the colonies. As an up-and-coming young sea captain, your only goal is to become the most powerful man in the New World. Seems reasonable to me. Well, to achieve that goal, you first have to choose one of the two available campaigns–Adventurer or Trader. I went with…the trader route, because, even when I was playing Civilization V, I steered clear of fighting with other territories and focused mostly on being a peaceful person that just liked to earn a few coins now and then.

If you go the way of the Adventurer, you’ll lead an unforgiving campaign for the conquest of the seas, which involves a lot of invasion, piracy, bounty hunting, and raiding. Basically, you’re a pirate, and you need to do whatever it takes to build your own empire in the Caribbean. The Trader’s path is, on the opposite, mostly about developing your riches and economic power. To become the most powerful Trader of the New World, you will need to create trade routes, build industries, and develop the economy of the colonies. There’s also a Free Play mode, where you can mix both of those methods in any way you want, letting you create your own unique tale of plundering and selling goods.

So, I sailed around the Caribbean a bit, going from place to place, such as Santiago and Tortuga, purchasing goods for low prices and selling them elsewhere for higher prices. Y’know, making an earning. Sugar and rum were very popular choices, as was wood. Always gotta get that wood. Reminds me of how important it is in Catan; during one game, I traded almost everything I had, including my precious sheep, for a single piece of wood, but it was worth it, as it helped me build one more road, giving me the Longest Road victory point. Anyways, I diverge…mostly because I don’t know what else to say about Port Royale 3.

Port Royale 3‘s soundtrack is actually quite nice, and I know this because I had the game on pause a lot while typing up this blog post. It was composed by Dag Winderlich and Tobias Adler and features a lot of frantic drumming and seagulls crying out in the background, and that might sound nightmarish to some of y’all, but it’s really not. As someone who grew up near the beach, it’s familiar.

Look, I’m sure if I took the time to truly dig into all the menus and various options at play, Port Royale 3 would offer me a ton of things to do and plan for, but it just didn’t hook me from the start. It begins slow, thankfully, but even still, I don’t know what half the menu options mean, even after ranking up, and I’d rather play something like The Sims 4 or Zoo Tycoon to get my simulation fix. Oh well. Guess the pirate life is not for me.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.