Tag Archives: AGS

2017 Game Review Haiku, #60 – The Fickle Hands of Fate

When Fate rings her bell
She’s off, in search of something
One click, not two clicks

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, #53 – Memories Fade

Old man forgets wife
Photo jogs his memory
Raindrops, jazz, and cake

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.

Old is boring in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor

Melanie’s father retired recently, and he’s already itching to get back to work, to occupy his time and his brain. I’m sure this is fairly common. You work and work and work, inching your way to a place where you no longer need to work–and find yourself lost. I myself don’t know if I’ll ever retire because I just can’t imagine my daily life with nothing to do each and every day. Sure, sure, I’d love to fill up that time with drawing and writing and being a creative fountain with unlimited high water pressure, but I suspect I’d somehow still feel real guilty about it. That said, if I do retire, I think one of the first things I’ll do is finally set about my mighty PopTarts-tasting adventure, wherein I try every flavor ever made; in fifty years or so, I expect there to be at least a hundred new flavors.

Anyways, all of that intro is to say that Donald Dowell, the central, almost-bald and definitely bored figure in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor, is also ready to get back to work. He’s in his eighties, and his reasons include being uninterested and to get away from his, so he says, intolerable wife. Unfortunately, not many people are hiring, and they certainly aren’t looking for a man of his age. He spends many hours knocking on doors and asking for jobs before he finds a potential gig: ghostbusting. Bob Delano, the most famous occult detective in all of Ireland, is looking for an assistant, and Donald’s first gig is investigating what is happening at the mysterious Barker Manor.

Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor is an old point-and-click adventure game made recently, only a few years ago. Lemme see here: it was released in December 2013. It’s designed to be more old school in terms of gameplay, graphics, sound, and so on, and that’s perfectly fine. At least it isn’t driven by verbs, though you still have to click use door if you want to try and open it. Some may be put off on its retro tone alone, but I found its look intriguing enough to start clicking. However, I quickly discovered that not everything was to my liking, which, for a free download, is not a huge loss, but I still feel like I need to get these thoughts down and out of my brain before I can move on to something else. So here we go…

First and foremost, there’s a malicious coating to everything that Donald says about his wife. These constant putdowns are unnecessary and disappointing, as “being old” is not an excuse to treat someone with such disdain. It really is upsetting and doesn’t make him the slightest bit likable from the word go. There’s also a fair amount of repetition, both in jokes and puzzles; for example, in the opening scene, Karl allows Donald to go into his bathroom twice and clog up the toilet in the exact same manner without raising an eyebrow about the old geezer’s motives. This is done so the player can solve a puzzle, but doesn’t hold up through the narrative. There’s also a lot of fourth wall-breaking, which normally doesn’t bother me, considering I enjoy things like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and being god in Drawn to Life, but here it just feels out of place and uninspired.

However, the biggest snag I’ve hit so far in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor is the kind of thing that I fear in every point-and-click adventure game I play–it opens up too fast. I believe this also happened rather quickly in the second part of Broken Age. Anyways, basically after playing the intro scene, which had you, at most, examining items in two locations with one sole to speak with, you are transported to Barker Manor–cue the lightning and thunder crash joke–wherein you are suddenly able to visit a handful of new locations immediately, all with people in them to talk to, items to examine, and things to interact with. I can’t count for you, but I feel like there were more new areas to explore than I have fingers. It’s overwhelming. The game is non-linear and doesn’t provide a good sense of direction in terms of quests or plot. There’s also no map, so once you travel all the way to one end of the manor’s grounds, you need to slowly retrace your steps, scene by scene, to head back. I think double-clicking to move to a new location in more modern point-and-click games has ruined my patience for these slow-burners.

That said, I really do like the art direction in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor. It’s cartoony and colorful, with characters that stand out and instantly have unique personalities, which is important to get since there is no voice acting. And, despite probably not catching every reference out there, the call-outs to things like Monkey Island, Broken Sword, and Day of the Tentacle are plenty and enjoyable, as are the many mentions of famous historical and fictional people. The music is all right, but begins to lose its fun after repeating several times, especially when you realize you have to listen to it as you cross the manor’s grounds yet again to see if that person at the far end of the river has anything else to say now that you picked up some dentures you stole from manor’s manager as he was distracted.

I really really hate abandoning games unfinished, but I’m just not feeling this one to want to see it all the way through. Especially not when I know there’s a laundry list of other point-and-click adventure games in my collection still to try, such as Yesterday, Oxenfree, Grim Fandango Remastered, and so on. Good luck, Donald, with your anti-retirement plans and catching them ghosts. Do try to be nicer to the people in your life.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #53 – Sisyphus Reborn

2016-gd-games-completed-sisyphus-reborn

Dig or do nothing
Find meaning, is meaningless
Free, never know why

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 MAGS August 2016 competition is not monkeying around

MAGS August 2016 gd roundup post

I really need to check in more at Adventure Game Studio and its forums, as there is always something interesting-looking to play or at the very least read about, despite that fact that I barely have time to dig into my videogames folder of, currently, 137 items. Many of those probably originated from these forums and have been patiently waiting for my attention ever since. Well, keep waiting, I say. Anyways, this week, there’s the finalists for its MAGS August 2016 competition, which are as follows and in no particular order:

  • Banana Racer
  • Rango
  • Dr. Muttonchop
  • No Monkey’s Banana
  • Monkeys to the Moon

Oh, and for those that don’t know, MAGS is a competition for amateur adventure game-makers that started all the way back in 2001. The idea is to create a game in under a month, following the rules set by the previous winner. It aims to help you work to a deadline, improve your skills, and provide a kick-start into making adventure games. The theme for August 2016’s jam was “Distance No Object”–whatever that means–and there were some additional rules tossed in for good measure, such as the games must include monkeys, a poor means of transport, a giant banana, and so on. Initially, that might all sound restricting, but one has to remember that the power of imagination has no barriers.

And now, some thoughts on each of the final five, which are in the same no particular order as before.

Banana Racer

Unfortunately, there’s just not much to Banana Racer. It’s a simple endless runner where three monkeys ride a giant banana boat and try not to run into other ships/debris. It plays like a side-scrolling bullet-hell game like R-Type, only a bajillion times less intense. You move up and down via the arrow keys to avoid hitting things in your way, and every now and then a helicopter swoops in to drop bananas in the water for…points? Health? Actually, I couldn’t tell how much health I had left after running into a few boats and once you got good enough at it the whole thing seemingly went on for forever. Eventually, I crashed the banana boat on purpose and was treated to a nice animation of a shark eating them up.

Rango

When I think of the types of games commonly found over at Adventure Game Studio, I think of things like Rango. It’s a traditional point-and-click adventure title, with an inventory, dialogue options, and colorful graphics, all at low resolution. Story-wise, Rango’s father is ill, and all he wants to do is help the old geezer. His mother sends him out to bring back the biggest banana in the jungle. Along the way, he runs into a paranoid bear and learns the true perils of his environment. The puzzles are simple, but logical, and there’s even a neat mini-game for when you are balancing or trying to do a powerful toss. More surprising is the moral choice you have to deal with at the end involving the “friendly” bear. Rango has a shockingly dark tone, but the cute graphics and music–and overdramatic voicework–help this from being a bummer to play.

Dr. Muttonchop

Dr. Muttonchop turned out to be another mini traditional point and click game, but more old-school than Rango. It features the “look/use/speak” icon interface, and thankfully that’s the total number of verbs in it. Any more than that usually scares me aware. The artwork and writing was crude, with the story revolving around a James Bond-esque plot of being kidnapped by the titular Dr. Muttonchop and left in a room to meet your ultimate demise. Naturally, you will have to use your wits and ability to gather a number of items up to escape. To be honest, I almost quit the game after immediately leaving the first room, seeing that three more rooms existed, but the puzzles weren’t too tough to figure out save for the part where every item’s “hit box” is smaller than an ant’s pinky finger.

No Monkey’s Banana

It’s stretching to call No Money’s Banana a game, as all I saw was a random story generator. One that you don’t even provide any input on. It’s like a bunch of finished Mad Libs, with a unique monkey’s life story and adventures being randomly generated by a series of different words and phrases. Unfortunately, by the third example, I had already spotted two spots of repetition, such as the rocket being powered by children’s tears and contracting an alien STD. I clicked through a few more before losing interest and exiting. Obviously from the title, this product is meant to ape–pun intended!–the promise of an uncountable amount of stories and planets in No Man’s Sky, but I think this could at least allow for some player interactivity.

Monkeys to the Moon

This is a resource simulator, sort of like A World of Keflings, except you are ordering a group of monkeys around instead of wee people to do your bidding, such as harvest wood or build an archery range. These monkeys are ambitious and want to build a rocket-ship to reach the moon, which, in their primate eyes, is really one large banana. It’s a fun idea, and the introduction scene is neat and nicely done, but then you get into the real game and the graphics just immediately push you away. I struggled to tell the difference between the tiles and see exactly where the monkeys were as they just don’t pop against where they are standing. I stayed with Monkeys to the Moon for a good long while, eventually building the platform base for the rocket-ship, but the hungry snakes proved too ferocious for my resources. One can only hope they all made it to the moon without me.

If you are a forum member for Adventure Game Studio, you can add your two cents, with voting ending on September 15. I’m looking forward to seeing what takes the cake and then what zany rules are put forth for the new MAGS.

The future is full of cyborg diseases and neon adverts in Among Thorns

gd final impressions among thorns screenshot 01

I am weak to small games with big ambition. Like Limbo, which was a perfunctory action-puzzle platformer that attempted to tell a story of loss and uncertainty with next to no words. Or Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, what with its exploration based around different phases of the actual moon. I think we can add Among Thorns to this mental list of mine. It reminds me a bit of A Landlord’s Dream, which also came from the AGS community and was brimming with grand ideas, littered with the kind of far-reaching sci-fi concepts that flesh out a futuristic world to make it feel livable instantly. However, Matt Frith’s pixel art here is a whole lot less grainy, having that clean, sterile feel to it that can only be attained in an era of synthetic body upgrades, and the puzzles are not as obtuse.

Among Thorns was created specifically for MAGS, which is a monthly competition for all amateur adventure game makers, last month. January 2016 for those that can’t figure it out. I think voting is still going on, though I have high hopes for it doing well among its competitors. The theme was Black Death, and Among Thorns certainly covers that aspect with its Necronite disease, which only seems to affect the people in this world that have begun to augment their bodies.

Among Thorns‘ driving force is slight, but gets things going right away. You almost don’t have time to finish your noodle cup before the plot starts popping in. Anyways, you play as a young woman named Cora who ends up taking a shady job from her boss Lentii to investigate a dude named Cordell Jann, as he may or may not have a cure for Necronite. Yup, that sentenced contained a lot of science fiction-appropriate names. Now, getting to Jann’s apartment is no hop and skip over, and most of the game involves puzzling your way past roadblocks, like the cops. Once you’re inside Jann’s place, there’s more to do and discover, but I won’t spoil any of that here.

Gameplay doesn’t try to do anything wild and crazily unorthodox for the point-and-click adventuring genre. You have an inventory on the left side of the screen, can collect items, converse with people and things, and solve puzzles logically, using your brain and whatever is in your pockets. That’s fine. It’s a short little game, and, for me, this was all about seeing what was next. The more neon signs my eyes could eat up, the better. I mean, we all love Blade Runner, right? This is very much Blade Runner-inspired. There’s a small amount of pixel hunting to do, and this task can be hard to accomplish when there is so much already on the screen to gawk at. I’m still always looking for that balance of easier to find things to interactive with versus actually playing detective screen to screen.

Though Cora does complete her job by the time credits roll, the story ends in a cliffhanger-esque fashion, leaving me hungry for more and wondering what happens next. Clearly, time was an issue, and this is more a prologue than complete project. Among Thorns is certainly capable of carrying a full-fledged story and campaign, and I’d love to learn more about Cora herself and why she prefers to live off the grid and what struggles that entails. Until then, I’ll probably check out some of Matt Frith’s other work over at the AGS community.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #12 – Among Thorns

2016 gd games completed among thorns

Techno plague world
Cora takes a job, sort out
Her way to a cure

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.