Tag Archives: AGS

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.

Absent’s time travel trip is a bit rough around the edges

gd absent adventure game thoughts

Surprisingly, or maybe it’s not surprising at all because we now live in an era when you can’t look left or right without something free being dangled before your hazy, consume hungry-limned eyes, there are quite a number of free adventure games on Steam to try out. I’ve already played The Old Tree, but there’s also Emily is Away, Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist (that’s one game name, by the way, starting at the doctor part, which I ended up playing in the time it took me to finish this post, whoops), Only If, and Missing Translation to look forward to in my ever-growing pipeline of even free things I don’t have time to play right now. Le sigh.

For the moment, I’m giving Absent from FNGames a go. I saw some posts about it over at the Adventure Game Studios forums, which I like to frequent now and then to see what people are working on and what’s out in the wild, especially since many of those titles don’t get a ton of coverage from the major websites. It was originally released in 2013, but made its cost-effective debut on Steam in 2015. Other than that, I went into it fairly blind, other than obviously seeing a screenshot or two to confirm it was, in fact, a point-and-click adventure game of the traditional sense.

Absent stars the determined if somewhat aloof Murray Schull, a young man attending college and who walks as if he has a permanent wedgie that he is internally debating on picking in public. One day, his best friend Steve’s girlfriend, Crystal, disappears, an event that spirals out of control and puts Murray on a path of danger, disillusionment, and death. Also, time travel, but that really only comes into play towards the very end. Oh, and Murray is haunted by visions of both the past and future, which factor into the puzzles and his decisions on what to do next to find answers as to Crystal’s disappearance.

To say I was taken aback by Absent is being kind. This game really surprised me, for good and for bad. First, a lot of adventure games I snag from the AGS forums are short, tiny little experiences. Snippets of an idea, a few screens to explore. Like A Landlord’s Dream. Absent features plenty of unique animations, is fully voice acted from beginning to end, and took me over six hours to see its credits roll due to the amount of story, puzzles, and, this is not a plus, backtracking involved. Sure, sure. Visually, it is not going to win any awards or even get my eyes to dilate with pleasure, but the graphics take a backseat for an admittedly overambitious story and dense amount of content to poke at.

Let me get more specific here, before I bring up the parts of Absent I found extremely lackluster, as there are many. Though the story is too big for its britches, I give FNGames credit for going big or going home. Since time travel is the deus ex machina to solve everything come the end events, there had to be some careful planning into setting it for that outcome, and I can appreciate details like how the first Reaper was made and that crack behind the canteen appeared. There’s a good amount of dialogue options to go through with many of the NPCs, as well as numerous unique responses for trying items on items that clearly won’t work with it. Showing everyone Murray’s homework assignment was amusing. Lastly, I dig the look of the ghastly, otherworldly Reapers, even if I don’t fully understand their motives.

Alas, Absent is fairly rough around the edges. Also in its middle area. From a technical stance, sometimes the cursor icon would automatically change to “use” when you hovered over a door or exit to a new area, and sometimes it wouldn’t. The inconsistency varied from screen to screen. There were plenty of times I also didn’t want the icon to change, forcing me to have to left click several times back to my preferred option. A few screens, like in front of the college and the swamp, are a wee bit larger than what you can actually see, so you are constantly changing to the “walk” icon to move a foot to the right or left and find the exit. It’s annoying. More times than not, the subtitles and voice-over work do not match up, and there were a number of typos spotted along the way, which, as an editor, I simply can’t not see.

One of my biggest critiques of Absent revolves around logic. Almost immediately, characters are shown to jump to the wildest conclusions without any rationalizing. For example, within minutes of learning that his girlfriend is missing, Steve is absolutely convinced that she was murdered by so-and-so and will hear no other arguments. Missing equals murdered in this world, and then once he finds out that Crystal was cheating on him, he no longer mourns for her. Like, not even a little bit, claiming she got her just desserts. I think at this point in the timeline, it’s been one day since she vanished. Granted, once the speculative fiction elements really start taking shape, a lot of logic-based decisions can be tossed out the window, but for the early part of Absent, I was hoping to see some more believable reactions out of the cast, especially Murray, who seems to simply be a dude we use to click around on things and cause events to happen. I’m still not sure why he’s the main character we play as.

Lastly, in terms of diversity, Absent is absent. This is a world of white people and only white people. Considering the size of the cast, it is a shame to see it so one-sided, and hopefully this is something that can be addressed in the forthcoming Absent II. I mean, it takes place at a college, for goodness sake, where all shapes, sizes, and color of people from everywhere in the world come together to learn, make mistakes, and learn some more. At least the female characters are voiced by women and not men pitching their voices up.

Still, all that said, I’d recommend checking Absent out. You might not be impressed with the story and safe way it wraps everything up, nor the difficulty of the majority of puzzles, which mostly require item on item interaction save for one involving a sliding ladder, but there’s still something interesting going on here, especially from a small team. Plus, if you like British accents, this game has them and then some. I personally think Steve sounds like Jim Sterling, but that’s just me. Maybe every angry British man does.

Prepare to be surprised by Barely Floating’s unlikely hero

barely floating final thoughts gd

Barely Floating likes to challenge your expectations, almost immediately from the get-go. This alone makes it worth seeing, though then you’ll quickly realize it’s a pretty standard point-and-click adventure game once the adventuring begins. Still, kudos where kudos are deserved, and I applaud Stemshock Interactive’s decision to make the star of their game Joseph Lancaster, an old, whiny grandpa, cane in hand and medication pills in his pockets–for certain, he’s no spry Guybrush Threepwood or quick-witted American tourist George Stobbart. Then again, not many can be.

Right. Pirates have taken hostages off a cruise ship, holding them for ransom on The Sea Krait. In comes Agent Morris on a helicopter, a true professional with cool sunglasses and plenty of hostage-saving in his history. However, negotiations quickly take a turn for the worse, forcing Joe–he prefers to be called this–to take actions into his own wrinkled hands. Thankfully, since everyone views him as non-threatening he gets more freedom than the other hostages, allowing him to go from room to room, pointing and clicking to solve puzzles and put his plans into movement.

It’s an adventure game, so expect to collect a lot of items–some traditional, some silly, such as Barbara, an inflatable sex doll–and then use those items on people and other things in a creative manner. There’s also a very large dialogue element to Barely Floating. You can pick from options, but, once in a dialogue with someone, you can also click on things outside the list to ask about them. So, even though the cloth-covered machine isn’t a topic of choice when speaking with Igon, my favorite non-pirate-turned-pirate, selecting it still brings up a reaction and clues. I thought this was implemented really well and even becomes a key part of a puzzle’s solution when it becomes karaoke time.

Everyone on The Sea Krait, except for maybe the captain, directly counter the straightforwardness of Joe and the Wheat family. There’s Igon, who keeps items in his empty eye socket; there’s Pex, an idiot with too much muscle; there’s the bartender with the strange creature living in his dirty beard; there’s horny and severely obese Herr Hindenberg; and so on. This is where Barely Floating sees most of its color and humor shine through, and you strangely become more interested and invested in these lighthearted characters than the rich family actually held hostage.

Here are the parts I got stuck at, forcing me to dig up an online walkthrough. Some puzzles are timing-based, like getting the bartender to wash his beard by accident or having the recently fired geek lob a drink directly into the jukebox. I also struggled to fully comprehend how to handle the karaoke puzzle, though I wasn’t too far off course. Speaking of that, one of the more final puzzles involves using the pirate ship’s navigation system and speaking via text inputs to other ships in the area. Unfortunately, here, the game is looking for very specific phrases and sentences, and though I was close on a few of them, you can’t solve it unless you put in exactly what is desired. Felt this was a bit unfair, and there should’ve been more wiggle room.

I really like Barely Floating‘s look, though some backgrounds could be more detailed than others, and much of the animations are shortchanged. Still, every character is unique and stands out, and the text sort of bobs up and down, like it is floating on the water’s surface, which is a fantastic touch. You don’t have to do any “pixel hunting” as everything essential pretty much pops off the screen. In terms of music, there isn’t a lot of variety, but what is there is good, though it can get tiresome, especially when you realize how much backtracking you have to do–it is, after all, a tiny ship.

Seems like this was originally part of the Summerbatch Volume 1 bundle, which also featured Jailbreak, Nancy the Happy Whore, Patchwork, and PISS. Now, I did not purchase the bundle back in the day, ending up nabbing Barely Floating for free from its AGS page. Of those in the bundle, I’ve already played Patchwork and downloaded a copy of Ben Chandler’s PISS–there really is no good way to say that–but have yet to try out the latter. I wonder if I can find the other two titles elsewhere, though neither are giving me the warm fuzzies from screenshots.

Heads up, this is no short adventure either, with plenty to click on and read. Voice acting would’ve helped in spots, but the writing is fun and mostly to the point. You can, however, go pretty deep in some conversations. I think it took me about an hour and change to see Barely Floating‘s credits roll as the sun set. You can download a copy of the game and see for yourself how long it takes an old geezer to become a hero.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #6 – Barely Floating

2015 gd games completed Barely Floating

Pirates want ransom
Negotiations go wrong
Old man must point, click

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

In search of imaginary elephants in Don’t Drink the Pink

dont-drink-the-pink

Don’t Drink the Pink doesn’t do much overall, but it’s still an effective slice of weird pointing and clicking, certainly inspired by that rather infamous intoxication sequence from 1941’s Dumbo, wherein Dumbo and Timothy accidentally drink from a bucket filled with champagne and then begin seeing dancing, singing pink elephants, a moment I’ve still not come to terms with some seventy-three years later. It was made for the January 2014 MAGS competition “Something Cold, Something Burrowed, Something Pink” and is self-described by its maker(s) as “a simple story about a man, few pints of pink and occasional elephants.” You still following?

It opens with you passed out in the snow. After you’ve awoken and prayed to the god of forgiveness that you didn’t do anything stupid during your time of unmemorable drunkenness, you begin exploring the world. Alas, it’s pretty much Hoth. Or the planet Winter from Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Y’know, cold and white and not brimming with signs of life. That is until you come across a simple hatch, which brings you to a small bar selling Pink, a mysteriously powerful drink. The bar itself is not too lively; besides the bartender, there’s two other patrons, one of whom is passed out as well. It’s up to you to mingle and find out what happened last night and why you were outside, all alone in this snow. Naturally, this leads to you on the hunt for a pink elephant.

As you get one step closer to answers, your Pink-O-Meter also increases with each drink of Pink you acquire and down. This means the character is getting drunker, sloppier as he plays, forcing you to second guess every word and action that unfolds. Thankfully, you who is playing the game can solve many of the puzzles in a sober state through simple deduction, as there are only a few areas to explore, a handful of items to use, and so many characters to interact with. That said, the puzzles are still pretty clever for how quickly the game was put together, accompanied by jaunty blips in the limited soundtrack that feel like tiny rewards all on their own.

Again, there’s not much to Don’t Drink the Pink, but it’s still a solid, fun fifteen or twenty minutes of clicking around and discovery. I’d have like to have seen more detailed environments and dialogue trees, but there’s still enough here to sell the story and get the job done. Kind of like of Scaling the Sky ends, everything comes full circle in Don’t Drink the Pink, meaning you could potentially play it on end eternally, but you really need only one go to see everything here. Besides, clearly, too much Pink is not good for you.