Tag Archives: episodic

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.

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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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #45 – Life is Strange, Episode 1 “Chrysalis”

Max can rewind time
To save friends, make friends–control
A storm is coming

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.

Not all monsters are human in Resident Evil: Revelations 2

You might notice an unsettling trend of late here at Grinding Down, with me playing some games that fall into the horror slash survival horror genre. Please note that I didn’t say slash fiction. Rather, things like Outlast and the first chapter of Bendy and the Ink Machine. Not my usual go-tos for fun gaming times, but that’s okay. I’m both trying to diversify what I play as well as get through these experiences to delete or uninstall them with the knowledge that I gave them a fair shake, no matter how much I hated sneaking around in the dark like a total wuss. Naturally, the majority of horror games in my collection are freebies, with the last one I actually deliberately payed money for being…well, probably Silent Hill 3. Perhaps this is all building to finally digging into that amusement park nightmare.

First, a quick history of my, well, history with Capcom’s long-running, zombie-shooting, ammo-conserving, ruby-finding-and-using-as-a-key Resident Evil series. Don’t worry. Just like with Mega Man, I haven’t found myself playing many of these games over the years. I wonder if I secretly have an unconscious dislike for the company; I mean, yeah, they made Breath of Fire III, Star Gladiator, and Zack & Wiki, all of which I enjoy, but their more well-known series, including Street Fighter and Dead Rising, are just not my bread and butter. Mmm butter. Moving along, I most definitely played the original Resident Evil on PS1, as well as rented Resident Evil 2. I believe I watched my childhood best friend go through the majority of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Because I couldn’t handle something chasing me constantly. I tried the demos for Resident Evil: Revelations and Resident Evil 5…and that’s it. You’ll notice that I’ve never touched Resident Evil 4, which many claim to be the star of the series. Oh well.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is, from what the Internet says, set between the events of Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6, which, if you read the previous paragraph, means absolutely nothing to me. However, it does follow two classic characters from the series’ past: Claire Redfield and Barry Burton. In the opening scenes, Barry’s daughter, Moira, is kidnapped alongside Claire, by a mysterious woman calling herself the Overseer. They end up imprisoned on a severely isolated island where, naturally, dark and terrifying scientific experiments have gone from wrong to oh so worse. In this first episode called “Penal Colony,” the narrative jumps back and forth between those two exploring the compound and a second story thread six months later as Barry comes to the island to find Moira. He is accompanied by a young girl with mystical powers because why not.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 remains a survival horror game, and that means trying not to die by the bloody hands of zombies (and other monstrosities), as well as scavenging for ammo and key items. However, this one supports cooperative gameplay. One player is the hero, using guns and melee weapons to get the job of murdering zombies done, and the other player is more there for support, shining a bright flashlight in enemies’ eyes, throwing bricks, or spotting hidden items in the environment. The flashlights in this game are much better than Outlast because they have eternal batteries, thank the Maker. I played the game alone, which meant I had to control both characters, flipping between them when necessary with a simple button press. It’s fine when solving puzzles or generally exploring, but you have to stick with the fighter for combat, otherwise it’s downhill from the first bite.

A couple nitpicks because I am who I am. First, when you are controlling Natalia and carrying a brick, when you go through a door from one location to another, she doesn’t take the brick with her; Barry of course carries his entire arsenal of firearms through, but you then have to scrounge around for another brick to throw. Seems like an odd limitation. Second, I like to crouch-walk a lot in stealth games and, again, when moving between a door to a new location, even if you are crouching, the game doesn’t remember this, and you are now back to standing. This also goes for having your flashlight on or off. Basically, all your “presets” go back to the defaults in each new room, which is annoying. Lastly, since this is a co-op experience and I don’t have anyone to play with, relying on the AI is pointless, as Moira rarely shown her light at enemies and Natalia stayed hidden during all fights involving Barry. I believe you can upgrade some skills to allow for better AI, but I’m also sure having another living, breathing player controlling them is the best way to do it.

Honestly, I thought that I’d play Resident Evil: Revelations 2 to see what it had to offer, quickly run through it, delete the infected file from my Xbox One, and then move on to something else. That is not the case. The game actively encourages replaying, with new modes to try out–like being timed or dealing with invisible enemies or a score attack–and you can continue earning BP to spend on upgrades, which ultimately can help with your next run. Naturally, I want all them collectibles, as well as to try out the Raid Mode, which is a type of “run and gun” mini-game where players fight through short stages to reach a goal and level up their characters and equipment. The mini-game itself exists as a scenario where the Overseer is testing the new Red Queen Alpha program on the player, who is a test subject for it. Sounds neat, at least.

All that said, I don’t think I’ll be grabbing any of the other episodes for Resident Evil: Revelations 2 just yet. I have a couple other titles in the series from PlayStation Plus–specifically Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, of which I know nothing about them–that probably deserve some attention. But before I get to them, I have to replay Barry’s chapter a few more times to grind for gems and pop that stealth kill Achievement, among other tasks.

What an idyllic English town full of murder and timed puzzles

blue-toad-murder-files-episode-1-final-thoughts

I downloaded Blue Toad Murder Files back in January 2013, which is fortuitously when I got my PlayStation 3 and began filling it up with PlayStation Plus downloads, as well as whatever freebies I found in the online store. Nearly four years later, I launched the game to discover it is technically only the first episode of an episodic murder mystery set in a quaint if quirky British countryside with puzzles blocking your progress to fingering the culprit. There are things to like, and things to not like. Allow me to dig deeper and put my thoughts into perfectly sectioned-off paragraphs.

First, the story. Because when it comes to a murder mystery, story is key. Don’t believe me? Check out some Midsomer Murders or whatever Professor Layton is up to these days. Episode one “Little Riddle’s Deadly Dilemma” begins with the narrator explaining how you, which is one of four possible detectives, ended up on vacation. Mother, the head of The Blue Toad Agency, sent you to Little Riddle, a village described to you as peaceful and comfortable, perfect for some rest and recuperation. Shortly after arriving, you head off to the town hall to meet the Mayor and introduce yourself. Unfortunately, halfway through the conversation, the Mayor is shot dead, leaving you with no time for R&R. Alas, with only one episode to go on, the story is fairly predictable and uninteresting, following a linear path to find out who did it with no shortcuts allowed even if you know who did it long before the time comes around for the big reveal. It ends on a cliffhanger, which is fine for an episodic thing, but I’m probably only playing this first one, and so everything feels unresolved and wasted.

Over the years, I’ve played a number of foreign murder mystery games heavy on obscure puzzles and strange accents. Want me to name a few? What, and not just default to the Professor Layton series? Okay, I’ll play. There’s the recent nightmare of myself going through Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, the lackluster caper in The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief, the better-but-not-great Detective Grimoire, and while I can’t remember exactly if anyone bites the big one in those Puzzle Agent adventures we’ll count them here because they contain the necessary attributes: colorful, kooky, and full of conundrums. I’m sure I could come up with more, but that should satisfy y’all for now. Point is, this is surprisingly familiar stomping ground.

With that said, Blue Toad Murder Files is extremely straightforward, resulting in a yawn of an adventure. There’s one point where you can start interviewing the four suspects and can do them in any order, but the end result is the same, so the illusion of choice is just that. The flow of the game is this: meet a character, listen to some upbeat, alliteration-heavy dialogue, solve a timed puzzle, move on to the next person of interest. Our cheerful and inquisitive narrator steps into the mix three times during the first episode to see if you’ve been paying attention with a number of inane questions. No, really. They remind me of the ones from Scene It? Seinfeld, where you’d watch a three- to four-minute scene and then they’d ask you how many boxes of cereal are on Jerry’s back shelf. By the way, I got the very first one wrong here asking about the color of the train (hint: it’s green).

It is both commendable that all the voicework in Blue Toad Murder Files is done by one single person, specifically Tom Dussek–but it is also exhausting. Dussek’s range is…okay, but much like all the games from MouseCity (looking directly at you, Smells Like Art), every woman’s voice sounds terribly forced, and it just becomes more of a distraction than a novelty. I understand that, for a smaller game, a cast full of different voices would probably be a bit pricey and a major effort to undertake. In this instance, I’d have prefer some Simlish and subtitles. In my head, I can make anyone’s voice sound amazing.

The actual puzzles range from deciphering a doctor’s scribbly handwriting to doing some math in relation to currency exchange to listening for audio clues, such as an old woman describing her luggage or how somebody entered a building. None are terribly difficult, but all are timed, which just ups the ante for making silly mistakes and rushing your thinking. You are rated in gold, silver, or bronze medals after each puzzle, and to get gold you must answer within a certain amount of time. You can make a mistake and try again, but this will naturally affect what medal you get. I got mostly gold medals for episode one, but did flub a question or two, settling for bronzes. A small part of me thought about replaying the game, since the questions and answers don’t change, to run through it perfectly and get those “play it perfectly” Trophies, but I stomped that thought flat surprisingly quickly. Maybe I’m beginning to outgrow my completionist tendencies (editor’s note: unlikely).

Still, as a place, Little Riddle seems neat. Cozy and full of character (not to be confused with full of characters). From the camera zooming over it and bouncing to and fro, I get the sense it is a bit like wherever the place is that Wallace and Gromit live in Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures. I’m sure it has a name, but I can’t seem to recall it. Anyways, in that one, you moved from hotspot to hotspot, like Wallace’s home to the local market, waving and wondering at the range of charming people you’d pass by along the way. I do wish I could have taken a stroll through Blue Toad Murder Files‘s Little Riddle, to at least appreciate the green hills, blue skies, and thatched cottages as I moved from one murder suspect’s home to another. Shame, as I won’t be returning for a long while.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #73 – A Wolf Among Us, Episode 2 “Smoke and Mirrors”

2016-gd-games-completed-awau-episode-2-smoke-and-mirrors

Follow Snow to Snow
Glamour goes, shows, time to know
Poor Little Mermaid

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.

Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones is not sunshine and rainbows or even a game

Game of Thrones_20141203084312

Well, I almost significantly spoiled my girlfriend Melanie on Game of Thrones over the weekend, which is something so bad that not even Ramsay Snow would consider doing it on the worst day of his wretched life. I am sorry, and may the Mother and the Father forgive me. See, sometime back, Telltale Games was offering the first episodes of its Game of Thrones, Tales from the Borderlands, and The Wolf Among Us series for free, so naturally I nabbed them all, figuring I’d get to them when I’d get to them. After the stinging disappointment that was season two of Clementine’s return to The Walking Dead, I was in no rush for more.

In my mind, I figured the Game of Thrones series was set during the early parts of the show/books. Mel has read the first two books–and a page or two into A Storm of Swords–and seen all of HBO’s season one. To my surprise, the game takes place smack dab in the middle of the third book, at the Twins. Seems like Lord Walder Frey is throwing quite the celebration for whoever is getting married that night. Yikes. Naturally, the game even uses the phrase “The Red Wedding” when setting the opening scene to hammer home the where and when. I immediately closed out to the Xbox One dashboard and then proceeded to turn on the PlayStation 3 for some more progress into Puppeteer, getting as far away from the Crossing as possible.

Later, I burned through the first episode “Iron from Ice” by myself, and I found it, much like with that other Game of Thrones game, beyond dissatisfying. For different reasons, of course, but I do have to wonder if this well of potential will ever get the right kind of treatment in the industry. Probably not. Personally, of the two that I have played, I figured this would be the better style suited to a world of poignant choices and larger-than-life characters. While that aspect is covered and pretty good in the moment-to-moment decisions, I was also hoping for more things to do around picking who lives, who dies, who you let live because you are weak and you know they’ll come back to kill you, and so on.

The story revolves around the northern House Forrester, rulers of Ironrath, whose members attempt to save their family and themselves after ending up on the losing side of the War of the Five Kings. House Forrester has not yet been introduced in the television series, but is mentioned briefly in A Dance with Dragons, so at least they aren’t just ::cough cough Riverspring cough:: making things up. Still, with the events post-TRW, House Forrester must make smart choices to keep themselves in the fight, and that’s where you, the player, come in, eventually controlling a number of characters in the family. There’s Ethan Forrester, who finds himself learning how to rule at a much earlier age than expected; there’s Mira Forrester, all the way in King’s Landing, who serves as a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell; there’s Gared Tuttle, a squire who is off to the Wall to hide. I think later episodes give you others to play as, too.

Here’s my biggest problem with Game of Thrones, and it is the same problem I had with season two of The Walking Dead–it’s barely a game. It’s a choose your own adventure story, with a high emphasis on choose. Interaction is kept to a bare minimum, and you’re mostly left with dialogue choices. Basically, press this button or that button (or say nothing at all). I also found it difficult to roleplay these characters since I kept switching between them for different scenes; before, you had Lee, and every choice you made was reflective of the Lee you wanted to play as. Same for Clementine later on. Here, you get a short scene with Gared, then Mira, then Ethan, then Mira, etc, which makes it difficult to really grow them in my mind, learn who they are. I naturally tried to play each character the same, as an honest, hopeful soul in this grim world of brutality and betrayal. For many, it’s not going to work out well.

In “Iron from Ice,” I ran into zero puzzles. There are a couple of action scenes, where you have to hover the cursor over an item to grab and use it quickly, or swipe in a direction for some purpose, but that’s all early on and over with swiftly. At one point, while controlling Gared, I got to pick up two items from the room I was in–one was paper, the other some kind of plant or healing herb–and put them in my inventory, along with a sword. That said, you can’t select the items in the inventory or try to use them on other items or even people in hope of starting a dialogue. It’s a pointless list on the left side of the screen to make you think you are playing a puzzle-driven adventure game when, in reality, you are on a linear cart ride down the King’s Road. The other characters you play as don’t even have an inventory.

Kudos to Telltale for getting HBO on board to allow them to use the likenesses and voices of many of Game of Thrones‘ prominet characters/actors, like Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), and Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon). It does help to sell the setting and soften the blow that you’re playing as a lesser-known family in the great big mix of things. Still, even on newer consoles, the gameplay is glitchy, with it chugging along from scene to scene, textures are slow to load in, and character models occasionally vanish from scenes without warning.

Telltale has certainly changed the point-and-click genre to a more modern, easy-to-swallow sort of experience, the kind that just about anyone can play–but it’s not for me. I want more interaction, more noggin using. I hate to say it, but this is exactly the sort of game I’m okay watching someone else play and then move on. I’m glad this first episode was free, but I’m also worried about how The Wolf Among Us and Tales from the Borderlands unfold. In my heart, they are all the same, and walking away from this company’s future output is one of the harder choices thrown before me as there’s a lot of like about the franchises they handle. Thank goodness there’s no timer.