Tag Archives: Jay is Games

Y’know, you have to explore the darkness to move forward in Lampshade

lampshade gd indie game impressions

I recently got a ring in Stardew Valley that emits a small circle of light around my character, which makes exploring the dimmer parts of the mines much easier, especially for my old man eyes. Thankfully, it’s not my only source of light, and it plays a super tiny role in the grand scheme of raiding a mine for resources that you can sell or use back at your house to help fill out those progression-essential Community Center bundles. Wait, I’m not here to talk once more about Perdido Farm. Certainly not until I get through my first winter, at least. This post is about Lampshade from Mister No Wind’s Studio, where you are, more or less, the only source of light, which makes navigating through a dark, labyrinthine cave all the more troublesome. Step by step, as the song goes.

Lampshade tells the story of a nameless woman–let’s call her Lamprini–who must travel through some mysterious, dark cave across six different chapters…for one reason or another. It’s not explicitly said, and the things that are said are said slathered in lyricism and pretentiousness. This is an odd retro world full of platforms and dangerous spikes, but also glitches and strange, old men and rules that are meant to be broken. Also, ghosts that affect your vision upon contact. Every chapter switches things up, and so the simple platforming found in the first chapter becomes hindered by total darkness in chapter two and then completely bonkers after that, with the edges of the screen no longer predictable as merely edges of a screen. It reminds me, as many things often do, of Fez, of Persist.

I’ve had to write some stuff down for Lampshade. I suspect many other players did too, unless they have the mind of three elephants combined. In which case I don’t know if they need to go to the hospital or a museum first. Right, writing. It’s a good thing I like writing because the notes-taking for this under-lit adventure feels…wholly unnecessary. Sure, it is necessary for me to map out where to jump on platforms in pure blackness, but it’s not like the path changes every time I die or if it is even different for other players in their game. It’s the same road, just hidden, and that I guess equates to puzzle platforming. The challenge comes from not being able to see, but that twist doesn’t make it a lot of fun to play.

By the way, Lampshade is played in a browser, using only the arrow keys. Up jumps, and left and right move Lamprini around the level. However, the longer you hold the up key, the higher she jumps. You can use this to your advantage to master hopping up stair-like platforms, but I still found myself losing control of her and missing a landing here and there. Or simply walking off a ledge. You’ll occasionally need to pause in front of lamps, which will reveal the entirety of the screen until you move away from them, leaving you to your memory and platforming skills. Sometimes you have to traverse across several screens before getting to the one you are supposed to have memorized, which can test your total recall ability.

Chapter 4 of Lampshade is most likely where many will walk away or rage quit. I certainly did…of the former. Despite giving you a map, which tells you very little actually other than what square cube you are in…in relation to the other square cubes, you are forced to replay many sections of the level if you make a single mistake towards the end in terms of where you jump and how you land. Naturally, you don’t know this the first time going into it, and so you’ll mess up and feel punished. It’s a cheap means to stretch out the gameplay in the middle, to ask a lot of a player already giving up things like eye-sight and security.

By all means, give it a go yourself. Do let me know what the last few chapters are all about and whether Lamprini ever sees the light of day. I don’t have a lot of faith that she does.

You’ll never find The Hunt’s Elk King unless you click everywhere

the hunt screenshot 001

For short, atmospheric-driven point-and-click adventure games, I try to go in blind. Maybe, at most, I’ll read a brief summary of what it is all about, but I’m probably already interested in playing based on either its zany title or if a screenshot revealed an appealing art style. I figure I’ll learn along the way, and it’s not like I’m committing to some hundred-plus JRPG where there are many spinning plates to pay attention to. Well, for Running Zombie’s The Hunt, I read a bit more than usual before exploring its spooky wilderness, and I’m so thankful I did, because without that knowledge, I’d never have been able to complete it.

The Hunt is an otherworldly and horror-heavy point-and-click adventure game that has you tracking down the legendary Elk King, for reasons not clearly stated. This Elk King is a demon that has cursed the surrounding forest, as well as those that pursue it. Also, I keep mistyping it as Elf King, which Thranduil would not approve of–my bad. Before venturing off into the woods, you grab a gun, knife, and your trusty dog Arrow, which I can only assume is a reference to The Point. Anyways, along the way, you’ll find clues, as well as fend off animal attacks, all in search of a mythological creature.

Since The Hunt is a point-and-click adventure game you can play in your browse, one only has to click on things to interact. Some objects will display descriptive text when you hover over them, but not everything you can interact with does this, which leads to a lot of clicking on everything…just to be sure. The game’s developers also seem to like to hide pertinent items and puzzle solutions along the far edges of the screen, where many might not even consider examining. This is the bit I mentioned reading earlier that really saved my skin. In terms of your inventory, it’s mostly weapons and tools, and these items are often used automatically if the stars are aligned and you are standing where you need to be standing. However, using the shovel to dig up the grave makes perfect sense, but the shovel remains in your inventory afterwards despite being depicted as on the ground after shoveling the dirt. I don’t know. The whole interface and way the puzzles are obscured from view makes for extremely awkward gameplay, nearly to the point of frustration.

For example, take a look at the screenshot at the top of this post. I picked it on purpose. See those trees and flowers to the far right side of the screen? Seem fairly nondescript. No descriptive text comes up if you hover over that area. Well, if you click near the “mute” button, but not actually on it, you’ll push the plants away, revealing a boat that will help you get across the island. I stumbled upon this solution through brute force. Or rather, brute clicking. I did not feel rewarded afterwards.

Here’s what The Hunt has going for it: atmosphere and sound department. Also, the art style is loose and grainy, but easy to fall into, like Thomas Cole’s paintings, and the animal attack jump scares did their job, catching me off guard by how fast they happened. I say all this because there’s something here, a glimmer of potential in a dark cave full of red eyes. Hopefully Running Zombie’s next adventure will require less clicking in corners like a madman and more logically tough puzzles. Otherwise, I’m less inclined to chase down that mysterious Elk King. For those curious, I took the “approach” choice when forced, and it did not end well for me or my dog. Sigh.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #15 – The Hunt

the hunt screenshot 002

Me and my Arrow
Go into the wilderness
For Elk King, jump scares

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.

This Isolated Subject is going nowhere fast

isolated subject screenshot 01

Man, I really wanted to finish Isolated Subject. Stopped on the seventh level, out of what I believe to be a total of twenty. It’s not that I’m too dumb to solve its multiple dimensions-based puzzles, though I suspect the later levels get really tricky once you are warping between four different worlds and juggling multiple super-powers. It’s not because the game is abusing some sort of free-to-play scheme and is only letting you play the first half at no cost and then demanding you pay cash money for the last chunk. No, it’s because I hit a point where I simply couldn’t play it any more due to extreme lag, a real enemy to games involving any sort of precision, and there are some tight jumps to do here, as well as switching between various phases.

Isolated Subject was developed by a user by the name of crneumre and is hosted over at Armor Games, a site I like for introducing me to the Deep Sleep series. In this puzzle platformer, the world is divided up, with each realm living by its own unwritten rules. In one world, you might be able to jump higher, and in the next you can walk on air. The test subject, who looks a bit like a robot alien and is totally okay with being sacrificed for the greater good, must learn these tricks and use them in collaboration to collect white cubes, which allow you to go through the exit doorway to the next level.

Nearly nothing is explained to you other than the basic functions: move with the [A] and [D] keys, with [W] letting you jump; pressing [1] and [2] will warp you between the separate realms; lastly, hitting the spacebar loosely connects you to both realms, giving you both powers to use. At least that’s what I think is going on. Again, it’s not clearly explained, probably on purpose, but that doesn’t make it any less intriguing and surprising when you discover you can walk across large gaps or clear out chunks of wall in your way. It’s all about experimenting, and thinking outside the box when even your best shots of experimenting fall flat.

Unfortunately–and I’m not one hundred percent certain whether this has to do with either the game or the browser or maybe even the website, though based on Isolated Subject‘s comments section I’m inclined to believe I’m not in the minority here–the game lags. I don’t understand why, but it is beyond frustrating, especially when you are trying to make a jump. Or simply switch to the other world, but it’s not registering your button presses. I also then ran into a situation where, right before a snippet of lag took action, the game registered me pressing the button to walk to the right, and thus that action became stuck until I reset the entire level. Boo. This was right when things were getting truly interesting, with level seven introducing more than two worlds to explore.

And so I must walk away, never to know if the subject in Isolated Subject ever stops being so isolated. A shame really, as there is some cleverness here to witness, and a good ramp in terms of complexity and difficulty. When it comes to puzzles, graphics can always take a backseat. Perhaps you’ll have better luck than I did. Perhaps the world never hitches for you, constantly rotating, like clockwork, as it should. Maybe some of us are destined to lag, to fall behind, and that this is the universe’s new way to separate the weak from the persistent. Perhaps this is a sign.

Congratulations to me, for I found the year 2016

where is 2016 gd final thoughts capture

In hindsight, I really should have put forth a larger effort to make Where is 2016? the first game I completed this year instead of Rain. It only makes sense to ring in the new year with a game about…unearthing 2016 by flipping a bunch of hidden red switches to green, time-traveling to other countryside locations to repeat this endeavor, and then pulling a lever to release some jarring, chipper cartoon character from behind a locked door. Yeah, that only makes sense.

From independent game developer Mateusz Skutnik, Where is 2016? is a short point-and-click hidden object adventure set somewhere in France. I make that broad and dangerous assumption from the spatter of French words I saw on signage and rusty pipes. If this is set in, say, Middle-earth, please correct me in the comments below, but I’m more certain that it is not in Middle-earth than I am it is in France. Either way, it’s the countryside and small-town suburbia for your exploring. You do this by clicking areas of a static image, going deeper; in actuality, this is all you do, as well as lose yourself in the minute details of high resolution photographs of foliage and machinery.

There’s no traditional puzzle solving here. Simply find all the switches, turn them to green, return to the main switch hub thing, twist the knob–hey now, this is a family blog, people–and return to the main screen, which features a locked door, a rope to pull, and a clock with hands to manipulate. Do that a total of four times, with each scenario asking you to discover more red lights to switch, and you’ll complete the game. Easy enough. The struggle is discovering what you can click on and what you can’t, though the cursor will change when you are over a hot spot; still, there’s a bit of pixel hunting to do, and here’s a free tip–sometimes you can click in a section you’ve already zoomed in on for an even closer look at things.

I’m more than fine with Where is 2016?‘s length, as it was perfect to get through in ten to fifteen minutes and felt satisfying, in terms of finding all the gadgets to click, when I reached the end. Still don’t understand who that cartoon character was and why he was congratulating me on finding 2016. Perhaps he stars in one of Skutnik’s other games, of which there seem to be many. Sounds like the Submachine series is one worth examining. Also, he’s evidently been at this awhile, creating Where is 2015?, Where is 2014?, and so on for the respective past few years.

Where is 2016? features high resolution photographs for you to click on and dive into. You might think looking at a rusty, old farm plow is beyond tedious, but the closer you get to it, the better you see how it is put together. Then you notice the words etched into the metal, or the small scratches. The flecks of dirty, time. I don’t know if Skutnik took these photos himself for the game or if they come from some stock-based website, but they are crisp and energized, as well as perfunctory and plain. Adding gameplay mechanics on top of them definitely at first feels wrong, but eventually the two elements mesh together without much noise.

If you’d also like to start your year off right by releasing 2016 from its locked, dark chamber, begin click, click, clicking all up on Where is 2016? in your browser over here.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #3 – Where is 2016?

2016 games completed where is 2016 capture

Search sharp photographs
In France, for switches, secrets
The new year is here

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.

Room 11: Xmas Tree will challenge your Christmas clicking skills

gd xmas tree final thoughts

I don’t believe I’ve played any other “escape the room” games from Ichima’s Room series, which is not to be confused with The Room, a puzzle game series on mobile phones, though I’ve definitely played ones similar to the style and complexity of its logic puzzles. Such as Find 10 Yellow Cupcakes and Polar Escape. Basically, you are trapped in a confined room or house, with the main goal of getting out.

For Room 11: Xmas Tree, the tease of seeing a Christmas tree decorated with colorful balls just outside the window is enough to motivate me to make my escape and get up close and personal with it. Standing in your way are a number of obscure, locked boxes and doors. You can gather some items along the way which may help you get more items, but the bulk of puzzles require some head scratching and logic-based answers. There’s no whacky side quest to configure a key from bent chicken wire and heated up using the flaming breath of a dragon you found via a hidden hole behind the cupboard, which only revealed itself by knocking to the same tune played by a discovered music box. It’s all about seeing a pattern of numbers, colors, or symbols, and later applying to something else.

Honestly, I can think of only a handful of games that required me to take notes as I played. There was Fez, for sure. Way, way back in the day, I think I scribbled down where some treasure chests were for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but other than that, most games give you everything you need. Especially modern titles. Need a passcode for a locked door? Pick up a scrap of paper and it’s added to your inventory of passcodes, ready to be automatically used on the door without you actually having to read it or memorize it. There was a moment in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots‘s later act that asked Old Snake to remember some numbers, and I actually assumed the game would do it for me, so it surprised me when I was told to input them and didn’t actually remember; thankfully, the game moved forward nonetheless.

Well, these tiny escape games do not hold your hand. Room 11: Xmas Tree saw me jotting down everything I came in contact with that was not immediately evident. I have things like MDUDMMU and OOO8OO88O hastily written down like some madman’s manifesto, but it’s all a necessity when you are jumping from one complicated puzzle to another and can’t keep everything clear in your headspace. I figured a few out on my own, but the majority required a lot of back-and-forthing with my notebook to figure out.

I found a YouTube walkthrough of Room 11: Xmas Tree that finished the thing in just under five minutes, but it took me much longer to breathe fresh winter air. That’s because, right from the start, I simply went screen by screen, clicking on every single element until I got no more cryptic clues or Christmas ball ornaments. Then I had to begin to review my notes and figure out how each clue applied to everything else, which often would give me another item to use or more puzzle clues. I’m okay with taking my time, as adding a countdown clock or something like that would really prove too frustrating. Though a soft, soothing soundtrack, not necessarily related to Christmas, would have gone a long way here.

Think you’re up to the challenge? Well, grab a pen and notepad, then head on over here to start your deducing and click-click-clicking.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #60 – Room 11: Xmas Tree

2015 games completed gd room11 xmas tree capture

Christmas is outside
Click everything, in order
To solve, be merry

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.

Murder is an endless loop of murder

murder impressions capture

Keeping with the theme of stabbing dudes in the back thanks to me finally getting around to playing Assassin’s Creed II, I figured a free little Flash game about stabbing a king in the back–and then foiling all future attempts–was rather apropos. I don’t know. I had some time to kill on my lunch-break (pun intended), and this took up a few minutes, made me smile, and gave me something to write about here on Grinding Down; I say that like I don’t have ten-plus drafts of other posts already in the works, but whatever. You can’t stifle inspiration.

Exot Working’s Murder only uses the spacebar key, but puts it work. The deadly stroll opens with you, a dastardly looking prince all in purple, carrying a dagger and tiptoeing behind the king. You hold down the spacebar key to charge up your dagger strike, but must left go if the king turns around before you are ready to strike; if you don’t, you’re caught by guards and tossed in a cell to rot to your bones. Once you kill the king, it becomes your turn to be paranoid, now donning his clothes and using the spacebar key to catch potential murderers in their tracks. You’ll do this enough to eventually fill up your prison with skeletons, but time is passing all the while, and you’ll ultimately succumb to nature’s cruel call. Then the loop begins anew.

That’s it. One button, one goal. On my first run, I got to be king once, but got stabbed in the back by some javelin-wielding jester before old age could claim me. The second run saw me live out the entire lives of two kings, though it ended after that. I wonder if that’s as far as you can go. Alas, not much changes the further you progress, and I’d have liked to see an aging king’s reflexes factor into pressing the spacebar key. Obviously, he should not be as swift as his younger self. Also, though I never saw if they do murder you or not, I feel bad about tossing all those wrinkly butlers into prison; I have to assume it was poison in their bottles, but it also totally could’ve been a vintage Shiraz, my favorite.

Murder is darkly humorous, but Saturday morning cartoon fun. Er, wait. Maybe not Saturday morning exactly, but of the Ren & Stimpy time slot. Entertaining, but with a seedier slant. I found the artwork to be cute, the animation to be better–especially when the guards come to haul you away and kick you into a skeleton-infested dungeon cell–and the looping drumbeat to be in line with a good march down a royal hallway. This will not blow you away or even take up more than ten minutes of your existence, but it’ll at least give you some training in not getting stabbed in the back by those closest to you.