Tag Archives: Minesweeper

2018 Game Review Haiku, #37 – Subject 13

Stuck in a strange world
Retro, out-of-touch puzzles
Embrace Minesweeper

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

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To escape Subject 13, Franklin Fargo must defeat Minesweeper

I purchased Subject 13 recently during Xbox’s Spring Sale for a couple of reasons: 1) it was cheap, coming it at a mighty low $2.80 2) it was billed as a traditional point-and click adventure game and 3) the graphics, from the few screenshots I saw, made it look pretty and mysterious and something akin to Myst, wherein there’s an island and puzzles to solve. I finished it off the other night feeling frustrated and dissatisfied, especially as I stubbornly felt the need to see it through, and I would not recommend it to anyone if, like me, the above reasons seem initially intriguing.

Subject 13 comes to us from French video game designer Paul Cuisset, though I’ll be honest and did not immediately recognize his name or work. Shame on me, as a fellow Paul. Evidently, he was the lead designer of Delphine Software International and the creator of Flashback, which is listed in the Guinness World Records as the best-selling French game of all time. That’s cool and all, but I’ve never played it and was way more jazzed to learn that he had a hand in making 1994’s mega-hit Shaq Fu, of which one day I’ll tell a story about. Still, the man has clearly been in the business for a while, and there have been some ups and downs; one of the more recent ups was Subject 13‘s successful Kickstarter back in 2014, which helped bring the game to phones, PC, and consoles.

Right, let’s get to it. Subject 13 opens up rather dramatically with a man named Franklin Fargo–no, really, that’s his first name and last name put together–attempting to off himself by driving his car into a river. However, as he begins to drown beneath the water, something happens and he is magically transported into an abandoned research facility. Here, a strange, disembodied robotic voice encourages him to use his special noggin to solve puzzles and make his way out of the compound. All righty then. Oh, and the robotic voice also refers Franklin as Subject 13 and refuses to answer many questions so right away you know something is fishy. It’s a decent bit of science fiction storytelling though it’s both predictable and under-delivered, with most of the details tucked away in hidden audio logs.

The gameplay is pretty straightforward stuff for adventure games, with Franklin exploring a small area or number of areas, picking up commonplace items, examining them up close, and using them either individually or combining them with others to solve puzzles, the majority of which are based around logic. Don’t be surprised to find yourself dealing with combination locks and slide puzzles and doing a bit of math on the side. It’s not The Witness, but few games are. I truly didn’t mind the puzzles, even if they never felt like they were natural in the world and clearly stuck out as something to do to slow progress, but a couple were extremely obtuse and resulted in me looking up solutions online to keep my momentum going.

Oh, and let me touch upon the final section of the game. Spoilers incoming…even though I kind of dropped a big one in this blog post’s title. After all your exploring and puzzle solving and chasing after holographic women, the only way out for Franklin Fargo…is through a game of Minesweeper. Now, it doesn’t immediately look like Minesweeper because of, y’know, copyright issues, but it’s the same idea nonetheless. And honestly, I’m not too bummed about this, because I enjoy a round or two or three of Minesweeper, but it shouldn’t be used as a final, climactic showdown. Don’t think too hard about the fact that this ancient device is guarding itself via a firewall based on Minesweeper. Also, there’s an Achievement tied to beating this part in under twenty, but the clunky look and nature of the beast means you need to play it slowly or start over again, and it’s the only Achievement I didn’t get for the game…so boo-hoo to that.

Here’s the hard truth–Subject 13 lacks polish and modern, friendly mechanics. It wasn’t designed to have them, but it needs them. I understand that this wants to call back to an era of gaming where adventuring was a little more imperceptive and up to the player to truly figure out, but some of that was left behind for a reason, to make the experience more inviting. For instance, moving the main character around is absolutely terrible, with Franklin strutting forward like a goalless gorilla, unable to make it up some steps or around a corner unless he approaches them from a very specific angle. A more traditional point-and-click interface would have worked better, especially when you often have to walk from one side of the screen to another, and it takes just long enough to have me reaching for me phone to check my email or the weather for tomorrow. Some items are extremely well hidden and, with no internal monologue from Franklin, I never even knew I was supposed to be looking for a bucket. Lastly, while the UI for your inventory is neat-looking, it never made it easy to pick up an item and compare it to another or, if you selected the wrong one, deselect it and try again; I felt like I was always fighting against the system.

I’m not all angry ogre, so here’s what I liked about Subject 13. The soundtrack is subtle and New Age-y, relies on futuristic synth-heavy tracks, but also enough soft sounds to lull you into a moody yet pleasantly relaxed atmosphere that doesn’t get in the way of exploring and solving puzzles. For testimonies, the game’s audio log collectibles, you can always see how many you have found in the chapter percentage-wise, as well as total, which I appreciated as I wanted to get them all in one go. Lastly, instead of “continue” the game uses “carry on” in its menu options, and that is so adorable I’m over here making large cat eyes and nodding enthusiastically.

I bought another game alongside Subject 13 during this sale, namely Anoxemia, and though it is not exactly the same type of game, I’m hoping I enjoy it much more than this, whenever it is that I get around to playing it. See, I’m not always good at immediately jumping into my purchases, though I did on this one and am unhappy. Or maybe I need to give Flashback a good swing–the original, not the 2013 remake version.

Mining again with the perennial Minesweeper

Minesweeper GD thoughts

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that everyone, most likely, has played Minesweeper at one point in their lifetime. It’s been around for a long time, with its concept dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, its been written for a good number of system platforms, generally free to find, free to play. You name it, it’s there–basically, pretty unavoidable. And if I’m wrong and everyone hasn’t experienced what it’s like to be a mine-remover, they are at least familiar enough with the title to know what it is. Which is to say, a game of math.

I’m still enjoying my Windows 8 phone and not feeling guilty at all over picking it against an iPhone or Android thingy. But just like with other phones, there are a ton of free games to download, and Microsoft even offers a handful of Xbox Live ones that are tied to your Gamertag, which means Achievements, leaderboards, and so on. I’ve downloaded a bunch–Flowerz, Sudoku, Tetris Blitz, and so on–but the one I’ve actually spent the most time with is, perhaps strangely, Minesweeper, our topic du jour.

As always, Minesweeper for Windows 8 phone offers multiple grid sizes to play on: 7×7, 9×9, 12×12, and 16×16. There are also two types of play; Classic is your standard game mode of yore, and Speed has you racing against the clock to clear a minefield before time runs out. Each grid is secretly filled with randomly positioned mines. When you touch a square, either a number is revealed or a mine, which causes you to lose. The number indicates how many mines are next to each square, turning everything into a logic game of working out where mines might or might not be. Deduction is your best friend, but if you need a little more, there’s also power-ups. These include Verify, which verifies all flags are placed on mines, XP Bonus, granting a 25% bonus for completed minefields, and EMP, which reveals a large amount of squares, automatically flagging any mines detected, among others. Ultimately, you can equip up to three power-ups, but each one costs a specific amount of tokens to use, which regenerate over time.

It’s not a very hard game, even on its largest grid, and the really surprising thing is that I like Minesweeper. By that I mean to say that I hate math. I’ve never been good with it all my human life; in fact, just over the weekend, I saw my high school math teacher/tutor at my sister’s wedding, reminding me of how bad I am at figuring out averages and solving X for Y in place of Z and showing your work. Really, the other side of my brain gets more me-time, thanks to the day job of copyediting and everything else being artistically-driven. But for some reason, I love figuring out how many mines are touching a square, clearing out empty squares with confidence; I guess we could all see this coming with my quality time with Picross 3D. I don’t know; there’s certainly a satisfying feeling after clearing a minefield, even if the sound design is left wanting more. I’ve reached the highest rank and unlocked all the Achievements, so there’s nothing really left for me to do, save for solving more fields faster. Think I’m good.

Much like with zombie films, my favorite part of Minesweeper is the very beginning. The calm before the storm, you might say. An untouched abstract minefield brimming with badness, waiting to be unearthed. You click a square, and hopefully watch it open up the playing field. Sometimes it does this in a big way, sometimes a small–it’s never predictable. The worst is when your first unguided reveal is a mine. If you’re wondering, I’m a big corner guy, going for those first before seeing what I can open up in the middle of the grid.

Now to figure out what I’ll play next on my phone when I got ten minutes to kill. Or maybe I’ll just sit in silence, contemplating the meaning of life. Or the meaning of phone games. Yeah, one of those.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #34 – Minesweeper (Windows 8 Phone)

2013 games completed minesweeper

Better mark those flags
Or explode, find your Polish
Mine detector stat

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.