Tag Archives: pixel hunting

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.

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Searching high and low for vampire hysteria in Kisilova

vampire-legends-pic-001

I don’t have an Android phone. Loyal Grinding Down readers will know that I have continued to tread water in an ocean of hungry sharks with my fancy-shmancy Windows phone, though I do expect my next upgrade to be something different. Yes, yes, I’m highly tempted by the potential of a new Animal Crossing game on phones in the future. So, no Android-based mobile device currently, but thankfully I have a laptop with Steam installed on it, which allowed me to partake in the Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi, as they all came with bonus Steam keys. At this point, there’s not much that can stand in my way of a bundle that can help my digital library expand.

Okay. Let’s do this. Are you ready for the list of games from this bundle that I never heard of beforehand and chances are neither did you? Good, good. Because here they are, in no particular order, but in all their generic name glory nonetheless:

  • Dark Heritage: Guardians of Hope
  • Vampire Legends: True Story of Kisilova
  • The Secret Order 2: Masked Intent
  • The Secret Order 3: Ancient Times
  • Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily
  • Eventide: Slavic Fable
  • Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride
  • Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan
  • Grim Legends 3: The Dark City
  • Mythic Wonders: The Philosopher’s Stone

Mmm-hmm. Also: yowza. It’s like the creators picked a bunch of videogame title mainstay words, threw them in a hat, mixed it up wildly, and created games based around whatever was pulled at random. Personally, I’m pretty tickled by Crime Secrets though. Crime…secrets. However, because I’m broken inside, I started with Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova. Not because I love vampires–though I did end up re-watching Twilight recently to see if I’d recognized any locations after visiting Seattle, La Push, and Forks in Washington with my father last summer. No, I picked it first for two simple reasons:

  1. It appeared to be a standalone game.
  2. It appeared to be, somewhat, rooted in history.

What do I mean by that second point? Well, Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is based on the first documented case of vampirism. Allow me to set the stage: it’s 18th century Europe. Fifty years after a great plague swept the land of the Habsburg dynasty, the subjects of the Emperor are in danger once more. A series of horrifying, mysterious deaths occur in the remote Serbian town of Kisilova. Residents, fearing that the plague is back, begin fleeing their homes. Summoned by the Prince of Württemberg himself, Imperial emissaries journey to Kisilova to investigate these events and prevent further deaths from happening. You play as one of these investigators, and I’m sure you have a name, but I can no longer remember it.

Have I yet said what kind of game Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is? No? It’s got puzzles and hidden objects to unearth and exploration, moving from one location to another to find clues and items to progress the narrative. Steam uses the tag “casual” on its store page, and I am in full agreement of that. It’s casual, and I played it casually. Like, I played a few hours of it when I got the bundle back in September 2016, and then I came back recently to finish the thing off in a few more sittings.

Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is a strange mix, both in terms of what you do, but also what you hear and see. There’s voice acting, and it’s a little rough to endure, especially the voice of the investigator you control. I understand this isn’t modern times, but everyone speaks so stiffly and uncomfortably that dialogue is a struggle to listen to. As it turns out, the puzzles are the meat and most enjoyable aspect of the game, and the narrative exists only to serve you more puzzles in the frame of roadblocks, and so the voices and dialogue can be completely ignored. I ended up playing the latter half of the game with Netflix on in the background. Many of the puzzles are of the “use the right item here” mindset, and sometimes you have to travel through several locations to find the key gizmo. Not hard, but satisfying. I personally found the hidden objects sections more enjoyable, remembering how much my mother liked this type of gameplay on her Nintendo DS. The hand-painted scenery, which is really jarring against the animated avatars whenever they take center-stage, is nice to look at and highly detailed, though that does mean some pixel hunting has to happen.

I have to imagine that I’ll be trying Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily next. Again…crime secrets. Makes me laugh. My best guess is that it’ll be pretty similar to this experience, but that’s okay. Like I said above, the puzzles are fun to figure out, and a good hidden objects checklist scene is something I simply can’t ignore. It also doesn’t punish you for clicking like a madman when you only have one item left to find and cannot see where it is. More is fine. There will be plenty more for the rest of 2017 too thanks to this Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #24 – The Knobbly Crook: Chapter 1, “The Horse You Sailed In On”

2017-gd-games-completed-the-knobbly-crook-chpt-1

Must turn ship around
Wreak havoc on its odd crew
Well…half boat, half horse

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.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #65 – The Visitor

2016-gd-games-completed-the-visitor

Ever see Slither?
This is that, with more clicking
Felt bad for the cat

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.

Covert Front will test your endurance with its traps and trickery

gd covert front final thoughts

You might have noticed an influx of haikus as of late about Covert Front, an episodic point-and-click adventure series from Mateusz Skutnik and Karol Konwerski that began back in July 2007, and that’s because I’ve been playing a lot of Covert Front. See, that first puzzle was easy, almost to the point of idiotic. It’s possibly done on purpose, to ease you into things and make you believe that you can do this. That you are a super sleuth of steel. However, eventually things ramp up both in difficulty and red herrings, and you will concede to not knowing what to do next. I won’t hide the fact that I looked up a lot of answers online, but only to help put me a few steps ahead. Y’know, until I got stuck again.

Covert Front takes place in 1904, but an alternate history 1904. The sort where where a technological revolution in the previous century resulted in a premature World War I. During this conflict, a bunch of specialists from varying fields held a secretive conference in Berlin called “Knowledge for Victory,” and, shockingly, almost a hundred of these specialists vanished afterwards. You play as a spy agent code-named Kara who is investigating the disappearance of General Karl von Toten, and this adventure will see you traveling from shady location to shadier location, unearthing clues and tracking your target down.

As a point-and-click adventure series, you’ll do a lot of pointing and clicking. That’s obvious. You won’t do too much combining of items from your inventory, and using items on in-game environment items requires precision. If you want to unscrew those screws, you need to use the item directly on them, not just in the general vicinity. A lot of the puzzles require thinking and memorization, like entering passwords or knowing exactly what labeled drawer to search in the library. One might be able to brute force these puzzles, but not all of them, which is where a lot of roadblocks lay, especially for the far more obtuse sections, like that dream-esque sequence involving Toten’s magic typewriter.

There’s definitely a lot of pixel hunting too at work here, not just for items, but for additional scenes, as sometimes clicking in just the right spot will reveal a whole new area to explore. Yeah, I’m looking at you, pipe along the side of the house by the airplane. I do wish these weren’t as difficult to discover as it feels a little too unfair, something I also ran into in Skutnik’s Where is 2016? game. Also, red herrings galore. You’ll walk into a scene and immediately see a handful of common day items that are typically picked up in other adventure games and used to open doors and such, but they aren’t interactive here, no matter how many times you click or concoct some reason X item in your inventory should work with it. By the fourth episode, I got used to this and simply ignored a lot of stuff, but it was difficult to do so in the beginning.

One of the nicer aspects of playing a game series that took several years to complete back to back is that I can really see how it improved, both technically and visually, from episode to episode, of which there are four. Covert Front‘s graphics don’t really change all that much, but do become more detailed and stylish, and the cutscenes ramp up the camera angles and action. On occasion, Kara’s model looks strangely odd, with lengthy arms and a neck that stretches a little too far to the sky, and this changes from game to game. Voice acting gets added to give Kara more depth, but never to the point that I actually knew her or felt anything for her. She’s just a vehicle to get things done, and yes, she gets things done, but I’d have been okay with her failing too.

Still, I came away from the Covert Front series enjoying the ride, but feeling pretty dumb. Maybe the brain-teasers in it are just not for me and my simpler solving skills…or maybe the games themselves are unnecessarily difficult. I did find Episode 4 “The Spark of Life” to be the easiest of the bunch, with me resorting to looking nothing up online, so maybe Skutnik took some similar criticism to heart by then and tweaked the puzzles accordingly. There are a couple of series from him that I want to try out, like Submachine and Mr. Mothball, but not just yet. My mind needs a nap.

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.