Tag Archives: puzzles

Tick Tock Isle needs a backtracking timeout

I’ve tried a few games now from indie developer Squiddershins, namely Excuse Me!, Cat Poke, and Jables’s Adventure. Much like the developer’s name, these are cute, silly, and not run-of-the-mill experiences, heavy on the pixel art and charm.

For instance, in Excuse Me!, you are trying to find the best place to fart, generally away from as many diners as possible, but time is ticking down, so hurry it up. Cat Poke is a slightly more traditional affair, seeing you solve puzzles revolving around making cats happy while stuck inside on a rainy day. Lastly, Jables’s Adventure is a weird platform adventure–the developer’s very own words–starring a young boy named Jables who is told he is a hero by a visiting hat-squid and goes off to do hero-like things, such as beating up lumberjacks. There are more I want to try, but let’s get on with the show, which is Tick Tock Isle.

In Tick Tock Isle, which came out at the end of November 2015, you control a young horologist named Strike who is accidentally sent back in time when he tries to restore a clock in an abandoned monolith in the present day. Y’know, the usual Monday on the job. Finding himself in the past, with the ability to jump between 2009 and 2010, Strike stops worrying so much about fixing the clock and rather fixing all these damaged people around him. Like the troubled girl, who needs musical inspiration to finish her song writing. Or that grumpy married couple, with the husband that continuously says he’ll mow the lawn, but never does. The game is a spiritual successor to Cat Poke, which means there’s a heavy reliance on story, character interaction, creative thinking, and poking around until something eventually happens.‬

Sure, I will describe Tick Tock Isle as a point-and-click adventure game, but truthfully, there’s no pointing, no clicking. You use the arrow keys on your keyboard to wander around the mansion, talk to people, collect items, and use those collected items on other things and/or people to advance the story. Instead of clicking on hotspots and people, you press the up arrow key whenever Strike is near something interactive, which means there’s no pixel hunting, but rather up arrow hunting. Pressing the Enter key brings up a status screen showing your inventory, a map, and a list of objectives, all three of which are sub-par in actually doing their job. The map is crude, tiny, and hard to follow. The list of objectives are so vague that they might have all just said “Play the game more” five times in a row. Lastly, the inventory…it’s ultimately a collection of the items you’ve found along the way, each with a short description, and they become grayed out after serving their use.

To mix up the to-ing and fro-ing action, Strike will occasionally stumble across two kids playing make believe with cardboard swords and castles. See the pic at the top of this blog post for further proof. Anyways, entering their hobbled-together fortress drops you into a platforming mini-game, where, if you make it to the end, you’ll get a specific item that certainly will help you solve a puzzle. These are short, basic platforming sections, where you can also use a sword to swat enemies away, but mostly rely on timing your jumps and avoiding getting hit. They are a quick, enjoyable break from trying to figure out what to do next, but they also feel out of place, like leftovers from a game jam tossed in for good measure.

Tick Tock Isle is not a super long game, of which I’m thankful, but I have to imagine that it would have been even shorter if you cut out all the necessary backtracking to the top of the tower to use the time traveling device when you want to move from one year to the other. It’s tedious and confusing until you learn how to speedrun all the doors and staircases, and I wish it could have just been a button press on some handheld device that Strike carried with him always. I also will just come out and say that I didn’t really understand what was happening by the game’s end or its implications or the plot altogether, and there were a couple of tasks in my objectives list that I hadn’t crossed off by the time credits dropped. Oh well. I’m not going back to 2010 or 2009 ever again.

Advertisements

2017 Game Review Haiku, #114 – Mythic Wonders: The Philosopher’s Stone

Uncle is missing
Mystical portals show way
To hidden objects

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.

Psychological horror Layers of Fear is surprisingly one note

Well, here it is, my requisite playthrough of a single super scary game for 2017–Layers of Fear. Actually, that’s not true. Earlier this year, I ran at full speed through the darkness with a video camera quickly losing battery life in Outlast. I also played a less effective thing called Blameless. Still, I can usually only do one of these every year because they stress me out like nothing else. Actually, this is all a lie, as I can’t seem to find any proof I played something similar last year, though 2015 saw me tackling the Cordyceps fungus in The Last of Us, which I totally consider a horror game, thank you very much, and 2014 was all about the Deep Sleep point-and-click series and The Swapper. Whatever, man. It’s not like I’m on trial here.

Let’s see. Layers of Fear is about art, specifically a painter who has returned to his studio to complete his masterpiece. It’s up to you to figure out how this task should be accomplished. Gameplay involves exploring an old, spooky house, searching for visual clues and memory-jarring items, while solving a puzzle or two to keep things moving forward. Or backwards. Inwards and outwards and downwards–it’s messy. At first, the house appears to be pretty normal, Victorian-esque, but you’ll quickly learn that there are no rules here, and anything and everything can change in an instance. For example, you open a door, walk down a hallway, spin around to find the door behind you gone, and spin around again once more to find a wall now where the hallway was–this is what Layers of Fear revels in, pulling the rug out from under your feet, and it does it quietly, effectively. It reminded me a lot of the way Oxenfree played with its scenarios, remixing them on the fly.

The prominent challenge comes from environmental puzzles which require the player to search the immediate area for visual clues or things to interact with, such as paintings to stare at or candles to light. There are a few locks too that require a specific code to open, but the answers are generally in the immediate area. Layers of Fear is divided into six chapters and extremely dark–not just in tone, but in lighting. At one point, I got stuck in an area of dense in blacks and charcoals that I had to turn the brightness up to figure out where I was looking. Along the way, you’ll find articles or scraps of paper to read, as well as notes from…rats to collect. As you gather up these items, the origins of your masterpiece and methods will slowly be revealed. 

As a horror game though, Layers of Fear is jump scare after jump scare after jump scare. It is exhausting, and maybe for some players, this is what they want from an experience, but I prefer milder scare tactics and more emphasis on emotional distress and haunting images. We don’t get that here, except for a painting of a man-baby with fur on his face. Due to its nonlinear storytelling, it is difficult to be truly horrified before knowing what was at stake other than this mad artist’s goal to finish the job, and I found myself bracing for each jump after figuring out, kind of, where and when they might happen. There’s also a reliance on age-old tropes, such as baby dolls and rocking chairs and a bathtub full of blood. The variety of paintings hung throughout the house at least made each room and hallway stand out, and the effect when they’d melt was eerily pleasing.

Perhaps the aspect I liked most about Layers of Fear is how the player opens doors, cabinets, and drawers. I know, weird, but after dealing with angry ghosts, distorted hallways, and rotten fruit, this is what I’m taking away as a highlight. See, when an item is interactive, a hand icon appears, and you press the right trigger down and hold it; then you use the analog stick to perform the necessary action for the desired results. For instance, if you want to open a drawer towards you, hold down RT and pull the analog stick down. Some doors swing away from you, which means pushing up on the stick. It’s an effective way of making you feel like you are there, performing the action, because you open the door at your own speed.

Well, that might be the last horror game I touch in 2017. Oh well. Sorry, Silent Hill 3, I will continue to ignore you. I’m sure I can find others in my Steam library too to also not play. I’m really good at not playing horror games, and yet the curiosity about them remains within me, bubbling just below the surface. So long as they are not jump scare marathons, I can probably enjoy a few. But for now, it’s back to less spooky things, such as Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Slime Rancher, and the ultra bubbly, goofy Miitopia.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #112 – Layers of Fear

A disturbed painter
Striving for his masterpiece
Will do anything

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, #111 – Boo!

Color these pumpkins
Just right, find the best order
Fun, free–now want pie

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.

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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #110 – Madarakinoko

Trapped, four walls cage me
Tenacious clicks, steadfast bricks
I will not be vines

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.