Tag Archives: puzzles

In 2000:1: A Space Felony, no one can hear you detective

Until February 2, the Humble Monthly Trove is giving out a couple of free gems, some of which are Humble Originals, meaning they were created solely for the program. Neat-o. You can grab the following DRM-free named games, and I do suggest you jump on it before you forget or our country is vaporized in the forthcoming nuclear winter-war, as well as consider subscribing if you end up liking these types of smaller, hand-crafted experiences:

  • 2000:1: A Space Felony
  • Hitchhiker
  • Cat Girl Without Salad
  • Uurnog
  • THOR.N
  • Crescent Bay

That’s six free games, and all you have to do is click a button or two. Naturally, I grabbed all of them lickety fast, and I even played through and beat one already–2000:1: A Space Felony. Now, before I dig into details of the game, I need to do as I always do and come clean about a piece of pop culture that I have shockingly never seen. Yup, my blue eyes have still never gazed upon Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or read Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” that inspired it. Nor have I read the full novel written concurrently with Kubrick’s film. Or 2010: Odyssey Two. Or 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey. Phew. That said, because it’s hard to live life these days and not have these mega-popular behemoths seep into every single thing we see and consume, I somewhat get the main gist: an artificial intelligence goes rogue.

2000:1: A Space Felony takes place on the USS Endowment, an interplanetary spacecraft, which has unfortunately lost communication with Earth. Using your flashy camera skills and natural detective intuition, you must explore this damaged space, document your findings, and figure out what went down during the crew’s final hours alive. You basically do this by taking photos of key areas, people, and items, and then you confront MAL, the ship’s on-board AI system, about what happened, countering its talking points with confidence based on what you already know. Cross-examination in zero G should most definitely be the theme for the next season of Law & Order. Naturally, going into this, given what it is based off and just the fact that the melting pot-universe of books, movies, and videogames over the last several decades has been inundated with stories of corrupt AIs–hello, supercomputer AM from Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, AMEE from Red Planet, and GLaDOS from Portal, just to name a few–you know that MAL is up to no good. The fun is proving it wrong and then deactivating it.

2000:1: A Space Felony‘s look is *chef’s kiss* top-notch. The colors are bright, punchy, magically brought to life through surprisingly simple geometry. It’s not going to win any realism awards, but I lean more often towards games with a unique take on life as we know it. The USS Endowment is not a huge station to explore, a small fraction when compared to Prey, but the spaces are easy to recognize and do come across as lived in. Moving around in no gravity is not complicated, using the WASD keys to thrust in any direction, and there’s even one spinning section that you can land on the floor and walk around in a more traditional sense, which makes the detective work a bit easier. I will forever be intrigued by the design of spaceships, space stations, and so on, and even one as small as this is a joy to explore, both inside and out, eventually feeling homely. Also, MAL’s main room is gorgeous, like the inside of a trippy golf ball or an even more fantastical take on Spaceship Earth.

I found the game’s narration to be especially strong, with ground control more or less narrating every action you take and how you present your case. Represented by a dark silhouette with white glasses and a tie, ground control is extremely straightforward when it comes to this case, with only a smidgen of humor here and there. Often, the juxtaposition between ground control and what MAL says is where Lucy Green’s writing is the most funny and captivating. MAL, voiced by Max McLaughlin, rides the line carefully between innocent, unaware AI and ice-cold, systematic murderer. Nothing really new for the genre in terms of AIs gone bad, but a good performance still. If there was a soundtrack, I don’t remember much from it other than the big, swelling orchestra right at the game’s courtroom-esque conclusion, but you do make a super pleasing donk sound when banging into a wall, and that counts for a lot.

Unfortunately, the part where you compare pieces of evidence against each other is the weakest link in 2000:1: A Space Felony. For a while there, I was missing one piece and had to do another loop of the environment, snapping shots of everything, listening to repeated lines of dialogue while growing frustrated. I also had a hard time seeing what pieces I was connecting, and I’d have personally liked for some screens to have faded out after they were no longer relevant, but that’s just me. I finished this murder-mystery in the silence of space in about an hour and change, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I wonder which next freebie I’ll try (spoiler: it’s probably Hitchhiker).

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Sate your alien hunger in Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack

I’ve never understood anyone more than when they say that they don’t like to eat. I mean, c’mon now. Eating is universal, providing heterotrophic organisms with energy, which allows for growth. Or maybe this is me being hypersensitive to food and nom nom nom-ing delicious things after spending more than a year working hard to lose weight and keep my calorie intake in check. For those curious, I’ve dropped almost fifty pounds by managing everything that goes into my mouth and doing my best to avoid downfalls like devouring an entire box of Cheez-Its in one sitting or having a bowl of pasta for every meal. Either way, I’m all for that eating, which is probably why I relate intimately with the green alien blob in Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack.

See, the little green alien blob thing you control in Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, which is a cataclysmic science-fiction puzzle-platformer if you ever needed a crazy mouthful of varying genre labels, has an insatiable appetite. Also, mutant powers, like the ability to cling to metal walls or squeeze through tiny gaps or grow in size after consuming enough food slash junk slash people. There are also mini-games to contend with that reminded me a bit of Marble Madness, with an overhead perspective and the goal being to get the green gluttonous ball to the level’s exit without falling into any holes; they are super short, but a lot of fun. Otherwise, your mission is to reach the end of the level, bypassing puzzles or platforming sections, eating up whatever gets in your way along the way.

I’m about halfway through Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack and enjoying it quite a bit. The game is broken up into a bunch of worlds, each with their own specific count of levels. Personally, I prefer the more traditional platforming sections, where the goal is to get enough substance inside your gelatinous body to move forward. There are parts where you gain the ability to rocket around in zero gravity, and I found the controls less precise–most likely on purpose–and harder to handle there. I’m currently in the fourth world, the Badlands, and I have to wonder if I’ve seen all of this game’s tricks; if so, that’s perfectly fine, as the levels are relatively short to get through and too many gimmicks would complicate things. Also, I will not be going back to rescue the missing friend collectibles, no matter how cute or sad they look. Sorry, little blobs.

It’s got a cool retro style mimicking the look and sound of the 1940s and 1950s, which, while I never personally got to experience in the flesh, is an aesthetic I find interesting nonetheless. Some other noted examples: Fallout 3, L.A. Noire, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Well, Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack comes from Drinkbox Studios, which is a name I now associate with going all in on style, having later put out the tough yet rewarding platformer Guacamelee!, which, let the record show, I did beat. Oh, and did you know they are making a Guacamelee! 2? Anyways, like that first game, this has some nods to other indie titles, such as with the Phil’s Fish restaurant or  billboard advertisement for Awesomenuts, and these are cute to find as you push your blob hero forward towards greater consumption.

Will completing Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and finally gets me to try out my copy of Katamari Damacy that I’ve had for years? Will I ever stop hungering for things like Cheez-Its and bowls of noodles? Will 2018 be our true downfall wherein we are consumed wholly by large, green alien blobs bent on the destruction of mankind? Stay tuned for answers, maybe.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #128 – Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride

Your sister’s wedding
Stopped by bear, abstruse secrets
Find objects, use cat

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.

A congregation of cassette tapes transforms Small Radios Big Televisions

I grew up on the cusp of mix tapes and mix CDs, that span between the late 1980s and into the 1990s, spending my time as a young boy listening to the radio, waiting for a specific song to come on and record it with a tape deck cradled in my lap. Frustratingly, I’d often capture a snippet of commercial in there or the DJ talking over the first few seconds, permanently changing the song to my ears for years to come. Oh well. There are still several mix tapes in my possession given to me as Christmas gifts from my sister Dina that I cherish and no longer have a way to listen to anymore, and I’ll always prefer tapes over CDs despite now using a thumb-drive in my car full of MP3s.

Either way, these tapes were listened to over and over and over, taking me away from the bullies outside my window shouting mean things about me keeping to myself to musical worlds ruled by the likes of David Bowie, the Steve Miller Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc., and so I really resonated with the cassette tapes you find in Small Radios Big Televisions that transport you elsewhere when you drop them into your portable player, the TD-525.

Small Radios Big Televisions is the very title that inspired the My Laptop Hates These Games feature here on this gracefully aging blog of mine, and so I thought it only fitting that it be one of the first games I try to run on my brand new, fancy laptop. And good news–it worked perfectly. Not a single hitch or stutter or black screen of death or obtuse error message laden with computer jargon. So, that’s good. Also, the game’s pretty good, a bite-sized adventure that sees you descending into abandoned factories in search of lost cassette tapes which hold mystical, door-powering gems for you to find. Sometimes you need to manipulate the tapes first by tossing them against a magnet, distorting them. Progress is hidden within the spools of magnetic tape.

Most of the puzzles in Small Radios Big Televisions focus on fixing dormant machinery in these deserted locales, and these honestly don’t require that much effort. You’ll find doors you can’t open, which means searching for a gem in a tape. If you can’t find a tape, it’s probably behind a door or gate, which can be opened by correctly utilizing gear pieces. If you have all the tapes, then you need to search within them more for a bright green gem, which means try all versions of a tape to see what, if anything, changes. I forgot to mention that, for most of these sections, you are a distant viewer, clicking on things from afar; when you enter a tape, it’s more of a first-person perspective, with limited movement. Towards the end of the game, you’ll actually control someone with WASD and move around a limited area looking for key items.

Alas, there isn’t much story to go off here. After completing each factory section, you’re treated to a short dialogue sequence playing over a radio, with some words cutting off due to static. The conversations are between two unidentified men and tease the origins of these cassette tapes, implying their use as a means of recreation, as well as escape for those in need. Especially as the world outside these factories is crumbling away. Or something like that. Really, it wasn’t at all clear, but that’s okay. Because the Small Radios Big Televisions soundtrack, written and produced by the game’s developer Owen Deery, does an amazing and even better job than any words could depicting worlds within worlds and contemplating the manipulation of audio-visual data through its haunting, transformative synths.

Small Radios Big Television can most likely be completed in a single sitting, seeing as I put in a little more than two hours and saw credits roll, but I did that over several sittings, pausing after each completed factory session. To think, to ponder. To listen to the soundtrack on the side. Also, after you complete the game, you can go back to all the levels and find any missing tapes, and the game tracks which ones you have or don’t have, which is a feature I would kill to have in every single videogame ever going forward from this time and date.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #126 – Small Radios Big Televisions

Analog, baby
Find tapes, gems hidden inside
Unclear narrative

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.

Je ne comprends pas The City of Lost Children, d’accord

There were two big events in my childhood/teenhood that caused me to stay home from school for several days and recover in bed or on the living room couch with lots of tea, buttered white toast, and TV sitcom marathons. Also videogames on the television, all on my SNES or PlayStation 1 with the kewl PSM lid cover, but I did eat up nearly an entire run of Gilligan’s Island at some point too though perhaps that was just a highly visual fever dream. My favorite character is Mary Ann, by the way, and the episode most firmly cemented in my brain revolved around a method actor visiting the island and pretending to be a Tarzan-like jungle lord. Shrugs.

Right, back to the stay-at-home events. One had to do with me getting my wisdom teeth removed, and the other was related to an injury to my left knee that required surgery, pain killers crushed up in applesauce, and physical therapy. Both were not fun and had me in various states of wooziness, and I don’t remember exactly which event it was, but for one of them, my mother let me rent a bunch of games for the PlayStation to keep me entertained. Me thinks it was for the wisdom teeth removal, since I knew when that was happening and wanted some guaranteed pleasures during the downtime.

Well, I selected three PlayStation 1 games from our local store that rented games (not a Blockbuster, sorry), all on their box art alone–Destruction Derby, The City of Lost Children, and Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror. I mean, look at how cool these covers are:

Er, maybe not. Well, I thought they were killer then.

Of these, I remember enjoying Destruction Derby a lot, not understanding how a point-and-click adventure game worked in Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror, especially using a controller, and being completed dumbfounded by The City of Lost Children, which, if you didn’t already know, is an adaptation of the 1995 movie of the same name by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Also, if you’re not familiar with the film, you have no chance of understanding what’s going on in this game–trust me on this. The introductory cutscene doesn’t really explain anything, not even introducing you to the character you will be playing as for the entire game. Thankfully, the manual offers a brief summary of the plot, but even that is not much to work from.

I’ll do my best here. The City of Lost Children takes place in a nameless, steampunk-inspired city by the seaside. A less-than-good scientist, most likely evil, has his henchmen kidnap children in order to steal their dreams to prevent the process of his premature aging. Y’know, normal kidnapping reasons. Anyways, the opening cutscene shows one of these children getting kidnapped, and that’s really all the information the game gives you before giving you control over 12-year-old Miette, which means “crumb” in French. You start inside a classroom, with a pair of Siamese sisters at the front telling you to go steal money from some hut because they said so.

Little to my teenage knowledge, this was an adventure game. Not exactly a point and click one, but still one where you walked around, gathered items, and made progress by using those items on people or other items to make things happen. Like a Metroidvania, but with less action involved. Considering it would still be many, many years before I would fall in love with the genre, I probably went into The City of Lost Children thinking it was in the same vein as things like Resident Evil or Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Boy was I not at all right. Not one teeny tiny bit. I’d later come to have fun with Blazing Dragons and Discworld II: Mortality Bytes!, so this being an adventure game alone had nothing to do with my terrible time with it. That is a result of it being exceedingly obtuse and poorly designed.

A strong memory that stands out: Miette, saying “I can’t do anything” or “I can’t manage it,” every time you interact on something she can’t do anything with. Which was on a lot of items in that early portion of the game I banged my head against. Compound this with the sluggish, tank-like controls and sometimes odd camera angles that made it hard to see where something lead to another screen, and my rented time with the game was spent wandering around the first few areas aimlessly until I decided enough was enough and at least knew what to do with my vehicle in Destruction Derby–crash it. Which is a shame, because I thought The City of Lost Children looked stunning at the time, and, while the polygons are not as sharp as today’s standards, there’s still a strong, off-kilter aesthetic here from Psygnosis, the British developer that gave us gems like Colony Wars, G-Police, and, uh, Hexx: Heresy of the Wizard, that makes this one of the more unique-looking games from the generation.

Anyways, I’m sure someone has paid it forward and done a recorded playthrough of The City of Lost Children and put it up for free on the Internet for everyone to watch. Maybe one day I’ll even search it out. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this random trip down my memory lane.

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.