Tag Archives: Steam

Help elf people survive in Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure

Lost Lands A Hidden Object Adventure early impressions

There’s a first for everything, and Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure is my initial dip into a free-to-play hidden objects game. Y’know, that mega popular genre where you examine a scene and click on items to check them off a list. Back in the old days, you used to do it on paper, in magazines like Highlights, while waiting in some reception area. It’s strange to see this genre smothered by staple free-to-play elements like energy and special currencies, but it’s free on Steam and sometimes all I want to do is scour a scene for the most random of items, and this kind of fills that desire, but only kind of. Unfortunately, while clicking on crabs, knapsacks, and hidden oars, I also found a number of problems along the way.

Allow me to get the silly out of the way fast and describe the game’s story. Yes, Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure has a plot, if you want to follow it. Right, here we go. A bunch of elves were forced to set sail for a new home after their kingdom ends up in ruins. A terrible storm ends up crushing their ships, forcing them to the shores of a lost island. Unfortunately, despite all the green grass and flowing rivers, this beautiful new world is filled with danger. The elves try to leave the island, but discover it is surrounded by an impenetrable magic storm. Survivors on the island recall a legend about the last of the ancient elves, who they hope will awaken sleeping for a thousand years to help them overcome hardship. Dream big, I guess.

Overly epic plotline aside, gameplay revolves around scanning a scene and finding a number of specific items hidden in the picture. Just like you’ve always done in these games, which my mother was a huge fan of on the Nintendo DS, with titles like Yard Sale Hidden Treasures: Sunnyville in her collection. Sometimes they will list the items by name, sometimes they are silhouettes, and sometimes you have to search the scene at night, which means your point of view is limited by darkness. Each scenario is timed, and if you finish finding everything fast enough, you’ll gain stars (three, two, or one), which feed into upgrading that specific level, allowing you to find more ingredients upon completion. Ingredients are used to complete other quests and help deal with different races without paying gold coins.

Shockingly, I’m barely paying attention to the plot, only interested in which locations I’m supposed to analyze for the right items. Since you have to deal with a limited amount of attempts, I’m finding myself min-maxing every choice to ensure I’m spending those energy points wisely. Occasionally you’ll unlock a treasure chest, but to open it you need to do a Professor Layton-esque mini-game, like hitting all beams of light in a certain order or connecting colored lines without crossing over each other. I am curious to know if there are boss-like battles down the road, and if they are anything more than gathering a bunch of items to clear the path.

Besides the fact that you can’t simply play this to your heart’s content due to a stupid energy meter, there’s a few other issues in Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure that bring the fun down several notches. First, no matter how many times I select “Click to continue,” the game still wants to force its intro movie upon me, which features an old elf speaking like you might suspect an old elf would speak; thankfully, it’s skippable, but the game should remember that I’ve already seen it. I think having a time limit, and a short one at that, negatively affects my enjoyment, forcing me to often click like a madman in hope of nabbing that last item that can’t possibly be found unless I had all the hours in the world to scan every pixel from left to right. Lastly, I’ve popped a bunch of in-game Achievements, but after nearly two hours with the game, not a single one on Steam has unlocked. Sure, that’s a small quibble, but I need my digital rewards, and I’m not sure if the whole thing is borked.

Similar to Taptiles and Microsoft Jackpot, Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure is a game I will probably check in on daily for another week or two, especially to get those daily rewards, and then walk away from entirely once I feel sated. I don’t care whether the elves make it off this island and are safe and happy and making future elf babies to rule the kingdom. I only care about finding the paw print, butterfly net, and shoe quick enough to get three stars and unlock more loot to finish that quest for what’s-his-name faster. Call me a monster, or call me casual. This is the way it is.

Absent’s time travel trip is a bit rough around the edges

gd absent adventure game thoughts

Surprisingly, or maybe it’s not surprising at all because we now live in an era when you can’t look left or right without something free being dangled before your hazy, consume hungry-limned eyes, there are quite a number of free adventure games on Steam to try out. I’ve already played The Old Tree, but there’s also Emily is Away, Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist (that’s one game name, by the way, starting at the doctor part, which I ended up playing in the time it took me to finish this post, whoops), Only If, and Missing Translation to look forward to in my ever-growing pipeline of even free things I don’t have time to play right now. Le sigh.

For the moment, I’m giving Absent from FNGames a go. I saw some posts about it over at the Adventure Game Studios forums, which I like to frequent now and then to see what people are working on and what’s out in the wild, especially since many of those titles don’t get a ton of coverage from the major websites. It was originally released in 2013, but made its cost-effective debut on Steam in 2015. Other than that, I went into it fairly blind, other than obviously seeing a screenshot or two to confirm it was, in fact, a point-and-click adventure game of the traditional sense.

Absent stars the determined if somewhat aloof Murray Schull, a young man attending college and who walks as if he has a permanent wedgie that he is internally debating on picking in public. One day, his best friend Steve’s girlfriend, Crystal, disappears, an event that spirals out of control and puts Murray on a path of danger, disillusionment, and death. Also, time travel, but that really only comes into play towards the very end. Oh, and Murray is haunted by visions of both the past and future, which factor into the puzzles and his decisions on what to do next to find answers as to Crystal’s disappearance.

To say I was taken aback by Absent is being kind. This game really surprised me, for good and for bad. First, a lot of adventure games I snag from the AGS forums are short, tiny little experiences. Snippets of an idea, a few screens to explore. Like A Landlord’s Dream. Absent features plenty of unique animations, is fully voice acted from beginning to end, and took me over six hours to see its credits roll due to the amount of story, puzzles, and, this is not a plus, backtracking involved. Sure, sure. Visually, it is not going to win any awards or even get my eyes to dilate with pleasure, but the graphics take a backseat for an admittedly overambitious story and dense amount of content to poke at.

Let me get more specific here, before I bring up the parts of Absent I found extremely lackluster, as there are many. Though the story is too big for its britches, I give FNGames credit for going big or going home. Since time travel is the deus ex machina to solve everything come the end events, there had to be some careful planning into setting it for that outcome, and I can appreciate details like how the first Reaper was made and that crack behind the canteen appeared. There’s a good amount of dialogue options to go through with many of the NPCs, as well as numerous unique responses for trying items on items that clearly won’t work with it. Showing everyone Murray’s homework assignment was amusing. Lastly, I dig the look of the ghastly, otherworldly Reapers, even if I don’t fully understand their motives.

Alas, Absent is fairly rough around the edges. Also in its middle area. From a technical stance, sometimes the cursor icon would automatically change to “use” when you hovered over a door or exit to a new area, and sometimes it wouldn’t. The inconsistency varied from screen to screen. There were plenty of times I also didn’t want the icon to change, forcing me to have to left click several times back to my preferred option. A few screens, like in front of the college and the swamp, are a wee bit larger than what you can actually see, so you are constantly changing to the “walk” icon to move a foot to the right or left and find the exit. It’s annoying. More times than not, the subtitles and voice-over work do not match up, and there were a number of typos spotted along the way, which, as an editor, I simply can’t not see.

One of my biggest critiques of Absent revolves around logic. Almost immediately, characters are shown to jump to the wildest conclusions without any rationalizing. For example, within minutes of learning that his girlfriend is missing, Steve is absolutely convinced that she was murdered by so-and-so and will hear no other arguments. Missing equals murdered in this world, and then once he finds out that Crystal was cheating on him, he no longer mourns for her. Like, not even a little bit, claiming she got her just desserts. I think at this point in the timeline, it’s been one day since she vanished. Granted, once the speculative fiction elements really start taking shape, a lot of logic-based decisions can be tossed out the window, but for the early part of Absent, I was hoping to see some more believable reactions out of the cast, especially Murray, who seems to simply be a dude we use to click around on things and cause events to happen. I’m still not sure why he’s the main character we play as.

Lastly, in terms of diversity, Absent is absent. This is a world of white people and only white people. Considering the size of the cast, it is a shame to see it so one-sided, and hopefully this is something that can be addressed in the forthcoming Absent II. I mean, it takes place at a college, for goodness sake, where all shapes, sizes, and color of people from everywhere in the world come together to learn, make mistakes, and learn some more. At least the female characters are voiced by women and not men pitching their voices up.

Still, all that said, I’d recommend checking Absent out. You might not be impressed with the story and safe way it wraps everything up, nor the difficulty of the majority of puzzles, which mostly require item on item interaction save for one involving a sliding ladder, but there’s still something interesting going on here, especially from a small team. Plus, if you like British accents, this game has them and then some. I personally think Steve sounds like Jim Sterling, but that’s just me. Maybe every angry British man does.

Follow or disregard instructions in Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

Dr Langeskov gd final thoughts

Here’s the honest truth: if I had just taken some more initiative last month and played Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist when it was released like a good little soldier boy, it most assuredly would have made my top five favorite games for the year. Sorry, Time Clickers, but let’s get real; you would have gotten cut fast, seeing as you don’t hold a candle–in terms of a singular, satisfying experience–to Dr. Langeskov. Still, the in-game feedback forms are right, as this title is far too long for consumption, but one should never complain about a free lunch.

Before I describe Dr. Langeskov to you in my own fancy words, allow me to share its amusing description on Steam:

A 15 minute heist game by Crows Crows Crows & Directed by William Pugh (The Stanley Parable). Slip into the soft-soled shoes of the mastermind responsible for the greatest heist- oh god I can’t do this any more, i’m joining the strike. good luck writing the steam description.

Right. Once you load up this “heist game,” you’ll begin to realize this is not a traditional, straightforward experience on your end. Instead of controlling the player moving through the mansion, avoiding pitfalls and dangers like a pro, and stealing the cursed emerald for reasons unknown, you are the one behind the curtains making everything happen. I mean everything–lighting, weather effects, making the lift rise. Without you, the tiger would never get released. You are the man from Omaha that flew into a strange land via a hot air balloon and is getting things done. Honestly, it’s the sort of off-the-wall interactions you’d expect from The Stanley Parable‘s William Pugh, with the action being focused around a gleefully playful narrative and whether or not you want to listen to the narrator’s instructions or do things as you please.

So, just like in The Stanley Parable, you are guided from one location to the next with the help of a cheeky, about-to-lose-it narrator that speaks directly to you and often openly to himself in a nervous, captivating manner, voiced by British comedian Simon Amstell. When he notices you, he immediately puts you to work behind the scenes, seeing as there has been a worker strike. His tone is never ornery, and even when you decide to not do what he says and push buttons clearly designed not to be pushed right now, he handles everything with a nervous laugh before ushering you onward. He is not an all-knowing being, commenting on your choices from a cloud of snobbery. Look, I’m not going to be doing a top ten of my favorite British narrators in videogames, but if I did, he’d be pretty high up there, rubbing shoulders with Thomas Was Alone‘s Danny Wallace and The Stanley Parable‘s Kevan Brighting.

Since Dr. Langeskov is fairly short and somewhat non-linear in that there are a handful of different things you can do as you go along, I won’t spoil too much about each room, especially the final area, which had me grinning from ear to ear as chaos and comedy collided into one fantastic conclusion. But my suggestion is this: take your time. There’s a lot to look at in terms of posters on the wall, post-it notes, papers strewn about, and all of it feeds into the bigger picture. I’m not gonna lie–some of the “fake” game posters look intriguing. Much of these elements are highly detailed in the same fashion as things were in Gone Home, an aspect I greatly appreciate, not just because my eyesight is poor.

I played through Dr. Langeskov twice and did not find the grappling hook. Curses and shouts. Shaking fists and fiery eyes. I’ll go back one more time, most likely, to see if it indeed does exist, as well as to gobble up each and every strangely placed pretzel. More games should contain pretzels as collectibles. If Dr. Langeskov does anything for our industry going forward, please let it be that.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #4 – Absent

2016 games completed gd absent

A girl vanishes
This mystery must be solved
Time travel will help

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.

My five favorite games in 2015

my five favorite games in 2015 gd post

While I love listening to “Game of the Year” podcasts and sifting through dozens and dozens of lists featuring, in descending order, ten videogame titles, I myself don’t really participate in this tradition. Instead, I like to muse about the games I didn’t get to play in 2015, as well as list what I consider to be my five favorite games. Yup, five–not ten. I’m truly an outlier.

Chances are a few of these are smaller games or experiences no one else is talking about in big, bold tones, and that’s fine. Take for instance, my five from last year, which highlighted Disney Magical World as the shining star. It’s my list, and these are favorites for a reason, which I’ll go into more later with each game. Also, enjoy some artwork I whipped up for every numbered item.

::insert sound of drumroll here::

::okay, here as well::

::almost there::

::eee::

5. Lost Constellation

gd 2015 top five - lost constellation

Look, technically Lost Constellation came out two days after Christmas in 2014, but I didn’t get around to playing it until February, after a Quick Look from Giant Bomb brought it to my attention. I’m counting it for this year because it has continued to stick with me since then, and I’m bummed that Night in the Woods still hasn’t come out yet. Here’s me going out on a limb and saying that you’ll see that game somewhere in my top five next year, so long as it hits all the same marks as the supplemental demo did.

Anyways, Lost Constellation is a tantalizing appetizer of things yet to come, but stands strongly on its own as a cute, somewhat dark bedtime story perfectly set in the winter. I played it in the winter, but I’m looking forward to going through it again when the summer heat kicks in as it can easily transport you from one season to another. There’s not much replayability to it, other than creating different looking snowmen, but the succinctness of the story–and mesmerizing soundtrack–are worth revisiting. Plus, there’s a rather sardonic cat to converse with, which I’ll never turn down.

4. Time Clickers

gd 2015 top five - time clickers

Here’s the scary thing. I’ve not actually played that much Time Clickers, but Steam says I’ve logged 199 hours on it, and that’s mostly because I enjoy leaving it open while I’m drawing or listening to a podcast. That’s still an insane number of hours, rubbing shoulders with other giants from my past, like Dragon Quest IX and Fallout 3. The difference here though is that those games are more based around actions while Time Clickers is a game of choices. Do I level up this element of my gun or something else? Do I hit the space bar now to use all my power-ups at once or wait until there are only a few cubes left? Do I reset and use Time Cubes to grow stronger, but start over? That last one is easy to answer: no. Never start over. Not when it took around 199 hours to get to the level 500s.

3. Pokémon Shuffle

gd 2015 top five - pokemon shuffle

I always hit a wall in Pokémon Shuffle, and, so far, I always break past it. Might take me a few nights, might take me a week or even a month, and it might take me a number of coins to purchase special power-ups to get the job done. But I persevere. For those that don’t know, it’s a match-three puzzle game where you match cartoon heads of Pokémon to damage the level’s enemy. You get five chances to play before having to wait some silly amount of time to recharge your hearts, but that aspect never bothered me because this was my before-bed experience, burning five hearts. Sometimes making progress, sometimes not–though you are always leveling up your team.

Currently, I’m at level 219 (Spewpa) and plan to keep going. I have no idea how many more levels there are, if there is in fact one for every Pokémon out there. Seems like it keeps getting updated. Pokémon Shuffle is also the third most played game on my Nintendo 3DS according to the stats library, at nearly 65 hours, behind Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Disney Magical World. I expect to be playing this a bunch in 2016, which is the opposite of that other free-to-play Pokémon game that came out this year.

2. Super Mario Maker

gd 2015 top five - super mario maker

As it turns out, I was not able to finish writing about Super Mario Maker before firmly placing this title as my numero two for 2015. The blog post for that is still in the works, so this might seem a little out of nowhere considering I’ve not really talked about it a whole bunch…on Grinding Down.

It’s fantastic, and I’m terrible at half of it. Namely, the half where you construct your own levels. It’s probably the most I’ve ever messed with a create-your-own-level mode other than Super Scribblenauts, and it works just fine, but I think I enjoy playing–and watching others play–Mario levels more than creating them. I constantly check back in to see what new levels will give me cutesy 8-bit costumes, as well as try my hand at a random assortment of levels. Truthfully, I love watching people stream demonically-designed stages and struggle, like with Patrick Klepek and Dan Ryckert’s ongoing feud. There’s a growing community around this game, one I’m finding myself actively participating in.

1. Fallout 4

gd 2015 top five - fallout 4

I finished Fallout 4 the other night out of fear of being spoiled, rushing through the end of the main storyline. If I could go back in time, I’d give a hug at a very specific time in my life, as well as not rush through Fallout 4 like that. It’s not great. In fact, I’d say that it is a better game to play and live in, but not complete. I’ll have some more thoughts on the various lackluster endings at a later date, but despite that, I can’t get enough of this world. It’s open, brimming with items and enemies and places to discover, and while I struggle with a lot of the settlement stuff and house decorating, it’s still something I think about whenever I find a certain item or resource out in the wild. I’m already thinking about other characters to craft and new ways to build up Sanctuary. I’m already planning a run where I’m friends with every faction in the Commonwealth and stop playing main questlines once those are locked in.

As someone who ate up every ounce (or nearly ounce) of Bethesda’s previous open-world games, Fallout 4 did not surprise me or the industry. It’s exactly what you expect it to be. It’s like going home.

There you go.

As many should now know, I did not get to play many newly released games in 2015, and so it was actually slim pickings when it came to my top five for the year. Regardless, I’m happy with them, and wonder what will grip my head and heart next year. Here’s hoping for a few surprises.

A day in The Stanley Parable’s life is hilariously sad

the stanley parable gd final impressions

My first run through The Stanley Parable–er, more like slow walk–was pretty straightforward. I simply listened to the narrator’s instructions and followed them exactly, never questioning a single demand. I was a good, obedient lab rat, and for that, I received an ending that rewarded my mind-controlled actions with a glimpse at freedom, of blue sky, billowing trees, and a cool breeze. Sure, there were puzzles still left unanswered, like where had all of Stanley’s coworkers disappeared to, but I liked it nonetheless and immediately dived back in to see what I could do differently; maybe inaction was the key.

The Stanley Parable tells the story of, well, Stanley — an everyman office drone whose mundane existence is interrupted one day when he discovers that all of his coworkers have mysteriously vanished. As you take control of the protagonist and begin exploring the abandoned office building, a snarky British narrator (voiced by the wonderful Kevan Brighting) explains each of your decisions before you make them. Or talks at length if you simply stand around for too long, admiring a waiting room or well-watered plant. Either way, the narration drives the plot, and it is up to you to decide whether you want to follow along or rebel.

The Stanley Parable plays from the first-person perspective, similar to Gone Home and Dear Esther. The player is able move around and perform interactions with certain elements of the environment, like pressing buttons or opening doors, but has no other controls. You can’t even jump, though I do suggest everyone tries at least once. It’s a game about choice and choices, and you can follow along with the narrator or discover your own path through the game. You might think that something as minor as taking the door on the right instead of the left wouldn’t have a great impact on things, but it does. Everything matters, and, in a sick sense of mind, nothing matters.

Have you ever been in a large office space all by yourself? I have. Let me tell you–the feeling is strange. Walking around, seeing empty desks and lights off in certain areas. Yet you are still there, existing, interacting with the world, and everyone else is gone. While I hated seeing all the spilled coffee at the Picus Communications headquarters in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I loved walking around looking at everything before baddies showed up. There’s voyeurism, and there’s a general curiosity about examining how other people decorate their home-away-from-home workspace. This is the my favorite part of The Stanley Parable, going through those first few rooms, looking for clues on the cleanest desks ever created.

I discovered a few of the endings myself, but looked up the remainder of the ones I missed. Spoilers: there’s many ways to conclude Stanley’s journey. It’s not that I don’t mind replaying the same short experience again and again, it’s just that I wasn’t sure I was performing the right actions to see a different conclusion. In fact, I ended up stumbling into the “freedom” ending once or twice by getting locked inside Stanley’s boss’ office with no other way out. Either way, they are all neat and amusing, if depressing in tone. The Stanley Parable isn’t a happy game, especially when I look at myself, a cubicle-dwelling working stiff just like Stanley save for the voice in his head, but it is fascinating to see unfold and peek behind the curtains. It starts out perfunctory, it ends in ridicule.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #51 – Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (Episode 1)

2015 gd games completed penny arcade rain-slick episode 1

Quest of house revenge
Kill mimes, hobos, and robots
Spacebar past all text

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.