Thursday, October 23, 2014

Non Adventure Review - Costume Quest: Grubbins on Ice

Grubbins on Ice is downloadable content for Double Fine's role playing game Costume Quest that is a new story to experience with new artwork and locations and new costumes to use.  Since it runs on top of the main game, the gameplay is the same, but it manages to present enough new ideas to make it worth playing.

The game starts months after Costume Quest ended, after winter has arrived.  Lucy and Everett are looking for proof that Repugia actually exists, to prove that their last adventure actually happened. They stumble upon a portal to Repugia, and Lucy is soon kidnapped.  This time the twins Wren and Reynold team up together with Everett to save their friend.  Even though both twins are part of the team this time through, the player still chooses between them to pick who is the leader of the group.  Once the team is assembled, the trio heads through the portal to Repugia to get Lucy back.

This is where the charm of Grubbins on Ice comes into play, as the roles are switched.  Whereas in Costume Quest, the kids went around their neighborhood fighting monsters who had invaded their realm to take their candy, here they are the outsiders who are viewed by the residents as the monsters. Upon arriving, the trio learn that there are Repugians that are part of a revolution to overthrow the tyrant who has kidnapped Lucy.  Joining in on the revolution, the trio now knock on doors soliciting candy to support the revolution.  It plays the same as the original game, with this humorous monstrous twist, with the group fighting monsters in order to get stronger and collecting candy in order to buy battle stamps to increase their abilities in battle.  However, as this uses the same system as the main game, the drawbacks present in that game are still present here.  The turn based combat system with quick time events for increasing damage and dodging attacks are still here, and still do get repetitive after a while.  However, like the main game, the strengths of the game in other areas helps to alleviate this.

The Repugian world is covered in snow, and the charming art style of Costume Quest is put to good use here.  The new world is mysterious, and the white blanket of snow over everything helps to add to that.  As with the main game, the art of the characters and the backgrounds are charmingly whimsical, and really fit with the feeling of childhood that the game world is going for.  The humor is in full force here, as the developers seemed to have had a lot of fun playing around with the concept, as the main thrust of the story is actually slightly more creative and memorable than the main game.

The costumes from the main game are once again used here, both in battle and in some cases in Repugia itself.  But, there are actually three new costumes to be found here, one of which ties right into the winter theme.  Since there are only three to find here, all three of them have powers that can be used outside of battle, and all of them have interesting transformation animations when used in battle.  The new costumes are used well for the new puzzles, and once again there are many hidden things to be found using these new abilities.  There are still no voices in the game, but the humorous dialog once again makes up for it in spades. As with the main game, the excellent musical score adds to the atmosphere and also helps to pull you into the game world in lieu of voice work.

Grubbins on Ice succeeds in all the areas that the main game did, but it still has the same drawbacks as well.  The turn based combat system with quick time events still gets repetitive, and there is no voice acting.  However, the story here is slightly more original and memorable than the main game, and the humor that comes from showing the concept of trick or treating from the Repugian side with the human kids as the monsters is quite entertaining. The art style is still as charming as ever and the new costumes are fun, both in battle and out.  The game's excellent soundtrack and fun puzzles also help to make this game worth playing.  You have to buy it seperately on consoles, but it is free on computer platforms.  No matter what platform you get this for, however, it is well worth getting as it's a fun, but quite short, experience.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dreamfall Chapters Book One Review

Book One of Dreamfall Chapters, the long awaited sequel to The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, is finally here. It has a few shortcomings, but ultimately it still manages to be worth the wait.

The story picks up where Dreamfall left off. This chapter of the game alternates between the playable characters of Zoe Castillo and Kian Alvane, as they both are stuck in different ways, and both have to find their way out of their predicaments. That is merely a prologue to the main story, as we pick up the story from the points that have been built in the prologue, which are aptly referred to in-game as the characters being reborn.

Like Dreamfall, the game is once again a three dimensional adventure game where the player has direct control over the movements of the character. In Dreamfall Chapters, actions are performed by the mouse (or thumbstick), and you need to walk up to an object in order to be able to interact with it. Any object that can be interacted with snaps right into view, which is handled a bit clumsily as this quick motion can cause a bit of queasiness, or at the very least a feeling of separation from the game's world. It has a choice based system similar to those found in Telltale's games where characters remember the response that you made to them and will react accordingly when you encounter them next. It also has internal dialog from the characters that explains each choice, which really helps in letting the player know how the character is going to respond for each choice, making accidentally clicking something that you misunderstood pretty much impossible. However, unlike Telltale's recent offerings, here, you have a full inventory. Because of this, there are classic inventory puzzles that need to be solved. The game does a good job of handling both of these gameplay styles well. The puzzles are not too complex, but they aren't too easy either, which is a good balance for the first part of an inventory puzzle based adventure game. It also has branching paths with different storyline and different puzzles based on a choice near the beginning of the game.

The art style differs in quality in certain areas. The character models look fantastic, but the animation is quite stiff, in both the character's facial expressions and their movements. The background art also differs in quality based on the location. Some of it is quite well done, such as in Dream Time or in the city. However, other areas, such as the castle, are rather bland. The rest of the presentation is quite fantastic, however. The story is excellent as ever for this series, both in the main plot and in the additional lore which can be read optionally in places like Zoe's journal. The music and voice acting is exceptional as well, and really helps to bring you into the story. The city is also booming with life, with lots of non player characters walking around, and there is a lot of areas to explore, which really helps with the immersion. There are also maps placed throughout in case you get stuck.

Dreamfall Chapters is said to cover the chapters of life, and the first chapter is covered well, for the most part, here. The game's art style varies from the excellent character models to the sometimes bland locations, and the animation is a bit stiff. However, the excellent story, fantastic use of a mix of inventory puzzles and choice based gameplay, branching paths with a differing storyline and different puzzles to solve, ample areas for exploration, and great voice acting and music help to overcome the slight shortcomings in parts of the presentation.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Wolf Among Us: In Sheep's Clothing Review

The penultimate episode of The Wolf Among Us follows a beaten and battered Bigby as he comes to terms with the fact that even he has to be worried about his own mortality. The story delves deeper into the seedy underbelly of Fables, and continues to deliver the fantastic mystery and suspense that this season has been known for.

The story begins with Bigby dealing with his wounds from the last episode.  He was nearly beaten, but he's determined even more to catch the person responsible.  His prime suspect has powerful allies, who will give their lives in protection, and their lair is a secret that is shrouded in magic so no one knows exactly how to enter it.  Bigby has to go further into the shady parts of Fabletown in order to find the people that work for his suspect in order to solve the mystery and bring the criminal to justice.

Once again this story introduces a secondary villain from urban legend, who is not quite as formidable as the last, but is every bit as nasty.  The design of this character is wonderful, from the unassuming glamored human form to the disturbing reality of this fable's true self.  There are many returning characters as well, most of whom had only previously had brief roles in the story.  They are finally given their moment to shine, with the wonderful animation of the facial expressions that has been consistent this season, to the fantastic portrayals by the voice actors.  The music also continues to be a high point, once again setting the gritty mood of the seedy underbelly of Fabletown excellently.

By this point, it is obvious that nothing is going to change in regards to having more player interaction beyond the quick time events and player choices, but Telltale continues to handle the different reactions by characters based on Bigby's actions quite well.  The season is all about Bigby's quest for redemption over his actions against other fables when they were still in the old world.  The way that Bigby handles the fables is a big part of the charm of the choice system of this season, as they don't trust him and they all react quite differently based on how Bigby handles the situation.  As the investigations more intense, never before has the reactions been quite as disparate.  The story benefits as a result, no matter which way you choose to play.

In Sheep's Clothing is another fantastic episode. The story is exceptionally strong here, and the mystery and suspense is intensifying satisfyingly. Puzzles and direct controlled action sequences are once again eschewed in favor of choice based gameplay that changes the perceptions of characters to the protagonist.  However, this gameplay is used really well here, with the reactions of the characters and the way they treat Bigby being quite different based on the choices made.  The art, music, and exceptional voice acting also help to make this episode another shining example of a season that is one of Telltale's best examples of their cinematic story games.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

Dreamfall Chapters Book One Is Out Now

The first book of Dreamfall Chapters, the sequel to The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, is out now on Steam. Those who backed it on Kickstarter or Paypal will be receiving a code to access the game through Humble Bundle. Those who prefer DRM-free versions won't have to wait long, as Dreamfall Chapters is going to be available from tomorrow.

Grim Fandango Remastered To Be Playable At Day of the Devs

Double Fine is going to be holding a free to attend Day of the Devs event again this year, on November 1st at the Old Mint Building in San Francisco from 4PM to 11PM. They'll have lots of recent and upcoming Double Fine games to play, like Costume Quest 2, Massive Chalice, Grim Fandango Remastered, and more. There will also be a lot of games available to play from the other developers that are part of the event. To see the full list of games and to make a reservation for the event if you plan to attend, check out their Facebook event page.

While we're on the subject of Double Fine, the beta for Massive Chalice (which is a near-complete version of the game that can be played from start to finish) is out now for people who pledged $50 or more. If you're one of those people, you should have received your codes from Humble Bundle. If not, contact Humble Bundle support and they'll get you sorted.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Loom Mega Review

Loom is an easier adventure than the other games in the LucasArts adventure game catalog, and it has a unique musical based interface that serves as the means for solving puzzles in lieu of an inventory, but it still manages to be a pretty satisfying adventure.

Loom is set in a magical world that is inhabited by several guilds of people with unique magical abilities.  The game follows Bobbin Threadbare, a young member of the guild of the weavers, who spin magic through the mystical Loom. Bobbin has never been allowed to be trained in the ways of his people, although the weaver Hetchel has been training him in secret.  On his 17th birthday, he discovers that he was born of the Loom itself, and the elders fear him, as they believe that his birth has brought chaos.  The elders attempt to punish Hetchel, by turning her into a young swan, but the spell backfires and all the weavers are changed into swans, who fly away.  Bobbin, now the only remaining weaver, goes on a quest to find the flock of swans and find out what happened to his people.  It's an intriguing story that was supposed to be a part of a three game series.  Because of this, it does end on a cliffhanger, but it's still a satisfying story on its own.

Unlike the other games in the LucasArts adventure library, Loom doesn't have an inventory system or use action verbs.  Instead, puzzles are solved through Bobbin's magical distaff, which is powered by musical melodies known as drafts.  Throughout the game, Bobbin points his distaff at objects to learn new drafts that contain the power of those items, from tasks ranging from opening things, to changing the colors of certain objects.  The puzzles aren't too difficult, making Loom one of the first casual adventure games, as it was a short adventure with puzzles that weren't too difficult, but it wasn't aimed at children.

The game has an art style reminiscent of other LucasArts adventure games of that period, and contains excellent backgrounds that really show the vastness of the game's world.  There are several versions available.  The original 16 color EGA version and the 256 color FM-Towns version have character close-ups, whereas the 256 color DOS CD version lacks these close-ups due to the inability to properly lip-synch the voices of characters at the time of release.  Because of the lack of close-ups, the DOS CD version also omitted several lines of dialog that was present in the close-up scenes of the EGA and FM-Towns versions.  The DOS CD version did have excellent voice overs, which were recorded in the style of a radio play (the original version did come with an extended radio play) and complement the game's style immensely.  All versions also have an excellent soundtrack that is comprised of several classical music compositions by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  The FM-Towns and DOS CD versions have improved digital versions of the soundtrack. The FM-Towns version has tracks that are directly from the EGA original, whereas the DOS CD version has tracks that have been re-arranged by George Sanger.

Loom is a departure from the usual LucasArts adventure in many ways.  It's a casual adventure game, with easier puzzles than the rest of the LucasArts adventure library, and it throws out the traditional action verb and inventory based system to a system where puzzles are solved through musical drafts.  However, Loom does have an excellent story and charming art style.  The best way to experience Loom differs for many people due to the differences in the versions.  The best two versions to experience Loom are the DOS CD version, which has improved 256 color VGA artwork and a rearranged and improved version of the original classical music score and voices but cuts a lot of the dialog from the original release due to the lack of character close-ups, or the hard to find FM-Towns version which also has 256 color artwork, has an improved digital version of the music from the EGA version, and retains the extra dialog, but lacks voices.  It's also best to play on ScummVM, as there is a shortcut available that will show the musical drafts that you have learned throughout the game.  If you're willing to experience it despite the differences from usual adventure games, you'll find that Loom is ultimately a unique and satisfying experience.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Wolf Among Us: A Crooked Mile Review

The third episode of The Wolf Among Us delivers another great episode as it takes us deeper into Bigby's investigation, as he realizes the scope of his investigation is bigger than he had previously thought.

The episode begins with Bigby having to confront the person who he had discovered had been committing crimes against Fabletown in the last episode.  The story is getting more intense than ever, and just as it seems Bigby is finally on his way towards finding out who is behind everything, another spanner is thrown into the works. 

On top of the excellent story, this episode introduces an excellent secondary villain that comes from a popular urban legend.  That character is delivered perfectly, from the sinister animations in the facial expressions, to the fantastic voice work.  The animation and voice work of the other characters also continue to be a high point here, with every character receiving just as much attention to detail, and every actor delivering their lines superbly.  The music is once again great, fitting the mood of the game perfectly.  The background art is also once again top notch, with the new locations showing all the dirt and grit that you'd expect from the lower rungs of a hidden community in New York City.

The lack of puzzles and direct controlled action once again isn't too much of a problem, as the choice based character interaction system is used to great detail here.  This episode also contains the game's first direct story based choice.  Midway through the season, the advertising tagline of Bigby either helping those around him or giving into his wolf side is in full force.

A Crooked Mile meets the high standards set by the first few episodes, and exceeds them.  The lack of puzzles and direct controlled action is overshadowed by the excellent use of the choice based character interaction system, and the first true story changing event of the season.  The new secondary villain is excellent, both in appearance and voice, and the depictions of the other characters are her equal in every way.  The backgrounds and music also continue to be exceptional, and add to the gritty atmosphere of the story.  The Wolf Among Us is truly shaping up to be a great season.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5