Monday, October 5, 2015

Hugo II: Whodunit? Review

Hugo II is the second of the Hugo trilogy of adventure games. It's a longer adventure than the first, but unfortunately it's not better for it. It falls into most the same traps as the first, while adding in some of the most frustrating aspects of the early Sierra games that inspired it.

Hugo and Penelope are invited to a mansion. While there, Penelope discovers that Hugo's uncle Horrace has been murdered, and Hugo has mysteriously disappeared. Because of the disappearance of Hugo, Penelope is the playable character throughout most of the game. The location and story of this game also aren't as charming as the first, but there are some humorous references to pop culture to be found.

Like Hugo's House of Horrors before it, Hugo II is controlled much like Sierra's early adventure games. There is a text parser, and the main character is controlled directly via the keyboard. In the Windows version, and the ScummVM implementation of the engine, the mouse can also be used to control the movement of the character. However, unlike Hugo's House of Horrors, mouse control isn't optimal for this game, as there are a lot of areas where precise timing is required since it is possible to die if the character makes one wrong step off of a path. This was one of the most frustrating aspects of Sierra games in the 1980's, and it is just as frustrating here.

Thankfully, there is no puzzle that requires real world knowledge this time around. Every puzzle has a solution that can be found within the game world itself. The improvement of the puzzles is sidelined by another antiquated addition, however. This game has frustrating mazes that are in the vein of the paths that must be traversed by trial and error. Mazes in adventure games can be fun, if they can be solved by in-game items or puzzles, but those which can only be finished by discovering the paths manually just serve to artificially extend game time and annoy the player.

Hugo II: Whodunit?, like it's predecessor, is a hard game to recommend. It falls in many of the same traps as adventure games that came several years before it, including death by stepping off of a path and mazes that can only be completed by trial and error. These just artificially inflate difficulty and extend game time, while making the game less fun overall. On top of that, the setting and story of this game isn't nearly as charming as the original. As this game isn't free to play, it's an even harder sell. Unless you really enjoy the player punishing adventures of the early Sierra era, I'd recommend staying clear of this one.

Final Verdict:
2 out of 5

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso Review

Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso is a unique blend of an clsssic arcade style action game blended with classic adventure inventory puzzles. It's a strange mix, but, surprisingly, it works well.

The game takes place in the universe of the Mr. Smoozles webcomics by Steve Ince. Aliens are slowly eliminating the Earth from existance, and on top of that, they've brain washed Mr. Smoozles. Now Ed has to evade Mr. Smoozle's deadly laser beams while interrogating people and solving the puzzles of the mansion in order to put things back to the way they were.

The art style follows the style of the webcomic quite closely, which is a good thing, as the comic has a bright, cuteart style that ends up juxtaposing the danger of the situation, and makes for a good combination. The story is top notch, which shouldn't be a surprise, as Steve Ince is well known for his adventure game writing, from his days at Revolution Software to more recent titles such as So Blonde. There is no voice acting, but the game's script works well enough on it's own, and the fantastic arcade style soundtrack successfully fills the needs in the audio department.

The action can be tense, as is the case for any arcade style action game. Ed has to avoid Mr. Smoozles, who patrols the mansion with a laser pistol, and must also avoid obstacles such as mines and machines. Ed also has to retrieve items in the mansion, sometimes in exchange for another item, and sometimes to get to new places. It's standard adventure game fare, but it's actually quite amazing how well this laid back style of talking to characters, collecting items, and solving puzzles blends with the fast paced action sequences.

If you don't mind a lot of action in your adventure games, you probably would enjoy Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso. It has an intriguing story with a good dose of humor, a charming art style, fun puzzles, adrenaline pumping arcade sequences, and a soundtrack that suits the arcade style of the game nicely. It's also now available to download and play free of charge, so it's well worth giving it a play.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Flight of the Amazon Queen Review

Flight of the Amazon Queen has achieved cult status, thanks in no little amount due to its creators releasing it as freeware in conjunction with its engine being recreated in ScummVM.  It has quite a few flaws, but if you are willing to overlook them, this free adventure game might just be worth a play.

The game follows a pilot for hire named Joe King, who has landed a deal to fly a famous movie actress across the Amazon jungle in his plane, the Amazon Queen.  The problem is he is not the only pilot for hire in town, and his competitor wants to have the lucrative contract for himself.  To add to Joe's worries, his plane crash lands in the jungle, and his mechanic can't salvage it.  He goes off to try to find help, but ends up discovering a diabolical plot in the process.

It's a very B-movie plot, and this is done deliberately.  Everything has the feel of a throwback to cult adventure films of the 1930s and 1940s, from the cheesy writing, to the voice acting.  This is part of the game's charm, but it definitely may be a turn off to some.  The game's art style is reminiscent of LucasArts adventure games of the early 1990s, with art in the background and extra details in the foreground.  The art isn't as detailed as those found in LucasArts adventures, however, it works well for the style of the game.  The music, likewise, isn't up to the caliber of the big adventure game releases of the period. The music in the lobby of the mysterious factory in the lobby is a bit grating, but the rest of the music works well.

The puzzles in this game, unfortunately, are quite a mixed bag. One puzzle in particular, regarding a gorilla, is quite aggravating.  There is no sign on what you should be doing, and the logic required to solve the puzzle is quite warped, and way outside of even the reality set up by the game.  The real annoyance comes in when that joke, including the puzzle, is repeated again later in the game.  The joke that was set up by the puzzle wasn't funny the first time, and it's even less so the second time.  It could be enough to get people to give up on the game, but thankfully, there are some much better puzzles later on.  The puzzles in the tomb are quite good, and are inspired by the Indiana Jones adventure games, to great effect. The MacGuffin of the game is even a crystal skull, several years before one was found by Indy himself.

Flight of the Amazon Queen is a conundrum of a game.  It has many flaws, for sure, but it has a undeniable charm about it.  It's a pure homage of B-movie action films of the classic Hollywood era.  If you are willing to take the cheesy writing and voice acting for the homage that it is, and are willing to overlook some puzzles with a frustrating lack of logic, it may be worth playing.  There are, after all, some really good puzzles to be found in some parts of the game, and the story, cheesy as it is, does work well for the type of game the creators were striving to make.  As it's now a free game, you might just find it worth a try.

Final Verdict:

3 out of 5

Minecraft: Story Mode Episode One Trailer

Telltale has released the launch trailer for the first episode of Minecraft Story Mode, which is set to debut on the 13th of this month. You can view the trailer embedded above, or directly here, if you'd prefer.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2: Chapter 5 Review

After a spectacular penultimate chapter, the finale of The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 had a lot to live up to.  Thankfully, it manages to do just that, managing to bring the game to an excellent conclusion.

The group manages to face their adversary head on in a satisfying way.  The story has felt epic since the beginning, but that feeling has never been felt more than it has in this chapter.  The creators had said that we had already seen the darkest chapter, but this chapter might just top it. Thankfully, the writing is really top notch here, managing to balance just the right amount of humor with the serious. The scenes with Wilbur in the desolate village in particular are a real stand out in the humor department, and the scenes at the finale definitely deliver the drama in spades.

The puzzles are also quite good in this chapter, and the final boss battle puzzle is top notch.  The music and voice acting has always been superb in this game, and that trend continues here.  The cinematic quality continues, which really helps to present the epic feeling of the story.   Everything is turned up a notch in this chapter.  About the only downside is that the ending does end on quite a cliffhanger, but thankfully, the story threads of the main story are wrapped up quite well.

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 was a thrilling ride from start to finish  It has an excellent story, great voice acting, fantastic music with a cinematic feel, fun characters, and great humor mixed with intense drama.  It is truly a game that any adventure game fan should play.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5
Chapter Four Review

Double Fine Adventure Documentary Is Now On Steam

Double Fine Adventure, the documentary by 2 Player Productions that gives great insight into the making of Broken Age, is now available on Steam. It's currently 66% off as a launch sale price.

Broken Age is also currently 66% off on Steam, and is available in a bundle with the soundtrack and documentary here.

In addition, the Free Games in October For PlayStation Plus Members will include Broken Age for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Walking Dead Season Two: No Going Back Review

The second season of Telltale's The Walking Dead has been an uneven ride, but the final episode manages to be one of the better episodes. The fact that it finally gives people a definitive story arc leaves for a semi-satisfying conclusion.  However, the main arc is left unresolved, leaving the third season the task to follow those threads.

The tension among the remaining members of the group is brought to a head here, and what appears to be the theme of this season is at a forefront. The people are falling apart around her, and Clementine discovers whether it is possible to keep what remains of the good in your humanity among the chaos of the zombie apocalypse. The remaining party members put this to the ultimate test, and this episode actually does a really good job of making the decisions of how much humanity to keep up to the player. Unfortunately, most of those choices are left open at the end of the season, leaving the task of resolving the choices up to the third season to tackle. This is a double edged sword, as this openness is certainly a good thing, since this is the first Telltale season that hasn't had a story that was self contained, and your choices feel like they might really matter in later seasons. However, on the other hand, this extreme of choice deviation has only come at the final episode, so it makes the season feel even more lopsided than it had before. It also remains to be seen if Telltale actually makes these alternate paths have any real significant meaning in future seasons, or if they continue to converge all the paths into one direction as they have done in their seasons in the past.

The music managed to compliment the excellent voice acting of this episode.  The new locations were all interesting as well.  There wasn't a lot of free exploration, and most of the action was in quick time events, rather than direct action or use of items, but the events were well choreographed, and fit the tension of the story well.

On the subject of the tension of the story, the voice actors have done a tremendous job bringing the tension of the remaining members of the group to life. The performances here are among the best that the series has to offer, and the performance of the sole remaining character outside of Clementine from season one in particular really shines. I didn't care for him too much up to this episode, but the vocal performance of his voice actor managed to make me change my opinion of his character in every scenario. I was moved to tears by his speech in every choice available. This episode has brought to the forefront that this season is really about his redemption more than about Clementine's story, even if she was the protagonist. This decision is definitely divisive, especially since the situation leading up to his appearance in the second season is never properly explained. I felt that, since this episode finally managed to have a cohesive story arc for the season, and since it managed to tie up his character arc pretty well, it worked for what it was. Hopefully the third season manages to successfully carry on with the theme of losing your humanity in the zombie apocalypse, as, even though it appeared to be the theme of the season, that sadly became the secondary, unresolved, arc of the season.

The finale of the second episode managed to finally give the story a definitive arc, which was lacking in the rest of the episodes.  However, that arc focused on what appeared to be the secondary arc of the rest of the season.  This left the season's overall arc, that of losing your humanity among hopelessness, unresolved.  On the other hand, this season is the first of Telltale's seasons to have multiple endings, making the choices and consequences appear to have a little more weight than they had before.  The season still remains Telltale's most uneven venture to date, but the non-linear ending coupled with the interesting new locations, stellar voice acting and excellent music manage to elevate this episode to one of the best of this season.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

Episode Four Review