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Adventure

  • Batman - The Telltale Series (Episodes 1 & 2) (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Developed by: Telltale Games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release date: August 6, 2016
    Available on: iOS, PS3, PS4,
    Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One  |
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRBR rating: Mature for violence, blood, gore and language.
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Telltale Games for sending us a review code!

    Batman - The Telltale Series is a five-part adventure style game that adapts its story based on the choices of the player.  As of this review only the first two episodes are available and they are extremely well written with likable characters and good voice acting.  Like most adventure games you get to examine your surroundings and interact with various objects to gather clues and solve murder mysteries.

    This game earns its mature rating with gruesome crime scenes and harsh language and blaspheming.  Pretty much every cuss word but the F-bomb is used.  A new game mechanic is introduced that lets you link objects together to piece together murders or to plan Batman’s attack.  The battles use quick time events and you have to press the correct key at the right moment to either block or land an attack.

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent story that changes depending on the choices you make in the game; great character development and voice acting; new gameplay mechanics to set this series apart from previous Telltale entries.
    Weak Points: This game is not optimized well; even though I took the merciful route the dialogue with other characters suggested that I did otherwise.
    Moral Warnings: Extreme violence and language is unavoidable; the player can choose to be vengeful or merciful when dealing with criminals; Catwoman wears tight clothes.

     

    Those who are familiar with Batman’s story will recognize characters like Alfred and the Catwoman.  The main villain (who I will not reveal) looked nothing like the movie rendition I saw when I was growing up.  Bruce Wayne/Batman remains unchanged with his strong integrity and wide array of expensive technical gadgets at his disposal.  The gadget interface color is customizable and purple was the color that I chose.

    The tale of Batman is a grim one with a wealthy boy losing his parents at the age of nine.  As the story progresses, Bruce Wayne discovers that there was more to his parents’ death than a simple mugging.  He also learns that his family’s fortune is built on the suffering of others and that these revelations are hurting the campaign of his friend Harvey Dent.   Harvey wishes to save Gotham City by taking the Mayor title away from the corrupt Hamilton Hill.

    Throughout the story Bruce/Batman will have to answer questions from police, mobsters, and the press.  Silence is an option and it’s one that will be chosen for you if you don’t answer fast enough.  Sadly, that was done for me several times due to technical issues running this game.

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 59%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    On my Nvidia 660M powered laptop I noticed that this game ran poorly and that the voice acting was out of synch and that my mouse movement was sluggish at best and unusable at worst.  Because the cel-shaded graphics looked amazing, I didn’t want to lower them.  I utilized the cloud save feature and enjoyed this game on my more powerful AMD powered desktop.  There are many negative Steam reviews reflecting poor performance issues so make sure that you have a powerful enough system and the latest drivers installed before purchasing this game.

    If you have a powerful enough system and enjoy Batman and/or adventure games then Batman - The Telltale Series is worth picking up If you’re not put off by strong language and violence.  I never get tired of seeing my choices compared with everyone else’s after completing an episode and I'm eagerly waiting for the next three to be released!

     

  • Batman - The Telltale Series (Episodes 3-5) (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Developed by: Telltale Games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release date: December 13, 2016
    Available on: iOS, PS3, PS4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One 
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB rating: Mature for Violence, Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Themes, and Use of Drugs 
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

     

     

    Thank you Telltale Games for sending us this series to review!

    The first two episodes started to reveal the dark origins of Bruce Wayne’s wealth.  While Bruce is nothing like his parents, Gotham City is rather fickle and he loses the citizens' favor as his family name is being discredited left and right.  It doesn’t help that mayor Harvey Dent is jealous that the woman he cares for (Selena Kyle) is attracted to Mr. Wayne and abuses his power to go after Bruce directly.  

     

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent story that changes depending on the choices you make in the game; great character development and voice acting; new gameplay mechanics to set this series apart from previous Telltale entries.
    Weak Points: This game is not optimized well; even though I took the merciful route the dialogue with other characters suggested that I did otherwise.
    Moral Warnings: Optional sex outside of marriage; violence and gore is mandatory 

    The relationship between Selena and Bruce is determined by the player's choices and it is possible to sleep with her.  If that’s the route they take, they’ll be shown in their undergarments.  Bruce Wayne wears boxers, in case you were wondering.  As if losing his credibility and friendship with Harvey wasn’t bad enough, Wayne Enterprises responds to the allegations by asking Bruce to step down as CEO.  While Bruce is understanding of his forced resignation, he’s infuriated and rightly concerned about who they hired as his replacement.  

    Episode four begins after an eventful speech with Bruce Wayne waking up in Arkham Asylum.  As a patient!  Because of his family name he’s given a violent welcome and must choose his allies carefully.  A patient with green hair and a big smile is rather friendly towards Bruce and is willing to help him get out.  Bruce has the option of promising to return a favor in the near future.

    The final episode is not short on excitement as Alfred Pennyworth is kidnapped and Bruce has to locate and save him before he gets beaten to death.  There’s no shortage of blood and language in this finale and there’s plenty of blood splattered crime scenes to investigate to piece together what went down in Bruce’s absence.  

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 59%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    Some difficult choices have to be made and I love how this series adapts to the choices you make. At the completion of every episode your choices are compared to everyone else’s and my choices were usually in line with theirs.  Some of the harder choices were choosing to attend events as Bruce or Batman.  Between the interactive choices, adventure style gameplay, and the crime scene investigations, there is little difference between these chapters and the previous ones.

    At $5 an episode this is a mature but fun series to embark on.  There’s a hint of a sequel, and I look forward to donning the cowl and cape again soon.  Hopefully the next Batman series will be better optimized for those running video cards that cost less than $250.  

     

  • Corpse of Discovery (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Corpse of Discovery
    Developed By: Phosphor Games
    Published by: Phosphor Games
    Released: August 25, 2015
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: First-Person Exploration
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Phosphor Games fors ending us this game to review!

    As a medium of storytelling, video games are in a unique position to tell a tale bolstered by player interaction. Even without the potential for branching paths and different outcomes, a video game story that can mesh with its gameplay offers something potentially more memorable than just the story itself. The so-called “walking simulator,” a relatively recent genre, tends to swing heavily on the side of the narrative, often at the expense of the actual “game” part of “video game.” Occasionally, however, whether by design or by accident, a walking simulator can have its gameplay overshadow its story; Corpse of Discovery is one such example.

    A first-person exploration game, Corpse of Discovery has you assume the role of an unnamed Major in the semi-titular Corps of Discovery, a space-faring organization dedicated to exploring and cataloguing unknown planets. Stranded on the planet Tellurus after a heavy spaceship landing, the Major sets out to finish his mission, collect his payday, and return home to his family – assuming the Corps even knows he’s marooned.

    The basic gameplay is just that: the Major can walk, sprint, and jump as he moves to various indicated locations inside the home base and on the planet proper. To start, those three options, as well as a double-jump, are all you have available. Later, the game changes it up a little by giving you some new equipment as you progress – namely, a handheld holo-map that replaces your otherwise ever-present mission indicator, and a limited-use jetpack. Tellurus has low gravity, so the Major’s jumps cover a lot of distance and make platforming simple and enjoyable. Each set of tasks you complete on the planet ends with the Major passing out and reappearing at the base, only to find a new mission, a messier dwelling, and a radically transformed planet await him – whether it’s a dusty Mars-like wasteland or a lush rainy biome, he’s still on Tellurus and there’s still things to be done.

    Corpse of Discovery
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Looks great; more compelling gameplay than your average walking simulator
    Weak Points: Predictable, unsubtle story; major graphical pop-in; some stability issues
    Moral Warnings: Unsettling imagery; brief bouts of severe language; a neutral (if cynical) take on religion

    If the gameplay ended there, it wouldn’t be much of a game; thankfully, there are a few mechanics that make it much more engaging. While the planet itself gets more and more difficult to traverse with each variation, with natural barriers and dangers cropping up with greater frequency, the game also introduces enemies of a sort. After the first planet, the Major begins being hunted by giant, pitch-black, nigh-indescribable monsters that glide through the sky, projecting a searchlight out of their single eye. With no ability to combat them, and with their tendency to congregate around your destination, avoiding them becomes your main challenge. The game thus becomes a balancing act of avoiding the monsters and platforming around the planet, trying to find the best and safest route to your destination.

    The sound design is especially crucial to making the monsters feel like a threat, and is spot-on in that regard. While the music, usually in the form of a soft music box-style lullaby that’s underscored with a hostile droning, certainly adds to the tension, the noise the monsters make is especially effective. Their low-toned chaotic rumblings and wordless whispers start quiet but can be heard from quite far away; if one’s on top of you, it’s practically all you can hear. The Major moves quite fast normally, so the sprint option is mostly to get away quickly – he’ll start loudly panting almost immediately, which only heightens the sense of anxiety when combined with the monsters’ noises. Altogether, the game borders on being survival horror, and makes the gameplay more than the sum of its parts, even if the main premise isn’t exactly interesting.

    Oddly enough, especially in a game that bills itself as a walking simulator on the Steam page, its story brings down its serviceable gameplay. The narrative is presented in two ways: examining objects will flash unspoken subtitles on the screen detailing what the Major is thinking; and each main objective reached will draw comments from your floating, spherical robot companion AVA. The overall plot is rather predictable, and the lessons you’re meant to learn on each planet is presented with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. AVA goes on long-winded lectures at the drop of a hat, and her dry, cynical tone can get overbearing real fast. Her voice acting is great – all of the voices in the game are high quality, in fact – but the constant one-sided conversations quickly grow old. In case you still don’t grasp the moral of the section from AVA’s ramblings, it’s presented to you as a cover of a book in your room at the start and as an out-of-context subtitle at the end of each mission.

    In general, the game tells more than it shows. Each object carries a subtitle to plainly state what significance it has to the Major – for instance, optional objectives between each main one will have the Major hallucinating something, like a pizza or his bedroom on Earth, and rather than letting you extrapolate its meaning, the Major will tell you what it means to him. This will also get you berated by AVA, making this game one of the likely few exploration games on the market that will rebuke you for exploring it. By the end of the game, there are no more mysteries to think about, as everything has been explained – even the monsters, whose presence aren’t acknowledged by the Major or AVA outside of their introduction, are given a lengthy explanation, which is made even more unnecessary by the visuals at the time. In addition, there are a few spelling and grammar errors – the most egregious being, upon finding some cakes lying around, the Major declares his fondness for “deserts.” Even with its somewhat overdone but very salvageable concept, the story over-explains itself, and leaves you with very little to think about when all is said and done.

    Corpse of Discovery
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    This is more of a shame considering how well done the visuals are. Each variation of Tellurus is beautiful in its own right, and the way the monsters look and move only add to their imposing presence. There are little details to enjoy as well: the most impressive might be the rain on the second planet, which streams down your view constantly but also splatters on your helmet if you look up. The main portions of the planets are not randomly generated, which is a boon in that it allows for coherent and consistently-traversable geography, though it does diminish the replay value. To the game’s credit, there are no artificial barriers in the form of invisible walls or insurmountable pits; you can walk in one direction forever, enjoying location-appropriate randomly generated landscape that can still hold some pleasant surprises.

    This does come with a tradeoff, mainly in the form of pop-in; even at the highest setting, portions of the landscape will constantly spring into view as you move around. The game doesn’t have to load very often, but it will freeze everything for at least five seconds when it does. Picking up the holo-map for the first time plunged the mostly-stable framerate into the single digits for a good half-minute, though it didn’t happen later in the game or on a replay. Finally, and strangely, opening the menu with the escape key, then closing it with escape rather than the “return” option, will leave the mouse cursor on the screen until you left-click. It all might be a good price to pay for such impressive graphical strength, but it’s a price nonetheless.

    There are a fair few moral warnings about this game as well. The monsters make for some unsettling imagery, along with a few frightening-looking alien creatures. One planet variation has you looking for the corpses of other Corps members, with various effects applied on a few that look like they’re being eaten by insects, though they’re still in their fully-intact spacesuits. AVA goes on a profanity-laden rant near the end of the game, with F- and S-bombs thrown around. The story touches on some heavy themes, death being the principal subject. There is also a section on religion – while neutral, with the moral coming down to encouraging thorough examination of your beliefs, AVA’s typical cynicism makes the tone appear more hostile than it really is. The main theme of the game is the importance of family, and indeed the well-being and happiness of his family is the Major’s ultimate goal, but again, it’s presented a little more aggressively than it needed to be.

    Overall, Corpse of Discovery comes closer to being survival horror than a walking simulator; if presented differently, it could have been a solid, thought-provoking experience. As it stands, however, the clumsily-told story interferes with the rich visual and aural information; sometimes, less truly is more, especially in storytelling. Still, there’s a decent game to be found in here that might be worth looking into during a sale, as long as those moral issues don’t scare you away.

    -Cadogan

  • Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime (DS)

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    Game Info:

    Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
    Devloped By: TOSE
    Published By: Square Enix
    Release Date: September 2006
    Available on: DS
    ESRB Rating: E
    Single and Multiplayer (2 players)
    Genre: Adventure
    $15 on LeapTrade

    Those of you who have played Dragon Warrior/Quest games will remember that the slimes are the weakest enemies that you encounter in the series. This is the story of a slime named Rocket who saves his village of Boingburg from the evil plob. The story is pretty simple: Rocket and his friends were playing in the palace garden when they stumbled upon the Warrior Flute. They blew on it, which alerted the plob (mob, get it?) of its location and so the plob kidnapped all the inhabitants of the town and decimated it. Armed only with the broken flute, Rocket must now rescue all one hundred villagers and stop the plob.

    After the opening story, you can explore what’s left of your town and chat with the few inhabitants that remain. The church is where you go to save your progress. The story unfolds as you explore the different areas of Slimenia. Each area has a set number of slimes that need to be found and rescued and there’s a boss creature that must be defeated before you can reach the next area. As you rescue slimes you’ll gain access to new areas of the town including a store, museum, and the library.

    Highlights:

    Strengths:A cute and funny game
    Weaknesses:No real time save
    Moral Warnings:Goddess worship, smoking references, cartoon violence.

    Although Rocket is just slime, he's more of a threat than he might first appear. He can carry up to three objects at a time, but if he\'s fully loaded and you find something else you want to carry there are train carts scattered around that you can unload your findings into and send them off to town. In this game you’ll want to collect everything you find. And I mean everything. Monsters, empty treasure chests, boomerangs, arrows, fruit and anything else you can grab. The items you collect can be used for ammo, or you can combine them into more powerful objects using alchemy. 

    Rocket only has one attack move: the elastoblast. He stretches like a rubber band and flings himself at enemies and objects. If an object is flung into the air, Rocket can carry it if he catches it before it hits the ground. If Rocket is hit by an enemy, all the objects he’s carrying are dropped. Rocket starts off with three life hearts but throughout the game you’ll be awarded some and can find others hidden in the town if you carefully explore your surroundings.

    Rocket’s true power lies within the Schleiman Tank which can be summoned by blowing the repaired Warrior Flute. At first you’ll be in charge of collecting and firing the ammo alone. But later, you’ll be able to recruit friends to help you in the battles. Your friends have specific skills like healing the crew, healing the tank, stealing ammo from the enemy, sabotaging the enemy ship, or manning the cannons.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Game Play: 18/20
    Graphics: 9/10
    Sound: 9/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The tank battles are a huge part of this game, and choosing the right kind of ammo is a huge part of winning the battles. You can pick and choose your own ammo or take the advice of your helper. In town, you can create upgrades that boost your tank\'s hitpoints. Sometimes they only cost gold but most of the time, specific objects will be required to upgrade the tank.

    The multiplayer in this game comes in two modes: tank battle and surfing. In surfing mode you have to collect as many coins as possible before the time runs out. Both of these modes can be played using only one game cartridge.

    After you beat the game\'s singleplayer campaign you can keep playing, whether you want to finish collecting monsters, complete some more side quests, or collect extra-powerful ammo for your tank.

    Graphically this game is pretty typical for a Dragon Quest game. Sprites, smiles, and vivid colors. The town and its surrounding areas are very bright and colorful. The enemies are all very unique, including their animations and behaviors. The living statues are quite spooky.

    The enemies have their own unique voices, noises and sound effects too. The music is very pleasant and Dragon-Questy. I was somewhat annoyed that the enemy theme music had an odd loop featuring a person saying/singing “Boom Chicca Pow!”. 

    When it comes to appropriateness issues... where to start. The slimes are not the atheistic globs of muck you might think, as they all worship a goddess of some sort. Holy water and goddess statues are two kinds of ammunition you can use in your tank. The church in town has some catholic references, including a "Mother Gloopierior". The other thing worth mentioning is that the plob father, Don Clawleone, smokes a cigar in a cut scene. The violence in this game is very cartoony and most of it is directed toward enemy tanks. 

    This is an older game so the price is relatively low on Amazon, but it may be hard to find at local retail stores. If you or your kids have a DS and enjoy Dragon Quest games I highly recommend this title, but keep the moral warnings in mind if you plan to buy it.

  • Fran Bow (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Fran Bow
    Published By: KillMonday Games
    Developed by: KillMonday Games
    Release Date: Aug 27, 2015
    Available on windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android
    Single player game
    Genre: Point and Click Adventure game.
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Story-driven point and click adventure games have never attracted me. Maybe it was because I never experienced early PC gaming gems such as the King's Quest series. It could also be that every time I heard about these point and click games, a popular Youtuber ended up playing it and I just watched the story on my own. However, when I saw the Youtuber Jesse Cox play the old demo of Fran Bow, I was enchanted. Something about this game made me want to experience the story for myself, to watch the events unfold without seeing it through another pair of eyes first. Now this question can be answered: was Fran Bow’s enchantment over me a pleasant charm or a terrible curse? I dive into KillMonday Games’ point and click adventure to find out.

    Fran Bow is the story of a young girl whose parents were brutally murdered before her eyes. The only things she remembers is a horned being who murdered her family and her cat Mr. Midnight being taken from her. She is also forced to stay in a mental asylum for disturbed children. As Fran, it is your job to find the correct items and information to solve puzzles and obtain the tools to progress through the story. As you progress through the chapters, the game's mechanics will allow you to travel through alternate planes of reality. Changing realities will allow you to solve puzzles or meet new characters to continue the story. Mini-games break up the chapters every now and then. They are a great break up between the heavy plot elements of the game. If you do not enjoy these mini-games, they can be skipped.

    Fran Bow
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellently written point and click adventure game with a strong horror element.
    Weak Points: The ending may not be for everyone, the game itself may not have much replay value for most people.
    Moral Warnings: You're fighting a war against Lucifer; occult and violent themes are extremely high.

    The art-style of this game is gorgeous. Throughout the chapters of the game I felt like I was watching a moving oil painting. Water effects, lighting, and video game terms were lost to me as it all felt like it was a beautifully painted book that was coming to life as I read it. When I crossed over to the more horrific realities, I was terrified. The terror that was experienced was not the kind of monster that jumped out at you screaming either. This was a fear that stayed and sat, festering in the mind and soul as it raised questions and gave few to no answers. The world of Fran Bow is one of beauty and terror that anyone who loves good visuals will enjoy.

    The sound of the game provides the appropriate ambiance for every section of Fran’s world. The music will fill you with a sense of foreboding curiosity at times, and a joyful childlike wonder at other times. The sound effects of every moment – from meeting the demon that haunts her to interacting with the various denizens of the realities aid in bringing the game to life. While this entire game was made by only two people, these two people lovingly crafted this soundtrack.

    The most important aspect of the game is the story. The best way to describe it (in a spoiler free way) is an exciting journey, built a smooth way to what is the most disappointing and aggravating ending I have ever experienced in a video game. A quote from an anime reviewer named Glass Reflection fits best here: “the ending is paramount.” 

    Fran Bow
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 54%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 4/10

    The ending to Fran Bow didn't sequel bait, nor tie up any loose ends to know the truth behind Fran and her experiences. The ending was a cop-out. Maybe I wasn't the audience that the developer intended to have, or maybe this game had some deep secret message that didn't hit me. When you judge the game on the story alone without factoring in personal emotional appeal that you felt for Fran, you will be left hungry for more. The final chapter really lets down the whole game. If Fran Bow had replay value, or anything at all to come back to once you've beaten the game, then maybe a bad ending wouldn't affect the experience so much. However it seems that this game has only one ending to speak of. 

    So with morality I'm going to get straight to the point for you fine folks out here. This girl is basically fighting a horrific battle against hell's king itself. Whether it's actually Lucifer or if the girl is a twisted mental psychotic, the ending won't clear it up for you. Violence is extremely common. Occult references are commonplace in the story and you're playing a point and click adventure game where a little girl is going through events that you wouldn't wish on a hardened military veteran. One of the security guards at the mental asylum even tries to force her to kiss him. One of the ways you can change realities is by using a medication. This games imagery is violent and disturbing, Fran Bow is not for the faint of heart.

    On a more general note, don't get this game for children under the age of 16 either. However for those whose faith is unshakable by dark stories then you might find an interesting and thought provoking game in Fran Bow. 

  • King's Quest (Chapter 4 & 5) (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    King's Quest
    Developed by: The Odd Gentlemen
    Published by: Sierra
    Release Date: October 25, 2016
    Available on: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $39.99 or $9.99 per chapter
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Sierra for sending us this game to review!

    After King Graham chose his bride in chapter 3 they settle down and have twins, Alexander and Rosella.  Chapter 4 begins with the twins fussing and it’s Graham’s turn to feed and change the babies in the middle of the night while avoiding stepping on toys and other objects on the floor.  Once both babies are content, Manannan breaks into the castle and steals Alexander while his parents are helplessly bound by his spell.  King Graham vows to get him back but is unsuccessful until eighteen years later when Alexander comes back to the castle after tricking Manannan.  

    Happy to have his family all together King Graham takes them back to Avalon to show off his relics and to share his story with his son (who likes to be called Caduceus now).  Before they depart King Graham has to fit all their luggage into a small chariot Tetris style.  This is one of the first of many, many, puzzles in this chapter.  Instead of the luxurious hotel reservations they have planned, the family quickly gets separated and must solve several puzzles and riddles to get re-united.  This is the perfect opportunity for Graham and his son to bond and reclaim the eighteen years that they were separated.   

    King's Quest
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great dialogue and character development
    Weak Points: Tricky puzzles that often require walkthroughs to complete
    Moral Warnings: Death and violence

    Though Alexander does things differently than King Graham, he must learn to love his son unconditionally.  There are great moral lessons in this chapter that promote the importance of understanding and loving your family members even during disagreements.

    The last chapter shows King Graham on one of his final adventures when he’s seventy-seven years old.  While he’s sharing this story with his granddaughter, Gwendolyn, many parts of the tale are incorrect or incomplete.  With her help, his adventure is re-told as he explores the same maps from the first chapter.  Some of the puzzles will return including musical ones.  Like the previous chapters, walkthroughs helped me get through the tougher puzzles.  

    King's Quest
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Since King Graham’s health is failing, this chapter takes on a more serious tone and has the least amount of puns compared to the previous ones.  While these two chapters both deal with death, they stress the importance of love and family and leaving a positive legacy to be remembered by.  The deaths in these chapters are handled gracefully and without any blood shown.

    The graphics are unique in the final chapter when it comes to King Graham’s incomplete memories.  The same colorful environments of the first chapter are there, but there are many plain white areas where the memories get “foggy.”  The throwback 8-bit and 16-bit modes add a nice touch and bring out the “feels” for fans of the original King’s Quest games.  Even the voice acting sounded antiquated in those modes!

    Anyone who enjoys adventure games should check out the latest King’s Quest series.  If you don’t like tricky puzzles or riddles, then you may want to skip this one.  In the event that you do get stuck, there are plenty of walkthroughs and videos available to help.  Overall this series has made me groan at its silly puns and got me choked up in the final chapter.  It’s a must play for any King’s Quest fan and a great way to induct new ones!  

     

  • King's Quest Chapter 3: Once Upon a Climb (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    King’s Quest Chapter 3: Once Upon a Climb
    Developed by: The Odd Gentlemen
    Published by: Sierra
    Release Date: April 26. 2016
    Available on: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $39.99 or $9.99 per chapter
    (Humble Charity Link)

    Thank you Sierra for sending us a review code for this chapter!

    King Graham has established himself as the king of Daventry and all is well with his kingdom except for a baby owl that you get to help rescue in the beginning of the game.  Once the baby owl is safe and sound, Graham is showed as a little older and stronger.   Throughout the game he will get many compliments on his bulked up physique.  However, he’s lonely and there’s too much food for him and his pet gerbil, Triumph, to eat.  The villagers are too busy with their lives to join him for dinner and his staff have placed a chair next to his throne to give him a not so subtle hint.  It’s time for King Graham to find his queen.   

    After constructing a dinner guest to join their banquet, the magic mirror reveals a tower to Graham that has his future bride trapped in there.  He must rescue her at once!  Getting into the tower is not very challenging, but once inside Graham quickly learns that the magical barrier has trapped him inside along with the two pretty princesses from Kolyma.  

    Which princess is his future wife though?  That’s up to you to decide, actually.  Depending on your actions and answers a relationship will either blossom or fizzle between the two.  Princess Vee is the more logical one and is considered to be the canon choice if you want to stay true to the original King's Quest games.    Princess Neese is more adventurous, spontaneous, quirky, and is also a good fit for Graham if chosen.

    King’s Quest Chapter 3: Once Upon a Climb
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent adventure game with lovable characters and groan worthy puns
    Weak Points: Awkward controls
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy magic and cartoon violence

    With the multiple choices comes multiple endings and you can replay this adventure to get different ones.   The adventure only lasts a couple of hours, so it won’t take too much time to see every possibility. Once you get to know the princesses’ personalities you can tailor your actions and answers accordingly.  

    The third installment is more upbeat than the previous chapter and I enjoy a good romance instead of choosing which starving person to feed for the day.  While I was able to solve many of the puzzles on my own, I did have to resort a video walkthough to guide me a couple of times.  There are musical puzzles along with some frustrating quick-time events.  The controls were irritating at times and I have tried using both a keyboard and controller and was equally annoyed with both options.  I wound up settling on the keyboard for scaling the freezing tower towards the end of the chapter.  The trick is to use both the AW and WD keys to reach areas at an angle.  Thankfully, the game is generous with its auto-saves.  

    King’s Quest Chapter 3: Once Upon a Climb
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As with the previous chapters, the 3D cell shaded visuals look great and the characters’ expressions and personalities really shine in this entry.  The voice acting is top notch and I still do like Christopher Lloyd’s silly puns that are plentiful in this series.  

    Like all King’s Quest games, this chapter is suitable for gamers of all ages to enjoy.  There is some fantasy magic use but that’s not uncommon in fairy tales.  There are good messages about love, redemption, and to not judge someone on their outward appearance.  

    If you haven’t played a King’s Quest adventure game, this is a great one to try.  Playing the chapters in their proper order is highly recommended though.  Each chapter sells for $10, but you can buy the entire series for $39.99.  

     

  • Minecraft: Story Mode – A Telltale Games Series (Episodes 2-5) (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Minecraft: Story Mode
    Developed by: Telltale Games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release Date: March 29, 2016
    Available on: Android, iOS, PC, Mac, PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: Adventure
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence and mild language
    Number of Players: (single-player)
    Price: $5 per episode
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Telltale Games for sending us review codes for all eight episodes!

    When Minecraft Story Mode first came out, we played and reviewed the first episode in this (originally) five-part series.  Since then the remaining episodes have come out and three more have been introduced in DLC format for an additional $15.  As of this review, the eighth installment hasn’t come out yet.  

    The season pass terminology describing the remaining episodes is confusing since that term is reserved for having access to all content in games generally speaking.  The $15 needed to conclude the cliffhanger ending in chapter five is a bitter pill to swallow for many gamers and quite a few people have spoken their minds on this matter in the Steam store reviews.  Other than those complaints, the game still has mostly positive reviews and rightfully so since the story telling and character development are both pretty good.

    Minecraft: Story Mode
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good story in a Minecraft themed universe
    Weak Points: The episodes are rather short at roughly an hour each; ends at a cliff hanger
    Moral Warnings: Characters will be attacked by zombies, creepers, ghasts, and skeletons; a couple of instances of d*mn in the dialogue; stealing from other characters is permissible 

    The gameplay is the same as the first episode with the adventure style format with plenty of quick time events required to dodge attacks from various monsters and enemy characters.  Fortunately, there are plenty of check points to respawn from in case your timing is off.  I definitely benefitted from using an external mouse over my laptop’s built in touchpad.    

    Jesse (the main character who can be either gender) wields both a sword and a bow and both will be needed to survive against the wither storm that is destroying the world as they know it.  Throughout the story the legendary Order of the Stone members will be reunited and some shocking truths will be discovered about them as well.  I like how the player has the option of helping to set the record straight about their heroic adventures.  

    The wither storm does not go down easily and the world seems to be a safe place again by the end of the fourth chapter.  (If you want to save money just stop playing from there!)  The fifth chapter focuses on the adventures of the new Order of the Stone and starts a new side story that gives the player an option to forgive, take revenge, or let justice take care of the menacing gang formerly known as the Ocelots from episode 1.  

    Minecraft: Story Mode
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Choices are crucial in this series and the lives of some characters will depend on the decisions you make.  While many characters narrowly escape death, not all of them do.  The character development is as great as ever with the funny dialogue and bickering between the members.  I liked the discussion about the formidable bomb (referred to as the F-bomb) and how people can’t carelessly drop it around.  

    The voice acting is still superb and utilizes the voice talents of many well known actors including Patton Oswalt, Catherine Taber, Dee Bradley Baker, Ashley Johnson, Brian Posehn, and Martha Plimpton.  The sound effects and visuals are nearly identical to those in Minecraft.

    Not much has changed on the moral front since the first episode.  While some of the remaining episodes were curse word free, the D-word showed up in episode four again.  The same undead monsters including zombies, ghasts, and skeletons are present throughout the game as well.  The endermen play a big part in this series too; just don’t look directly at them!

    Overall, this is a fun series that can be completed in less than ten hours for the first five chapters.  The additional three make the full series $40 for roughly fifteen hours of entertainment.  Minecraft fans and adventure gamers are bound to enjoy this game, but I’d recommend waiting for a sale because of how short the chapters are.  

  • Minecraft: Story Mode Adventure Pass (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Minecraft: Story Mode Adventure Pass
    Developed by: Telltale Games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release Date: June 7, 2016
    Available on: Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: Adventure
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence and mild language
    Number of Players: Single player
    Price: $5 per episode
    (Humble Link)

    Thank you Telltale Games for sending us review codes for all eight episodes!

    Minecraft Story Mode was initially released as a five-part series, but has since been expanded with the Adventure pass DLC. Like many Telltale games, Minecraft Story Mode is a point and click adventure game with many quick time events.  The choices made in the game impact the characters' lives and even their feeling towards you.  At the end of every episode, the choices you made are compared against others who have finished it as well.

    The asking price of $24.99 for five episodes bundled into a “Season Pass” is reasonable for the excellent storytelling and character development.  The season pass terminology is confusing since that term is reserved for having access to all content in games generally speaking.  The $15 needed to conclude the cliffhanger ending in chapter five is a bitter pill to swallow for many gamers and quite a few people have spoken their minds on this matter in the Steam store reviews.  Other than those complaints, the game still has mostly positive reviews.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good story in a Minecraft themed universe
    Weak Points: The episodes are rather short at roughly an hour each
    Moral Warnings: Characters will killed and attacked by zombies and other monsters

    Episode six picks up where five left off with some of the Order of Stone members in an unusual world with two moons and tons of zombies.  They find an invitation to go to a mansion and decide to check it out instead of hanging around the zombies.  Upon their arrival they discover that they were not the only ones invited and are accompanied by many popular Minecraft Youtube personalities including: Joseph Garrett as Stampy Cat, Stacy Hinojosa as Stacy Plays, Dan Middleton as DanTDM (The Diamond Minecart), Lizzie Dwyer as LDShadowLady, and Jordan Maron as CaptainSparklez. As charming as these new people are, they start dying mysteriously and the group must work together to find out who is behind these murders.

    While it wasn't a game breaking glitch, I thought that it was strange that Jesse's portrait in the mansion only showed the male version of the character despite my character being female.

    In episode seven, the same Order of the Stone members are back in the hallway of portals.  Their fruitless effort of exploring portals to find the correct one home is taking a toll on them.  Petra is frustrated and Jesse lets her pick the group’s next destination.  They wind up in an automated world that is being run by a computer named PAMA.  The computer’s initial purpose was to optimize the world, but instead it’s taken it over. The Order of the Stone must intervene to get the assistance from the Old Builder who can help them get the Atlus to guide them home.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Getting the Atlus in the final episode is easier said than done.  In order to win over the other Old Builders, the Order of the Stone members must win the gladiator style games that they’ve been thrown into.  Many choices revolving around trust and forgiveness are provided in this finale.  Can Jesse win over both the contestants and the judges?

    Throughout these final three episodes some of the deaths are permanent while others just respawn without their inventory.  There are examples of cheating and deception and revenge is an option.  On a positive note, I don’t recall any language in the Adventure Pass episodes.

    If you don’t mind the moral content in the main game, the adventure pass is worth getting.  Like the other episodes, the additional ones are relatively short at an hour and a half each.  I have completed the whole series in thirteen hours.  The entire series will set you back $40, but it’s a worthwhile adventure for Minecraft fans.

  • Resette's Prescription ~Book of memory, Swaying scale~ (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Resette's Prescription ~Book of memory, Swaying scale~
    Developed by: Liz-Arts
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Available on: Windows
    Release Date: May 30, 2016
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $12.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!

    Resette is a twelve-year-old physician/healer that has been wandering around the forest for days with her feline assistant, Gaede.  She’s getting hungry and stumbles upon an unconscious boy in the woods. Seeing that he has some bread, she eats it as an advance payment for the healing services that she’ll be providing for him.  Some of Resette’s actions are questionable and Gaede is quite vocal when he doesn’t agree with her logic or actions.  

    Logic will be required to solve many of the puzzles and contraptions scattered in this game world.  If you’re not working on a gadget to unlock a hidden key, chances are that you’ll be walking around and gathering/combining items in this 2D point and click adventure game. 

    Resette's Prescription ~Book of memory, Swaying scale~
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute point and click adventure game that has witty dialogue and a thought provoking story
    Weak Points: Game breaking bugs and short amount of gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Blood and violence; healing magic used

    Some of the puzzles are easier to solve than others.  I was able to complete the weights and balance one without any help but some of the others I solved with the help of a YouTube walkthrough.  Sadly, some of the puzzles like the aforementioned weights one glitched out on me where I lost a crucial weight needed to solve it. Be sure to save early and often because that wasn’t the only bug I encountered.  

    Even when I saved I still lost some progress and had to re-read some dialogue all over again.  Fortunately, there’s a skip button that I used multiple times.  Despite the glitches and slow downs, I still managed to beat this game in roughly two hours.  

    Resette's Prescription ~Book of memory, Swaying scale~
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 91%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10
    +3 for a good moral lesson (forgiveness)

    Graphically, this game has a combination of art styles.  The backdrops are water color paintings while the characters are anime themed.  The intro movie/game trailer is well done and is similar to many anime intros out there.  The interface is a little strange and by default this game does not run in full-screen mode.  Activating full-screen is done by pressing the F11 key, but bringing up the menu to exit the game brings it back into a windowed game mode.

    The background music is fitting and pleasant to listen to.  There is no voice acting, but the dialogue is funny and clean enough for children to enjoy this game.  The plot is a little dark and deals with people blindly following the law no matter the cost.  There are some violent scenes and blood is shown as a result.  Despite the violence, there is a theme of forgiveness.

    While the story of healing and forgiveness is good in Resette's Prescription ~Book of memory, Swaying scale~, I have a hard time recommending this short game at full price.  It’s definitely worth picking up on sale and hopefully the glitches are addressed before a discount becomes available.  In the end, any anime or point and click adventure gamer should keep an eye out for this cute game.  

     

  • RymdResa (PC)

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    Game Info:

    RymdResa
    Developed By: Morgondag
    Published By: Morgondag
    Released: 20 August 2015
    Available On: Mac OSX,
    SteamOS, Linux, Windows
    Genre: Adventure, RPG
    ESRB Rating: NA
    Number of Players: 1 offline 
    Price: $11.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    A couple of years ago, over 200,000 people volunteered to be a part of a one way trip to Mars.  Perhaps, if they had played RymdResa before applying, there would have been a lot less applications.

    RymdResa is a space exploration game, first and foremost.  You get in your ship and fly out towards the far reaches of space to complete your mission.  You explore various abandoned spaceships, stations, planets and nebulas: collecting items to equip to your ship, gaining experience and starpoints to increase your Pilot level and purchase better ships respectively.  You also die, a lot.

    Space is unforgiving and RymdResa portrays just how deadly it can be.  Hit the afterburner and you are very likely to crash into a hazard, like a mine field, which will pretty much instantly kill you.  You can see it coming yet cannot change course until your burn out, helplessly smashing in to the hazard.

    The game is controlled using a mouse and keyboard or a controller.  I used mouse and keyboard for my playthrough and found it easy enough to control and manage my spaceship and the various menus.

    When I entered my spaceship for the first time I was taken aback by the graphics of the game.  Your ships are mostly white silhouettes and the graphics mainly consist of simplistic 2D.  Yet, it adds to its charm.  Art may be simple in some areas but more detailed in others.  Sounds effects are fairly simplistic, yet passable and generally fit with the style of the game.  The music, while OK for a short while becomes repetitive and you would be better off playing some of your own music or listening to something in the background while you play.

    RymdResa
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Expansive universe to explore; plenty of collectable items for completionists
    Weak Points: You can die very quickly and easily; repetitive music and boss encounters 
    Moral Warnings:None

    Health is managed using resources.  Each ship in the game has a maximum amount of resources you can carry.  Activating your engines will consume resources.  Investigating wrecks and planets can also deplete (or add) resources.  When your resources reach 0, you die.  It’s pretty simple.  If you want to live, always keep your resources topped up.

    RymdResa has 3 chapters to complete.  Unlocking the first chapter will allow you to progress on to the next one.  Each chapter has its own mission to complete.  In the first chapter you follow a sequence of waypoints and collect specific items.  It seems simple, yet is challenge because if you die you lose those items and have to start from the beginning.  It feels like a harsh penalty, yet it teaches you to be careful in your fragile starter ship.  I found it easy enough to complete after learning from a few accidental deaths.

    There is plenty of stuff to explore and collect in the game.  Consumable items, to aid your exploration and help protect your ship, research items for permanent upgrades and equippable ship items to enhance the performance of your ship and pilot abilities.  Diary pods are poem entries conveying a feeling of loneliness.  Starpoints are used to buy new ships, gained by collecting stars littered across space.

    By exploring space you gradually increase your Pilot level, split across 4 statistical areas:  Exploration, Scouring, Technology and Survival.  Each has their own advantages and can unlock additional items found in space, increasing starting resources and new items to aid in your exploration.  I found the Technology skill to be useful as it allowed me to use floating platforms to gain additional experience and to refuel my resources.

    RymdResa
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    In the final chapter you will come across 3 boss encounters.  On first play I thought it was interesting and a cool concept.  I rapidly changed my opinion on the next boss encounter.  Each boss encounter provides a sequence of dialogue choices.  Choose wrongly and the boss will attack you, causing damage to your ship.  Choose the right answer and you may be rewarded with some starpoints and are less likely to be attacked.  

    The dialogue choices are set in stone, so once you know the sequence of correct choices, the boss fight can be completed easily.  For the last 2 bosses I used a guide as I did not like having to travel a great distance each time I made a few wrong dialogue choices.

    For those who complete the main mission of each chapter, you can seek out ghost ships.  These ghost ships are littered throughout space and are generally far away from the starting area.  I never encountered any of these ghost ships but once again there is a community guide available to seek them out.  There are optional side missions in each chapter adding to the length of the game, providing more rewards.

    Additionally, for those who didn’t quite satisfy their explorer itch, there is a Sandbox mode.  Sandbox is much more relaxed.  There is no death.  Interestingly, each time you start you end up in a random ship.  Experience and items do not transfer over from the scenario missions; whatever you accumulate will persist within the Sandbox mode.  It adds more play time for those who want to fully equip each ship and explore freely without the risk of death.

    I enjoyed my playtime with RymdResa.  It has a lot to offer and keep you entertained for many hours, especially if you are a completionist.  While death can come quickly, it’s mostly down to the player’s own choice of risk/reward or generally careless attitude.  In my experience the risk generally outweighs the reward and it always pays to err on the side of caution.  I didn’t notice anything morally objectionable in the game.  This is purely an exploration game with no combat.  The only minor thing that could be questioned was in the boss encounters, where you had to choose a dialogue option that was a lie and being attacked by roaming alien spaceships when you get too close.

  • Scéal (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Scéal
    Developed By: Joint Custody
    Published By: Joint Custody
    Released: October 27, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Adventure, Indie, Casual
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $4.99 on Steam

    Big thanks to Joint Custody for sending in their game!

    What is Scéal? In Irish Gaelic, the word itself means 'story', and to Sandro Magliocco from Joint Custody it's a means to emote his childhood memories. Inspired by Celtic fueled films like The Secret of Kells, he wanted to recapture the quaint charms of an Irish village much like the one he grew up in, and with his team's support he set out to do just that in video game form. Released in 2016 on Steam, Sandro's pet project set out to carry us away to the Emerald Isle, but are there more than Celtic knots to mangle God's Truth?

    You start the game, and an old book opens to begin its tale. You play as a young girl who has died - quite recently in fact. Problem is, you don't know how you died, who you were, nor where you lived. To make it worse, you have to know this stuff in order to enter the afterlife, which is kind of difficult when your'e an amnesiac. Thankfully, the guardian of the dead, a crow called Branna, has a solution. It presents to you an enchanted book that you must re-paint, and inside are hidden three magic feathers. Find the feathers, and you'll find your memories. Then and only then will you pass on.

    At first glance, the story sounds interesting and is hyped up as the game's focus. It's even in the title for pity's sake. The way it's told in rhyme is nice if occasionally forced. Unfortunately, what's being told is anything but epic. This tale is as basic as you can get with nothing remotely unique about it at all. True, there are three possible endings to add variety, but these finishers left me un-entertained and confused. Two out of the three made absolutely no sense, and the real kicker is that the downer ending was the logical one. Now, don't misread me. For the most part, the story itself is passable. By no means is it a catastrophe, but for a plot that is touted as a big selling point, it's nowhere close to meeting the lofty expectations they garnered. The story isn't bad. It's just nothing special.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Pleasant visuals; Music captures the Irish vibe
    Weak Points: Simplistic Story; Unengaging Gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Magic Windstones; Mixed-up Portrayal of the Afterlife and the spiritual world in general

    Scéal's structure is divided into three chapters. You might think that isn't much, and you'd be correct. You could beat a single chapter in under five minutes, and each one carries the same basic pattern: paint buildings, find villager, paint designated objects, pick up feather. That's pretty much it. The last chapter does alter the cycle a little but not enough to write about. Now, being a short game with a simple structure isn't a bad thing in itself. Brief runtimes are prone to high replay-ability, but Scéal's preset tasks make reruns an unrewarding rehash. If the developers thought to randomize feather locations, buildings to paint, or even just let you paint whatever you wanted it could have fixed the problem and strengthened the need to explore. Unfortunately, this isn't the case, so Scéal is more like an actual book than an interactive game in that regard. (Also, there are no save files, so you'll have to finish the entire game if someone else wants a turn.)

    The controls are pretty straightforward. Click, hold, and point your mouse in the direction you want to go and scrub your brush back and forth to paint/change objects. Sounds simple, right? Well, sort of. At times, I had to click and re-click to get the ghost to listen, especially when switching paths or going uphill. Apparently, being able to float doesn't make you very mobile. Additionally, Scéal goes overboard in telling you what to do. There's no real invitation to look around for yourself. They spell out where the hidden items are, spoiling the idea of 'searching,' and clouded buildings are tagged with obvious icons, as if the fog covering wasn't already a giveaway. I also don't know why the developers bothered to call swiping at fog 'painting.' You can clearly see the building's actual colors underneath, so it's more like wiping frost off of your windshield than adding color. It shouldn't be that big of a deal, but similar to my complaints about the story, the advertising wasn't accurate. If they say I'm gonna paint, I should feel like I'm painting. On a similar note, there are two occasions where your little ghost transforms into either an angel or a banshee. You'll then be asked to either brighten or darken the environment around you, but your actions don't differ from the usual fare. You just rinse and repeat. Later on, you possess a villager (more on that nugget later), but all this involves is double clicking a person and walking around. It's obvious that this game didn't intend to be a challenge, and that's okay. I just wish the kinks were smoothed out, and they didn't treat the players like idiots.

    Story, structure, and gameplay may be subpar, but I cannot deny the effort put in Scéal's presentation. The visuals capitalize on Irish artworks' emphasis for crowded yet finely blended details, but then the creators at Joint Custody took it a step further. First, they accomplished the storybook feel with flat structures that pop up whenever you're nearby. Second, they allowed the art to breathe by having the scenery change around you. As an angel, you bathe the world in sunshine, and summer blooms. As a banshee, villagers flee from your cold shadow, and winter dries the plants in greyscale. They even included night and day cycles with transitions to boot. That meant the artists had to paint Scéal's world no less than nine times! Now that's a feat! I paused often just to sit back and drink it all in. Our ghost's fluid movements and alternate forms were lovely too. For music, professional Irish musicians recorded Scéal's score in Dublin, and their tunes, often sung in Gaelic, were pleasing to the ear. The only presentational nitpicks I have are that the villagers' walk cycles looked a bit unnatural, and there were awkward pauses between music cycles. I may not have enjoyed playing Scéal, but I loved being in it.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Sadly, I did stumble upon some technical difficulties. I first tried it on a laptop: with the basic requirements, and it started off really choppy. I resorted to the lowest resolution and had the game windowed just to get it to playable conditions. If you have a stronger system than mine, I'm certain you won't have a problem. On a side note, there were a couple times the villager AI malfunctioned. One got caught in a road sign twice, and several others, while straining to follow my lead, began rapidly flipping directions in some jerky dance. It was indeed hilarious but needs a tuneup. Lastly, Scéal's biggest programming blunder were the three times the camera zoomed in too close to a church for me to paint. This hiccup was so major it forced me to quit the game and restart. I guess that one slipped past quality control.

    To discuss Scéal's moral integrity is tricky. On the one hand, it's upfront about its intent to showcase Irish customs and folklore. Thus, no Christian should be surprised by its inaccurate portrayal of the spiritual realm. I then considered Scéal's possible use as a teaching tool for mythology classes, but after investigating, I found very few similarities between its elements and actual recorded myth. However, educational or not, there are spots where I take serious issue. For one thing, this game fell into the basic 'follow your heart' trap. Then it had you answer a woman's prayers by restoring magic wind stones, and when you, the dead person, possess a living human it's treated as a good thing. Worst still is the implication that the nightmarish banshee isn't an evil creature as it's traditionally depicted. It's not that I don't believe God can and does use evil according to His perfect will for the ultimate good. It's the fact that the hellish banshee is presented as a fully aware agent for good that I've got a beef with.

    In conclusion, I'm conflicted over Scéal. Half of it I liked. Half of it I didn't like. My judgments on the game itself were only further complicated thanks to Joint Custody's misplaced advertising. Due to Scéal's unimpressive narrative, lackluster gameplay, and short campaign, it felt as flat as their backgrounds. Yet because of its beautiful art style and gentle music, I can't call it a total waste. A a result, Scéal is comparable to a bedtime story. It's a diversion for tired minds and not intended to be psychoanalyzed. Within its mindless tasks, Sandro Magliocco did capture those relaxing Irish vibes. However, I'm still uncomfortable with letting an impressionable child into its morally mixed up pages. If you're seeking a sweeping narrative or a test of skill, move along; there's nothing for you here. But if you want to indulge your Celtic thirst, this could suffice. Otherwise, Scéal is more or less an ornamental goblet. It's lovely to see but ultimately hollow.

     

  • Spellbind (Mac)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Spellbind
    Developed by: Spider Key Games
    Published by: Spider Key Games
    Released: March 4, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac
    Genre: Puzzle, Adventure
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $2.99

    Thank you, Black Shell Media, for providing a copy of this game to review!

    In the small town of Riathon, 16-year-old Luppe runs the largest gang of thieves. His rival challenges him to sneak into the home of Lord Amatar to steal the most expensive bottle of wine in the cellar. The task shouldn't be a problem for the self-proclaimed king of thieves, but Luppe finds more than he expected in the seemingly abandoned mansion.

    That's the backstory of the game "Spellbind" from Spider Key Games. You play Luppe in his adventure through the "creepy," seemingly abandoned mansion. The game consists of a series of still scenes, with navigation done by clicking on the edges of the screen. Likewise, you interact with objects on the screen simply by pointing and clicking. Right-click to open your inventory to use items or cast spells. Travel through the house – or through a magical diary – and solve the 12 different puzzles in order to find out what happened to Lord Amatar and escape the house.

    Spellbind
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Entertaining puzzles; low price
    Weak Points: Short game; primitive graphics; mediocre storyline; little replay value
    Moral Warnings: Minor language; some blood; demonic references; main character is a thief

    The controls are as familiar as the scenario. The game seems influenced by similar predecessors, such as the Labyrinth of Time, Myst or the 7th Guest. Unlike those classics, though, Spellbind suffers from low-quality graphics and short gameplay.

    Even though the game was put together in Unity, the scenes look more like individual pictures pasted together in Photoshop. I'm not sure if this is an attempt to be "retro," but the end result comes out as more amateurish rather than stylish. In addition, after completing all the puzzles and getting into the ending, the art shifts into an 8-bit style that ends up feeling like a completely different game. In this portion, you have to answer a series of questions that will determine which of the three game endings you will receive. Your actions with the puzzles have no bearing on the ending you receive, either.

    The music is all right, but a bit repetitive. Sound effects are minimal, and there is no voice acting in the game whatsoever. The strengths of the game lies in the puzzles. There is a nice variety to the puzzles, including a word search and a shifting tile game. Three of the puzzles, however, can be solved quite rapidly simply by trying different combinations in a systematic approach until the correct solution is found (oddly enough, each of these puzzles also have clues hidden nearby that provide the answers). This only takes a few moments, since there are few combinations available. Also, there are only 12 puzzles in the game. You can choose to solve them all, or skip the ones you don't want to complete. You can skip all of them, if you wish, and there's even a Steam achievements for doing so. For 100% completion you will have to play through the game twice. Given that the answers to the puzzles don't change, this doesn't take too much time – I've finished the game in four hours, and that includes the time I left the computer sitting while taking care of household chores. 

    Spellbind
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 56%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    There was one spot during my second playthrough where the game froze. I had to force-quit out of the game, and when I returned it had left me off at the start of one of the previous puzzles. A minor irritation, but still a sign that the game isn't completely bug-free. There also are a few typos that occur in the course of the game as well, but not ones that affect gameplay, at least.

    A few minor factors arise in terms of morality. The biggest issue, of course, is that you're playing a thief, wandering around a house that doesn't belong to him. Although he doesn't steal much in the game, he revels in his abilities to escape from prisons and stealing things. There are a few instances of blood, including one scene where a spider-like creature actually kills Luppe. There are two vulgarities in the game – h*ll and d*mn – but each word only appears once. Finally, there are references to a demon and demonic possession once you get into the ending portions of the game.

    The strongest things about the game are the puzzles (which don't provide much of a challenge, really), and the low price of $2.99. But the simplistic graphics, short gameplay and mediocre story line don't serve as much of an incentive to purchase the game in the first place. Puzzle fans might get a bit of enjoyment in the game, but those looking for a harder challenge or a more in-depth experience may want to pass.

  • Tales from the Dragon Mountain: The Strix (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Tales from the Dragon Mountain: The Strix 
    Developed by: Cateia Games
    Published By: K.I.D
    Release Date: July 2011
    Available on: PC/Mac
    Genre: Point and Click Adventure
    ESRB: Not Rated
    Price: $6.99

    Thank you GamersGate for sending us this game to review!

    A woman has been having dreams about her deceased grandmother's estate being engulfed in flames. To put this matter to rest, she took a train to investigate her grandmother’s house. Upon arriving at the estate, she discovers that her grandmother was killed by an evil demon. Apparently her grandmother spent her life keeping the evil forces at bay in her neck of the woods. Since the grandmother's passing, the evil lord has imprisoned many of her friends that she must now rescue. Besides rescuing these friends, she must find a way to defeat the evil lord once and for all. 

    Tales from the Dragon Mountain: The Strix is an adventure style game where you have to look at your surroundings, and gather objects, to solve various puzzles.  For example, when you first arrive at your grandmother’s house, you’ll have to search under the bucket to locate the house key.  Once inside, you’ll have to make your way to the kitchen where the water is not running.  In order to get the water flowing, you’ll have to twist around the pipes to get them in their proper positions.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: I like the idea of a built in hint system, but it’s only good for locating items.
    Weak Points: One of our reviewers could not get this game to run on his Mac. I was able to run the PC version, but it had its share of glitches too.
    Moral Warnings: Dark themes and some magic use.

    While the built in hint system is handy, it won’t help with the actual puzzles like the kitchen pipe example.  Clicking on the hint icon will help you find important objects and artifacts in the room you’re in.  I like the addition of the list of remaining items to find in each area.  Gone are the days of forgetting to get something from an area you visited an hour ago.  

    Finding the objects wasn’t too difficult, but they do blend in at times so the hint system definitely came in handy.  For the most part, it didn’t help me when I was truly stuck in the game.  Fortunately, there are walkthroughs readily available, and only a Google search away.  I won’t deny it, I used them.

    Many of the puzzles seemed reasonable, and I was able to figure them out on my own.  Typical of many adventure games, there are some zingers as well.   One of the puzzles was collecting the planets and putting them into a lock in the shape of the solar system.  I was pleasantly surprised when the game put them in the proper sequence for me.  On the flipside, it was a wasted educational moment.

    There are some enemies and battle scenes in this game.  While you do make a potion or two, the magic system is pretty tame.  The magic and battles are handled by tile puzzles, where you have to match up similar color tiles by swapping adjacent tiles.  If you match up skull tiles, you get harmed instead of the enemy.  

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls 2/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Despite the dark theme, this game is pretty family friendly.  There wasn’t any language, but I didn’t care for Mina’s snippy attitude.  I can understand her frustration, but I’m nothing like her so I couldn’t relate with her.  Perhaps I’m spoiled by multiple choice dialogue options.  

    The voice acting in this game is subpar and the background music is forgettable.  The character dialogue seemed to be lacking emotion, and it didn’t resonate with me.  The graphics were a disappointment as well.  I liked the background art and puzzle graphics.  However, the characters didn’t mesh with the game.  The backgrounds were 2D while the characters were 3D rendered, and they just didn't blend into the environment.

    The controls are a mixed bag.  One of the puzzles was difficult to get out of, and it took me a while to do things in the expected order to complete it.  Other than that, the game ran fine for me.  One of our reviewers tried the Mac version without success.  So consider yourself warned! 

    Like many adventure games, there isn't much replay value after you beat the game.  It took me roughly ten hours to beat this game.  Your mileage may vary depending on how easily you can figure out the puzzles and by how often you read the walk throughs. Even though the story was decent, I had a hard time getting into this game.   Sadly, it too falls short like Kaptain Brawe.  The $6.99 price tag is reasonable and there is a demo available.  I would recommend, especially for Mac users, to try the demo before buying it.   

  • That Dragon, Cancer (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    That Dragon, Cancer
    Developed by: Numinous Games
    Published by: Numinous Games
    Release Date: January 12, 2016
    Available on: PC, OSX, Ouya
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Numinous Games for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    Most people know someone who has battled cancer.  Some of those affected have stories of second chances at life while others are no longer suffering from its devastating grip.  That Dragon, Cancer brings gamers into Joel’s life as his parents adjust to his needs and come to grips with his prognosis.

    The game begins at a colorful park where Joel’s family is throwing bread into the pond for ducks.  The voices heard are from Joel’s parents (they helped make the game!) and the voice acting for Joel is authentic.  Sadly, Joel’s vocabulary was limited due to cancer treatments starting early in his life and stunted his development.  His family showered him with love and the player gets to witness and interact with this sweet child asking for more pushes on the swing, sliding down the slide, or for more spins on the merry-go-round.

    That Dragon, Cancer
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent and emotional story telling 
    Weak Points: Some confusing elements; only two hours long
    Moral Warnings: This game shares the innermost thoughts, questions, and doubts of a Christian family struggling to come to grips with their son’s declining health

    The perspective of the player shifts from being a duck, to the parents, and even the doctors breaking the devastating news.  While many of the scenes are joyful and whimsical, there are some heart wrenching moments as well. I recommend keeping some sunglasses and tissues nearby!  There are many contributions in this game from Kickstarter backers including artwork submissions hanging on the walls and greeting cards with parting words and life span dates of others who have battled That Dragon, Cancer.  I’m sure this title will bring comfort to the families of those remembered in this game.   

    Adventure gamers will be familiar with game mechanics of investigating and interacting with various objects to progress the story.  Fortunately, there are no puzzles or time limits and players can take their time looking around or playing the mini-games.  There’s a go-karting mini-game to celebrate the end of Joel’s treatments and a platformer style mini-game where Joel is an armor-wearing knight battling a dragon.  This game can be experienced by hardcore and novice gamers alike.

    While I was able to figure things out most of the time, the beta build of the game threw me for a couple of loops at times.  There’s a scene where the father is drowning (metaphorically) and instead of swimming to the surface I was supposed to go deeper instead.  Another emotionally powerful scene was the dehydration one where Joel is crying and not able to hold down any liquids.  The father tries to console and plead with him and ultimately prays to God to comfort his son.  The confusing part of that scene is that Joel is not in it.  Instead he is on a boat with his mom so that the scene is not too depressing.  Even without the visuals, the dry-sounding crying certainly pulled at my heart strings!

     

    That Dragon, Cancer
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    While That Dragon, Cancer is probably best experienced by adults, it is kid safe.  There are many heart wrenching moments and letters written by the mother that are filled with hope and despair as she’s holding out for a miracle.  There are many references to God, Jesus and some classical hymns and Christian music.  

    The art style is unique and minimalist with very few facial details for the adults and none whatsoever for the children.  Even without a face, it’s hard to not to get attached to this sweet and innocent child who loves pancakes and dogs.

    That Dragon, Cancer sells for $15 on Steam, Ouya, and the developer’s website.  It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster and it’s one worth riding if you don’t mind a two-hour spiritual journey.  My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who is dealing with or has been affected by cancer in their life.

  • The Legend of Kusakari (3DS)

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    Game Info:

    The Legend of Kusakari
    Developed By: Librage
    Published By: Nnooo
    Released: August 25, 2016
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up (Fantasy Violence)
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you Nnooo for sending us a copy of the game to review!

    I often find myself pondering what Link does after rescuing Zelda, or any other maiden for that matter. I came to the conclusion that he must cut down a lot of patches of grass to pass the time until Ganon returns. In an ironic twist, developer Librage has just released their Zelda inspired 3DS title, The Legend of Kusakari, which does exactly that.

    The story is extremely simple. The Demon King has plunged the world into chaos, and every warrior is out doing their part to hold back monstrous enemies. We play as Shiba Kari, a legendary gardener who plans on eradicating unsightly patches of grass on the battlefield. It sounds strange, and truthfully it is. Rather than attacking any monsters, the object of each of the 50 levels is to clear all the grass in as little time as possible with your scythe. All this just so the warriors have a well-trimmed lawn to fight on. An additional 10 stages can be unlocked when certain conditions are met.

    The Legend of Kusakari
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very familiar gaming mechanics and art style; Endless mode is incredibly addictive; Plenty of replay value.
    Weak Points: The music is incredibly grating; Feels slightly hollow not being able to attack enemies.
    Moral Warnings: Small amount of fantasy violence.

    Controlling Kari is fairly easy. Pressing 'B' has him cut the grass, which also slowly levels up his spin cut. Level 0 is a very minimal attack, whereas level 4 will release a huge spin attack, capable of destroying multiple patches of grass. Pressing 'A' unleashes said spin attack nearly identical to Link's from any 2D Zelda title. Each time it is used it lowers the level of the spin attack by one. Holding one of the shoulder buttons allows Kari to dash around the stage. Pressing 'A' or 'B' while dashing will result in a dash attack. This is a handy way of taking out multiple patches of grass.

    Stages start out rather easy, but get much harder very quickly. Clearing a stage will result in a ranking of C, B, A, or S. Only by clearing stages relatively quickly can one get an S-rank. Besides clearing the grass, one must avoid the warriors and monsters that are fighting around Kari. Getting hit by them will cause him to lose health, which is complicated further by the fact that his health is constantly draining down on its own. When his heart count reaches zero, Kari will spin around and collaspe, prompting one to retry a stage. Thankfully, there are blue patches of grass in stages that, when cut down, will restore a heart of health. Shining blue patches will recover all of Kari's health. Each of the stages have one special condition, such as not getting hit by anyone. This unlocks an achievement of sorts which becomes viewable from the Greenthumb Almanac in the options menu. 

    The Legend of Kusakari
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Should you get bored with the main story mode there is an endless mode. In it, Kari must cut down as many patches of grass as possible before his health depletes. Grass will grow back thicker when cut down and will require an additional swing of your scythe to remove. All around the map are fast moving slimes, which makes navigating around the stage extremely difficult. At random times a blue patch will sprout up. It's imperative that it be cut down as soon as you see it pop up in order to maintain as much health as possible.

    Graphically, The Legend of Kusakari is incredibly charming to look at. I could honestly see this being an official Zelda spin-off, and Librage should be commended for their efforts here. However, there's an issue with the music. The main theme is, well it's unbearable. A squeaky, off-tune trumpet blares along with the rest of the instruments, breaking the flow of the song. Not to mention this theme is looped on the main menu, which nearly drove me insane. I can only hope someone patches that trumpet out of the game, as the music is just fine without it.

    For $5, there's a lot to like about this title. Hours of replayability mixed with charming graphics make for a great experience. Part of me still wishes I could have fought the monsters encountered, but rushing to cut grass down was oddly just as satisfying. The only thing holding Kusakari back is that trumpet in the main theme. 

    -Kyuremu

     

  • The Order of the Thorne: The King's Challenge (PC)

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    Game Info:

    The Order of the Thorne: The King's Challenge
    Developed By: Infamous Quests
    Published by: Infamous Quests
    Released: January 26, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Point-and-click adventure
    Number of Players: 1 
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Infamous Quests for sending us this game to review!

    PC gamers in the 1990s may remember the old point-and-click adventure genre; from King’s Quest to Monkey Island, The Dig to Day of the Tentacle, these games offered a wonderful mix of exploration and puzzle solving that has never quite been replicated. Though the heyday of adventure games may have passed, there are still some new gems to be found in the modern era. For those wishing to relive an older age or introduce themselves to the genre, The Order of the Thorne: The King’s Challenge will certainly suffice.

    The Order of the Thorne: The King’s Challenge follows Finn the bard as he journeys in search for musical inspiration. To that end, he enters the Faerie Kingdom to participate in the King’s Challenge – a game of wits and wills devised by the Faerie King and Queen every ten years. This year, the queen has hidden herself somewhere within the kingdom; the first to find her will be crowned the victor. Though the winner of the Challenge is granted one request of the Faerie Court, Finn seeks only to compose the greatest ballad ever written – and live up to the legend of his father, a member of the ancient and mysterious Order of the Thorne.

    The King’s Challenge plays like a traditional point-and-click adventure game: you explore the world around you, finding and completing puzzles along the way to your final goal. The left mouse button moves Finn and interacts with people and objects; right-clicking examines whatever you’re pointing at. Though older games of the genre typically had a list of ways to interact with the environment – look at, talk to, push, pick up, etc. – The King’s Challenge streamlines the process by limiting you to a single interaction that changes depending on the target. The game doesn’t suffer from this lack of options, however, and Finn will always perform a suitable action where appropriate.

    Finn moves at a brisk pace, and right-clicking skips all travel outside of the usually-snappy screen transitions. The game world isn’t the biggest, but it’s varied in layout and appearance. The map fits together logically, and once you get your bearings, it’s easy to traverse to get to where you need to go. Much of your time will be spent in dialogue with other characters, each one having a wide array of conversation topics to choose from. Only a few are ever relevant to a puzzle, but it serves to add depth to the realm of Uir, where the game takes place. Dialogue can be skipped at any time, so there’s little time lost if you misclick or are simply impatient. In addition, a voiced narrator will describe objects and actions; these, unlike character dialogue, require a click to advance, which can be a little jarring at first.

    The Order of the Thorne: The King's Challenge
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Expertly captures the King’s Quest feel; great music; not too hard or too easy
    Weak Points: Short; little replay value
    Moral Warnings: Brief, non-fatal violence; generic faerie magic

    Finn will obtain a number of items, stored in an inventory that pops out when you move your cursor to the top of the screen. While there’s a disappointing lack of reaction when you offer other characters items they don’t need, using them on Finn usually provokes some unique response. In addition, as a bard, Finn carries a lute and can play songs; these are primarily used to solve puzzles or to draw more world-building reactions out of the NPCs. The lute has an optional gameplay element that amounts to a game of musical Simon: the lute menu has four strings with four segments a piece, and clicking on the desired song prompts you to play a series of notes by clicking the strings. Additionally, you can turn the game off and have Finn play the song himself with no player input, and using this “easy” mode has no negative implications.

    The biggest issue in the game proper is in its premise: while there’s nothing wrong with the story or the setting, the game can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be leisurely or urgent. Finn is pitted against six other contestants, all of which are purported to be fierce competition, and the game will sometimes remind you that you can’t waste time. However, all six of your opponents are varying degrees of incompetent, and in the few times you see each of them, they are getting sidetracked, confused, or making aggressively poor decisions. There is a single instance of a competitor appearing in the world proper looking for the queen, and if there were more of this, it would go a long way to pushing the player along. As it stands, though, the game moves with little urgency, despite prompts to the contrary.

    Other than that, there is little fault to find in the game’s mechanics. Subtle hints will push the player along if they appear stuck, and the game never becomes unwinnable. In the worst case scenario, the old “use every object on every person” trick will work with no downsides. Puzzles make sense and require no leaps of logic, but are not mindlessly easy. The addition of the lute adds a lot to the game’s open-endedness. There are many objects to examine, each with their own unique narrative blurb – almost too many, as the narrator has something to say for every useless pile of rocks on every screen. Superfluous narration is a bit of a problem – entering the tavern or the monastery in the main city of Crann Naoimh prompts the narrator to declare that you’re entering the building every single time, which is not only pointless but breaks the flow of the game. However, most of the game proceeds at a good pace, with little to bar your path outside of what was intended.

    The game’s presentation seeks to capture the old King’s Quest feel, and does so perfectly. The graphics are practically straight out of King’s Quest V, and is especially appreciated with the current indie game trend of nondescript 8-bit styles. Most characters have high-quality portraits to accompany their dialogue, with each one animated to a slight degree. There are a few instances where the game zooms in on Finn and another character, giving this portrait-level quality to the whole screen, and are always a treat to see. There are a handful of more overt nods to the King’s Quest series hidden throughout the game as well. The whole game is a brightly-colored, well-defined throwback to an earlier time, and is all the better for it.

    The Order of the Thorne: The King's Challenge
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The music, fitting for a game about a bard, is of high quality throughout, with many varying themes depending on location and nearby characters. Finn’s lute songs are all distinct and pleasing on the ears. Every character is fully voiced, and the voice actors do a good job of portraying each one. The weakest voice, oddly enough, might be Finn’s due to some odd intonation, but it is by no means bad. There are a few audio errors, mostly limited to some lines cutting out too early or a mishap in editing together separate lines into one text box. These problems are few and far between, however, and as a whole the game is a pleasure to hear.

    Unfortunately, despite all of its presentation, the game is very short, probably lasting no more than five hours. Being a static puzzle game also means that there’s very little replayability. The ending heavily hints at a sequel, and one can gather than The King’s Challenge is the first in a planned Order of the Thorne series, but for now it’s just a single short game, though certainly an enjoyable one.

    Morally, there are barely any problems to talk about. Finn can get attacked and knocked out by wild animals in one section of the game, but there’s no lasting damage and no real fight scenes anywhere. There’s mention of some generic faerie magic, and you see it used a few times throughout the game. As with any fantasy bard worth his salt, Finn’s music is essentially magical in the way it can enact change, though it’s all of the non-violent variety. The game is generally clean, classy, and mostly friendly throughout.

    In the end, The Order of the Thorne: The King’s Challenge hearkens back to a time when video games were slower paced and more thoughtful. Those looking to explore a good-looking landscape, play a competent puzzle game, or simply sate their nostalgia will find what they’re looking for here. Some might find the $9.99 price tag might be a little high for such a short game with such little replay value; for fans of the genre, however, the game is practically a must-buy at any price.

    -Cadogan

     

  • The Shivah: Kosher Edition (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    The Shivah: Kosher Edition 
    Developed by: Wadjet Eye Games
    Published by: Wadjet Eye Games
    Released: November 22, 2013
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS, Android
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $4.99 (Steam) $1.99 (Android)
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you, Sofox, for providing a gift copy of this game!

    "A goy came up to Rabbi Moishe to ask, 'Why do rabbis always answer with a question?' To which Rabbi Moishe replied, 'Why not?'"

    The opening lines to "The Shivah" are not just a Jewish joke, they hold a key element to the gameplay of this point-and-click adventure. "The Shivah: Kosher Edition" is an update to the original game released in 2006, which helped to launch the career of game developer Dave Gilbert and, eventually, the studio Wadjet Eye Games. Gameplay is similar to the original release, only with updated graphics, voice acting, and availability on modern devices and operating systems, including Steam.

    In the game, the player steps into the shoes of Rabbi Russell Stone. The rabbi has been struggling with his temple, as his sermons have been alienating a lot of his congregation. As the bills pile up, he seriously considers giving up on his calling, his temple – and possibly even his faith. In the midst of his despair, he gets an unwelcome visitor – a police detective. Apparently, a man named Jack Lauder, a former member of Rabbi Stone's temple, has been murdered, and in his will, he left the temple $10,000. However, Lauder hated Stone, since the rabbi wouldn't officiate his marriage to a non-Jewish woman eight years previously. Being a suspect for Lauder's murder, Stone decides to do some investigating to find out why Lauder left him the money. Before too long, Stone uncovers a plot of murder, betrayal and faith that will test his own beliefs. 

    The Shivah: Kosher Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story, good voice acting; thought-provoking
    Weak Points: Extremely short; graphics could be better
    Moral Warnings: Language; violence

    The graphical style of the game is similar to a lot of adventure games popular in the mid-to late-90s, with pixellated figures, and even the text has a highly-pixellated appearance. The portraits in the game are well done, though, with the character's expressions changing depending on their mood and dialogue. Conversation choices alternate between direct lines and attitudes, including a "rabbinical answer," in which Stone will respond to a question with another question. Questions are a key part of playing the game, and often is the best way to learn things that will progress the narrative. The game also includes numerous endings, four of which result in achievements. It is possible for the rabbi to die at several points in the game, which is a change for many adventure games of these days. A player will have to be clever and pay close attention to what's happening in order to avoid an early demise or getting stuck in the game.

    Most of the gameplay consists of a typical point-and-click style, with the exception of accessing computers. To log in, the player will have to type in the proper user name and password using the keyboard. While having to guess a password may stump some players, the game contains an abundance of clues to figure out what the passwords could be. Altogether, the puzzles are not terribly difficult, and the game can be completed in two or three hours, including all the game-ending achievements. There are a few other achievements that are trickier to uncover, but with the short length of the game it shouldn't take too much experimentation to unlock them all.

    Even though the game is short, it does contain an intriguing plot and interesting implications about the nature of faith, especially for those who are called to be religious leaders. It's a big responsibility, with a lot of temptations. Without trying to give away any spoilers, it does raise to mind questions about the nature of spiritual leadership, and the narrow path that needs to be followed. Does one try to adhere to the messages that God tries to give us, even if it makes a leader unpopular? Or should one sacrifice his or her own ethics or standards as laid out in the holy scriptures in order to maintain a position of comfort? In this respect, the messages of the game goes beyond Judaism, and could apply to any religious leadership.

    The Shivah: Kosher Editions
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
    +3 points for providing a good moral lesson

    In this reviewer's opinion, this actually touches a bit on one of my criticisms of the game – even though it focuses on Judaism, it didn't seem Jewish enough. I think it would have been a fascinating way to explore the faith and the cultural elements. The game could have featured a Baptist or Pentecostal or Latter-day Saint leader without much in the way of substantial changes.. But perhaps that was the intention of the author – even though the faith may have been non-Christian, it really isn't all that different from some of the aspects that other religious leaders face, including temptation, corruption and despair.

    There are a few moral concerns to the game. Language issues do occur several times in the game. "Hell" is mentioned several times, as well as both "b-" words. Nothing stronger than that, and the references to God are done in a non-blasphemous fashion (e.g. "Would God approve of your actions?") A few people can be killed in the game, including at Rabbi Stone's hands, if the player so chooses. Blood is depicted as square red pixels, but that doesn't make the murders any less shocking. Finally, the police detective is seen smoking, and a portion of the game does take place in a bar.

    All in all, "The Shivah" is a fascinating, but short, adventure game. To play the game, questions must be asked, and after the game, many questions still remain. Not so much in the game itself, but rather in the player's life and their own spiritual journey. And really, isn't that the ultimate goal of an artist? To create a work in which the viewer is left to wonder about their own nature, or the world around them and their place in it? This brings to mind another question that often comes up in this industry – can video games be considered "art?" In my opinion, because of its thought-provoking nature, "The Shivah" should certainly be considered one of the examples placed into this category.

     

  • The Walking Dead: A New Frontier (Episodes 1 & 2) (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
    Developed by: Telltale games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release Date: December 20, 2016
    Available on: Android, iOS, PS4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Use of Drugs
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Telltale Games for sending us this game to review!

    While I haven’t watched the TV series that Telltale’s adventure games are based off of, I have played and enjoyed the previous two games.  It was quite a ride watching Clementine grow up in a world overrun with zombies.  In these two episodes, she’s grown up quite a bit and is still quite clever.  Sadly, she’s developed a sassy attitude with a foul mouth to go along with it.  Granted life is bleak in in this dire world, and bad attitudes are commonplace.  It was a pleasant surprise to find some characters who appeared to be Christian and offered to keep my character’s family in their thoughts and prayers.

    Clementine isn’t the main character in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier; that position is filled by Javier, whose life was forever changed after the death of his father.  While Javier was late to his father’s passing, he arrived in time to see his resurrection as a walker and turning some of his family members into zombies after biting them.  Since then Javier has been on the run with his niece, nephew, and his brother’s wife.

    The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: New characters are brought into Clementine’s life
    Weak Points: Previous characters killed off in flash-back scenes; episodes are only an hour long apiece
    Moral Warnings: Intense violence as you're smashing in zombie heads with whatever tools/weapons you have available; excessive profanity with f-bombs and blaspheming; sexual references and advances made; one of the characters smokes marijuana and offers you some

    Javier and his family are barely getting by, but they are survivors and they are sticking together despite some personality conflicts.  His sister-in-law Kate is not the best stepmother as she openly smokes marijuana and offers to share it with Javier while the teenage kids are in the back of the van.  On a van ride to scrounge for supplies, Kate and Javier openly talk about the difficulties of raising teenagers and how “boners and bloody underwear” changes them.  When it comes to parenting, Kate tends to be the strict one while Javier is the laid back and cool uncle/father figure.  

    Javier is a good negotiator, but sometimes violence is necessary, especially when running into territorial and trigger happy humans.  Like many other Telltale adventure games, you'll have to quickly press the Q and E buttons to dodge and land attacks. Episode one mostly deals with Javier getting separated from his family and trying to desperately reunite with them.  During his time apart, he runs into Clementine who isn’t very trusting, but at least she’s not too quick to pull the trigger.  

    Besides walkers, many characters die in this episode including some from previous seasons who are offed quickly in Clementine’s flashbacks.  Everything is rather fast paced in these two episodes that only last about an hour apiece.  The character deaths in this episode give revenge as the only reason for living for a couple of the characters.  Not only is this attitude not ideal, it is not Biblical either

    The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 32%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    Given the amount of blaspheming in this title, chances are high that the characters in this game are not regularly reading their Bibles.  Other issues worth noting is the amount of blood and gore.  There’s a scene where you must help in the process of removing a bullet and it’s pretty intense. I had to look away from my screen a bit.  The groaning and screams from the patient were believable.  As always, the voice acting is top-notch.

    Like other Telltale adventure games, the choices you make impact how the story progresses.  Many of the responses have a time limit and if you do not answer in time, your response will intentionally be silence.  There is a point in the game where you are a hostage and are told to keep quiet, and even if you do remain silent, you will still be scolded for talking.

    While the writing isn’t as good as the previous two seasons, I still enjoyed it.  Since the episodes are only an hour in length apiece, I cannot recommend paying full price for a shorter game that does not uphold the quality of its predecessors.  Please consider the violence, gore, sexual references, drug use, and intense language before picking up this game.

  • The Walking Dead: Michonne Episode 1 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Walking Dead: Michonne
    Developed by: Telltale Games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release Date: February 23, 2016
    Available on: Android, iOS, PC, Mac, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for intense violence, strong language and sexual themes
    Price: $14.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Telltale Games for sending us this game to review!

    While I haven’t seen the TV show or read the Walking Dead comics that Michonne is based off of, I have enjoyed Telltale’s previous Walking Dead entries.  While these games have an adventure game feel to them, there is plenty of action with timed responses for dodging attacks from hostile humans and zombies or responding to questions to make a good impression.  The choices you make determine the game’s story progression and after completing this hour and a half episode, your responses will be compared to everyone else’s. 

    The previous Walking Dead games were longer with five episodes, but this mini-series is only three episodes long. The price is adjusted accordingly at $15 for the entire game.  Those who are familiar with the previous Walking Dead games will know to expect lots of language and blood spilled.    In this episode there was plenty of language with f-bombs and using God’s name in vain.  While no sex scenes are shown, there is an implied relationship between two male characters.

    The Walking Dead: Michonne
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great story that changes depending on the choices you make
    Weak Points: Short with lots of quick time events/button mashing; confusing interface for setting the resolution
    Moral Warnings: Lots of hacking, slashing, and decapitating zombies with blood spraying everywhere;  strong language including the f-bomb and taking the Lord’s name in vain 

     

    Michonne knows how to wield her machete and doesn’t hesitate to lodge it into the skulls or necks of bloodthirsty zombies.   After killing endless zombies and losing loved ones, she’s wondering why she should even bother living anymore.  One of the first choices a player can make in the game is to use her last bullet on herself.     Other choices the players can make is to encourage fighting, killing, or sparing the lives of different characters in the game.  

    When somebody dies in this game, it doesn’t take long for them to turn into a zombie.  The only way to finish them off is to damage their brain with a bullet, pipe, sword, or any blunt object.  It’s always tougher to put down a character that you got to know a little bit. 

     

    The Walking Dead: Michonne
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 46%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - -7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    A good majority of this game takes place on boats which you would assume would be safe from walkers.  I was surprised to see zombies moving about underwater, but they do in this game!  Sadly, it’s not just zombies that you have to worry about.  While some of the people are kind hearted, many of them are desperate to do whatever it takes to stay alive.   

    While the game ran great for me, I did run into some confusion on how to adjust my screen resolution.  In the graphics menu I was able to set the game to full screen (it's windowed by default) and max out my screen resolution.  However, I didn't see any way to apply my settings after I changed them.  After going back to the previous menu and going back to the graphics options, my changes were lost.  The solution is to go back to the previous menu and then back to the main menu before the game prompts you to save your settings.  It's not very intuitive, but it works. 

    Overall, The Walking Dead: Michonne is a fun but mature game that should not be played anywhere near children due to its graphic violence and strong language.  Those who enjoyed the previous Walking Dead games will appreciate this miniseries.  Despite being shorter and having more quick time events than its predecessors, it has a solid story and likeable characters to reel you in.  

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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