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The Khezu in Monster Hunter Looks Familiar

Oh, this monster doesn't look so bad. It doesn't even have thick skin or scales.
Oh, this monster doesn’t look so bad. It doesn’t even have thick skin or scales.
I can only fight you if I can't see your face, Khezu. Die.
I can only fight you if I can’t see your face, Khezu. Die.
OH DEAR LORD GET AWAY FROM ME
OH DEAR LORD GET AWAY FROM ME

Forty minutes later in Monster Hunter…

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Hey Look, Another Adventure Game: Cognition, Episode One Review

Hey Look, Another Adventure Game: Cognition, Episode One Review

Note: Though I had a number of technical issues with the first episode, I’m holding off on elaborating on the performance aspect of the game until I get further into the series. 

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is an episodic, paranormal, point-and-click FBI procedural, and it matches the tedium of bureaucracy (and my description of it) perfectly.

Erica Reed is a FBI agent who lost her brother to a serial killer three years ago, and it colors her reckless style of investigation. Apparently the term, “Wait for backup,” sounds like a foreign language to her. She also has psychic powers that allow her to channel past memories, future memories, and read minds through the sense of touch. In the first episode, you get a close look at her day-to-day life, relationships with other agents and employees, and the quirks of her personality. For someone whose every other action is accompanied by an eye roll, she is a prankster, hard worker, and stubborn woman. With all the adventure games I’ve played as of late, I’m pleased with the amount of characterization in a short amount of story; I wish I felt the same way about the gameplay.

I’ve never finished an episodic game–something hard to imagine in the height of Telltale’s titles–so I’m not sure if the style of the first episode is expected, but this first episode was short on consistent gameplay and instead piled on new mechanics. Storywise, I enjoyed seeing Erica’s powers develop, but it made the gameplay unbalanced. She has three types of powers:

  • Cognition. Touch recently used items and see an attached action or memory.
  • Projection. Combine three related objects or events to reenact an event.
  • Regression. Clear up a person’s memories by pinning down the details.

Cognition was by far the easiest technique and the one you use the most. Projection came into play a few times, and I struggled with all of them, never learning how to best apply it since every room has too many combination options–far more than the tutorial segment. Regression was the most fun, but my understanding was as murky as the memories I was trying to clear up. In the tutorial, you recall the correct answers from earlier parts of the game, but in the one other instance, you must do research, something it took me an hour too long to figure out. Basically, the psychic abilities played out like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” without any power that was just right.

As with any point-and-click, the backtracking was abundant, but this time it works. You run (thank goodness it’s running) from office to office, crime scene to crime scene, and it put me in the right mood. The realism down to the daily tedium of waiting on the elevator and filling out paperwork is admirable for someone who grew up on procedurals and wished she was a spy or detective. But one design choice pulled me out of the immersion. Having to perform actions in a needlessly specific order is simultaneously an adventure game tradition and one of my biggest pet peeves. If I manage to think ahead of the game’s progression, I want to move forward, not be held back. Instead of making me proud of myself, it confused me by forcing me to guess the hidden stepping stones to the next part. For example, Erica was having trouble with her visions and needed to revisit a psion who had already helped her. Each time I tried to go the antique shop she owned though, Erica said she had no reason to go there. Doesn’t she know I know better? No, instead she wasn’t reassured until she met a girl at a cemetery who had also visited the woman. Yes, this spoke greatly to Erica’s stubbornness in theory, but in practice it only highlighted her stupidity.

With the first episode’s setup, I’m excited for the next installment in the game. I hope I can attribute these issues to exposition and are not a sign of things to come. Stay tuned.

Everything I Do Wrong in Monster Hunter Is Right For Me

Everything I Do Wrong in Monster Hunter Is Right For Me

I can’t stop playing Monster Hunter. Guys, I can’t stop. Seriously, my 3DS is turned on and at my desk right now waiting for me when I finish writing this. I seriously cannot wait to go fishing again.

Wait, what?

In case you can’t tell, I am clearly doing something wrong. In case you don’t know, the Monster Hunter series is exactly what it sounds like–you hunt monsters. So why can’t I remember the last new monster I fought?

  1. Gathering. I think the caravan I work for is filled with hunter-gatherer and nomadic sort of folk, yet for some reason, they are incapable of none of the above. In normal video game fashion, the only one able to do anything is me–even fishing and mining. Seriously, one of the first towns to which you travel has a career miner and yet I’m the only one who can take a pickax out to the fields. While the fetch quests is probably only filler, I still spend more time picking leaves and weeds up off the ground than anything else. Oh, there’s a giant dragon terrorizing a band of kittens? Eh, there’s limitless honey over here. I know my priorities. I even do the Harvest Tours where your only goal is to aimlessly pick flowers for fifty minutes before battling a new monster. It is Dragon Age: Origins all over again where I enjoy the busy work that others criticize the series for. Don’t ask me to get you eggs though. They are useless except for the puns (Egg-speditions. Really, Capcom?). I don’t know why I can carry a hundred mushrooms without dropping one, but this giant wyvern egg is out of my league. How about I scramble it out here on my BBQ pit and pack it in Tupperware instead?
  2. Choosing a weapon. I can’t do it. Ideally, you are supposed to find one or two weapons your prefer–maybe one melee and one ranged–and stick with those, learning all the intricacies and crafting the best possible builds. Instead I keep finding more and more weapons I love. Out of all the ones I tried, the only one I didn’t like was the traditional bow. Currently I’m trying to get the best dual blades, hunting horn, insect glaive, and light bowgun, and I haven’t even tried half of the selection. This means my rare resources are stretched further. Luckily, the closest I’ve come to a gambling addition is playing the probabilities on what ore I’m going to mine.
  3. Expeditions. I know these are new to the series, and I don’t know how much time the average player is supposed to spend on them, but I think I’ve done more of these than traditional quests. If it says a wild palico or poogie might appear–or in normal worlds, cats and pigs–I disembark without a second thought. Who needs story progression and new raw materials when I can get a ninja outfit for my pet pig? Also the treasure areas mean I can possibly get battered, broken, and rusted armor and weapons, also known as more time to play the probabilities. At least I’m only wasting away my valuable time instead of my meager finances.
  4. Single Player 4 Lyfe. Outdated language aside and forty hours in, I have yet to hunt with friends. I’ve talked about my aversion to multiplayer before, and it still applies here. I already know I don’t play right and don’t want to either be reminded or make anyone else suffer that. Instead of slow and methodical movement and combat, I take the angry toddler approach–all might, no thought, and a good bit of running away. I have fun when I play, and I know I’m not great; it’s more fun for me to relish that in solidarity instead of putting it on display for other people. Let’s ignore how me writing about it here totally contradicts that.

Basically no matter what I do wrong, I still can’t get enough. By the way, if you have ever tried the series before and found it slow, confusing, or impenetrable, check out some of the following Youtube channels. They help a lot and are each done in a different style, so find what works for you. I highly recommend it.

  • Kitty Kat Gaming melds walkthrough and casual Let’s Play perfectly.
  • ProJared does a lot of great beginner’s guides. The link is to his material on MH3U, but the advice is still great and applies.
  • Arekkz Gaming has detailed tutorials on all the weapons, game modes, and quests that are edited to perfection.

Stay tuned.

Baby Boggy in the Shallow, Green Swamp: Detective Grimoire Review

Baby Boggy in the Shallow, Green Swamp: Detective Grimoire Review

Detective Grimoire is a PC port of a mobile adventure game developed by SFB Games. Its art style, voice acting, and pacing are spot-on, making the exceedingly easy gameplay a lot easier to swallow.

You play as Detective Grimoire (obviously) as he investigates the murder of the owner of Boggy’s Bog, a tourist attraction smack dab in the middle of the creature by same name’s habitat. Somehow the founder ignored all things logical and ecological and transported the swamp and all of its spookiness to the middle of nowhere, and now the employees are capitalizing on it despite many others disagreeing with the practice. Therefore it is no surprise when the owner turns up dead, and everyone is a suspect.

I know I have complained about mobile ports to PC before (and if you didn’t know, look here), but this is an instance where it works. The basic touch controls translate perfectly to a point-and-click system. The only oddity is the puzzles as they are clearly meant to let the players mess with the touch screen than actually have anything to solve. They are not just easy by adventure game standards–they are easy period. For once I even turned off hints and highlighted areas to amp up the difficulty, and I don’t usually shy away from any help with this genre.

All you have to do is make sure the handles don't cross the middle. That's it. Nothing else.
All you have to do is make sure the handles don’t cross the middle. That’s it. Nothing else.

From simple mazes to mixing primary colors, the puzzles work more like tasks, never making me pause for a moment to think about the solution. There really weren’t very many, keeping it from hindering the gameplay; instead the focus was on conversation.

Usually conversing with NPCs is one of the most tedious parts of the genre, but here it was the highlight of the entire experience. Outside of a few set dialogue options, you are free to present clues and the profiles of other suspects as you please. You can either take the efficient path where you try to only ask about relevant evidence (how I started) or ask them about anything and everything you have in your trenchcoat’s pockets (how I ended up playing).

 

The requisite joke about video games.
The requisite joke about video games.
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The inexplicable logic of inventory systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The interrogations are the best part. By asking questions and uncovering clues, you get a dialogue option called, “Challenge,” for each suspect. Here you can ask them a series of questions that will catch them in a lie, get them to tell the entire truth, or make them remember something important, OF course these are in line with the game’s overall easy difficulty, working like a multiple choice test where you get an infinite number of retakes. Sometimes you get to choose your own witty banter between important conversations, letting you decide what kind of smartass detective you want to be.

If you are a completionist, this game’s default interface will get you excited. It’s littered with percentages for you to max out, and your notes have blank spaces for every piece of evidence you have yet to find.

100 percent has never come so easily.
100 percent has never come so easily.

 

And every time you do find a new clue, you get a chime. Actually, the entire game’s sound design is spot on. All the noises for right and wrong answers and the variations in the score are as beneficial to the mood and setting as the writing and art style. The few chosen moments of silence are expertly done, the screen going dark, the font turning read, and the character’s voice deepening ever so slightly.

Overall Detective Grimoire was a quirky piece of noir I was hoping for, and not even the lack of challenge could bring it down. If you are looking for a few hours of oddities worthy of modern-day Cartoon Network, check it out. Now for you to wait and find out when I will ever get off of this adventure game kick. Stay tuned.

A Family Curse: Blackwell Legacy Review

A Family Curse: Blackwell Legacy Review

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was excited to find more to play from Wadget Eye Games, the publisher of A Golden Wake, and I had Blackwell Legacy waiting in my library. Like the former, it is a traditional point-and-click only this time with a lot more ghost hunting and dense puzzle solving.

The story revolves around Rosangela Blackwell whose aunt has just passed away. She grew up with practically no one and took care of herself, but all the pity in the world wouldn’t make me want to spend more than a short elevator ride with her. And although she works part-time for a newspaper, and her social anxiety and pessimism is exaggerated to the greatest degree.  Also her character traits are the reason for the impossibility of the game’s very first puzzle. Rosangela refuses to approach her neighbor in the park because she is surrounded by people, so you have to walk back and forth until you’ve tangled the leash of the neighbor’s dog around the lamp-post it’s tied to. This forces her neighbor to leave the crowd of three whole people to talk to her. For a title that presents itself with 2-D environments, this 3-D logic kind of solution is hard to figure out–especially in the very first puzzle! I’ve said before your success in adventure games is often based in your ability to interpret the developer’s kooky logic, but I was hoping for some kind of learning curve–not an impossible wall to climb. Here you can’t even use prior knowledge to understand. After nearly a half-hour of going everywhere and clicking on everything, I had to look it up. It’s an ego blow to avid point-and-click fans.

After this confusing start, Rosangela gets a call from her editor asking her to report on the suicide of a local college student right after she discovers her family’s ghostly secret. I won’t get into the details because it is explained fully so far into the game that I don’t want to ruin it, but mainly she comes from a line of mediums and has a paranormal partner. Your goal is what you’d expect: help the restless spirits make peace.

As for the rest of the frustration, I was the only person to blame. Not doing things in the right order will keep dialogue options from activating. I would miss objects I could click on, leaving me without the literal pieces of the puzzle. It hurt to have so much trouble with these because they were often my favorite mechanics. For example, the notepad with all of my information and what I use to talk to all the NPCs made me feel like a real reporter and detective, and if there is something I love, it is to live out my Nancy Drew dreams. Once I finally figured it out, it made sense, but I didn’t get the full immersion I was hoping for due to my confusion.

Between the story and the mechanics, the story is what shone here, or what there was of it. I expected the length, but it felt like a tutorial or prologue to a game. I got enough time to get to know the two main characters and the basic style. A series with five games over eight years, and it feels like the developers were already planning sequels. Unlike the common cash grab motive you suspect with many companies, here it is as if they knew they had a greater story to tell. I just wish a little more of it was realized ahead of time and put in the first installment. And the side characters were flatter than the coast. They were either caricatures or bland with few exceptions. The recently deceased collegiate’s roommate was great–a typical anti-establishment shell filled with normal and varied human reactions. I caught her in a small lie, and her defenses crumbled, turning her into a real person. The same isn’t true for the others. The RA was nothing but a vehicle for jokes about guys with girl names. The girls at the center of the mystery were all empty canvases with one trait a piece to give them a semblance of personality–and even the choice to give them any characteristics serves the mechanics more than the story.

I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the game, but I did. I didn’t get enough time to truly enjoy the good parts, and I don’t have any more games from the series waiting in my Steam library. I highly recommend playing it, but maybe try to get the series all at once; then you can get a fuller experience. But if you are happy with a three-hour introduction to the world, go right ahead and try Blackwell Legacy. It’s great fun.

Stay tuned.

I Was Blinded by Science: Sokobond First Thoughts

I Was Blinded by Science: Sokobond First Thoughts

Sokobond is a PC puzzle game that combines logic, strategy, and chemistry into a simple and slick experience, but it does not come without its difficulty.

Your main goal on each level is to create a molecule using the atoms given. You can only control how one of the elements moves and cannot rotate it at will. This means the path you need to take to form the mystery molecule is the real challenge, not identifying which one you are trying to form. I have to say that thrilled me considering my abounding love for puzzles and complete ignorance to many of the basics of science. Despite doing decently in Chemistry in college, I can’t for the life of me remember what determines how many electrons an atom has and at this odd hour of night can’t find an explanation that makes sense. If you are smarter than me and the knowledge is of any use to you though, I have yet to meet an element with any more than four electrons though make sure to consider that I have only solved half the puzzles.

The visuals are clean and uncomplicated, only illustrating what is necessary for the task at hand. The atom you control moves promptly by using the arrow keys, and I have yet to encounter a problem with responsiveness or accuracy of movement. Luckily the game comes with an undo button, letting you go back one move, something helpful in a game with an infinite number of turns. Instead of a linear progression, you gain access to all locked levels touching the one you just finished on the grid which is starting to take the shape of the periodic table. This unique way of accessing levels allows you to move on to another puzzle when you get stuck, helping squelch some of the frustration I felt with the more difficult ones.

The best part of this game is subtle–the learning. The win screen after each level is a clear lesson. You get information on the molecule you created–what it is, where it’s found in the real world, its uses, and other interesting facts. Here are few of many:

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What you don’t realize is happening is you’re developing a slow understanding of how molecular make-up works. I was never an expert at chemistry in high school, but now I know that atoms bond through their electrons and must stop once they run out of free ones; atoms can even double and triple bond if there are enough free electrons. If schools used this level of interactivity and creativity for the more complex subjects such as math or science, we would all be better off.

Stay tuned.

Welcome to Coral Gables: A Golden Wake Review

Welcome to Coral Gables: A Golden Wake Review

A Golden Wake is a slice of historical fiction based in the Florida land boom of the 1920s. After Alfie Banks loses his job at his father’s real estate agency in Manhattan, he moves to Miami to help George Merrick open up Coral Gables and make his father proud. This point-and-click adventure title uses real historical and local figures and bases its events around the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, and two landmark hurricanes. You are a man put in a desperate situation as he repeatedly tries to follow his true American Dream, and you find yourself making unthinkable decisions because you feel for him.

For a small game from a one-man studio, the details are closely attended to. It is fully voice acted with Alfie’s character sounding like a spot-on Rob Lowe impression. The writing is everything you could ask from a period piece, down to corny one-lines like, “Ain’t that just the berries?” The graphics are basic, reminiscent of the pixellated adventures in the 1990s. The developer hit exactly what he was aiming for though the occasional attempts at adding pupils look a little…kooky:

The game is easy by point-and-click standards–and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For you to make it through your average adventure game with little to no trouble at all, you must follow whatever convoluted logic the creator had while in development. If you can’t get into this often impossible mindset, the only thing you can use is luck. Here you get your options narrowed down and clear tasks asked of you by the self-appointed movers and shakers Alfie works for. Even better is locations disappear from the map of Miami as you finish and find everything you needed to. This means that if you start to take the “click all over the screen and hope for the best” approach, you won’t waste your time somewhere with nothing to find.

Though I appreciate and respect the authenticity in the details, especially considering this title comes from a one-man indie studio, it becomes grating after a while. For example, each time you leave your sales office, you must stick around while Alfie walks to his lemon of a T-Bird, waits for the engine to turn over, and then watch it crawl out of the dusty parking lot.  When working within a genre often filled with wrong turns, missed chances, and careless mistakes, you don’t want to sit through a repetitive and unstoppable animation before you can backtrack to the right place. Some of the descriptions are unneeded. At the beginning of the game, Banks put his hat on his desk. If you clicked on it, he went on to explain that he sets in on his desk because the office doesn’t have a coat rack. Even though said hat played as a catalyst for future events, I still didn’t need to know that.

Technically it was great despite its simplicity. Occasionally I had to restart the game because the text windows started exiting out automatically before I could read them, but it wasn’t a hassle. You can save any time, and the load times are snappy.

For the story alone, I would have to recommend it. It is a small piece of history that I honestly wasn’t aware of but now want to read everything about. At one point you have to persuade William Jennings Bryan to do promotional work for you. Where else can you do that? It is short and more effective for it. If you have any interest in the subject, it is worth playing through with a walkthrough merely to enjoy the pacing and writing.

I read some customer reviews and many said this wasn’t their favorite from the publisher which has me pretty excited to play the others I have waiting for in my library. If it gets better than this, I have a fun few weeks to look forward to.

Stay tuned.