Division of Puzzle Research: Puzzle Agent Series Review

Division of Puzzle Research: Puzzle Agent Series Review

The Puzzle Agent series consists of two games from Telltale stemming from them collaborating with animator Graham Annable that feel like watered-down Professor Layton games.

The series follows FBI agent Nelson Tethers as he investigates the shutdown of eraser factory in Scoggins, Minnesota. If that doesn’t sound odd enough for the federal government, Tethers works in the Puzzle Research division, and one of his co-workers is in the Vegetable Crimes division. With that said, Puzzle Agent is a modern callback to the silliness of the pre-Walking Dead Telltale game. Considering Annable worked on the Sam and Max games, this vibe makes sense, and the understated humor is what motivated me through the slower parts of the game.

Now like I said, the structure is identical to the Professor Layton games. You get straightforward story bits bookending logic puzzles of all sorts. So let’s break it down the same way.

The story is fun and quirky. Tethers is investigating the eraser factory because the ones from Scoggins are the unnamed President’s favorite. The townspeople are fascinated with puzzles and gnomes, unusual and slightly chilling for this small and snowy town. Those little lawn ornaments have never been as creepy as when they start showing up in unlikely places–and not always inanimate.

At best, the story progression is awkward. The dialogue and voice-acting is slow, and though that suits the small town, it’s not necessary. If the scrolling text in the speech bubbles went faster, I could forgive the slower voice overs. It especially doesn’t help that much of the dialogue sets the tone more than it furthers the story, making this molasses-style pace all the more impossible.

Both Puzzle Agent and its sequel feel less like two separate games and more like a two-chapter story, the first act being the first game and the other two in the second. The first ends with zero resolution, and the second ends with way too much.

Still I enjoyed the characters and the writing, my problems lying mainly with the chosen delivery method.

Now the puzzles were great though the game’s interface for them was a frustrating miss. You get your jigsaws, your ordering events, your who-ate-what dinner parties, your birds smuggling gnomes–all your average puzzle game offerings. They are all fun though sometimes so easy you don’t realize the obvious answer. Other times you can’t figure it out because the puzzle is vaguely worded.

This is the only time I feel it’s necessary to talk about the two games separately instead of as a unit. The first Puzzle Agent‘s puzzles are perfect. At no point were they unfair or poorly worded. Any time I got stuck or second-guessed myself, it was my fault. All you needed was the information the game gave you, your brain, and maybe a piece of paper if your spatial reasoning skills are shit like mine. After these great puzzles, the second game has a poor choice of words and insists you know concepts like binary code, astronomy, and calculus. Seriously, I only made it through one of the game’s puzzles because I knew dx comes after an integral sign, and googling binary code for the number four.

The frustrating thing both puzzles had in common though was their awful choice of an interface. At no point can you see both the rules and the solving area. If you’re solving a logic puzzle with five constraints, you better write those down or be okay with constantly flipping between the two screens. I used so much scrap computer paper to save on this. You solve the puzzles in a manila envelope, so it wouldn’t be hard to fathom you putting multiple pieces of paper beside each other. Ugh.

Overall, I don’t think these were great puzzle games, but they were a nice way of packaging some fun logic puzzles. Instead of feeling like a fleshed-game despite so few mechanics like the Professor Layton series manages every time, Puzzle Agent and Puzzle Agent 2 manage to make you cross your fingers you’re about to run into another puzzle before you’re bored or the game crashes.

Stay tuned.

 

In Case You Were Wondering…

In Case You Were Wondering…

So in case you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve been trying some new things lately. I love my blog (I even hit the one year mark!) but feel like I don’t get to share enough of my experiences with the games I play. I can tell you how infatuated I was with Gravity Ghost or how angry MURDERED: SOUL SUSPECT made me, but for the sake of time, I can’t tell you everything.

In an attempt to reconcile these feelings, I’m doing something new: streaming. Now I’ve streamed a couple of times in the past, but never regularly, and certainly never well. I’m eight days into a year-long live-stream challenge. The rules are as simple as you’d think: stream every day for a year. And within that challenge, I’m doing two other things:

  1. Review streams. Just like my Transistor stream on Monday, I’m trying to use my stream time to review some of the games I play. There is a lot of back and forth in the review community about what the best way to cover games from a critical standpoint is, and my thoughts fall somewhere in the middle. I think that if the written word is deemed dead in any form of journalism, the sun will fall out of the sky. But I also understand that video games are a visual and interactive media that sometimes need to be experienced to believe. So depending on the game, I might review it here with a post or over on my Twitch channel with a live stream, both of which will have my normal ramblings.
  2. SIMS SIMS SIMS. So I have also decided to go on another impossible and self-indulgent adventure. I haven’t play Sims 3 much since starting this blog since there was no reviewing or writing playthroughs of the game. In an effort to exhaust everything I can think of before I start playing the Sims 4, I’m trying to get every single lifetime wish. Basically I’m taking a game that should foster rule-free play and turning it into a job. I’ll be streaming some of this, and maybe write up some of my experiences playing through the fun–and mind-boggling boring rabbit-hole careers–for you to enjoy (or also become bored by).

If anything, I hope something here sounds fun to you. To check out any of this, go follow me at twitch.tv/heycrumbles and have fun!

Stay tuned.

Transistor Review Stream

Transistor Review Stream

Hey guys!

Later tonight I’m trying something a little different. I finished Transistor last week but am going to play through the New Game Plus mode as a way of reviewing it without spoiling it. I fell in love with this one so much, I want to experience with y’all!

Come hang out at my channel twitch.tv/heycrumbles at 9:30 p.m. EST. Woo!

1, 2, 3, 4: Counting Kingdom Mini-Review

1, 2, 3, 4: Counting Kingdom Mini-Review

Counting Kingdom is an edutainment that I think is meant for kids but was still fun to play through in one sitting on a Saturday night–because I am thrilling.

As the defender of this kingdom, you must fend off number monsters by adding them up to equal the numbers in your spellbook. You use potions to change the numbers on the board, freeze lines of monsters, and clear entire rows of foes. All of this is turn-based, so you don’t have to add too quickly. You could even use a calculator if you really wanted to.

I know this all sounds incredibly simple, and that’s for a couple of reasons. One, because it is, and two, the element of chance does up the difficulty in the later levels. The basic gameplay is very easy, making it ideal for helping your kids with addition or just helping you fine-tune your basic math skills. You can even combine the numbers on your spell cards to make it so you can clear more monsters off the board at once. If you clear the entire board in one move, you get a score bonus. The difficulty comes in when some monsters appear, and you suddenly can’t cast a single spell. You can only use monsters that are in adjacent spaces, and you have no control over neither the rows they enter from and nor the order they appear. This can leave you restarting levels on a game meant for children. I had to try some of the later levels multiple times before making it through with three stars, and it was all because of the chance.

Either way it is a fun learning tool for children and great to play together. I had fun playing by myself as an adult, but I also love math, so I could be an outlier. It’s cheap on PC and even cheaper on mobile, so it’s great for a day at home or a night on the go.

Stay tuned.

Whodunnit? MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT Review

Whodunnit? MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT Review

MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT is an investigative game that tries many different mechanics but succeeds in very few of them.

You play as Ronan, a detective who is thrown out of a window and shot at the start of the game. From there he must figure out who killed him and why before he can leave the in-between plane on earth. Ronan gets assistance from a young girl named Joy, a medium who witnessed his murder. Between her account of the events and a symbol left at the scene of the crime, he suspects a serial killer dubbed the Bell Killer took him down and must follow his trail around Salem, Massachusetts. It sounds like a thrilling concept but was somehow so boring that I kept skipping cutscenes in a story-based game. In case you haven’t realized by now, that is unheard of for me.

There are two main reasons I couldn’t stomach the narrative. One Ronan is unlikable and barely redeemable as a protagonist. His only personality trait is TOUGH, a postmortem cigarette always in hand. His only backstory is that he’s a bad boy who reformed for his now-dead wife and joined the police force. There’s nothing about him that makes me want to make sure he reunites with his wife on the other side. Besides being one-dimensional and boring, he is mean. The young girl Joy who is helping him is also looking for her missing mother. When she says halfway through the journey that her priority is to find her missing mother because there’s a chance she’s, you know, not a ghost, he calls her a bitchy teen. What’s worse? She apologizes for being too harsh. At that point I went from uninterested to wishing I could make sure he lost in the end.

Along with a leading man I couldn’t stand, the story is entirely too predictable. MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT makes the common noir mistake of using predictable red herrings. They are supposed to throw you off of the real suspect’s trail, but I never believed one of the misdirections for a minute. On the other hand, the ending was still satisfying. I saw neither the real culprit nor his or hers motive coming. If the writers had left out all the false flags, the story would have been strong. It wasn’t predictable from the start, so why the need to try so hard?

Outside of the story, the gameplay and mechanics didn’t do much to draw me in either. The investigations felt less like I was playing a detective novel and more like I was playing a glorified hidden object game without a word bank. All you do is run around the area in third person and hope a keyboard prompt pops up. At no point do you get to reconstruct the crime scene or try to make sense of the clues after you find them. Instead you sometimes answer the question, “Which clue is relevant?” Um, I like to think they all are since I spent a half hour searching the room for them. Other times you are asked to determine the order of events, but the events given have no logical time stamp on them. They are regular clues that happened in no particular order, leaving you to click on everything and using trial and error to figure out the solution.

Outside of the investigating, you spend a lot of time hunting down collectibles that contain extra story bits, and somehow this is a lot more fun. While both used the same mechanic–searching aimlessly in a limited area–not collecting every piece of lore didn’t hold up my progression for a half hour. Not finding the clue hidden behind a picture that I swear wasn’t clickable the first ten times I looked does.

Now one of my biggest pet peeves not only in games but in everything with a story is something that doesn’t keep its own rules. At the beginning of the game, tutorial Wednesday Addams tells you that you can walk through walls, but not into buildings without an open window or door, but sometimes you can, and sometimes there are ghost walls you can’t walk through even though they have the word ghost in them, and are you getting my point? You never know where you can go and when because MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT wants to pretend it has some logic to it when really the developers didn’t want to abide by any set of rules. For example you can walk through mausoleums without anyone letting you in, but not other places around town. Why? You tell me.

2015-08-28_00002
See, I wasn’t exaggerating.

Also while the game has no map, you do get waypoints that lead you to your destination, making me wonder why there couldn’t be a map in the first place. Ronan is a local, so why you have to wander around Salem like a tourist who spilled Gatorade all over her map is completely illogical. I wish the developers had at least taken on the approach that large-scale RPG makers do where locations become available on a map as you explore them. Backtracking to find collectibles was nearly impossible because everything in town looks the same, and the waypoints constantly rubber-banded in terms of how far away I was from my destination. The moment you got only a few meters away, you were either met with an impassable obstacle or the distance suddenly went back up to thirty or so meters.

Now I know Salem’s residents weren’t the brightest back during the Witch Trials, but they haven’t seemed to get any smarter. To keep the town from feeling empty, the developers programmed NPCs to wander around the streets in the same pattern over and over again. Considering the game takes place in the middle of the night while a serial killer is on the loose, deserted streets would make sense. Instead we get a bunch of insomniac townspeople with no sense of self-preservation.

My last complaint is specific to the PC version. The menus and inventory were hard to navigate because every time you opened them up, you never knew whether you need the keyboard or the mouse to move around. I would spend minutes throwing my mouse around before I realized it wasn’t working and needed to use the arrow keys. the bane of a right-handing PC gamer’s existence.

In case you can’t tell, I couldn’t wait for this game to end after playing for only an hour. It was full of ideas that were never fleshed out, and an impossibly impossible story. It’s frustrating and not worth your time.

Stay tuned.

Floating Frenzy: Gravity Ghost Review

Floating Frenzy: Gravity Ghost Review

Gravity Ghost is a physics-based puzzle platformer with an art style and tone that would hit even the Grinch in the feels.

The game follows a young girl named Iona around space as she tries to find her pet fox. Along the way you contact multiple animal guardians and deliver spirits to their woodland creature bodies. While exploring the universe, you’re also treated to flashbacks from Iona’s life. She lived on a rural island with her parents and siblings and was hard to tame. She spent all her time in the woods and was interested in what a local called “space geometry”. These are the first of a few tidbits that draw parallels between her life on earth and her journey through the universe. Though the premise and narrative are simplistic from the start, some moments will still knock you over flat. After finishing the game, I might have laid on the floor with my dog crying. Fortunately there is no photographic proof, so we will instead leave it as a…possibility.

The art style is even more heartbreaking, but in a good way. The contrast between the earth tones of the real world and the neon lights of space helps create the grounded and ethereal tone that run alongside to each other. The use of chalk drawing adds the nostalgic glow of childhood and a style I haven’t seen before. This game placed as much importance on art design as mechanics, and it paid off with a unique experience.

But what are those mechanics?

Essentially all you do is float around and collect stars. You pick up little star chunks to make your hair grow longer, and then use your mane to transform planets into Earth, Wind, and Fire–ahem, sorry–earth, wind, and fire. And that’s really it. No dying, no fighting, just endless anti-gravity frolicking on a serene and safe acid trip.

This gem is only a few hours long and perfect for relieving some stress in a way that’s different from other games. Instead of relying on the controversial concept of catharsis, the design lets you enjoy failure by orbiting around the wrong planet in peace. Though short, it has great replay value. Not because of a lot of content or procedurally-generated levels, but because the existing levels never lose their charm. The gameplay is a great pick-me-up and the story for when you need a good cry.

Stay tuned.