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.



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.

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.

A Different Monster Hunter: The Witcher Review

A Different Monster Hunter: The Witcher Review

I haven’t covered a game with exorbitant amounts of content lately. I’ve stuck to smaller adventure games with few side quests and branching paths. This is my first large RPG since Dying Light, so I’m going to take a more structured approach instead of an anecdotal one.


CDProjekt Red based the Witcher series on Polish novels from the nineties about a mutated monster hunter, or witcher, named Geralt. Though he dies at the end of the books, the first game picks up at his resurrection with–AMNESIA:

downloadNot long after Geralt’s miraculous recovery, members  from the rebel group Salamandra attack Kaer Morhan, the headquarters and training grounds for other witchers. These rogues steal the mutagens and potions used to give the witchers their, for lack of a better word, superpowers. Until now these were protected secrets, and Geralt must hunt down Salamandra and figure out their plans. On your journey, you meet the residents of Vizima and the surrounding areas. You find priests, warriors, witches, merchants, and average townspeople. Soon you’ll also find that these sleepy towns are a façade that covers up a racial and political power struggle. Nonhuman races–elves and dwarves–are the lower class, and those fighting for the church are quickest to believe this. On the flip side, elves and dwarves formed the Scoia’tael, a vigilante group whose actions feed into the public’s belief that nonhumans are savage. This complicated societal structure plays well into the choice mechanics.

Like many modern Western RPGs, the Witcher series employs choices, some meaningless and some monumental. During the Prologue, you’re forced to choose which of two battles to fight–go with Triss to defend the lab or stay and fight a large monster called a frightener. Your decision affects the events that follow, and at the end, Vesemir asks Geralt if he thinks he made the right choice. If the player hasn’t caught on yet. This lets you know subtly to make your decisions carefully from here on out, even if they seem innocuous at the moment.

Unlike my experiences with Dragon Age: Origins, the Witcher series’ morality system weaves a complicated web instead of remaining on two separate poles. Geralt can to constantly switch sides of the current fight with a single choice and even stay out of political matters entirely. Witchers traditionally go where the money does, not where the passions do.

Not spoiling anything, the people you choose to support or let live out of indifference are there to help you in the end in a way that isn’t contrived like many others who attempt this format.

And that long ramble brings me to–


Now if the goal of a witcher like Geralt is to hunt beats, how is the combat? In a word: easy. Using your sword is a matter of aiming the camera at the enemy and clicking the mouse in counts of three. That is the only combo. Any upgrades to the attacks doled out are applied automatically without any additional button presses needed. The only decisions lie in which fighting style you choose and which sword. Geralt has two different swords, one for humans and one for monsters. Each sword then has three fighting styles–fast, strong, and group. Which you use depends on the number of enemies and their speed and accuracy.  At no point is there an increase in the difficulty of execution, only an increase in the opponent’s strength. This imbalance keeps there from ever being a true challenge. The only times I ever lost were when I was either unprepared or impatient.

The strategy instead lies in the use of items and magic. Geralt uses potions to increase his attack, defense, health and vitality regeneration, and other statistics. The trick is you can’t use them all at once because of toxicity and other ill effects. Using too many potions lowers your ability to fight well, so you must prioritize. Other potions give you advantages at a cost, e.g. increased accuracy for decreased defense. Then after deciding on what concoctions to swallow, you then must think about blade oils. While JRPGs depend on elemental relationships (ice and fire, water and electricity), Witcher uses the enemy’s species to dictate weaknesses. You have oils you can apply to each sword specific to necrophages, insects, specters, etc. These are essential when encountering hoards of the same enemy type. Otherwise you may get overwhelmed quickly.

Now how do you get all these potions and oils? This game has an alchemy system you can access while meditating, also known as how to pass time quickly. You use herbs you pick and monster parts you carve off of enemies to create everything you need. Each potion requires a certain quality alcohol base, and each oil needs a type of animal fat. Before you make anything or collect any ingredients, you have to find or buy the recipes and encyclopedic entries. This style creates a certain collection mechanic to make sure Geralt is the most well-informed hunter in the land. You also only have limited inventory space for these supplies, so must either constantly make potions, or prioritize which ingredients you want to collect.

Now the most integral part of any large-scale RPG is the quest system, and that is where Witcher shines. A few of the story quests continue throughout entire game with updates to your journal with each piece of new information. Then each chapter has its own main quest, whether it is exploring the bumps in the night on the outskirts of town or figuring out if there is a mole in the monarchy. AND THEN the chapter has its own contained side quests such as contracts to fight certain monsters or killing large game for trophies. AAAAND THEN you have side quests that continue throughout the entire game such as perfecting your dice poker skills or climbing the ranks as a fist fighter in local pubs. There is so much content and such a variety, but the structure keeps you from getting overwhelmed by possibility. You only obtain a certain number of quests in each chapter and must complete them immediately, helping you figure out the order in which you need to finish tasks and letting you know when you are ready to progress through the story.

And lastly that takes us to–


For a game released in 2008 for the PC, it still ran poorly on my 2014-era desktop. It constantly dropped frames and only ever hovered around 45 FPS. It crashed at least once every other time I booted it up. Whenever the game would start to lag, I would get that same heart-in-throat feeling I would from playing the Sims on my MacBook after not saving for a while (Seriously, if there was ever an example of compatibility not equaling functionality, but that’s for an other time). I also encountered certain bugs that have been around since launch. I would go looking on CDProjekt Red message boards to find a solution to what felt like a very unlikely problem only to find it had been around since the game’s inception. Once I was supposed to escape from the sewers with a ladder, but for some reason, the cutscene where the soldiers bring in the ladder just never happened. I wasted two hours running around underground thinking I hadn’t done something to trigger it only to figure out all I needed to do was load a previous save and cross my fingers.

Despite some of Witcher‘s lack of reliability, the graphics still looked great. Though the scenery and animations are dated, they are not distracting. While not the best, they still look realistic and don’t hinder a new player’s experience. It’s on par with Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origin which was released around roughly the same time.

And with that we have–


Even with its quirks and low level of difficulty, I can’t recommend it enough. To finish all the side quests, I put in over sixty hours and never got sick of it. The only thing I would do differently looking back is play on a higher difficulty. It is incredibly cheap now, and if you are looking to play through the series, start here. I got this game on sale for $1.50. No joke. Keep an eye out, and play it ASAP.

Stay tuned.


I Feel Like Falling: Mirror’s Edge Review

I Feel Like Falling: Mirror’s Edge Review

There are many reasons first-person platformers are not commonplace–depth perception, mobility, and, most importantly, controls. Mirror’s Edge does everything it can to make the formula work.

Mirror’s Edge tells a story of a world where runners–basically professional parkour enthusiasts–fight against monster-like capitalists. At least that’s what I got from the story. The game was on the shorter side for its big world, so what shone instead of the details were the characters’ relationships. At the center, yo have Faith, a runner, whose only family is her sister Kate, a cop. Without spoiling anything, this dynamic–each other’s everything  on opposite sides of a polarized world–is the meat of the sandwich…Eh, not my best metaphor, but it works.

As for the landscape of the city, I only understand that the Big Bad was the Big Bad because the game said the people in blue were bad. I’m excited for the sequel so that I can learn more about this world. The little information I was given piqued my interest in a way this title never satisfied. I want to feel and understand the political and moral motivation as clearly as I did the familial ones.

Now this game’s mechanics were solid for such an experimental IP. If you play can play with keyboard and mouse, do. The only limitation is the constant need for precise controls of both Faith and the camera. Not only do your jumps need great timing, but so does the direction in which you’re looking. “Runner vision” highlights usable objects and ledges, helping you always know your intended path in this fast-paced game. Sometimes you must run and think about where you’re going later. When leaping towards the side of a building, you have to make sure you point the camera above your intended landing spot, or you will fall short and be treated to the sound of your legs breaking against asphalt below.

In case you haven’t kept up over the months, I obviously loved this gameplay. I wish I could fly across buildings like a cross between a spy and a superhero. Though the controls take some adjusting, the tutorial explains everything and provides the perfect playground on which to practice. You don’t have to leave until you want to, letting you hone your skills before starting the campaign.

As for the graphics, they are still gorgeous years later. The stark colors are still novel with the lands of gray and brown EA normally deal in (ignoring Plants vs. Zombies and Peggle, of course), and it could easily have been made today. One hint though–don’t bother with the PhysX settings. Its incompatibility with my graphics card caused the game to drop to a record low one FPS.

Overall, I adore this title and can’t wait for Catalyst. This too short for its own good title left me unprepared for the credits. Maybe it was too short, or maybe I’m just selfish. Either way, this long awaited –and even longer only rumored–can’t come quick enough.

Not Enough Cthulu: Awakened Remastered Review

Not Enough Cthulu: Awakened Remastered Review

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Remastered is the series’ first entry to resemble the games’ now standard formula. Sadly I’m still waiting on a story I don’t lose interest in halfway through.

This game has a darker start than its predecessors from the get go. After noticing blood spatters in town, Holmes ends up in a dark cave full of Cthulu carvings and a mutilated body stuffed with snakes. Yes, everybody, we’ve got some H.P. Lovecraft up in here!

and even more Cthulu.
and even more Cthulu.

Someone in town is performing some dark rituals, and Sherlock Holmes must stop the sacrifices. Exciting, right? While the narrative starts and ends strongly, the middle is muddled and only benefits from its gameplay.

Fro the first time in the series, the great detective is a travelling man, letting the player visit not only nineteenth century London, but New Orleans and Scotland as well. With the obvious exception of Baker Street, Awakened has no backtracking or retracing your steps. Each chapter leads you to a new historic location.

The user interface and controls are even clearer. The icons finally change when hovering over an interactive item. The inventory system isn’t clunky with all the collected items a right-click away. But most exciting of all is that Awakened introduces the series’ WASD controls, something most adventure games don’t dare do. I love the flexibility this allows. It ups the difficulty it takes to find what you’re looking for, but it isn’t the same pixel hunt as past games in the series.

Now I have yet to mention the puzzles, and there is good reason for that–there really weren’t that many. All the puzzles consist of following the culprit’s trail of breadcrumbs across the Atlantic instead of…lots of Sudoku (Can you tell I’m still bitter?).

If you want to get into the series and play them in any sort of order, I would start here. While not the best, it’s far ahead of the previous ones. It is accessible to a new audience while not setting your expectations too high. Just don’t boot it up if you have an issue with reptiles or tentacles.

Stay tuned.

Mighty Girl Sleuth the Third

Mighty Girl Sleuth the Third

Another season, another Nancy Drew mystery. If you haven’t seen my past reviews from my favorite adventure game series, click here and here. Having discussed the general details of these games before, this review will focus solely on the specifics of the most current one, Sea of Darkness.

Ten years after playing my first one from the series, and I am still buying them twice a year. Though always a different theme, location, and story, the basic gameplay stays the same. While I’ve been able to plot the evolution of the Sherlock Holmes’ titles from the same genre, the Nancy Drew formula is left untouched. Though iterative, I–once again–couldn’t get enough.

This time around, Nancy travels to Iceland to look into how a treasure hunter disappeared while renovating the historic ship “Heerlijkheid” in Her Interactive’s latest game Nancy Drew: Sea of Darkness. After you arrive, you do what you normally would: talk to people, pick up stray objects that you might use later, and solve many a puzzle.

Also like usual, the characters have one-note personalities. You have loud and burly ex-sailor Gunnar, the overly polite Cultural Center worker Soren, the slippery and sneaky treasure hunter who isn’t missing Dansky, and the stiff and distant town legacy Elizabet. Everyone has the one or two necessary characteristics for a passable NPC, but they come off as caricatures. Any other adventure game with flat characters would invoke wrath, but, call it bias, I’ve never played the Nancy Drew games for the characters–I play for the puzzles.

Sea of Darkness had more intuitive environmental puzzles while the logic puzzles lacked variety. For once the abundance of hidden passageways and secret locks aren’t impossible to find. Between the books and documents you find around town and the conversations you have with the locals, you can logic out the steps needed to progress through the game without resorting to a walkthrough or a wiki. For example a mid-game trek through a set of ice caves felt straightforward and easy to navigate instead of the equivalent of sifting through a city leveled by an earthquake.

Despite this improvement, the logic puzzles are a step back. With a few exceptions, most of them are variations of Sudoku–also known as the bane of my existence. As a frequent shopper for puzzle books, I get frustrated with how Sudoku has saturated the market. I find it boring and repetitive with no departure from the formula in sight. This made the developer’s choice to replace all my favorite Nancy Drew brain teasers with ten Sudoku puzzles is a waking nightmare.

Even with my frustration, my surprise at the game’s easy-to-follow narrative and environment outshone my disappointment, making this a strong addition to this long-running series.

Stay tuned.

Did She or Didn’t She? Her Story Review

Did She or Didn’t She? Her Story Review

Her Story is a nonlinear narrative detective game that experiments with story the same way some of my favorite books and movies do.

When you open the game, you find yourself faced with a ninties-era desktop with a few Readme documents that explain the only mechanic: the database. Detectives have pulled old interview tapes from 1994, but they are in small segments and out of order. Luckily the police tagged the films with keywords you use to sift through the evidence. The system limits each search to the first five entires though, so as you listen, you must find ways to narrow down the results.

Now all the clips are multiple interviews with a woman whose husband turned up dead. When you first pull the database up, it suggests you start your search with the keyword “murder”. From there you will discover names, places, and other clues that will help you piece together what really happened to the victim, Simon.

The game gives you a couple of different ways to organize what you find. You can tag each fragment with your own keywords if you start to notice a pattern. You can also use the “Add to Session” function in the database to try to place clips from the same interview in order.

But despite these two mechanic’s usefulness, they in no add to your progress in the game or the story–it’s what makes this game different from other detective games. Not only is the story nonlinear and its interpretation up for debate (Seriously, the Reddit is getting heated over this), but it also has no formal ending. After you uncover certain video clips, you get the option to end the game yourself, an instant message popping up to ask you if you found everything you are looking for.  Because in the real world you get no certainty. You might have all the DNA, confessions, and other kinds of proof, but you know the validity of neither the evidence nor your conclusions. Reality is never simple.

When reading previews and articles about Her Story, one of the biggest discussions is about whether this title is a game or experience. While a game’s definition is subjective, I feel this is definitely one. Though the win state is nontraditional, it still exists. The developer made the player responsible for the ending of the game, and for that I am grateful.

Stay tuned.

Final Fantasy VII: Is It Necessary?

Final Fantasy VII: Is It Necessary?

Note: After some much needed family time, I’m back! I had this written up around the time of E3 but am just now getting to typing it up. It might not seem as relevant as when I wrote it, but hey, you know how the cliché goes.

One of best kept secrets at the Sony E3 conference was the upcoming console remake of Final Fantasy VII. Ever since the tech demo for the PS3 showed the potential of recreating Midgar for the modern era, fans have clamored for a full remake. Now nearly ten years later, fans are getting just that. Despite my excitement, I have an unpopular question: is it really necessary?

Graphically, it will clearly look like an improvement. Past and current players argue that its outdated graphics make it inaccessible today, but disagree. While out of the all the games, it is showing its age, I think we need a different one if we are talking about updating graphics for playability’s sake. The FF games from the NES and SNES apparently have timeless graphics, or at least that is what any indie developer would tell you to justify the heaps of pixellated platformers hitting the market lately. FFIX continued with the more classic sprite model. FFX and the entries to follow are all based on the same character style still being used today. That leaves us with the awkward first forays into the use of 3D models with FFVII and FFVIII.

Having played neither of them in their respective hay days, I didn’t have nostalgia obscuring my view of the games. Also I played through all of FFVII and the first disc of FFVIII, so I like to think I can speak on their appearance. FFVIII is not the most popular entry, but I found the way its graphics stretched across a current television impossible to look at after a while. While Cloud and Barrett look like the goofiest polygonal models with Q-tip biceps, their movements and actions in the environment are still clear. On the other hand, Squall looks like the developers tried meld the style of the FMV cutscenes with his sprite in a way that turned out as anything but cohesive.

I’m glad his bit of fan service is finally on its way after so many teases and pieces of misinterpreted information, but uncertainty tempers my excitement. Will this pull resources from the upcoming Final Fantasy XV and any other new games? What if the current team of Square Enix people can’t manage to get lightning to strike twice? Will Cloud rock a dress just as well in HD?

Regardless, I do have a few things I am either looking forward to or hoping happen:

  • Spot-on voice acting. The Kingdom Hearts series did the casting for all the FFVII characters perfectly.
  • Challenging trophies. While ultimately pointless, they make playing ports/remakes/updates more fun.
  • A clearer understanding–or possible update–to the Materia system. Reports suggest a reworking of the battle system, so hopefully this will get tweaked.

As for my long shots?

  • An emotion-filled Cloud.
  • Have the Buster Sword actually be the strongest weapon in the game.
  • Aerith lives…long enough for me to make my white mage a demigod.