Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My current gaming thoughts

Devil's Triangle

As I mentioned in a couple recent posts, Big Fish Studios released a new game in their Hidden Expedition series: Hidden Expedition - Devil's Triangle. My wife and I have had a little bit of time to start testing this game out. So far, it's beautiful, as would be expected. The music is good, the puzzles are interesting so far, and the story is pretty cool. I like the gadgety feel to the game. Submarines and mysterious locations are fun topics for a game. So, as of now, I give this one a thumbs up. We'll see how it holds up as I find time to progress further into the game.


What I'm Playing

Currently, I'm trying to get through two games so I can review them. Those games are:

Expect very high marks for both games once I review them. I'm having a blast with these gems.


Needles in the Haystack

As you know, there are always a load of new casual games being released. Due to the nature of such a market, not every game can be great or even good. As casual gamers, we look around, hoping to invest our hard-earned money in only the best of these games. I haven't tested every new game, but I've tested some. I'll list my favorites for you here. I recommend you try these. They are my personal highlights from the last few months. I haven't finished any of these, but I'd like to.



Girl HOGs and Girl TMGs?

You'll remember that I recently posted about what I call Girl HOGs - that is, hidden object games which either
  • put you in the position of a young female, or
  • are advertised by an image of a young female
Well, I've recently noticed that the majority of time management games have you playing as a young female as well, though they are usually not presented in the same way as Girl HOGs, which seem tailored to attract male players. In the case of Girl TMGs, you'll typically play as a cartoony young lady. This is just interesting to me. Are the audiences for these games that different? I would have thought that the younger players would prefer finding hidden objects and older players would prefer managing time, money, and other things. But the advertising of these game categories seems to be the reverse of my assumption.

I guess, no matter what the market is, females sell. The marketers at these game companies know that, and they simply can't help themselves. Girls like playing as girls, and guys like playing as girls. What a world.


Speaking of HOGs

Hidden object games were what drew me into the casual games world. I remember years ago when my mother-in-law introduced me to Mystery Case Files: Huntsville. But I've noticed in recent weeks that I've actually grown somewhat tired of finding hidden stuff. I've found much more mental stimulation by engaging in time management and building games. I like that such games require you to manage resources, while always giving you the opportunity to improve in your skills. Some of these games are just so fun. I've realized that I don't really get into the restaurant games like the Dash series. I prefer the emphasis on building things and making money from them. These games seem to have more things to manage and control, which adds more layers of depth.

Have you grown weary of any types of casual games? Post a comment to share!

Friday, October 23, 2009

News - Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle - tomorrow!

A couple days ago, I linked you to the screenshots for Big Fish's new Hidden Expedition game - Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle.

Tomorrow is the official release date! So make sure to visit Big Fish's site tomorrow to download this new game!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

News - Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle!

I really enjoyed both Hidden Expedition: Amazon (one of my favorite HOGs) and Hidden Expedition: Everest.

Now, Big Fish has another hidden expedition game in the pipeline - Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle!



They've released screenshots of the game. They look beautiful. Go and see them for yourself!

If this upcoming game is as good as some of the newer Big Fish Studios releases (such as Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst and Drawn: The Painted Tower), then you should keep $6.99 handy for when this game shows up on the Big Fish site.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Junky magic school! - a review of Abra Academy

Today, we look back at an older hidden objects game: Abra Academy!

What I liked

  • Memorable and fitting music
  • Never too difficult

What I didn't like

  • Returning to the same rooms all the time
  • Crummy art outside of hidden objects scenes


Quick Plot

You're a young witch training at a magic school (obviously inspired by Harry Potter's Hogwarts). Pass your exams by - you guessed it - finding stuff in messy rooms.


Highlights

The best thing about this game (for some people) is the simplicity of it. If you're a fan of games like Mystery Case Files: Huntsville,
then this game will be right up your alley. In the same tradition, Abra Academy has you going back to the same several scenes over and over to find new batches of things. This is just a straightforward hidden objects game. You'll be finding stuff - lots of it.

The only thing that breaks up the monotony is two mini games which have you pulling items off an assembly line and dropping them into a cauldron, or putting letters onto a stone to make words.

You'll have to finish 4 years at the magic school, with 6 levels per year. Each level consists of finding objects at a bunch of locations on the school grounds - laboratory, observatory, conservatory, etc.


The simplicity of the game also happens to be the game's biggest weakness. For many of you, this game just won't present enough variety in the gameplay. If you've played every other HOG, you won't find much new here, except for the theme.

One more negative: While the hidden objects scenes have good graphics, the character art looks pretty amateurish. There isn't much graphical beauty outside of the hidden objects levels.

One more positive: I was surprised that the music in this game was actually quite good. It has the whimsical sound you'd expect in a game about a magic school. I found myself whistling tunes from the game throughout the day after playing. In fact, the music is probably the best thing about the game.


Suitable for the family?

Sure. My kids joined in to help me find things - especially animals and bugs. The game is about kids, so there's nothing offensive or creepy.


The family man's final ruling

I could take or leave this game. While it was a pleasant diversion, there's nothing really unique or shiny about it. I only recommend this game to die-hards who want to find MORE STAWF!

You'll like the game if...

  • You're a die hard HOG fan, especially if you like Harry Potter and magic schools

You won't like the game if...

  • You want something unique, engaging, challenging or complex
  • You don't love HOGs


My rating:

If you want to play Abra Academy, click below:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

HOG trends?

I've noticed a recent but obvious trend in hidden objects games. Have you noticed it?

I'll call the trend "Girl HOGs" - hidden objects games which revolve around a young woman. I've compiled a table below to demonstrate what I'm talking about.

Release DateGame
July 4
July 11
July 12
August 15
August 19
September 24
September 29
October 6
October 7


This is just a few of them, and this doesn't include the hidden objects games whose advertising images center around the image of a young woman.

Has "sex sells" even made it's way into the casual games market? Is the objectification of females really what it takes to sell games?

Fortunately, there are still several other HOGs which either
  • have you playing as a male character, or
  • have you playing as a little girl rather than an attractive young woman, or
  • have you playing as a woman, but you never see yourself, or
  • have you playing as some kind of creature
Some such games include:



If you're worn out on the Girl HOGs trend, why not give one of these games a try?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stay outta my garden! - a review of Magic Farm: Ultimate Flower

I decided to give this lesser-known time management game a try, and I don't regret it. Read on to find out what I thought of Magic Farm: Ultimate Flower!

What I liked

  • Lovely scenery
  • Experience-based growth
  • Buy-and-sell economics
  • Good level length
  • Adequate game length
  • Cute music

What I didn't like

  • Forced money-loss
  • Poor English


Genre

Time management / economic / roleplaying


Quick Plot

Save your missing parents by building a handful of successful farms from the ground up and employing the aid of people who can help you.



Highlights

Experience-based development

Everything you do in the game earns you experience points. In this way, the game has a roleplaying element to it. Periodically, as your experience points accrue, you are given the opportunity to upgrade one of yours, or your pet dragon's, stats. This allows you to choose what you and your dragon are most skilled in. This includes skills like fighting off pests, watering plants, and making a better profit from your plant sales.

Each flower you plant also improves with experience. As you water and harvest flowers from a plant, it will grow to a second level, and eventually a third level. The higher the level, the more valuable the flowers produced.

You also grow in your bouquet-building ability. You start at experience level 1 and grow to levels 2 and 3. Higher levels just mean less clicking and dragging. By level 3, you click on the bouquet order and it fills itself.

Music

The cute, catchy music in the game was a nice accompaniment for many hours of pro gardening. It reminds me of the music in Gunbound.

Graphics

The artwork in the game is really good. The scenes are pretty and well-drawn. All the plants look cool, and they grow in coolness as they change form into better plants. The characters you meet in town look pretty good as well. The comic-book-style art in between sections of the story is the only weak art in the game.

Time

Level length: each level counts as a "day" in the game. Some time management games have levels that feel too long. That was how I felt with Mystic Inn. But in this game, the level length is like the littlest bear's porridge - it's just right.

Game length: I've rarely played a game that's too long. But some casual games run on the short side. This game seemed to be a good length, and it stays fun right up to the end.

Time management element: Big Fish calls this a time management game. This is because you have to do a whole lot of stuff with the time you have each day. This includes:
  • watering plants
  • harvesting flowers
  • fighting off pests who come to eat your plants
  • directing your helper (a mini pet dragon)
  • refilling your water buckets from the water source
  • using the special item for each farm (statues and such)
As your farms grow, you will find yourself clicking like mad all over the place, especially in the later levels. There is a lot to track at certain times. You'll never be bored.

Economics

This is very much a money-making game. You have to work hard in your garden, and then sell the flowers you harvest. After each level, you can:
  • fill orders for bouquets, which earns you more money depending on the complexity of the bouquet.
  • buy water to refill your buckets
  • buy new upgrades for your garden
  • buy and sell plants
  • talk to people in town
Most of the game has you fulfilling requests for people in town. You bring them flowers or money and they do favors for you. This is the story element of the game, which takes you to the five different gardening locations on your quest.

My gripes

No savings: The thing that got me all rankled was the fact that the game robs you of the opportunity to save up some capital in preparation for your next farm. I would save up tons of money on my current farm before moving to the next one and then a story event would "explain" why I lost all my money. The game forces you to start fresh for each new farm (with the exception of the second farm), and it gives you no warning before you lose your hard-earned bankroll. It would have been cool to have the freedom to save (if you're willing to put in the work) and then have an easier time starting your next farm.

I also thought it would have been cool if they let you go back to all your previous farms, but once you get to the 3rd farm, the first two farms are off-limits for the rest of the game.

Poor English: The thing that bothered my wife most of all was the poor English. I don't know what country this game comes from, but the English is bad. You can (almost) always understand what they're trying to say, but it's usually choppy and awkward. While this language issue doesn't hurt the game too much, it would still be nice if these developers would get a fluent English speaker to edit the game text before the game goes on the market.


Suitable for the family?

Yes. My wife enjoyed playing it, and our kids enjoyed watching both of us play through the game. It was actually helpful to have the little ones at my side pointing out things I'd miss, like a glowing statue or a pest chomping on one of my plants. They liked all the various creatures that came to attack my gardens, from bees to crabs to lemurs. And they liked the little helper dragon named Robin. Everything in the game is colorful and bright.


The family man's final ruling

This is a fast-clicking economic time-management game that my wife and I both really enjoyed. We found that once you sit down, you want to keep playing and playing because there is constant advancement. There's always something new and better to achieve. It's fun to watch your farms grow and become successful. The friendly music
contributes to the light-hearted flower-plucking experience. Expect hours of fun with this game.

You'll like the game if...

  • you like quick-clicking time management
  • you like games with a "happy" atmosphere
  • you are a fan of gardening and flowers
  • you like business-building games

You won't like the game if...

  • you don't like fast-paced games
  • you don't like economic games


My rating:

If you want to play Magic Farm: Ultimate Flower, click below:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Find the pirate! - a review of The Spirit of Wandering: The Legend

Being a fan of Artogon's Treasure Seekers games, I jumped at the opportunity to play this lesser known title from the same developer, a pirate-themed game called The Spirit of Wandering: The Legend.

What I liked

  • Good music
  • Wonderful graphics
  • Pirate theme

What I didn't like

  • Lack of variety
  • Weak ending


Genre

Hidden objects


Quick Plot

You (a female from a pirate crew) are searching for the spirit of your pirate lover who was lost at sea. Talk to the spirits of the other dead pirates from your crew to find out where your man is.



Highlights

Eye candy

When graphics and interface are sweet-looking, I pay attention. Great graphics are a sign of a developer who took time to attend to the details of the user experience. Artogon hasn't failed yet in this department. Whether it be the their hidden objects games or the cute marble-popper, Charma: The Land of Enchantment, Artogon has one of the best graphics teams out there. Everything is polished, sleek, and realistic.

They take the time to put various animations here and there, adding atmosphere to the hidden objects scenes. One thing that always pleased me was the little pirate ship which resides in the center of the title bar at the top of the screen during the game. A little oval frame houses an animated ship which goes up and down on the waves, sails flapping in the wind. The jeweled mouse pointer was also cool-looking. And I couldn't help but take a few minutes to admire the overhead map which shows all the areas you've visited - ports, islands, ocean, etc. I appreciate anyone who can create graphics like that.

Music

The Artogon team always gets good music. In this game, the music is fittingly piratical. I especially liked the music in the treasure-grabbing scenes, in which you look at a room piled with scattered gold and jewels and try to grab as much as you can in the time allotted.

List of objects

Hidden objects games all have some method of listing the objects hidden in a scene. This game used a method of describing each item using riddles. So, instead of "pipe" it would say something like, "a smoker's instrument." Once you have found all of the items in the list, you pick up a magical magnifying glass and move it around the screen until it lights on fire. This means you've found a magical hidden item. Once you've gone through a few lists of items and located all the magical items, you're done with that scene.

Lack of variety

I have one gripe about the game - things don't change much. You'll find the same objects over and over as you go from scene to scene. Another mask, another telescope, another jug of water. I really wish they would have included a much more varied assortment of objects.

Similarly, whereas Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold took you to diverse locales and a few different types of puzzles to solve along the way, The Spirit of Wandering: The Legend doesn't give you any variety besides moving to new locations and giving you a treasure-grabbing fest every so often. Accordingly, you'll probably want to play this in short chunks of time rather than tackle a bunch in one sitting.

Suitable for the family?

Yes. Except for the starting screen, which looks like a mushy romance novel (barf), everything seemed fine for kids. My kids came over frequently to help me locate items. I just quickly clicked past the image of the bare-shouldered desperate woman clinging to her ghost-man each time I started the game. Otherwise, it's pirate stuff galore!


The family man's final ruling

The scenery is just so well done in this game. It's a beautiful game to look at, and finding the objects is pretty fun. Once you finish the game one time through, you can play through again, but the items aren't listed as descriptions. The second time through, they're listed as silhouettes. So the game has some replay built into it. If only the developer would have spent a bit more time adding variety to the game.
Unfortunately, the experience doesn't change or develop much as you play.

Still, if you like Artogon's other hidden objects games, you might want to try this one out. I'd put it on the same level of fun as Treasure Seekers: The Enchanted Canvases, except for the variety problem.

By the way, have you noticed that Artogon's design team seems to be obsessed with humans communicating with ghosts? I think this is a theme in all of their hidden objects games.

You'll like the game if...

  • You like pirate stuff
  • You like top-notch graphics
  • You just love finding hidden objects

You won't like the game if...

  • You require lots of variety in the gameplay experience
  • You want lots of puzzles


My rating:

If you want to play The Spirit of Wandering: The Legend, click below:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Daily Deals?

You might be wondering what's going on with Big Fish's Daily Deals.

For a long time, I've been posting the Daily Deal for your easy reference. The Daily Deals started in August and were carried on through September. As of yesterday, though, Big Fish - smart business people that they are - changed the rules of the game a little bit.

The Old System
  • Daily Deals were available to everyone.
  • The game and coupon code for the day were revealed on the Big Fish tool bar.
The New System
  • Daily Deals are only available to Big Fish Game Club members.
  • The game for the day is revealed on the Big Fish toolbar.
What does this mean?

This means that if you want to have access to the Daily Deals, you have to spend $6.99 each month to be a game club member. For some people, this might be fine. For others of us, we can't afford even that cost.

So what used to be essentially open-to-the-public deals, are now deals you get for paying something.

I tried to save you the work of installing the Big Fish Toolbar by posting the coupon codes here (Note: I read the Big Fish site to make sure this wasn't "against the rules" before I started posting). But now, I don't know how the Daily Deals work because my membership is currently not intact.

Does anyone know if they offer a coupon code to members?

I'll keep my eye open for any other standard deals - the kind Big Fish offered semi-regularly before the Daily Deals started. If I find any, you know I'll post them here.

In the meantime, I'll mention that if you buy 6 games from Big Fish in October, you get a 7th game free!