Sunday, November 29, 2009

Aimless Island - a review of Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships!

My wife and I have played almost every Nancy Drew adventure game to date. We just finished Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships. Want to know what I thought of it? Read on!

What I liked

  • Some good puzzles
  • Setting was nice

What I didn't like

  • Hard to figure out what to do next
  • Very few characters
  • Minimal music
  • Weak conclusion
  • Teeeeeedious

Quick Plot

Nancy's friend is missing! Go to the island and find her!


  • Standard point-and-click travel and environmental interaction
  • New sailing feature
  • New scuba diving feature (gotta keep that tank filled!)
  • Rock-climbing (this might be new)
  • Driving, as seen in other games
  • Playing games with monkeys
  • Metal detecting and digging
  • Puzzles


For some reason, the music didn't do much for me this time around. There is very little variety in the music for most of the game. It provides some accompaniment, but it's nothing special. The composer for the Dossier series is pumping out better music for that line of games.


The story was one of the best parts of the game. It involves some old Spanish ships and some treasure.

Playing the Game

This is where the game falls short of previous Nancy Drew adventures. I can imagine the developer meeting where they planned the game:
Developer 1: "You know, we just need to get this game done. Any ideas for speeding up the process?"

Developer 2: "Well, what gamers want is a good chunk of time spent in a video game. Time equals value for the gamer."

Developer 3: "That's right. How about this: What if we just make a lot of the mechanics tedious and repetitive so that it feels like the player is doing something even though he really isn't!"

Developer 1: "Brilliant!"
And so they got to work. And it shows. You spend a huge portion of the game not solving puzzles, gaining new insight, or discovering new fascinating locations. Rather, a hefty majority of the game is spent driving a golf cart around the island. And wouldn't you know it - the map of the island isn't with you for easy access - no - it's all the way back at the resort where you're staying - so you have to memorize it!

When you're not driving, you're climbing (and getting pelted by rocks), sailing around an expanse of water, playing boring games over and over to win prizes from monkeys, scuba diving, and traveling all the way back to the resort to fill up your scuba tank! Doesn't that sound like fun? No? That's because it isn't really. Good adventure games keep you playing by leading you to
  • participate in interesting conversations with interesting characters,
  • discover clues in interesting locations, or best of all,
  • solve (challenging or interesting) puzzles.

This brings me to the best part of Seven Ships. There were, thankfully, some fun, amusing, and challenging puzzles in this game. That was the part where I told my wife, "Okay, let me take the mouse now!"

Oh, and to top it off, they give you one of the all-time adventure game no-nos: a maze. Sure, you're scuba diving, and there are symbols which are supposed to guide you, but it's still a maze.

To avoid spoilers, I won't go into much detail, but I'll say that I was dissatisfied with both the resolution to the mystery, and with the ending.

Suitable for the family?

The kids sat with us for much of this game. There's a talking parrot in the game, which is great for the weefolk. And, of course, the monkeys.

The family man's final ruling

This game often leaves you with little direction. Usually, I like to solve these games without looking online for hints. This time, we had no choice. We had to visit UHS multiple times. You're supposed to get your direction from an old journal you find. This just didn't work well.

Honestly, I was disappointed. I have been having a lot more fun with the newer Nancy Drew Dossier series than with the long-lived adventure series. My wife is the primary Nancy Drew fan in our house, and she was disappointed with this game too. I would recommend trying some of the older entries if you're new to the series.

You'll like the game if...

  • You're a die-hard or completist Nancy Drew adventure fan
  • You love a tropical island setting for an adventure

You won't like the game if...

  • You want lots of good puzzles and gameplay that provides constant forward momentum

My rating:

If you want to play Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships, click below:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Anyone playing MCF: Dire Grove?

UPDATE: I have now played and written a review for this game. Read it here!

All right, dear readers, are any of you playing Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove Collector's Edition?

I really want to know what this game is like, but I don't want to sink the bucks if it's going to be twisted like Return to Ravenhearst. If one of you plays this, please comment and let us know what it's like. How does it compare to Return to Ravenhearst? Any improvements? Anything disturbing?

For everyone who's interested, the standard edition will be released in December. For now, this $19.95 collector's edition is available to extreme Mystery Case Files fans. It comes will all kinds of extras.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

News - Big Fish Games Mac version!

Just a little bit of news for you today.

Big Fish Games now has a Mac version of the site for all you Mac users. Let's hope they continue to increase Mac development and support!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Deal - Return to Ravenhearst for $2.99!

I have good news for you, friends.

Thanks to alert reader, irishdec52, it was brought to my attention that Big Fish is offering Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst for only $2.99 for a limited time!

That's right - $2.99. I went to the site and verified it myself.
This is a special deal available to everyone! The coupon code is RTR299. I don't know how long this offer will last, so you probably want to get it as soon as you can.

If you're asking, "What the heck is Return to Ravenhearst?" I suggest you go read my review.

While I don't recommend this game for children, or adults who are easily affected by the creepy and twisted, I do think it was a great game. I would have given it 5 stars if it was more family friendly.

Now's the time to get this game if you haven't already.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

News - Luxor Adventures and Luxor 3!

Tomorrow, Big Fish's new game will be Luxor Adventures, a new hidden objects game in the Luxor series, which has traditionally been marble popper games.

But here's the best part: if you buy Luxor Adventures, you get Luxor 3 thrown in for free!

Now, when I have a chance to recommend Luxor 3, I do. Read my review to find out why.

So, get ready to pick up Luxor Adventures and Luxor 3 tomorrow for some HOGin' and marble poppin' goodness!

Luxor Adventures - released tomorrow!

Monday, November 16, 2009

News - Mystery of the Crystal Portal at Big Fish Games!

You might have read my review of Treasure Seekers by Artogon Games. If you did, you know that I think very highly of the game, and of Artogon's original take on the HOG genre.

The Mystery of the Crystal Portal is another game from Artogon using the same engine as was seen in the Treasure Seekers games, but until now, it hasn't been available from Big Fish. I played a good portion of the game elsewhere in the past and found that it offers more of the same goodness.

So, if you like the Treasure Seekers games, you'd better give The Mystery of the Crystal Portal a try, now that it has arrived at Big Fish. The graphics are beautiful, the music is good, and the gameplay is what you'd expect from Artogon. This is a great selection for the HOG crowd.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

HOG obsession and a new Mystery Case Files game!

I have two bits of news to discuss today.

A New MCF Game

First, fans of the Mystery Case Files series should take a trip over to and watch the trailer for the new MCF game: Dire Grove. It looks like they actually got live actors this time around. For me, this has great draw because it taps into my mind's nostalgia sector. I first became a computer gamer in the 90s. Myst was the game that hooked me. After that, I was regularly at the media store browsing adventure games. This was the golden age of point-and-click adventure gaming, where FMV integration was the new standard, as seen in games like Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within, Zork: Nemesis, and my personal favorite, the Tex Murphy series. It was a sad day when the adventure game industry started going downhill and FMV was abandoned in favor of computer-graphics characters.

This, combined with the fact that the previous MCF entry, Return to Ravenhearst (see my review here) turned out to be one of the most fun casual games I've ever played, makes me very interested in this new MCF title. I'll try the demo for Dire Grove, but if it's as twisted as Return to Ravenhearst, I'm going to have to pass.

HOG Obsession

You might remember my recent thoughts regarding the use of young ladies as a marketing strategy for hidden object games. Well, there's a more general trend going on right now. Maybe you've noticed it. HOGs are being released by the truckload.

Nov. 1
Nov. 2
Nov. 3
Nov. 4
Nov. 5
Nov. 6
Nov. 8
Nov. 9
Nov. 10
Nov. 11

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. Have the developers received a message that gamers have such a great love for finding hidden objects? While I've enjoyed a hefty share of HOGs, the mechanic is not fun enough to constitute game after game. This, of course, is a taste issue. I wouldn't be surprised at all if there are people who download and love every HOG just because the mechanic never seems to get old for them. Just as with board games, certain game mechanics click with certain types of minds.

Are you obsessed with HOGs? Post a comment and let the rest of us know what it is about HOGs that keeps you going!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

More egg solids! - a review of Farm Frenzy

Today, I review the oldie-but-goodie, Farm Frenzy! This was the first in a series of 4 Farm Frenzy games.

What I liked

  • Streamlined gameplay
  • Cute, colorful design
  • Lots of things to work for
  • Fun economics and strategy

What I didn't like

  • I wished there were even more upgrades
  • No ending to speak of

Quick Plot

Get good at managing farms by feeding animals, producing goods, and making money!


  • 5 types of animals to buy (geese, sheep, cows, dogs, cats)
  • 3 types of goods to develop (eggs, wool, milk)
  • 10 things to build and upgrade
  • 16 awards to earn
  • 48 levels
  • You control everything from a first-person perspective, rather than controlling one character from a third-person perspective (as is common in many time management games)

The map. The blue dots are levels.


The great thing here is the mechanics. This is an economic time management game, and the developers came up with something wonderfully original.


Here are the basics of how the game works.
  • Collect the products that animals drop (geese drop eggs, for instance)
  • Build buildings that can process these products, making them into more valuable products (turn eggs into egg solids, then into muffins)
  • Ship products into town by truck to earn money
  • Use money to buy more animals and upgrade your buildings
  • Lock bears in cages when they come to attack your farm animals
  • Achieve the level's goals within a certain amount of time to earn stars
  • Spend stars to buy better buildings and resources at the shop between levels

The music is simple and cute. It matches the bright mood of the game. The only issue is that the music is the same for every level. If you don't like the music, this might drive you nuts. You might want to turn it off. I didn't mind it.

Degrees of Challenge

One feature that made the game so fun for me is the medals you can earn. You are given Gold and Silver goals at the beginning of each level. If you finish the level quick enough to meet the Gold goal, you earn the gold medal and a bunch of extra stars, which allow you to purchase upgrades more quickly in the shop. Silver goals are the same, but easier to accomplish. This challenge was what kept me playing. I played each level as many times as it took to master it and earn the gold medal. It seems there's one best method for each level, and if you can figure it out, the gold medal shouldn't be too much of a problem.

I have one gripe though. Eventually, all those gold medals earned me enough stars to purchase every available upgrade in the store. This gave me nothing to use my hard-earned stars on for a big chunk of levels toward the end of the game. I thought they should have allowed more upgrades, like a single-click bear cage (a 3-click bear cage is the best available).

A level in progress.

Suitable for the family?

If there's one thing kids love, it's animals. My kids liked watching the animals roaming around the screen munching grass and dropping goods. They liked watching the cats collecting the goods and the dogs barking to keep the bears at bay. This one is cute and bright - great for kids! Maybe not for my wife so much - she didn't like hearing the same music playing constantly from across the room...

The family man's final ruling

Despite my minor
gripes, this is easily among my favorite casual games of all time. It is just so fun to play! There is something elegant about these mechanics. The design is superb. It combines time management with economics and strategic planning in a fun and engaging way. There are always upgrades to work for, and it is so satisfying to send a batch of cheese to town and watch huge money roll in. While there isn't really any ending to the game, the last level makes all the previous work worth it. You'll see.

If, like me, you aren't as interested in restaurant-based time management games, give Farm Frenzy a try. You might find that this is a welcome new take on the genre. And if you like it, there are 3 more games in the series!

You'll like the game if...

  • You like strategic time management games
  • You like cute games
  • You like farm-themed games
  • You like economic games

You won't like the game if...

  • You prefer less strategy in your time management games
  • You prefer to control a character who runs around serving food

My rating:

If you want to play Farm Frenzy, click below:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The blue monkey has spoken! - a review of Ancient Quest of Saqqarah

Rarely will you hear me say I enjoy a Match-3 game. Ancient Quest of Saqqarah has proven to be the exception to the rule. This can probably be attributed to the fact that this is not your ordinary Match-3 game.

What I liked

  • Excellent graphics and animations
  • Fitting music
  • Ancient Egyptian theme
  • Lighting effects/atmosphere
  • Variety of mechanics
  • Great voice-over work
  • Relaxed mode

What I didn't like

  • Longer levels as a means of increasing difficulty

Quick Plot

A secret underground oasis holds the temples of 7 ancient Egyptian deities. With the help of Khufu, the blue humanoid monkey, restore the temples of the 7 good deities so that they can combine their power to keep the evil Seth locked in his prison forever!


  • 7 temples, 7 deity statues to restore, 7 different Match-3 mechanics
  • 9 trophies to earn, with Stone, Silver, and Gold ranks for each
  • 24 normal levels and 24 hard levels within each temple
  • Several magical power upgrades for Khufu, with 3 upgrade ranks for each
  • 2 types of minigames
  • Timed or Relaxed modes
  • Expandable by downloading SaqPacks from the developer's website
  • A talking blue monkey

Khufu - the magical blue monkey


The thing that immediately drew my attention was the uncommonly high level of quality that the developers built into this game. The atmosphere of the game is wonderful. They first put you in the oasis scene, where you choose a temple to play in. This underground oasis is beautiful. There are animated torches and waterfalls, with bridges, palm trees, and undergrowth. This idyllic and mysterious scene is very attractive. Then, inside each temple, it's dark, but the dim lighting shines from somewhere onto the stonework framing the level. It's a fun place to be. This atmosphere alone made the game enjoyable to play.

You are always accompanied by pleasant and memorable Egyptian music, which is likely to remain in your mind throughout the day (beware!). To polish off the audio presentation, the game boasts excellent professional voice work for Khufu and each of the deity statues.

While the level boards are always set up in the same way - a series of points connected by threads - the mechanics for clearing the board change with each temple, and each board is arranged differently. This is what keeps the game interesting. Within each temple, there are difficulties added every 6 levels so that, as you proceed, gameplay becomes more challenging. To offset the difficulty, Khufu, your magical aid, also gains power-ups periodically. As you collect power (every time you make matches of 4 or more), Khufu's magic meter goes up. Once the meter is full, he casts all of his available spells, breaking pieces and helping you clear the board. Not only is this game completely non-standard in it's approach to the Match-3 idea, but they give you 7 different ways to clear the boards. By my calculations, this base game offers 336 unique levels without counting the simple minigames that are thrown in from time to time. One minigame is just clicking on 6 scurrying scarab beetles. The other is a searching puzzle. A wall is covered with hieroglyphics and you have to locate a number of certain glyphs.

The secret underground oasis! (trophies at the bottom)

Suitable for the family?

There's a talking blue monkey in the game. What more could you ask for? Kids love watching Khufu as he makes various motions in the corner of the screen during levels. He also speaks when he casts his spells. My kids also liked the animal heads on some of the deity statues.

There's nothing weird, scary, or disturbing in this game. It's fun, cute, thematic, and family friendly.

What a level looks like

The family man's final ruling

I had a lot of fun with this game. I don't imagine Match 3 could be done with any more innovation, variety, and polish. Some companies make excellent games, and some make weak and boring games. Ancient Quest of Saqqarah is
among some of the best-produced games I've played, which puts it in the "excellent" category for me. Plus, if you like the game, finish it, and decide you want even more, you can download SaqPacks from the developer's website. SaqPacks expand the game with more levels. Read about them here.

You'll like the game if...

  • You like Match 3
  • You are looking for an innovative new appraoch to Match 3
  • You like ancient Egypt as a theme
  • You like only the best in terms of production quality

You won't like the game if...

  • You get bored playing puzzly games with minimal story

My rating:

If you want to play Saqqarah, click below:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Luxor 3 for $2.99 today!

Friends, today Big Fish's daily deal is Luxor 3, my favorite marble popper game, and one of my all-time favorite casual games. The coupon code is available to members only, so I can't give it to everyone here, but this is a steal. Grab it while you can. If you like marble popper games, you will not be disappointed. This is the best of the best.