Thursday, April 29, 2010

News - Big Fish introduces new weekly deal!

One thing I know about you is that you like deals.

Big Fish has just introduced a new deal that will happen every week. It's called the "Catch of the Week."

Here's how it works. Every Monday, Big Fish will post a game for $2.99. This game will be available for $2.99 for that whole week. A new game will be posted in this way each week.

And there are two more tasty little tidbits:
  1. The Catch of the Week is always a best-selling game.
  2. The Catch of the Week is available to everyone, not just Game Club members.
Not bad, eh? I hope to get them posted for you here each week.

This week's Catch is Azada!




You can also get the Mac Version!

If you like a playing lots of puzzles, this is the game for you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

News: Collector's Editions for everyone, and more...

Friday greetings to you all!

Today, I have a handful of news tidbits for you.

Collector's Editions for all!

Big Fish just announced that Collector's Editions are no longer only available to Game Club members. Starting
now, if you aren't a current Game Club member, you can still buy a Collector's Edition!

If you're interested, some recent Collector's Editions include the following:



Previewing Riddle Box

Back in mid-December, I posted a press release from the new casual game developer, PassionFruit Games. As I understand it (and I could be wrong, so don't hold me closely to it), they are the crew who developed the Nancy Drew Dossier games (my personal favorites).

At the time of the press release, they were working on a new game: Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box.

Well, I've got an early copy of the game in my virtual hands. I'm not allowed to say anything about it yet, other than what they told us in the press release. But, I am hoping to get a review to you right away, once they release the game. There is plenty to say about it.

So be on the lookout for that review, once the game shows up on Big Fish.

Review Queue

I have 3 games in the review pipeline, so expect to read more of my opinions in the coming weeks/months.

By the way, I'm interested to know, from those of you who read reviews, do you like the comprehensive style of my reviews? Or would you prefer a more chopped-down quick reference? I could easily do the latter, if that's what you would prefer.

As it is, I try to make it easy to locate the information you're after, so that you don't have to read the entire review to find it.

Feedback is welcome. I want to make reviews helpful and enjoyable for you, so feel free to let me know your preferences. Just leave a comment on this post.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Deal: Gemini Lost for $2.99 today only!

Today's $2.99 Daily Deal at Big Fish is for everyone!
Click an image below and use coupon code dailydeal at checkout.
Category: Strategy
A game about building up a civilization in an unfamiliar land. Get it while you can!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Review - Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove

At the end of 2006, Big Fish Studios released MCF: Ravenhearst, a super-creepy game that followed in the tradition of the other Mystery Case Files games.

Then, in late 2008, Big Fish blew everyone's socks off with the even more twisted MCF: Return to Ravenhearst. This was the first game in its class, combining hidden objects with an adventure game, and doing it with a high quality that has hardly been matched ever since. (Read my review!)

Then, just a year later, Big Fish released the next MCF game, MCF: Dire Grove, which turned out to be another game with the production style of Return to Ravenhearst, but with even more new features. This time around, as if it were the mid-90s golden age of adventure games, they included a series of live action cutscenes.

So, did Dire Grove live up to the greatness of Return to Ravenhearst? Today I'm glad to (finally) give you my opinions! Read on!

What I liked

  • All-around high-quality production
  • Wonderful video sequences
  • Not as twisted as Return to Ravenhearst
  • Good balance of puzzles, inventory use, and hidden objects
  • A good ending

What I didn't like

  • Can't replay the ending...



Quick Plot

Figure out what happened to a group of students who came to Dire Grove to do research.



Mechanics

HOG: You'll play through an ample supply of hidden object scenes, as with the other MCF games. You'll even recognize familiar sound effects as you locate items.

The hidden object scenes have just the right level of difficulty, as opposed to something overly difficult, like Luxor Adventures. You never have to find too many items, and they're never too hard to find. This is very welcome for those of us who prefer not to waste a whole lot of time poking around for hidden objects.

Another plus in the HOG department is the fact that the scenes actually make some sense. Most of the random junk seems at home in its scene. And you always get to keep one of the items when you finish a hidden object scene, adding it to your inventory.

As in many HOGs, you have a refillable hint meter.

Snow falls as you search the trunk. How'd the driver fit all that junk in there?

Inventory: As with many good adventure games, a high percentage of your obstacles will be inventory-related. You'll be regularly collecting various items and finding appropriate uses for them as you investigate your surroundings. Some of these items are acquired by clicking on an them in the normal environment, while others are gained by completing hidden object scenes.

None of the uses are too obscure. You'll usually be able to guess at which object will work for a particular task, without too much trouble.

Puzzles: You'll have to solve several puzzles, none of which are too difficult. I wouldn't have minded even more puzzles, and more complicated ones. But the ones you get are certainly fun.


Don't expect a warm stay at this snow-covered lodge.



Highlights

Live action cutscenes: I was an adventure game junky in the late 90s, when full motion video sequences were commonly showing up in games (the Tex Murphy series, Black Dahlia, Zork: Nemesis, and Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within, to name a few).

So, when I found out that this game had professionally produced video clips with live actors, I was eager to get my in-game-cinematics fix. The game did not disappoint. These video sequences are excellent. The acting is very good, the locations are real, and the style is fitting for the game.

These video clips are acquired by walking around and discovering camcorder tapes on the ground from time to time. Each tape unlocks a new video, and gives you a glimpse into the events leading up to your investigation.

I offer a word of slight caution: some of the video clips are a tad unnerving. You won't be exposed to anything grisly or frightening, thankfully. But more than one clip is certainly spooky and somewhat panicky. I think the majority of people will get a kick out of these, but I wouldn't recommend watching the video clips with little kids around.

Less disturbing: Whereas Return to Ravenhearst was like something out of a nightmare, Dire Grove is more like something out of the X-Files. The story in RtR left me wishing could repress it, while the story in Dire Grove is merely spooky and mysterious, in a way that allowed me to feel like my mind was safe.

I'm sure you'll have at least one unsettling "WHAT THE HECK?!" moment in the game, but it's still comparatively mild, and rather fun.

These surprise moments are likely to show up when you least expect them, so again, I advise you to avoid playing with small children nearby. Some of the content could easily disturb little minds.


Satisfying ending: This is one thing you will rarely hear me say. But, in Dire Grove, they actually gave me an ending I could be satisfied with. Instead of the typical, "THE END. Thanks for playing.", the game ends with a nice video sequence to cap things off.

My belief is that a game, or book, or movie should reward you for investing your time. Well, this game gives you the payoff. If only more developers would put some effort into good endings.





Issues

No replays: When I play a standard video game, I will frequently reload my last save, after completing the game. Then I'll play through the final sequence again just so I can watch the ending one more time.

As you know, most casual games don't have saves. The downside to this is that, if you want to go back later to a particular part of the game, you can't. Dire Grove is such a game. After completing the game, I tried to load my game again, and it just stuck me back at the very beginning. This means you'd better catch EVERYTHING the first time through, because, honey, if you want to see the ending again, you're going to have to work for it!

What can I say? I'm a sucker for good endings. But, this is my only grumble about the game.




Some weather vane, huh?



Suitable for the family?

I'm going to have to say no on this one. Most of the game is pretty harmless, and my kids did watch me play a good chunk of the game, but I just wouldn't want a child to be watching at one of those freakout moments. As I mentioned earlier, some of the stuff in this game would be disturbing to little kids.

While this game isn't nearly as unsettling as Return to Ravenhearst, and the story is much classier, my wife indicated that she might not want to play this one, having seen and heard some of the scenes.

For those of you who really want to know exactly what you'll encounter in this game, I have a spoiler window below. Highlight the white text within the window to read it.


  • One skeletal corpse, somewhat fake looking.
  • Ice-frozen, seemingly-possessed people who chant repeated phrases.
  • White, ghostly figures that appear and disappear in various rooms.
  • Panicked characters in the live action sequences, with jolty camera motions.




The family man's final ruling

This is one of the best casual games I've ever played. Big Fish Studios put a great deal of time and effort into making this a uniquely solid game. Attention to quality shows up everywhere from video production, to story, to graphics, to music, to puzzles. Every time I play a a rare gem like this, I sigh and wonder why so many mediocre games are released on the casual market. This game kept me interested the whole way through, and I loved the nicely-produced video sequences. All of the actors were good.

And for those of you who like extras, there is a Collector's Edition, which costs more, but includes, according to Big Fish,
  • bonus 'Easter egg' levels and puzzles that reveal secrets related to both past and future Mystery Case Files episodes
  • integrated Deluxe Strategy Guide, and
  • extra video outtakes, concept art, screenshots, and desktop wallpapers.
If you like HOGs at all, get this game, especially if you like the integration of adventure and HOG. You won't regret it.




You'll like the game if...

  • You like hidden object games
  • You like adventure games
  • You like a good story
  • You like live-action cinematic cutscenes
  • You like stories involving ancient lore

You won't like the game if...

  • You don't like hidden object games
  • You don't want to be spooked from time to time


My rating:

If you want to play Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove, click below:

StandardCollector's Edition


Monday, April 5, 2010

Review - Youda Farmer

Youda Games, an uncommon casual game developer, never fails to put something unique and original on the market. Today, I review a Youda game from early 2009 - the aptly named pick-up-and-deliver game, Youda Farmer!

What I liked

  • Gorgeous graphics and animations
  • Original time-management concept

What I didn't like

  • Limited clicking speed
  • Lack of variety



Quick Plot

Develop your farm by picking up goods from various production buildings on your farm, then delivering the goods to town, and doing it quickly.



Mechanics

Time Management: This is a time management game. You're not working against a clock, but against orders that are pouring in from all over your farmland. After an order comes in, it slowly falls off the screen. Once it disappears, you've failed to complete that order. This happens both in the pick up stage, and in the deliver stage.

Your happy little delivery truck, which looks even cooler when upgraded.

Pick-Up and Deliver: The first part of each level has you driving your truck madly around the farm, picking up available goods as they are produced, fulfilling a quota of orders.
Here's how this plays out:
  1. An order appears at the bottom of the screen (eggs, for example).
  2. You click on the order, which takes the screen the appropriate building (chicken coop, in our example).
  3. You grab the goods (a batch of eggs, in our example) and drag it to an empty shipping box.
  4. The truck picks up the goods the next time it swings by.
  5. A checkmark appears on the order, signifying that it has been picked up.
  6. You click the order before it disappears from the screen.
You'll end up with an entire row of mixed orders along the bottom of the screen, which is what provides a challenge. It becomes more complicated as the game goes on.

The second part of each level has you delivering the goods to various shops in town. Shopkeepers will request the goods required for their business. When you deliver the goods, the shopkeepers make their products - typically, tasty-looking food dishes. These have no in-game effect. They just look cool.


This cute, mustached man is ready to serve
up some hot meals using the goods you deliver!




Highlights

Graphics and Animations: The strange thing about Youda is that their games are never awesome. They seem to come up with unique concepts, and execute them with beautiful eye candy, but then they come up a short in terms of gameplay. This was true, for me, of both Youda Marina and Youda Sushi Chef.

Youda Farmer doesn't seem to suffer from this oversight quite as much as the other games, which is why it's my favorite Youda game to date. As with the other games, the graphics and animations are excellent. The truck rumbles around the farm while the windmill spins and crops grow. Every order shows an amusing animation when you finish it. The characters are cute and cartoony, and the buildings in town are shiny and very pleasing to the eye with their colorful tile roofs.

These high-quality graphics are what drew me into the game and kept me playing.

Original Concept: I don't think I've ever seen a pick-up-and-deliver casual game quite like this. This game offered the challenge that time management fans enjoy, but with a fresh mechanic. And I really liked the farm theme. After you deliver enough goods, the townsfolk award you with trophies. Part of the fun is watching these trophies slowly piece together, so I won't spoil for you what they are. I also don't want to reveal what goods you'll be picking up in the game, but there ends up being a good variety by the end.


New and upgraded portions of the farm show up in color on your map in between levels.



Issues

Limited Clicking Speed: This bothered me a few times. Here I was, trying to rapidly click these orders off with my mousing finger, and the game wasn't even equipped to respond to my click rate. It's always weird when games cap the acceptable clicking rate. In a time management game, you don't want restraints like this. You don't want to click rapidly through 9 orders only to discover that 1 or 2 of them didn't register, and you have to re-click them.

Lack of Variety: Some time management games really build in the features. You'll get mini games, or have interesting goals or trophies to work for. But in Youda Farmer, you do the same thing through the whole game. Pick up, deliver. Pick up, deliver. After a bunch of levels, the game is done.

To be fair, I'll mention that you can buy upgrades in between levels. This makes your buildings produce goods faster, and offers other cool new elements to your farm. You can also change the color and capacity of your truck. You also get a bonus round every time you complete a trophy. This bonus round just sends you on a mad dash around the farm to pick up as many loose goods as you can manage.

Fortunately for me, I liked the basic mechanic of the game, so I had fun until the end. But if you're looking for numerous features, you've come to the wrong place.


I love how the village buildings look. Incredibly detailed.



Suitable for the family?

Sure. The innocent farm theme is pleasant and can be enjoyed by anyone. My son liked watching the animations with me when orders were completed. In particular, we liked watching liquid goods slosh out of the glass. He also helped me to spot items on the bonus speed rounds.

Still, unless your kids really like watching a truck drive around, they might not get into the game very much.

My wife tried the game and wasn't all that eager to keep playing. It's just not her preferred flavor of time management (her favorite is Wedding Dash: Ready, Aim, Love).



The family man's final ruling

I have very little to say other than, this game is simple and fun. It's my favorite of the Youda Games that I've tried. The music fits, but doesn't offer anything special. I think most people will find the eye candy to be pleasing, if not stunning, for the casual games market. The game isn't all that long, but the length felt just right.

But I have to wonder, when will the developer create Youda Man?


The windmill at the flour field. The blades are animated in the actual game.


You'll like the game if...

  • You like fast-clicking time management games
  • You like farm-themed games

You won't like the game if...

  • You want lots of variety
  • You don't like picking up and delivering goods
  • You get stressed out by time pressure


My rating:

If you want to play Youda Farmer, click below: