Monday, May 31, 2010

Deal: Treasure Seekers II: The Enchanted Canvases for $2.99 this week!

The Catch of the Week for May 31 - June 06 is Treasure Seekers II: The Enchanted Canvases!

This is a hidden objects and adventure game.

To get it for $2.99, click the image below, and use the coupon code CATCH299 at checkout!


Mac users click here!



Sunday, May 23, 2010

Deal: Dream Chronicles for $2.99 this week!

The Catch of the Week for May 24 - May 30 is Dream Chronicles!

This is an adventure game.

To get it for $2.99, click the image below, and use the coupon code CATCH299 at checkout!


Mac users click here!



Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Review - Tiger Eye Part 1: Curse of the Riddle Box

When I was asked to review Tiger Eye Part I: Curse of the Riddle Box, and was told that it was designed by the same team who developed the Nancy Drew Dossier games, I jumped at the opportunity.

I finished the game a few weeks ago and I've been eager to share my thoughts with you. Today, Big Fish has released the game on their site, and so I will now give you my official two cents! Well, maybe three.

What I liked

  • Mechanics
  • Music

What I didn't like

  • Story/Writing
  • Art
  • Themes/Content



Quick Plot

Solve a bunch of puzzles as you work at figuring out what kind of deadly conspiracy you've unwittingly gotten yourself into, with the help of a genie-like hulk from the past.



Mechanics

Puzzles: This game is very puzzly. Azada fans should be pleased. You'll play a wide variety of puzzles, none of them very difficult. I never needed to use a hint on a puzzle, and I don't think you will either.

HOG: When you're not solving puzzles, you'll spend most of your time looking for hidden objects. Usually, the objects have a related theme like "weapons" or "vegetables." The hidden object scenes were probably the most difficult and time consuming portions of the game. It always comes down to that last one pesky thing you just aren't seeing.

Minigames: The game will throw a number of minigames at you, including but not limited to
  • match 3
  • puzzle pieces
  • matching similar items, and
  • word games.


Puzzle: Hang the weapons.



Highlights

Mechanics: The three mechanics I mentioned above were actually my favorite thing about the game. It was the only thing that kept me from running away from the computer to barf (more about that later).

The HOG scenes were pretty fun, and usually made some kind of sense with the scene. A lot of times, you are looking for pieces of things. I remember liking the scene where I had to find a bunch of scattered pieces for a bicycle in an alley.

Usually, you have a list of scene objectives at the bottom of the screen. You can carry them out in any order. Sometimes, you need to solve certain puzzles. Other times, you may need to collect a number of items, or put something back together.

My favorite element was the puzzles, simply because I enjoy puzzling my way through brainteasers and such. You'll get a broad variety of puzzles in this game. You're given very good instructions for solving the puzzles, which is nice.

There's a drag-chain type match 3 game you'll have to play several times, and it's just boring. The graphics are mediocre and the whole thing feels like a waste of time (to me).

Every time you complete scenes and tasks, your hint ball fills up. It fills pretty rapidly, too. Once you save up 50 hints, you unlock the game's bonus material. This was very easy to do, and the reward was minimal. I think it allowed me to play "Dress-up Hari" all I want! And maybe one or two other little features that I didn't bother to remember.



Music: This is the other element of the game that I was able to appreciate. While I think Matt Sayre's work for the Nancy Drew Dossier games was more interesting than what he produced here, it's still better than most casual game music on the market. My only beef is that I really think a composer with his talent should upgrade his sample libraries. He could be pumping out high quality orchestra music instead of the more synthy sound you'll hear in this game.

And I'll give the audio team one more thumbs-up: the voice-over work is actually pretty good. Not great, but it's believable.



The main character: Delilah, or Dela for short.


Issues

Plot: This, of course, is merely opinion, but I thought the story was . . . lame. I know the game is based on a supposedly well-known fiction series, but it just didn't draw me in at all. In fact, it seemed amateurish to me. It's primarily a romance, with a significant amount of paranormal weaved in. The "romantic" scenes between the two main characters made me sick to my mental stomach. I wanted nothing more than to be done with the lengthy cutscenes, and get back to the puzzles. And I don't think it's just because I'm a man. I really think it's a poorly written and unbelievable romantic relationship. You can decide for yourself.

Artwork: A huge chunk of the game plays out as cutscenes, which advance the story. These are done in the same manner as the Nancy Drew Dossier games. A series of hand-drawn images depict the story events, timed with the voice-over and music.

The problem is, the artwork isn't very good compared to some of the high quality casual games on the market. When I looked at the concept art, I was surprised to see that it actually looks much better than the finished and colored art in the game. I'm not sure how this happens. But heck, who am I to complain? I know it probably took those artists hours upon hours to finish their work, and it's better than what I could do.

On a more positive note, I will say that the artwork for the scene backdrops is actually pretty good. It's about the same quality as the Nancy Drew Dossier scenes.


Hari - Dela's burly dream man from the ancient past.

Themes/Content: This is my main gripe, which I'll develop more in the section below. To summarize: I wouldn't play this game with kids around. The themes and visuals are more "mature" (as they say) than most casual games I've played.



Suitable for the family?

This really depends on how you feel about exposed male buttocks. (And that's probably the last time I'll use the phrase "exposed male buttocks" in a review.)

As is often the case with game companies, the developers seem to be pervs, as evidenced by the repeated shots of Dela in nothing but a towel. I found myself actually laughing as there was one scene after the next of Dela heading for the shower. And then, to top it off, Hari goes to take a bath, and then hastily runs out naked to save Dela. This is where the male buttocks come in. Yes - you are actually forced to behold Hari's full hand-drawn moon. Twice. *shudder*

He spends a good chunk of time with his shirt off, too, so that you can admire his muscles. And, of course, so that Dela can hug him. And she's always wearing small, stomach-baring shirts for good measure.

And if that weren't enough, you'll get a chance to see Dela's unmentionables scattered around her hotel room at one point. Gagging yet? If not, then maybe you will be, after a number of other random sexual innuendos pop up from time to time.

I don't remember the exact words used now, but I know the language was also family-unfriendly. I don't remember if it ever got worse than "damn" or "hell" and the like, but I remember thinking, "Whoa! Back off, game!"



The family man's final ruling

I really, really wanted to like this game. I wanted to see what the Nancy Drew Dossier team would offer this time. But what makes the Nancy Drew games so fun was missing here. I think that missing element is primarily a good story, and of course the object-matching mechanic that is still unique to the Dossier games. Curse of the Riddle Box was like a drippy romance novel with a casual game forced into it. And even though I'm not a fan, I think the popular Twilight stories do a much better job with this romance/paranormal genre.

But the weird thing is, despite the crummy story, I found myself interested enough to keep playing, not because of the story, but because the puzzles and other mechanics kept me playing, as any casual game should.

If this game had been published by a high-polish developer like Big Fish Studios or PlayPond or MumboJumbo, and had a good story to go with it, this could have been a great game. As it is, I don't know whether or not to recommend it. I liked playing the game, mechanically, but I didn't like the game in terms of story and themes. In terms of fun alone, I would have rated it a solid 4. If only the puzzles were a little bit more challenging, I may have rated it higher. Will I play the next game in the series? Probably, but I might skip the cutscenes.

(NOTE: I have made many references to the Nancy Drew Dossier games in this review. Let me make it clear that Curse of the Riddle Box was developed/published by PassionFruit Games, who, if I understand correctly, did the development work for Her Interactive on the Nancy Drew Dossier games. Her Interactive produces all of the Nancy Drew-themed games on the market. I think Her Interactive's involvement in the Dossier series is what made the games come out so good. That's my suspicion anyway.)



Dress-up Hari.

You'll like the game if...

  • You get shamelessly into mawkish romances
  • You like paranormal stories
  • You like the art and music style from the Nancy Drew Dossier games
  • You like lots of puzzles and hidden objects scenes

You won't like the game if...

  • You don't like sappy romance in your games
  • You only like top-notch graphics
  • You want thoroughly challenging puzzles


My rating:

If you want to play Tiger Eye Part I: Curse of the Riddle Box, click below:



Deal - PuppetShow: Mystery of Joyville 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: Hidden Objects
I haven't played this game, but my wife and mother-in-law both liked it, so I recommend grabbing this deal while you can!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

News: Tiger Eye - Part I: Curse of the Riddle Box available on Big Fish tomorrow!

I've mentioned the new game, Tiger Eye - Part I: Curse of the Riddle Box, in two previous posts. Well, Big Fish Games will finally release the game on their site tomorrow!

I completed the game in its pre-release form and
hope to have my review up for you tomorrow morning. I have plenty to say about this one, so be looking for that post.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Deal: Fairway Solitaire for $2.99 this week!

The Catch of the Week for May 17 - May 23 is Fairway Solitaire!

This is a card game.

To get it for $2.99, click the image below, and use the coupon code CATCH299 at checkout!

Mac users click here!



Monday, May 10, 2010

Review - Penny Dreadfuls: Sweeney Todd

According to Wikipedia, a penny dreadful "was a type of British fiction publication in the 19th century that usually featured lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks, each part costing a penny."

It appears that developer Playpond is bringing some of these old serials to the casual game format. The first of these is the story of Sweeney Todd.

This story has previously been made into a Broadway musical, and you'll get a good dose of this in the game's cut-scenes.

Today, I'll tell you what I thought of this penny dreadful!

What I liked

  • Uncommonly high production quality
  • Sung interludes
  • Combination of HOG and adventure
  • Grading system

What I didn't like

  • Twisted story
  • Not enough puzzles



Quick Plot

Investigate some recent strange goings-on involving a priest, a young lady, a young man, a boy, a cook, and a barber.



Mechanics

HOG: You'll spend most of the game hunting for items in hidden objects scenes. They sparkle, so it's easy to locate them. The game plays out very much like Return to Ravenhearst or Dire Grove, mechanically.

Rooms like this will offer puzzles and hidden object scenes.

Inventory: As with other adventure games of this type, you will pick up a sizable collection of random items, which can be used in various places to help you advance.

Puzzles: You'll get to solve a brain-teasing puzzle from time to time, but not frequently enough for puzzle enthusiasts like me.



Highlights

High production values: The Playpond team did what every developer should do: They polished and polished until everything was shiny.

To be more specific, you can expect to get a return on your investment in the following areas:
  • Slick visuals
  • Orchestral music
  • Well-planned hidden object scenes
  • A plot to drive things
  • Correct English
  • Convincing voice-overs
  • Good game length (approximately 4+ hours)

I'll expand some of this below.

Visuals: Boy, they sure made things look good. That was what initially drew me in. Fonts, scenes, and interface - all very professional looking. The designers gave adequate attention to these little nuances, making their game look better than most others on the casual market.

Audio: Being a composer myself, I'm attentive to the goings on in the music section of the market. Right now, with the economy being what it is, developers are skimping on music. As you might guess, I think this is a bad idea. Many of my fondest gaming memories relate to the music and the mental images it can stir up.

One way for a developer to cut music costs is to hire a less-experienced or less-talented composer. You can almost always tell when they do this. Another way to cut costs is to provide fewer minutes of music.

In this game, you'll hear the same few tracks repeated frequently (that's how they cut costs), but I'm glad to say that they at least hired someone who knew what they were doing. The orchestral score is quite nice, and fits the mood of the game very well. It was pleasant accompaniment for the gaming experience.

And to make things even better, they hired voice actors, and good ones at that. Not only will you hear speaking, but you also get singing in this game. That's right. It's a video game musical! Between plot segments, you watch montages of still images depicting the characters and the topics about which they sing. I thought this feature was unique, fresh, and I was glad to have it.

One voice worth mentioning is the unseen British detective who accompanies you through the whole game, offering regular doses of commentary. I really liked this voice. It added to the immersion and gave a human element to the gameplay.

Hidden objects scenes: I've been weary of HOGs for a while, as regular readers will know, but despite this fact, I found this game worth my time. Primarily, this is because of the production values I've been speaking of. But, I will say that if I have to play hidden objects scenes, I like them to be done they way they were done in this game. You have a very manageable list of objects to locate, and they look really cool when you find them. And, of course, it helps to have the British guy talking to you as you search.

There are three more things worth noting.
  1. The HOG scenes will have you searching for a number of things that Americans won't be familiar with. Some of the terminology seems specific to English culture or history. So you might need to look a few things up.
  2. I found that the developers were very good about making sure that the thing you are looking for is obviously that thing. So you shouldn't have to do a bunch of "guess" clicking. A snake, for instance, will very obviously be a snake, once you look in the right place.
  3. The hints use a slow-refill system. Once you use a hint, you need to wait a while before using another.


One of many musical interludes.

Grading system: This game features a grading system. After each segment of the story, you are graded on
  • how long you took to finish that story arc
  • how accurate your searching was (it measures wrong clicks)
  • how many puzzles you solved (as opposed to skipping them), and
  • how many hints you used. (I think I'm right about this last one. Recall faculties...failing...)
This grading threw that bit of challenge in there for the serious gamer. If you want to "show your stuff," you can work at achieving a high grade. I got an A ("Nighthawk" ranking). I made it through without using any hints and I solved all of the puzzles. But, at one point, I forgot that it was measuring accuracy, so I was impatiently clicking on things for the heck of it - you know - "just in case" it's the thing I'm looking for.



Issues

Twisted story: I suppose I'm in the minority, but I'm just not into these twisted stories. The whole plot, which I won't spoil here, is just wrong on so many levels. It's just not the sort of thing I want in my mind. I'll talk more about this in the Family section further down.

More puzzles please!: Looking back, I think I would have liked the game more if they had replaced some of the hidden object scenes with puzzles. The puzzles that were in the game were enjoyable, for sure. I just wish there were more of them!


Standard put-the-picture-back-together puzzle.



Suitable for the family?

Some of the imagery could definitely spook a little kid. The whole game takes place at night, and everything has a dark and ominous atmosphere, so this isn't a game I'll recommend as a family event.

My wife stepped over to do some hidden object scenes with me, and enjoyed them, but I don't know if she'll ever play through on her own. She liked what she observed, which was very little.

But, in case you're concerned with messed-up stories, I've spoiled some of the disturbing plot features below. Click and drag over the white text in the box to read it.

  • Sweeney Todd is a barber who ends up killing people with his razor, to take their valuables.
  • The baker woman is using the dead bodies to make meat pies, and business is doing well.
  • The aged priest character is corrupt, and he is determined to force young Johanna to marry him against her will.



The family man's final ruling

This game was fun. The whole production was well-done and kept me interested. The rainy atmosphere and dreary music have a way of pulling you into the story. There are hints for those who want them, and a high grade to work for, if you like a challenge.

I would gladly exchange the story for one that isn't so disturbing, but they kept things pretty mild, for which I'm thankful.

I recommend playing this game. The only thing that could have made it even better would be more puzzles instead of so many hidden object scenes.

And, if you like bonus features, there is a Collector`s Edition, which costs more, but includes, according to Big Fish,
  • Exclusive hidden object scenes
  • Original puzzles to challenge and confound you
  • An interactive strategy guide
  • A new “theatre mode” to replay cut scenes and movies
  • Spectacular full orchestral soundtrack


Beautiful (and chilling) scenery at every turn.

You'll like the game if...

  • You like hidden object games
  • You like adventure games
  • You like inventory-based tasks
  • You like dark stories

You won't like the game if...

  • You don't like finding hidden objects
  • You want a bright and cheery game


My rating:

If you want to play Penny Dreadfuls: Sweeney Todd, click one of the options below:

StandardCollector's Edition


Deal: Mystic Diary: Lost Brother for $2.99 this week!

The Catch of the Week for May 10 - May 16 is Mystic Diary: Lost Brother!

This is a hidden objects game.

To get it for $2.99, click the image below, and use the coupon code CATCH299 at checkout!

Mac users click here!



Thursday, May 6, 2010

Deal: Mother's Day sale this weekend!

Big Fish Games will have all games for 30% off this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday!

This is your chance to get that game you weren't willing to pay full price for!

Click the image below to go get your discounted games! Just use the coupon code SUPERMOM at checkout.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Deal: Ye Olde Sandwich Shoppe for $2.99 this week!

The Catch of the Week for May 3 - May 9 is Ye Olde Sandwich Shoppe!

This is a time management game.

To get it for $2.99, click the image below, and use the coupon code CATCH299 at checkout!

Mac users click here!