I’m not too late, am I?

I feel like the negligent blogging sister!

It’s been four months since I have posted anything on here, and before you express concern, nothing at all is wrong. Life is good! It’s only that my time is not my own these days. Unfortunately, the blogging has taken a back seat (I surrender, I just can’t do it all!) and there has been very little gaming happening. My daily habit of reading your blogs was also put on ice to a large degree, but I pop my head in every once in awhile. What can I say, life is taking a lot of my headspace these days. Work, a rodent infestation in our garage, and a kitchen reno since my last post have been the time avengers.

As I write, my new kitchen is wrapped up in drop-cloths waiting for paint, but the worst is over, thankfully. Those of you who I’ve friended on Facebook have seen the pics – it’s looking good! All I got to say is my father-in-law and husband are great people. I chose the cabinets, countertop and flooring, and they put it together. Love them! I mean, I helped with what I could, but they did the grunt work. My kitchen is now functional, and I love it! After the kitchen is done, we’ll be back at it with a new laundry room. I’m telling you, it never ends!

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I haven’t played much game as of late… but I have been playing the DLC for Borderlands 2 with the hubs over the holidays, and it’s been fun. I just can’t keep out of the Borderlands!

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This Christmas, the hubs and I pulled out our Christmas decorations, and even trimmed a tree! I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I think it is. It had been three years since we put up a tree. A lack of interest and our travel plans home over the holidays really didn’t make pulling out the decorations from under the stairs attractive. This year though really put us in the spirit. I bought a 3-ft tree at my local grocery store and went to town. Busting open the boxes of ornaments was a fun experience. I had forgotten all of the ornaments we own, including some old-timey ones from my mom, and Star Wars ones we’ve received as gifts. We even got into the Christmas spirit outside, as my husband strung some lights around our front door.

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As we close out on another year, I would be remiss if I didn’t address all my “favourites” passing away, particularly George Michael. Gosh, that one hits me. In case you didn’t read my previous post on the subject, my mom always had it in for George Michael when I was growing up, and forbade me from owning and listening to his album, Faith; something about “I Want Your Sex” and my churchy upbringing, I suppose. To this day, my sis and I laugh at how she hated him. Last night, I was watching some YouTube vids of Michael’s…what a voice he had. Arguably one of the most natural voices in the music business. He sure had some great tunes too. RIP George Michael.

Anyway, this year, contrary to my past year-end posts, I won’t make any resolutions…I think I will just be and say, here’s to another year! I hope mine is full of happiness, gaming, music, love and friendship. And I hope the same for you.

Happy New Year, friends!

[Film] Wild (2014)

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Cheryl has been dealing with some serious life-altering stuff, and not very well. First, her beloved mother, her beacon of positivity, dies of Cancer a month after she was diagnosed. Not having a strong coping mechanism, Cheryl turns down a head-long path to destruction where instead of turning to her husband (a tumultuous relationship by all standards), she turns to the company of many strange men. Somewhere down that alley, she starts taking drugs. The weight of it all could not make her husband stay, and the two divorce.

Things aren’t going so good for Cheryl, and she decides she needs to work through her problems alone. She comes across a trail guide for the Pacific Crest Trail, and feels it calling to her. The Pacific Crest Trail is a rugged and solitary hiking trail that runs from Mexico, through the United States pacific coast, up to Canada. She has no hiking experience at all, but the solitude is calling to her, and she hopes the alone time and beautiful scenery will give her strength to work through her grief and guilty thoughts. She leaves everything behind to pursue this journey. Nothing could go wrong, right?

Wild is based on a memoir by Cheryl Strayed. Reese Witherspoon stars as Cheryl, and let me tell you, it’s been a long time since she played Elle in Legally Blonde. This was probably one of the best dramatic roles I have ever seen her play. Laura Dern played the mom, and I enjoyed her character immensely. Wild is a film where, yes, the clicheed “a movie about a solitary woman who is emotionally unstable [insert plot here] …and let’s hope because she is alone that she doesn’t get raped or eaten alive,” is at play. But, I was surprised with how details of this film were handled when it concerned Cheryl. As a feminist, I didn’t feel any “oh please, come on!” at any point. In fact, the story was very engaging, and I was impressed with Cheryl’s strength and resilience when the whole time she felt like quitting. I was glad she ignored her feelings and pushed forward. I found myself rooting for Cheryl in her quest.

If you are looking for a film with a bit of adventure, scenery and catharsis, settle in with Wild. It was quite good!

3.5/5

Wild
Starring Reese Witherspoon
2014

[Brief Review] Shovel Knight (Nintendo 3DS / Xbox One)

Shovel Knight, it’s not you, it’s me.

I thought I would join in and play the Cartridge Club’s game of the month for August, instead of going my own way. I had no idea what I was getting into, but was soon introduced to a lil dude dressed in an iron suit that uses a shovel instead of a sword. He’s cute, and blue, and he won me over. It started out a typical platformer, that was easy enough to play. Looks can be deceiving, however…

Shovel Knight is similar to Mario games, in that you lead Shovel Knight through mazes, up ladders and push through obstacles to proceed to the end boss. You are given a map to maneuvre to the next stage, and as you finish a stage or defeat a boss, another area of the map unlocks. Along the way, Shovel Knight uses his shovel to dig tunnels and find needed treasure.

The game looked good, and was totally playable…up to a point. I’m not sure what I was doing wrong, but while playing on 3DS, I could not get Shovel Knight to jump right…or he kept dying…or I couldn’t fire his flare wand right. I tried really hard to push through, and wanted to succeed. I even started the game again on the XBox One to find out if maybe the 3DS’s controls were messing me up. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to matter; as much as I enjoyed what I did play of Shovel Knight, I just could not progress in the game. 4.5 hours later, and I was still on level 2. …And I chose to walk away satisfied in knowing I played Shovel Knight as well as I could. Nothing is wrong with this game, except that it was too difficult for me. Kudos to those who played it all the way through.

Shovel Knight (3DS/Xbox One)
Yacht Club Games
2014

[Review] Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)

I was so looking forward to playing this one! After I completed Unsolved Crimes for the Nintendo DS, I went searching for other DS games like it, and the game, Crime Scene, kept popping up. (I can hear readers scream “Phoenix Wright”….don’t worry, folks, I have it in my library…) Crime Scene is a rare title and difficult to find in my area…but after six months of searching, I finally found it at my local EB Games. Crime Scene wasn’t cheap ($19.99, new for a game from 2010). I was anxious to play it over my vacation, and started playing it immediately…And darn it, if I have anything good to say about it. It blows.

As it often goes with these Cop Shop type games, you play as Matt Simmons, the newest and eager forensic investigator of the Crossburg Police Department. Using your instincts, know-how and latest forensic equipment, you investigate the 5 murders plaguing Crossburg by interviewing suspects, analysing evidence and reporting back to your Superintendent, Alexandra Malone. Your skills are tested every step of the investigation. You better study hard and have a steady stylus hand in Crime Scene, or Malone will send your ass packing quickly.

No doubt, the game looks great! The imagery is crisp. But, don’t be fooled by its appearance, as its mechanics are broken. The “charm” to Crime Scene is the part where one collects evidence using a number of different given tools – latex gloves, cotton swabs, an X-acto knife, tweezers, fingerprint powder and tape, and luminol & black light. The police department is counting on Simmons knowing how to use these items to solve the crime, so the game equips players with an integrity meter that gauges how well you as Simmons are doing. The game provides you with confusing instructions on how to use each of these tools while in play that one must figure out while the clock ticks down fast. When time’s up, your integrity can take a nasty hit. The tools are used by dragging them with the stylus and holding down the L or R bumper. Sometimes they don’t work properly at all and the game penalizes you severely. In one situation you are to take a blood sample as evidence by dipping a cotton swab in solution, then rubbing it on a blood stain. I couldn’t figure out why my swab kept breaking mid-sample, causing me to have to re-take the sample. Every time I “broke” a swab, my integrity meter would decrease. In another scenario, I had to cut evidence out of fabric using an X-acto knife, and I’ll be damned if I could get the knife to cut anything.

The actual analysis of evidence is treated in a series of mini-games, which at first blush seem fun enough. In one game, you use a pipette to draw a sample of blood to place on a microscope slide. Once the slide is prepared, you use a laser to zap red blood cells. Reading this back, it sounds like it’s lame…and really, it is especially if you were asked to repeat these mini-games several times within the case. And like I said, if you don’t get the tool mechanics just right, you lose the game, so make sure you save often so you can re-start the game at a save point (that is… if you plan on playing this). I, for one, was sent packing many times. It never got easier.

Many of you will NOT remember when I reviewed the CSI: Dark Motives game for the DS…mainly because it was the second or third game I reviewed for this blog over three years ago and no one was paying any mind back then. At that time, I said you were better off eating a Mr. Big chocolate bar than play that game, mainly because the game was confusing, unforgiving and had broken mechanics; your only consolation was to eat a Mr. Big. Same goes for Crime Scene, only this time I’ll take a Coffee Crisp, please, because, if I gotta replay that damn crime scene one more time, I might as well gnaw on something that tastes like delicious coffee wafer dipped in awesome chocolate, thanks.

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2/5

Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)
Dev: Nobilis / South Peak
2010

[Review] Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PC)

Collaboration post! 1537 and Caught Me Gaming have joined blogging forces to bring you a fulsome review of the game, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture: I take on the game, 1537 takes on the soundtrack! Please go read his fantastic post here!

About eight years ago, I read a book called, “the World Without Us,” which looks at how planet Earth would manage if humans were to suddenly disappear (Spoiler alert: the world would get on just fine without us). Whenever I hear of games where I explore abandoned towns, this book pops into my head. Without having all the information, a game title like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture conjures up thoughts of this deserted earth. What should I expect? The environment overrun with weeds? Should I bring a machete?

With talks of a rapture, I also thought I would get some doomish church sermon out of it too. Thankfully, there was no such sermon, or talk of Armageddon for that matter. But, this game does leave one with thoughts and questions that last beyond the end of the game.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (referred to as ‘Rapture going forward) is a mystery adventure game that takes the form of a first-person walking simulator. You are dropped in the middle of a small English village where all its inhabitants have disappeared. You are left to wander the town, exploring buildings to get clues as to what happened there. Interactions with phones and radios randomly scattered throughout the village allow users to hear odd messages from Scientist Katherine (Kate) Collins, and her husband Stephen Appleton who both worked at the town’s Observatory and who were trying to find an explanation for the mysterious patterns of light that have suddenly appeared in the sky. With it is a desperation to find a correlation between the light and the terrifying health-related illnesses happening to the local townfolk. The game also delves into the personal lives of Stephen and Kate and their interactions and interrelationships with the locals. Orbs of light are found everywhere within the game, are non-threatening, and very much used as a device of guidance when one gets disoriented. They also invite players to interact with them to trigger cuts scenes that tell a richer story of what happened here.

A walking simulator such as ‘Rapture where there is no threat of attack or enemy is a blissful experience. The scenery in the game was so realistic and lovely. Combined with a beautiful soundtrack that marries an atmospheric opera with minimalistic music, you get a sense of what you would experience playing this game. Yet… there is definitely a creepy, unsettled feeling, walking through this abandoned town, into people’s homes, half expecting to run into someone…and maybe I’ve played too many survival horror games, but I for sure thought a zombie was gonna jump-scare me straight from my relaxed state. The most unsettling had to have been the beep-booping sounds coming from random radios and phones found scattered in backyards and along to streets.

There is plenty done right in ‘Rapture. For one thing, I have to give props to the devs, The Chinese Room, for creating a game that honours accessibility, particularly for the hard of hearing. Not only does the game have optional closed captioning, but also the ability to make the audio cues visual, as in the instance of a radio making sound, it will show a flashing icon in the direction of the sound. Also, often I get motion sickness with first-person walking simulators without a cross-hair in the centre of the screen, and thankfully, ‘Rapture has that option.

The game was originally made for the PS4, and ported to the PC. Having played the PC version with mouse and keyboard, I have to say it played okay, if it had a few rendering issues with objects appearing blurry at times. But, predominantly my main complaint had more to do with a very fundamental device that was missing from the PC version – a PROPER manual save. That’s right folks, there was no ability to save at will within the game… that is until The Chinese Room heard the ire of fellow gamers who were asking for refunds because of it…. The only time the game would save your progress was when you would find a glowing orb that would change into a cut scene. For a game that is open-world – that encourages the player to wander and explore – it was impractical to walk around and NOT have a manual save state. The first evening I spent in ‘Rapture, I wandered for an hour and a half, but it only saved 25 minutes worth of gameplay. What’s the point? I looked online for a solution, and thankfully, the developers pushed a patch that allowed players to click on framed maps found around the tiny village to save the game manually (this solution was found on Steam in the forums here, in case anyone is interested). Incidentally, this does not seem to be an issue for the PS4 – they have a suspend mode whereby the game can be paused, which was not possible with the PC version. Anyway, props to the devs for fixing this downright annoying problem. Why they didn’t think of this as a problem before, I have no idea.

Overall, I didn’t regret my time spent in ‘Rapture. It’s a gorgeous game, and if walking simulators are your bag, don’t pass this one by!

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
The Chinese Room
2016 (PC) / 2015 (PS4)

Thanks to 1537 for the game suggestion and the idea to join forces! Now go read his review here!

Jessica Curry Everybodys Gone To The Rapture 08

[Review] Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull (PC)

I got a lot of boxed games…and they are begging to be played! Most are point-and-click, and most I’m sure you’ve never heard of! Here is one of them!

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull is the seventh installment of the Mystery Case Files collection by Big Fish Games. I have some familiarity with MCF games, having played Mystery Case Files: Malgrave Incident on the Wii a couple of years ago, as well as Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir on the Nintendo DS. I like the series as every game is unique in its own right, either by its storytelling, or graphic execution. The production value is predominantly top-notch, and 13th Skull is no exception.

Sara and Marcus Lawson move from Ohio into a run-down mansion amid the swampy bayous of Louisiana, along with their daughter Magnolia. Soon after settling in, Marcus goes missing, and Sara calls upon you, a detective, to find him. In the meantime, you must rummage through this dirty creepy mansion, interview rednecks and avoid alligators all in the name of detective work, just so you can locate Sara’s husband. While gathering evidence, you discover that the mansion and town are steeped in pirate history, the townfolk are superstitious and a brigand by the name of Phineas Crown once lived and buried his treasure at the mansion. There is also gossip around town of the curse of the 13th Skull, a spell that is cast on anyone who locates the treasure. Sooner or later, Marcus is found, along with some interesting plot twists. Arr Matey!

13th Skull is a point and click hidden object adventure game that does very well to encapsulate a feeling of the old South with its characters, settings and music. The puzzles in this game are typical, but fun and challenging. What sets this one apart from other HOGs, is the use of live-action interview scenes that the gamer is made to participate in to advance the story. The major characters of the story – Sara Lawson, her daughter Magnolia, their superstitious housekeepers, and some town locals are represented. The game places the full-motion actor within the game’s UI, so it appears as though the actor is living in this virtual world. The interview part is an interesting aspect and enriches the experience. The acting? Well…it’s a bit cheesy and exaggerated, but I liked how Big Fish Games tried to do something different within a hidden object game.

Although the puzzles were challenging in 13th Skull, there happened to be several instances where you would have to scour the game’s numerous scenes, including the bar, swamp, cemetery and the Lawson house’s 10 rooms to find one single object needed to continue in the story. At the end of the puzzle, it was easy to lose track of where you are going and what you were supposed to be doing next. This is a minor critique, and the game comes with a walkthough to help you out, if you are so inclined to use it.

Critiques aside, 13th Skull is a fun game that shouldn’t be missed, and fits nicely within the pantheon of Mystery Case Files games.

3.5/5

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull (PC)
Big Fish Games
2010

[Review] Sudoku Ball – Detective (Nintendo DS)

Anyone like Sudoku? If you are not familiar with this challenging grided number-placement puzzle, get going! Along with crossword puzzles and search-a-word, it is my favourite pencil-to-paper puzzle game. I started enjoying them about 15 years ago when we’d occasionally get a free newspaper delivered to our house. Now, I have a couple of Sudoku games on my tablet and phone. It’s fun and challenging enough to give the mind a little exercise. So when I discovered a Sudoku puzzle game for the Nintendo DS, Sudoku Ball – Detective, I was all over it! And imagine: Sudoku tied into a story-based murder mystery! What a great concept! I’d buy that!

…and I did. And the game is…ehhh…

Edward G. Bannister, a retired Scotland Yard detective, is investigating the sudden death of his close friend. The story is all too familiar: you play as Edward as he interviews suspects, picks locks and lifts fingerprints to search for clues…except instead of you doing any of this, you play Sudoku Ball, a variant of Sudoku where the Sudoku grid is bent in a 3D sphere shape. Once you complete a puzzle, you get a clue which is used to carry the story. The puzzles in the game vary in level of difficulty and from timed to untimed. In the timed components, if the clock runs out, there is no real penalty, as you are able to restart the puzzle after rewatching a short clip.

I have encountered some terrible DS games in the past, and although Sudoku Ball – Detective is not the worst I’ve played on the system, it is on this side of mediocre. I wanted so much more for it than I got especially since I like Sudoku, and there are FREE Sudoku games in the mobile environment that look and play better than this. To be fair, Sudoku Ball – Detective is from 2009, so time hasn’t been kind. The graphic rendering of the characters looked ghastly, and the Sudoku puzzles are pixelated and blocky. One thing I hand it to this game and the DS for that matter – it has very decent handwriting recognition whereby you fill in a Sudoku square by hand-writing in the number with your stylus. The DS then replaces your handwritten number for a typed equivalent. It was quite intuitive – it even got my lazy lefty chicken-scratch pretty well! But alas, this is where the good ends. The tale wasn’t all that engaging and after awhile, I quit paying attention and just played Sudoku. If you wanted to, you could bypass the story and play the 90 standalone Sudoku puzzles, but again, why would you want to? Those puzzles just look terrible on the DS.

If you come across a copy of Sudoku Ball – Detective, feel confident in passing it by. There are so many free methods of playing Sudoku that are so much better than this.

1/5

Sudoku Ball – Detective (Nintendo DS)
Dev: Playlogic
2009