Author: Sarca

I write, I game, I knit, I watch, I mainline coffee.

[Review] Princess Isabella: A Witch’s Curse (PC)


Princess Isabella is set to marry her beloved Prince Adam, but an evil witch has put a curse on the entire castle. All who live there have been locked away in a series of mirrors which have been shattered and scattered throughout the castle. You must find the mirror shards to free your loved ones. Each room is locked within the castle which you must open to free the curse. A combo of puzzles, hidden object scenes and scattered mirror shards are available in each space. A fairy follows you throughout the game, providing you guidance and hints, as well as the ability to cast spells. Once all the mirror shards are found, you are to fit them together in each mirror frame to make an image of a loved one to free them from their curse.

Hall of Mirrors

When I found Princess Isabella: A Witch’s Curse on sale on Steam, the comments about it were generally positive. A game from 2009, Princess Isabella seemed to conjure up very happy memories for some from when they would play casual games as children. This game was also a nice bonding experience between parents (and in some cases, grandparents) and their kids who would play together. People were going on about how good a game this was, so when it was on sale, I snapped it up. On preview, its graphics appeared a bit dated, but I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Considered one of the first of its kind according to some sources, Princess Isabella has the notoriety of being one of the first hidden object games to follow a non-linear environment. Most HOGs from this era forced you to follow a certain series of steps to proceed in the game, but Princess Isabella allows you to move freely from room to room as you wish, which is helpful as there are about 20 rooms to navigate. Thankfully, there is also a trusty map to allow you to port to a particular room quickly, and even provides guidance if there is a task that still needs completing (…and y’all know how I appreciate a good map!).

As an expert HOG player and seasoned reviewer, I am careful not to criticize the decade-old Princess Isabella too much. The game is generally meant for newcomers to the genre, not for the expert, although I think it has something to offer both camps. Some of the charms of this game could also be construed as irritating. The constant hinting by the fairy who is always there in wait, as well as the continuous unskippable dialogue would be extremely helpful for some, but would surely grate on others. I chose to mute my game and listen to some music instead of relying on the soundtrack, and my enjoyment of the game improved tenfold. I mean, everything is better with the very à propos RUSH A Farewell to Kings playing in the background!

Overall, Princess Isabella: a Witch’s Curse wasn’t a bad game at all. I would definitely recommend it for newcomers to the genre, and even to the seasoned gamer… It is usually cheap on Steam…so why not?

3/5

Princess Isabella: a Witch’s Curse
Gogii
2009

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[Book] Far and Wide: Bring That Horizon to Me! / Neil Peart


Having experienced another personal loss over Christmas 2018, the return back from our terrible holidays saw me steer the car into my local library to browse the stacks in search of something to fill my gutted soul. Whenever I go through a period of sadness, I find myself gravitating toward tales of travel. It’s something about the author’s process of going through a difficult period far from home that somehow helps me deal with my own lot, I suppose.

It is whilst browsing that I found the perfect grieving companion in the prose of Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for RUSH who is one heck of a travel writer. I have been reading Peart’s books for years, starting with his cyclist journeys through Africa in the Masked Rider (a personal favourite). The book of choice this month, Far and Wide: Bring That Horizon to Me! is the third in a triptych of Far and — tomes, that has Neil recount his experiences of traveling between shows on his BMW during RUSH’s R40 tour.

Other aspects of Neil’s life during this period also make their way in Far and Wide, sharing very personal pieces from past and present – his interactions with his new young family, the pain and loss of losing his wife and daughter 20 years ago, the physical endurance of drumming, memories of recording certain albums, and his thoughts on retirement…Some of this subject matter has been covered in his previous books, but here he shows evolvement and growth. He also infuses the writing with his own brand of humour. Interesting pics of his journeys round out a very interesting scrapbook of his life at the time.

Neil Peart is forever a private person, but an interesting one; perhaps that’s what attracts me to his easy prose. Far and Wide was the kind of book I really needed to read this past month. I highly recommend it!

5/5

Far and wide: bring that horizon to me! / Neil Peart
2016

[Review] Hope Lake (PC)

Hope Lake Boarding School today is a run-down abandoned shell of its former self. The school’s  been shuttered for years and forgotten about until it recently caught the attention of the police. The reason: all the girls who went to Hope Lake all those years ago are disappearing at an alarming rate. Police suspect there is a link between the disappearances and the drowning death of Ms Braun, Hope Lake’s notorious Governess. Braun’s drowning was the impetus for the Boarding School’s closure; her death was deemed an accident…but was it?

You are a young detective tasked with solving Hope Lake’s mystery. While on your search through the property you find and follow a cloaked figure in the woods that leads you to several clues that point you toward Ms Braun’s disturbed son, Peter. Could he be the cause of the disappearances? Was Ms. Braun’s death an accident? So many questions to find answers to…

Hope Lake is quite an extensive traditional hidden object game that took me almost a month to complete. I took my time with it, partly due to scheduling, and partly because it was enjoyable enough that I didn’t want to see it end. It was a well-designed game with gorgeous graphics. Some hidden object scenes did repeat, but at the very least, you were given fresh clues to find instead of the same old eye glasses or tea cup. Several other mini-games were also included in the game to keep you sharp, such as a Tower of Hanoi and sliding blocks. A lot of interaction with old tech too: tuning in a radio, playing a vinyl record and dialing a number on an old rotary phone.

The Flashlight was very helpful in scenes like this!

Each area you explore in Hope Lake is unique in design, and there are a lot of them – over 45 scenes! And just when you feel there will be a lot of back-tracking, the developers give you an awesome map that allows you to navigate to a different scene instantly. The casual mode will even give you a clue as to what room has an action that needs your attention and a task list of what needs completing is provided! Impressive! You also get a handy flashlight that you can use throughout the entire game. Really, they thought of everything!

The map system

Although Hope Lake is a well constructed game, I feel where the developers skimped out is on the translation from Ukrainian to English. Sorry, a wrench is not a “key,” nor is a stick a “shelf.” This is mostly found in hidden object scenes, where proper translation of items is needed the most. Thankfully, this isn’t prevalent in the entire game; your journal entries are written properly for the most part.

Overall, I was very impressed with Hope Lake: an enjoyable hidden object game with a satisfying story. How often do you find that?

4.5/5

Hope Lake
Far Mills / Mysterytag
2016

[Live Music] The Watchmen – Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, ON, 12/14/18

Some people will always be in your life, and no matter how long you have been apart, when you get together it’s like not a day has gone by. That is my friendship with Jenn, a special person in my life I met when we went to Western together a long time ago. Our friendship has always been effortless. It helps to have similar interests, as well as an ability to find twisted humour in practically everything; Jenn is a kindred spirit in that regard. We have always shared a love for the trifecta of Canadian 90s bands: the Watchmen, the Odds and the Headstones. These are three bands we would go to see very frequently during our uni days. We’d scrape together the scratch to buy tix at the downtown London, ON watering hole, Call the Office and be right there fighting the mosh pits to witness greatness in the front row.

The Watchmen was the one band we went to see the most frequently; at least four times in four years. It wasn’t until October 2008 when Jenn and I reunited to see the Watchmen perform at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. Then, we hadn’t attended a Watchmen concert together until January 2016 when they performed at the Danforth Music Hall (which I wrote about here). And so it goes, life has been extremely busy for both of us…we hadn’t really talked again until this past September when Jenn contacted me on Facebook Messenger that the Watchmen were returning to the DMH in December…did I want to go? Umm…YES!!

The week leading up to the event, I was planning my route and making some decisions. Jenn had moved since our last concert, and there was no driveway parking like I had last time…She still lives in East York,  but just south of the Danforth where there is half street parking and half “Green P” public parking. Both can be dicy and writhe with an errant parking ticket if you aren’t careful. Yeah, driving and parking in Toronto is not fun. I can manage riding the subway, but I’d have a long ride back to my car late after the event. I decided to chance it and weather the Friday night traffic to her place and park on the street, so I could simply take off home after the show. This ended up being the best decision, and really wasn’t that bad after all.

Just some of the interesting things found at Jenn’s

I arrived at Jenn’s place to be greeted by her bright and talkative 5-year-old daughter, who is the cutest. A  hug and a homemade cosmopolitan welcomed me into Jenn’s warm and eclectic two bedroom apartment, filled with interesting things. We talked and reminisced while waiting for the babysitter to arrive, and it was certainly like old times. The sitter arrived and Jenn and I ventured into the light of the Danforth.

The last time we went to the Watchmen, we grabbed a bite at the Detroit Eatery, a greasy spoon along the strip. We decided to relive our night in 2016 and go visit it again. Fish and chips, and a brew were what we had, and they were delicious. We caught up on what was going on in each other’s lives and as expected, time passed way too quickly.

We headed down to the DMH, and had missed the opening act, Ron Hawkins (Lowest of the Low). We had just enough time to check our coats and stroll by the merch table before the Watchmen took to the stage at 9 PM sharp.

The first song of the evening was Must to Be Free. The crowd went nuts, and so did we! The Watchmen still have it, and delivered a tight show. Their major hits were paid props including Boneyard Tree, Run & Hide, Slomotion, Incarnate, Stereo and All Uncovered. The Watchmen managed to showcase their talent, hitting the hits and adding several well-known cover songs to their set, including the Johnny Nash hit, I Can See Clearly Now, Tom Petty’s Square One, as well as Superman by R.E.M. The band also paid respect to the Hip’s Gord Downie, performing a cover of Wheat Kings, which stoked the audience. The opener, Ron Hawkins, came out and did an excellent duet with the band of the song A New England (originally by Billy Bragg; I’m familiar with it via Kirsty MacColl). This concert was really something to see and hear live…

When we had gone to see the Watchmen in 2016, Jenn and I had trouble with the Amazonian-sized dudes around us who enjoyed bathing in Axe Body Spray. Passing out from the cologne fumes, we escaped to the right side of the stage, and this action ended up being the best thing at the time. We had great line of sight, and plenty of room to dance. Would we be lucky a second time with that same spot? This evening, as the Watchmen took to the stage, we quickly rushed to the right side of the auditorium…and so did everyone else. It was a packed house with a lot of fans. We are both around the same height and obviously not 5 ft 8, but It was fine, I thought; we could see in between the heads at Danny and the boys somewhat comfortably. That was until the phones came out.

With advancements in technology and the advent of social media, a green monster has emerged, compelling users to compulsively take shot after shot – never mind video recording entire segments – of the show with their cell phones. I expect some picture-taking (I snapped a few myself), but I also hope for discretion. I was in the unenviable position of standing behind two people obsessed with their phones. I hazard they watched the entire show through their cell screens from song one…and sadly, for a portion of the show, so did I. In true Canadian fashion, instead of confronting them, I swallowed my ire and tried to ignore it. What are you going to do? I didn’t want any trouble. So, when a space next to Jenn opened up, I moved over to allow a tall dude with a fat head on my left to block my peripheral view of their phones. Huzzah!

Back to the band, do these guys drink from the fountain of youth? Lead singer, Danny Greaves has not aged in 25 years; he continues to be his trim self. Ken Tizzard was the only one whose appearance has changed – from a fine moustache, to a wicked beard with extended goatee. But, these guys are getting older; the show was done in an hour and a half, and Danny cited a “curfew” as the reason for the show ending when it did. After all with over 20 songs and two encores under their belt for the evening, these guys were allowed to “exit stage right.”

When the house lights went up, Jenn and I doubled back to the merch table one last time to check out the wares; Watchmen t-shirts were for sale, as well as some solo projects on vinyl by the band. Jenn purchased a Christmas card with a downloadable song sung by Danny with all proceeds going to charity.

Overall, this was another memorable evening with Jenn and the Watchmen. I totally look forward to more experiences with Jenn in the near future and I am also certain we’ll be going to see the Watchmen again, whenever they stop in Toronto.

[For the Love of ‘Fee] 100% Freeze-Dried and Van Houtte Colombian Light Instant Coffee

“For the Love of ‘Fee” is one coffee-lover’s attempt to machete through the tangle of coffee beans and brews to find an awesome cup of coffee. Juan Valdez follows ME! 🙂

I can’t believe my luck. A colleague of mine on contract who is replacing someone on parental leave is from Colombia, and…wait for it…her dad worked in the coffee industry there. AND he knows Juan Valdez. That’s right, THE Juan Valdez. (Okay, the actor who portrayed Juan Valdez…still counts!) Her family knows coffee!

I’ve learned two things from her regarding coffee:

  1. The best coffee in Colombia is actually exported out of the country to places like North America.
  2. A lot of Colombians drink INSTANT COFFEE. Yep, they do.

That second one almost melted my brains. Really?? Why when they are surrounded by coffee, would they rather drink awful instant coffee?

Well, folks, the secret is in the type of instant coffee. My colleague says I need to look out for 100% freeze-dried instant coffee, not the average crystalized instant coffee like Folgers or Maxwell House that is predominant in the grocery store ’round here. She brought to me a jar of instant coffee straight from Colombia to “show and smell”. Turns out there are differences: the freeze-dried coffee appears lighter in colour, and more granular or chunkier than what I am used to seeing. Also, the aroma of freeze-dried is different – less acrid, more like coffee. She explained freeze dried is of much better quality than your average instant because of how it’s been processed.

Back in 2016, I wrote about my hatred for instant coffee in general. I even developed a hack to make it taste better! There wasn’t much of a choice around where I live with what was available. I had to deal with the instant coffee crystals of Folgers or Maxwell House.

Which brings me to this week’s food run…It was my usual night of grocery shopping that lead me down the coffee aisle for anything new. This is where I was delighted to find Van Houtte Colombian Light 100% freeze-dried instant coffee. The coffee is sold in a glass jar, and I immediately recognized the chunky look of the granules. Van Houtte is a Montreal, Quebec company and from experience, I know Van Houtte to make a pretty good cup of brewed coffee. To find freeze-dried instant coffee in the aisles without begging my colleague to bring me back a jar of Colombian the next time she’s home was great, but seeing the Van Houtte name was even better! I immediately put the jar into my cart.

Yesterday afternoon, I cracked open that jar and did the sniff test, comparing it to the Folgers we had stuck in the back of the pantry – of course, the freeze-dried smelled better! The Folgers smelled like someone needed to take a bath (to put it mildly). In the spectrum of instant coffee smells, the 100% freeze-dried is more like ground coffee, and definitely less acrid than coffee crystals. I made myself and the hubs a cup of Van Houtte following the directions on the jar (add boiling water or milk to granules). The results were pretty palatable. The hubs commented how smooth-tasting it was. I couldn’t help but notice the coffee smelled like COFFEE in the cup for once instead of some weird drink. After I finished my coffee, the thought crossed my mind that keeping some of this on-hand in my office would be a lot better than the Folgers I have sitting there collecting dust.

No doubt, I am not a big fan of instant coffee, but, to be constructively critical, if there was a type of instant to keep in the cupboard, 100% freeze-dried instant is the way to go…I’ve certainly tasted a lot worse in the instant coffee department! And Van Houtte Colombian Light 100% freeze-dried instant coffee is a good one.

 

[Review] The Fall Trilogy Chapter 3: Revelation (PC)

The Fall Trilogy is a surreal three-game casual series from 2010 that is one of the best of its kind from that era. If you haven’t checked out my review of Chapter 1: Separation and Chapter 2: Reconstruction from the series, please make sure you do. Chapter 3: Revelation is the last of the series.

The plot of the Fall Trilogy starts with you, a man, who wakes up from a fall in a strange place, not knowing who you are or where you are. In Chapter 1: Separation, you wake up in an ancient temple, while in Chapter 2: Reconstruction, you wake up in a high-tech office building. You solve puzzles and mini-games around your environment to find your way out. At the end of each adventure, you learn a tiny bit about yourself – you are a family man with a wife and young son. At the game’s end you find the exit, only to fall again, which is where Chapter 3: Revelation begins.

In Revelation, you wake up in the hallway of an old house. It’s 1882 and you have been summoned as a doctor to look after an ailing patient in a bedroom upstairs. The patient is a man who is unconscious. You have to draw blood and come up with an elixir that will cure your patient. You explore the grounds of the home, which includes a cellar, shed and greenhouse. Tasks pile up and puzzles are there to solve so that you are able to get the proper ingredients for this life-saving elixir and save this man, who is…familiar somehow…

Full disclosure: I had never played Chapter 3 before, but figured since the first two were so palatable, the third ought to be good, right?

Revelation is the weakest and most unbalanced of the three stories. Although the graphics still looked great, the story was underwhelming. The puzzles started out pretty cool; being a doctor, you had to take blood and the patient’s blood pressure. In another mini-game, you had to look under a microscope at blood cells – that was pretty interesting…However, the majority of them were repetitive and uninspiring, as they boiled down to several instances of just finding all of x in one room, solving jigsaw puzzles or matching objects. What was worse is that your character continuously leads you through the tasks way too much. By the end, it was almost like the developers were as bored with this as I was.

I should also mention this game is short, even though it took me 4 hours to complete, but I blame bad graphic mapping for that. In certain puzzles, I’d click on an object knowing it was the right one, yet the game wouldn’t detect it until I hit the hint button, which slowed down the works…That was frustrating! It expanded completing this maximum 2-hour game to 4 hours!

In an attempt to end the boredom already, I sought a Let’s Play on the goggles to watch how this ended but couldn’t find a single one; obviously everyone who has played Revelation was so bored they couldn’t stand it long enough to complete it. So, I was forced to played this game to the bitter end because inquiring minds need to know why this dude keeps falling…And frankly, the conclusion of the Fall Trilogy was dismissive, simplistic and really just…dumb:

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS (highlight with your mouse below)

The man was in a coma as a result of car accident. What is linking him to these weird places are objects found in his hospital room (i.e. a Buddha statuette is found, linking him to the temple). He wakes up surrounded by family. The end.

END OF SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

I was disappointed by Chapter 3: Revelation, and I’m thinking we could have done without it. The plot needed expanding, and the game itself needed more variety of puzzles. Certainly not a favourite…

2.75 / 5

The Fall Trilogy Chapter 3: Revelation (PC)
Kheops Games
2010

[Review] The Fall Trilogy Chapter 2: Reconstruction (PC)

The Fall Trilogy is a surreal three-game casual series from 2010 that is one of the best of its kind from that era. If you haven’t checked out my review of Chapter 1: Separation from the series, please make sure you do.

To recap on the plot of the Fall Trilogy, you are a man who wakes up from a fall in a strange place, not knowing who you are or where you are. In Chapter 1: Separation, you wake up in an ancient temple. You solve puzzles around the temple to find your way out. At the game’s end you find the exit, only to fall again, which is where Chapter 2: Reconstruction begins.

This time, you wake up in a parking garage of a high-tech 20-floor high-rise, still no idea as to you identity, other than you know you are someone’s husband and father. A phone rings for you; the man on the other end warns you there are security cameras everywhere which you need to disable to find your way out. You are then on a search to shut off the security cameras, dodge a guard who is watching the building and solve puzzles so you can make your escape again…to more mystery.

In Reconstruction, you explore three floors of the building which include the parking garage and the upper deck with an incredible view of a cityscape. But, predominantly, your time will be spent exploring the main offices of Spoehk, a mysterious high-tech chemical company that has a full suite of security cameras and its own chemical lab. Once you get all the cameras turned off (a mini-game in itself), you can explore the floor and complete puzzles as you find them. The puzzles are challenging, but mostly engaging and range from solving jigsaw-like puzzles of ripped paper, to cracking security codes, to mixing chemical elixirs, to actual MATH (not so engaging) where you have to add up tokens properly in a vending machine to get cans of soda (ask me if I enjoyed that…).

The graphics in Reconstruction are impressive for a game from 2010. However, as good as they were, I wasn’t as engaged in the environs as I was with the temple setting in the previous chapter, Separation; I think it had a lot to do with me spending my time in an office environment, dealing with security codes and high technology in my professional life all day every day, so that aspect was a bit of a slog. And overall, I enjoyed the gameplay in Reconstruction, but we didn’t really learn much more about our protagonist and what has been happening to him. I suppose this means that one would not need to play Chapter 1 in order to play Chapter 2.

Overall, The Fall Trilogy Chapter 2: Reconstruction isn’t as engaging as Chapter 1: Separation, but it still has plenty of substance to offer to the casual gamer.

3.0 / 5

The Fall Trilogy Chapter 2: Reconstruction (PC)
Kheops Games
2010