Author: Sarca

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

[Review] The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: Separation (PC)

The Fall Trilogy is a three-game series from 2010 that is one of the best of its kind from that era. Back in ’10, I was ripping through a lot of Big Fish Games’ try-before-you-buy-for-an-hour games, and The Fall was one of them. I’ll never forget how unique it was at the time. Of course now I’ve seen and played many more like it, but having replayed the first in the series, Chapter 1: Separation recently, I find it’s still a charming game with a lot of replay value.

In Separation, you play as a man who wakes up after a fall in a weird temple amid an oasis. Initially, you can’t remember who you are or what you are doing there, but early on you begin to piece together a sepia-coloured memory of your wife, Lisa, and son, David. However, you still can’t figure out what you are doing in this place. Soon, you discover the temple is a giant series of puzzles and games you must solve in order to leave…only to soon find out there is more mystery to your story once you exit.

The temple that you must escape is a series of rooms that stylistically marries ancient Egyptian and Hindu sensibilities. Some rooms are accessible, while others require you to complete a mini-game before you can proceed. The pleasant soundtrack is of birds and waterfalls, as well as the occasional crescendo of music when you get close to completing a puzzle. The challenging and fun mini-games range from hidden object, to matching tiles, to collecting items to create or assemble. The game mechanics are solid and not difficult to figure out. There was no timer on any of the puzzles (which added a casual atmosphere), and there were clue and hint buttons if you ever got stuck.

When I started the game, I had to change my screen resolution to 800 x 600, and this was likely due to the game’s age, but otherwise the game worked well with no hiccups. About the only negative review I can give with Separation has to do with the very lame and redundant task list (1. Find out why you are in the temple. 2. Find a way out of the temple. Really? Really??). As well, the on-board map looked like it was drawn in crayon, and did nothing to help you go anywhere.

The Fall Trilogy is developed by Kheops Games, makers of the adventure game, Return to Mysterious Island 2: Mina’s Fate (which I have not played). The graphics in Chapter 1: Separation are pretty good for its time; I mean, I have seen and played a heck of a lot worse in games released just a couple of years ago…By the looks of things, each chapter is sold separately and not cheap ($10 on Big Fish Games), but if you are so inclined and find a sale (bogo – the only way I could afford all three chapters…), Separation is solid. This game is distributed through Big Fish Games, so you can always play for an hour FOR FREE before ponying up the $$.

More to come…

3.5 / 5

The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: Separation (PC)
Kheops Games
2010

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[Review] Shtriga: Summer Camp (PC)

I think it was the name ahead of the cheap price on Steam that attracted me to Shtriga: Summer Camp. Of course, this was one of my 2018 Steam Summer Sale purchases. But, it was the creepy summer camp theme that sealed the deal and made me want to play. A name like Shtriga must have a story, right?

You are sent to the property of an abandoned summer camp to investigate the disappearance of a young boy, Peter, by his mother who suspects he has been kidnapped. A month since the incident, and police are giving up their search. The mother, understandably frantic, says the boy was acting strangely a couple of weeks before he disappeared; she found evidence in his room that showed a strange attraction to the abandoned camp, and his eventual intentions to go there.

Through further investigation, you discover the reason for the camp’s closure: several summers ago, three campers went missing amid a terrible epidemic at the summer camp. Many died. Authorities quarantined the property, and swiftly shut it down. Those three campers were presumed dead as they were never found. Now, you must investigate the old campground to search for clues into Peter’s disappearance. While there, you discover there is an evil spirit, or Shtriga (an Albanian term for witch) that has taken hold of the camp, and is channeling these boys to come to her so she can do her bidding.

The story told in Shtriga: Summer Camp is pretty interesting. The game? Well, it was probably one of the easiest hidden object games I’ve ever played. The HOG scenes could be completed in 30 seconds or less, and no hints were needed. The other mini-games found were typical casual fare and just as easy. The whole thing could be completed in under 2 hours.

As for graphics, again, in typical form, the animated video scenes weren’t great, but the in-game graphics were pretty good. There were a couple of scenes, however, where it looked like there was poor rendering; no big deal, but I could see them…In another mini-game, something happened to the on-screen instructions…Not to critique too much about it, but it was there, and it did have me ask about the QC on this game. But, because the rest of the game was pretty well done, I can excuse this hiccup. Moving on…

Umm, what?

Overall, Shtriga: Summer Camp is a fair game. I managed to get it for $1.57, and got my money’s worth. If you see it and want an easy go on some casual gaming, feel comfortable throwing a twonie on the table.

3/5

Shtriga: Summer Camp
Alawar
2014

 

[Review] Portal of Evil: Stolen Runes (PC)

Wow! Portal of Evil: Stolen Runes is another heavy-hitting hidden object game that was under $5! I picked this one up back in June during the Steam Summer Sale, and I was not the least bit disappointed.

You’ve been called to a Monastery in Southern Italy by Archbishop Benedict to help find your estranged Grandpa, Abraham, who recently went missing. Abraham had been working with the church in Italy before he disappeared, and turns out was also a member of the secret society, the Order of Light, an important group tasked with keeping evil out of the world. But, he has been kidnapped, and evil is seeping in. You play as Vanessa, Abraham’s next of kin, and must find him before it’s too late.

People, I have not been this excited about a casual game since Adam Wolfe. This is one game I actually looked forward to firing up after a long day at work; and I haven’t felt that way about a HOG in a long time.

With over 6 hours of gameplay, Portal of Evil is quite a robust game with all the elements that I love – a compelling story, half-decent graphics, a variety of fun and interesting mini-games, and a pretty great map. About the map: you will need it. There are at least 5 different worlds with over 8 points of interest in each, but the map allows you to teleport to those places quickly. I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to have to backtrack to those different places in the game, places you would think you are done with but aren’t. This game is LOADED with places to go. There was no need to backtrack here – just follow the map!

Love me the map!

The hidden object scenes in Portal of Evil vary between finding objects by a list of words, and pairing one object with another. Apparently the developer, 8Floor, recognizes not everyone sits at a desk to play casual games: it played smoothly on my Windows 10 machine in Widescreen, and for once, each hidden object scene in Portal of Evil looked crystal clear on my TV, with no need to utilize the magnifier at all in gameplay.

It’s important to emphasize I played the Collector’s Edition of Portal of Evil. The game came with an on-board strategy guide (instead of taking to the goggles to search for a half-complete one…). Gamers also get rewarded with a bonus story once they’ve completed the game; this extra gameplay fits seamlessly with the main story and adds another 30 minutes of gaming.

Yeah, the cut scenes are pretty bad…

About the only critique I’d give is to the cut scenes. You would think that with the attention they give to the gameplay graphics, the same attention would be paid to the cut scenes. People, they’re pretty cheesy. Why they gave the task to a first year college animation class, I have no idea* (*assumed by me, can’t be proven). And the voiceover work was pretty bad. Please, don’t base your decision to play this game on those terribly rendered cut scenes!

Do yourself a favour and get Portal of Evil: Stolen Runes. It’s currently $5 on Steam and is well worth your time and money!

4.5 / 5

Portal of Evil: Stolen Runes (PC)
8Floor
2015

[Review] Blue Tear (PC)

A letter is mailed to you that is pre-dated to the early 1900s even though you are living in today. Apparently, you inherited a mansion that cast a spell on your family back in the day, and only you can save them. You arrive to the dilapidated mansion with a group of friends. Your friends run past you and bust in. But, before you can enter, you are channeled by an ancient shaman; a white wizard. He says only you can save the world from the evil Black Wizard. You are the bearer of the Blue Tear – a blue diamond – and must find the ritual mask and amulet before entering the mansion. You then are given tasks to do to break the curse.

Combined with a look and feel of being in an exotic tropical setting, this first part, 2 hours long, was the most enjoyable part of Blue Tear. The visuals were gorgeous, and the puzzles were clever. I took pause at the cool acoustic guitar music with a Latino flair. This game wasn’t perfect, but based on the first part, I’d give it a solid score – 3/5. A bit on the short side, but once I completed it, I felt like it had a satisfying enough conclusion.

Obviously, though, I forgot all about the goal of the story, because when the first part finished, I was half expecting credits to roll. Instead, the game continued with your character gaining access to the mansion, and it was a disappointment for miles.

The second part started with an obvious reduction in production value (did the producers run out of money or what?). The graphics weren’t as polished. The sound effects and background music were super loud, irritating and unoriginal (can we get that squeaky floor a nail, please?). I pressed on, the story taking an odd turn where you are now chasing down an animated porcelain scary AF doll with screws for hair. Your task now is to find pins to push into a voodoo doll that would break the Black Wizard’s curse. In a confusing story arc, you find your friends amid the junk in the mansion half dead (possessed? I can’t be sure). Thankfully, the visuals improved from the first scene the further into the game I got. Blue Tear is quite a large game (I clocked in over 7 hours and still wasn’t done!), and the gamer explores every square inch of that property, with over 20 different areas to explore and puzzles to solve. And just when you thought you had seen it all, another part opens up to you. WOW, right?

I don’t think, in all my time reviewing hidden object games, that I’ve encountered a game quite as unique in its problems as this game. Blue Tear teeters on “HOLY SHIT!” to literal holy shit. Aside from the disparity in quality throughout the game, Blue Tear CRASHES. It crashes mid-play, losing progress. It crashes every time I log out of the game. It crashes CONSTANTLY. This is a documented issue with users on Steam, yet nothing has been done about it. The game’s recommended operating system is Windows 7 – perhaps it can’t handle Windows 10? In the end I could not finish the game.

And that is where I leave you. Blue Tear had promise in the first part, but because of its problems, I cannot recommend it to anyone. It blows.

1/5

Blue Tear (PC)
Mystery
2015

[Review] A Gypsy’s Tale: Tower of Secrets (PC)

 

Wayyy back in my early renaissance gaming days (2010), I was ripping through hidden object games at a voracious pace. I would play any hidden object game I could possibly find out there on the internet. Big Fish Games, the pioneers of bringing casual gaming to the people, had it where one could download a game and play it for one hour without paying for it. A great deal to me! It is a great way to play without pay, and decide if it would be money well-spent.

One of the early hidden object games I played was A Gypsy’s Tale: Tower of Secrets. Wow, that was a good game – so good, I remember scenes and details to this day. Last year during a Canada Day 2-4-1 sale, I sprung up the money and bought a digital copy from Big Fish Games.

How does it hold up?

To start, I ran into a problem with the game running on my Windows 10 machine – the graphics card did some funky jive and the game looked like garbage on my TV. I knew this was a possible outcome, what with a game that is close to ten years old. But I hoped BFG had fixed the resolution to these old games enough that they would adjust to large TV screens. Unfortunately not. I wound up installing and playing the game on an old Windows XP desktop my husband had Frankensteined together, and played the game to completion, seated at a desk, using an old LED monitor. It was just like old times! But dammit, sometimes, it’s the only way to play these old standards!

In a Gypsy’s Tale, you are a gypsy hired by a monk to break a spell that has fallen on an old town, the cause of it, a possessed young woman in a tower. Who is this woman? Why the spell? The monk urges you to hurry, but the path to the tower is a labyrinth of locales, each with its own set of mazes, puzzles and characters that finally lead to the woman.

A Gypsy’s Tale has a clicheed plot, but the gameplay is pretty damn good, and once you get it running, it looks pretty good graphically for its age. There is an inventory to hold your items and a decent map where you are able to warp to different areas in this world. As well, the game gives you cues on tasks that need completing.

The game has a look and feel of the Treasure Seekers series, where the puzzles are challenging and fun, with a unique hidden object system that has you find pieces of an inventory item (i.e., a spade end and a handle to make a shovel) that are to be assembled into something before you can use it. Instead of search items by word, you search by shape of object, which stylistically is my preference, and different from standard HOG fare. You also collect a certain amount of crystals in each scene – little glowing specs that unlock areas on your map and provide needed currency, used to purchase items in the old town’s general store.

Aside from finding items, a Gypsy’s Tale gives you missions to complete that may seem arbitrary to the plot. At the same time, the game is so forgiving and relaxing, you find yourself say, “Sure!” and complete the task. At one point in the game, every spot on the map is open to you and you are made to go back to old haunts to finish up tasks. The clues to the tasks are not always clear, and this caused me to backtrack into rooms quite a bit, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do next. Thanks to the map however, I was able to warp back and forth easily and return to where I was originally without much difficulty.

Overall, a Gypsy’s Tale: Tower of Secrets will forever be in my pantheon of decent hidden object games. If you ever need a starting point to casual gaming, I highly recommend this one. Don’t be surprised if by the time you finish you become addicted to the genre!

4.5/5

A Gypsy’s Tale: Tower of Secrets (PC)
Big Fish Games
2010

[For the Love of ‘Fee] Rise Up Coffee Roasters Organic House Roast

‘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! 🙂

The Cartridge Club Con in Chicago, July 2018

The main purpose for our travel to Chicago, Illinois this summer was to meet up with some friends from the Cartridge Club. We’ve known most of them for a long time, and some we’ve only had an online friendship. This trip, I was excited to meet the Retro Nonsense Crew, Duke and Tara, and their three children in person. They are from Maryland, and were just as excited to meet us. When we met, Duke told me he had some local coffee from Maryland for me to try; Rise Up Coffee Roasters’ coffee. He handed me half a pound bag of their organic House Roast and explained this is the place they like to go. Let me tell you, the beans did not disappoint!

Maybe it’s because we have been finishing off old freezer coffee from Kevin’s mom’s house for the last month, but when I broke into the bag of Rise Up beans, the kitchen smelled like a coffee shop! Them beans were aromatic! The bag boasts that the blend therein has chocolate undertones, and I could certainly smell that. It just smelled so good, I wanted to jump inside!

And then I ground the beans…the place smelled heavenly! The percolator did them justice, and the brewed coffee was delicious with only hints of sweet from the chocolate. Those beans permeated the house so well that even after a long day out of the house, we could still smell the coffee that had been brewed at 6 AM. I was not disappointed!

According to Rise Up’s website, they sell only 100% Organic Fair Trade coffee, which says something about who they are. In fact, their opening page says, The farmer who grew this coffee should receive the glory. We are among the fortunate who get to roast their beautiful coffees and share them with you.” Indeed!

My mug depicts Lawren Harris’s “Lake and Mountain, 1928”. Only the best for this ‘fee!

A big Thank You goes out to Duke and Tara for sharing this Maryland favourite. Kevin and I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘fee, and I can see why this has become a favourite of yours!

My Crazy Summer 2018

It’s taken me a while to get back to posting on here this summer, ’cause like last summer and the summer before: I am too damn busy in the summertime. There hasn’t been a whole lot of gaming, but a lot of other stuff happening…Rust never sleeps, and apparently neither are we at the House of Sim! This here is an abridged update of what I have been up to. It was monumental to say the least!

Part 1: A trip back home.

First stop, Sudbury, Ontario. This time last year, no one thought we’d be cleaning out a house that has been lived in for 42 years, with the plan to put it up for sale. Alas, that is what happened. My husband’s mother, newly widowed, recruited a team (us “kids”) to help her downsize and pack. Her hope is to move away to the Ottawa Valley this coming Fall to be closer to the grandkids. The majority of our time up north was spent on this emotional task, and mission accomplished; we were successful! The house is currently up for sale…but it was a backbreaking (and heartbreaking) haul. A lot of beer and chocolate were consumed. The ordeal was mostly unpleasant, but it emphasized the importance of family. Thankfully, the house was equiped with a pool so we would be able to cool off. Damn, I’m gonna miss that pool…

It wasn’t all a slog, however. We managed to step out and have some day trips around the city, including a stop at Dynamic Earth, Sudbury’s tourist destination on the history of mining in the region. I hadn’t been here since a class trip in grade 6…And, it appears they polished up the Big Nickel just for us!

I was also thankful to spend time with my family which I needed desperately. We planned a day trip that saw my whole fam jam loaded up into a mini van and embarked on a brief stint to Manitoulin Island, the geographic epicentre of my maternal heritage. This might sound morbid, but we spent our time visiting grave sites. Grimesthorpe cemetary in Spring Bay basically holds a large portion of my maternal lineage, including my Grandparents. It’s so peaceful there, the only thing you hear are the squirrels protesting you are around their domain. Then, my great uncle is buried in another quiet cemetary that has the cleanest outhouse. We rounded out the day with ice cream from Farquhar’s Dairy. These things might sound mundane, but this is the kind of subdued activity I needed.

Part 2: Get out get out get out of my house!

Clearing out my husband’s childhood home got us to thinking about our own “stuff.” Let me put it out there: My husband and I collect things. We love video games, books, movies, music and other sorts of pop culture memorabilia. We got stuff. But, after spending 12 days straight pitching other people’s stuff, it got us to thinking about our own cherished items. Are they really cherished?? We both conceded how anxious we were feeling about our own stuff cluttering up the house. A proposal was given from the hubs – let’s go through our stuff. Let’s decide what is important, let’s pitch what isn’t. Let’s lose the stuff meant for “one day…” If you haven’t touched it in 5 years, you don’t need it. We’ve lived in our current home for 12 years; we have STUFF.

My name is Sarca and I hoard books. Things haven’t gotten much better from this 2014 post, except I read around 5-10 books a year now, which is an accomplishment. Last summer (2017) I activated my Markham Public Library eBook account, which is another avenue to read…I just never stopped buying the physical copies. I know Mr. Books will have a heart attack (brace yourself Aaron…), but I packed up the majority of my books, and sent 10 boxes to the junk shop! Yes, 10 boxes. I have kept key ones from my favourite authors as well as graphic novels that will never be digitized…the rest went. It wasn’t easy, but I feel a weight lifted and some control over my stuff. I found myself looking around my house critically and asking, “What else can I lose?”

Part 3: Get out get out get out of my house!! (part 2)

Time to catch that guy!

But before the purging of our stuff began, imagine coming home exhausted from a trip up north only to find your house scattered with mouse scat. This happened. I noticed poop on the kitchen counter, and then in the living room. We then noticed our Ikea couch had been scratched up a little. We sprung into action immediately, cleaning and disinfecting every room. I wanted to clean under the beds while on vacation, I just didn’t want to clean them in such an emergency! We discovered through trial and error the little guy was living under our kitchen sink in the space between the cabinet and the floor. We can only suspect he got in through the door to the garage (we have had some issues in the past with mice on our property getting into our garage looking for seed). No food was ever eaten from our kitchen, and the mouse was eventually caught. Talk about the best case scenario of what could have been a disasterous situation.

Part 4: Chicago!

After spending less than 6 hours in Portland, Oregon and the ordeal behind such a short trip, I developed some adverse reaction to travel. I didn’t want to go anywhere, nor drive, nor navigate anywhere unfamiliar. An opportunity presented itself that would allow me to be a passenger on a trip to Chicago, Illinois to attend the inaugeral Cartridge Club Con, and I jumped at it. I rode in a van with my husband and 3 other guys and it was good times.

There were several highlights from the drive up:

A pit stop in Detroit, Michigan to Third Man Records was pretty cool. This is Jack White’s pressing plant and storefront. It oozed coolness.

We stopped for supper at a diner in Toledo, Ohio that had 20 different kinds of pie; I tried the Scutterbotch pie, which was a butterscotch pudding filling and whipped cream. Delish!

Along the way we stopped in to a Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee. Let me give you a short “For the Love of ‘Fee”…Dunkin’, your ‘fee ain’t worth the $2.50 U.S. for a medium. It tasted burnt, and what is with the price point; are you trying to be Starbucks? An interesting side-note – the coffee cups were made of styrofoam, which is not something we see in my area any more (ours are paper; styrofoam is not recycled).

Did you have any doubt there’d be coffee-drinking?

We stopped in to a Walmart in Elkhart, Indiana. Cheap liquor, weird sugery cereal and Chicken in a Biskit crackers couldn’t keep us away. I was most pleased to find Downy fabric softener balls which are no longer sold in Canada; I picked up three.

This pic doesn’t do it justice – over 600 cabinets!

It was exciting to go to Chicago. I got to meet up with some friends from the Club, try some Chicago deep dish pizza, and go to Galloping Ghost, a legit arcade. The unfortunate part was that there just wasn’t enough time to do any Chicago sight-seeing. We were only there for 2 days. We’ll have to go back…

Giordano’s stuffed crust pizza rocked!

Part 5: Montreal

Two weeks ago, we went to Montreal. Planning this trip was like, “It’s a long weekend…Let’s go to Montreal!” Alrighty then! The plan was to go record store shopping. I’d only driven past Montreal on the way to Old Quebec City (grade 8 class trip…), so this was going to be fun.

The hubs lined up the Hotel Brossard, a hotel off the island. We managed to get there with only one detour away from the toll road. It was a lovely hotel – King sized bed and terrycloth bathrobes! Our first night, we had sushi from a local joint; it was awesome!

The next day, we embarked on a full-day record store shopping spree. We just had to wait for the record stores to open! So, we went to see a Picasso exhibit at the Musee des Beaux-Arts. Picasso is my favourite, so I had a good time…

The record store pictured upper right is Beatnik’s

We then walked to three record stores. It was a hot one that day and none of these places were air conditioned; I never sweat so much! But, it was loads of fun and we picked up a good haul (pick up video to follow on the hubs’ YouTube channel).

The hubs also wanted some Montreal Smoked Meat. We tried to get into Schwartz’s deli, a world-famous joint, but the line was a mile long. We went across the street instead to the Main Deli. He had his smoked meat sandwich, and I had a chicken sandwich with fries. So good! We rounded out the day with some ice cream from a parlour close to our hotel.

I tried to practice my French a little while in Quebec, but no one in Montreal would have it and would speak to me in English (I suppose it was my mangled Anglicized accent that gave me away!). Overall the trip was successful, and we hope to go back soon.

And there you have it. It’s been a short summer, with a lot of stuff crammed in. I hope you enjoyed reading! What have you been up to this summer?