adventure games

[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] 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] Outcry (PC): Dude, It’s a Burnout’s Dream

Sometimes, I can only assume some many games are inspired and created because someone got high.

I’m a straight gal – hardly drink, don’t smoke, never done drugs. That said, I think I would have probably enjoyed the game, Outcry, a lot more had I been high on illicit substances. A bizarre plot, unsettling imagery and a very dull and effing confusing gameplay make for the psychedelia that is Outcry.

Here is the synopsis of Outcry from the box it came in: ” Assume the role of a middle-aged writer who receives a strange invitation from his brother that he hasn’t seen in years. Accepting his invitation, you are soon confronted with his sudden disappearance and his connection to a mysterious machine which, according to your brother, (acts like a “toke-up” iron lung which releases the smoke from burning leaves of some hallucinogenic plant. Your bro gets high off the fumes and this) separates one’s consciousness from one’s body.” *

As you play, you discover that this mystery machine is nonsense B.S. because…

[SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!!] (Highlight the area below with your mouse to reveal)

<ahem> As I interpret it…YOU are actually dead (you drowned when you were a child) and your bro is trying to channel you. He feels guilt about the drowning and wants to turn back time, so he creates the machine…which is a total waste of resources when all he needs to do is contact his weed dealer, put it in his pipe and light up. None of this makes any sense to what goes on in the plot especially when you (who is supposedly dead) interact with live characters in the game.

[END OF SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS]

The Good: Vivid imagery. Haunting score. Made me say “whoa” a few times.

The Bad: Everything else. Shitty plot, confusing gameplay, oddly syntaxed English.

The Good, redux: Good for getting a buzz on. Pass that pipe over here…

Outcry is a first-person adventure game. You move around the scene with a mouse click from room to room, pick up objects and solve confusing puzzles as you go along. You do not speak, and there is no internal monologue to tell you whether what you are doing and where you are going is the right thing. Your brother’s narration is front and center as he reads you every word of every journal and scrap of paper that you pick up (and there are about a dozen of them, so better get comfortable).

With all this dialogue, I would have thought I would get a clue what was going on. Alas, something continuously got lost in translation as this brother’s English tried to be esoterically formal, but frankly failed as he would change his tense on a dime and some of the wording used was just…odd English. Weirder still, the narrator was obviously English-speaking…why he wouldn’t say to the developers, “Hey, Dude with the bunny eyes: that doesn’t sound right!” is beyond me. The gameplay confused me and the narration did not help. Playing this game in tandem with a walkthrough early on was the only way I could keep playing Outcry because I was LOST in the forest without a sandwich, man!

The visuals in Outcry were psychedelic, bizarre and extremely unsettling…yet, very well done. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought I was playing a survival horror game.  You play in this sepia-coloured world for the most part that has that faux “scratched film-reel” look. The game’s camera would constantly move you back and forth – you never stood still – which added to the unsettled psychedelic element. Backgrounds would also move on their own, so shit was moving all over the place in a wavy continuum which disturbed me. However, Outcry‘s gameplay itself was so…dull. Disturbed, yet dull; Interesting juxtaposition, isn’t it?

I obviously don’t recommend Outcry as a game to play for straight enjoyment. Make sure you have a little “something” to take the edge off if you find yourself a copy. Hey, as they say: if you got ’em, smoke ’em!

6.5/10

Outcry (PC)
Developer: Phantometry / The Adventure Company
Released: 2008

*What is in parentheses is what I wrote to simplify the plot for you.

*Originally reviewed in March 2014, reduxed 2016.

[Review] A Spell in the Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel! (PC)

For half of 2013 and 2014, the hubs and I spent time in the acrid, dangerous and awesome world that is Borderlands 1 and 2 (written about previously here). We took a hiatus while we awaited the long anticipated release of  the third chapter in the Borderlands franchise, Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel! and once released in the Fall of 2014, waited for it to go on sale cheap enough to pull the trigger. Lucky us, we found two cheap hard copies for the PC thanks to a random sale at Best Buy ($10 each). Soon thereafter, we got a hankering to explore a fresh adventure in the Borderlands once again. We began playing together in Co-op via Steam in August 2015 and from there, dedicated at least 37 hours of gameplay, which took us to Christmastime 2015. Aside from a few nit-picky things, it was an interesting trip!

Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel! fits right in the middle of Borderlands 1 and 2 in chronology. In past Borderlands games, you played as a Vault Hunter, in search for priceless hidden booty on Pandora, a bleak planet that once housed mining colonies. In this game, you again play as a Vault Hunter assisting on a mission to explore Pandora’s moon, Elpis, and to take over a space station.  In an interesting and surprising turn, you inadvertently assist a well-known villain in the Borderlands canon on their journey from their humble beginnings to their corruption. The plot, quite like the other two Borderlands stories, is secondary to this massive mission-based game, and can be a little confusing to follow if you try to dig too deep.

You will see several familiar faces in the Pre-Sequel, such as ClapTrap (in several iterations), Roland and Lilith, but this round, you are given the option of playing one of four Vault Hunters that were never playable before, but that are familiar in the Borderlands Universe. I played Athena, a kick-ass Gladiatrix who is equipped with a special shield that can block damage caused by enemies by absorbing its energy, then using that energy to attack enemies in return.

This game has a very similar look and feel to its predecessors. The hyper-realism with cel-shaded graphics that players are familiar with is left intact, and I couldn’t be happier! The gameplay mechanics are also similar in this game to Borderlands 2, with some interesting additions. First, weaponry has been upgraded to include laser and cryogenic guns, which can obliterate or freeze your opponent.There is also something called the Grinder, which could be used to obtain weapon upgrades by combining two lower level weapons.

Because you were exploring on a moon (Elpis, Pandora’s moon), you were often dealing with low-gravity environments while in gameplay which provided your character with the ability to make giant leaps over long distances. These leaps were often aided by jump pads that would propel you into the air. This activity was fun and challenging for me as I would often over-shoot my target landing spot, and end up falling into the abyss.

The environment outside also lacked oxygen. Not only were you having to manage your health, weapons, and shields in this game, you were also having to manage your oxygen levels. Along the way, you were able to top up your air or open up oxygen-filled areas. This was fine in the beginning stages as you were leveling up, but, I was half expecting (hoping?) to be able to pick up a self-regen oxygen pack of some type that would regenerate your oxygen permanently; but this never came. This might be a nit-picky thing, but searching and worrying about the oxygen levels got ridiculous by the end of the game.

Because Elpis was rather expansive, you were given the familiar moon buggy of past Borderlands games to traverse the barren landscape. In an interesting twist, though, you were also provided with stingrays – one-person hover-craft rides that propelled on a jetpack. I never got the hang of them, to be honest, and would often respawn after falling off a cliff while riding one of those things. But, it was something different, and it being a one-man ride, you had to rely on your own devices to survive on them.

Although, overall, Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel! is not my favourite in the Borderlands franchise (Number 1 is), it is a familiar and fun game that should be experienced.

3/5

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!
Gearbox / 2K Australia
October 2014

[Review] Life Is Strange (XBox One)

Undo. Rewind. Do over.

Don’t you wish sometimes you were given a second chance to go back in time and correct mistakes made, or make right a bad ending? Be careful what you wish for! That is one lesson learned while playing the Square Enix game, Life is Strange!

Max Caulfield moved away from Arcadia Bay, Oregon to Seattle, Washington with her family when she turned 13, leaving behind her best friend, Chloe. Five years later, Max returns to Arcadia Bay to enroll in the prestigious Blackwell Academy on a Photography scholarship.  The geeky and kind Max enjoys spending her time peering through the lens of her Polaroid camera (her chosen medium) and taking pictures of nature. Blackwell Academy, for what it’s worth, is full of the typical cliquey high school drama. Max tries to avoid it, and concentrate on what is important to her – the upcoming Photography contest, and her dreamy teacher, Mr. Jefferson.

It was a violent incident one day on campus that made her aware of a new power she had at her fingertips – the ability to turn back time. She soon put her powers to work, changing negative outcomes to more favourable ones whenever the opportunity would present itself. This newfound ability was surprising and unbelievable. Her powers worked well for a spell, and was even fun, but soon, too much turning back father time created a shit storm of negative environmental events which become hard to untangle without risking lives…and timelines.

Life is Strange is a graphic adventure game where the player is provided a set of choices that have consequences depending on the path you take. This was about the only difficult thing about the game – making choices for Max. Thankfully, unlike some other choice-driven games like the Walking Dead, there is no time limit – you actually have time to read and reflect on the decision (in the Walking Dead, they give you, like, 10 seconds for four choices – barely enough time to decode and process what I just read…). The menu system for the game is pretty easy to use and is where you have access to Max’s personal journal (which was interesting, voyeuristic) and her cellphone to receive texts from her family and friends.

Although set in modern-day, this game’s layered sub-plots and relationships between characters brought back a tonne of teenaged memories for me – the friendship between Max and her best friend Chloe, Max’s insecurity about her talent as a Photography student, taking art classes and opining about art, putting up with cliques…I saw a lot of myself in Max. Even decisions having to do with loyalties with friends (who hasn’t dealt with that?).

Let’s talk about the style of Life is Strange: gorgeous. The game’s use of light, shade and tonal gradation to emote a feeling was very effective. I mean, I could stare into those sunsets all day. The game also lingers long and takes its time, using strategic shots to set a scene. Every shot appears to have been thought out and successfully executed. Absolutely awesome.

The version I played was from the Life Is Strange Limited Edition package on the Xbox One – a gift from my husband – and it is awesome! The collection includes the entire game, a scrap book and a soundtrack CD – pretty damn cool. The music is an off-beat mix of atmospheric modern-Indie Folk, alternative and dance; Syd Matters, alt-J, Foals and Jose Gonzalez (to name a few) fill the game’s soundtrack with a sound that pairs well with the stylings of Life is Strange. I know some people won’t like the music, and I can’t say I like all of it, but I think most of it is very good.

This game was the first one I played on the Xbox One, and I have to say I am pleased with the smooth experience. No glitches at all, and everything looked crisp. Overall, I highly recommend Life is Strange. It’s available for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3 and Windows.

9/10

Life Is Strange (Xbox One)
Dontnod / Square Enix
Released: January 2015

Caught Me Gaming’s 2015 Retrospective and 2016 Goals

Wow, December 31 sneaks up fast! Here we are, another year behind us.

I was feeling like I hadn’t written much over the past year, but I surprised myself and discovered I clocked in 48 posts in 2015. That made me think, “Gee, that’s actually not that bad…” especially considering the year I have had. Really, that is almost a post a week, give or take. Certainly not the two posts per week I was aiming for. But, really, what you read from me was about all I could do.

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There is something I have needed to address for some time now on this blog, and now seems as good a time as any…(bombshell!) I have had some issues with mental health arise that totally took me by surprise this year. Frankly, it figuratively knocked me flat on my ass. I have been hit with the ol’ “Blues” before – usually it’s seasonal, and I turn around after a few weeks. But, this Spring, it was like someone turned off the lights. Everything was dark. EV-ER-Y-THING. Paired with anxiety (my dark passenger), I was feeling damn shit. To most people in my life, it was business as usual, as I still made it to work and participated in my normal activities with family and friends. I am not sure I did, but I tried the best I could to hide it from people. How this translated to you readers was scant blogposts. And to my blogging friends, they experienced my episodic “disappearing acts” that concerned some of you enough to reach out (You know who you are, and I love you guys for it. Thanks for checking in). Although it’s true that I have had one of the busiest years work and personal-wise, as well as some health issues arise that I had addressed in a previous post, the depression and anxiety were factors in terms of how I dealt with the time that remained. This was a tough thing to deal with. If you are concerned reading this, I want you to know that I am looking after myself. I feel that I am slowly coming out of it. At the very least, the lightness is coming back into my life, and things don’t appear so heavy.

Let’s move aside the doom and talk about some accomplishments I DID complete this year!

Well, my goal to make a dent in my collection of PC boxed video games did not pan. Game-playing suffered. I haven’t reviewed much this year on my blog. Compared to in the past, I didn’t play much:

  1. Streets of Rage (Sega Genesis)
  2. Streets of Rage 2 (XBox 360)
  3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Arcade Game (Emulator)
  4. Torchlight (PC)
  5. Torchlight 2 (PC)
  6. Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You Can (PC)
  7. Redrum: An Eerie Hidden Object Adventure (PC)
  8. Mysteries and Treasures: The Adventures of the Mary Celeste (PC)
  9. Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer (PC)
  10. Badland (Android)
  11. Kentucky Route Zero (The First Three Acts) (PC)
  12. Journey Into the Arctic (YouTube)

I also completed:

  1. Mass Effect II (XBox 360)
  2. Diablo III (including Reaper of Souls)(PC)
  3. Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel! (PC)
  4. Unsolved Crimes (DS)
  5. Monument Valley (iOS)
  6. Silent Hill: Downpour (PS3)

…though I did not review them.

So, I didn’t do badly, but I could really do better this year. I am still hell-bent on making a dent in my PC collection of games (gee, that last sentence almost rhymed!).

IMG_20141114_091441

Hey, where’s the music with dirrrty smurfs? Well, sadly, with this thing I was dealing with, I found myself not listening to any music for months at a time. Not in the car, not at work. I didn’t want to listen to anything but silence. Depression is tricky, and you don’t always know what’s good for your soul. Here’s the thing with music…when the music crept in, I felt a million times better. Music Keeps Me Alive, indeed! More effort to surround myself in the tunes will be made, starting with that rubbermaid container of music in the rec room.

Another collection I would like to explore is my burgeoning movie and TV collection. I can’t even tell you how many I have, but I’ll estimate it’s over 500 titles. It’s to the extent that I don’t even know what I have in there any more! So, I think one goal of mine this year is to learn what it is that I have so I can either catalogue it for life, or set it free.

The two things that really ramped up for me was my knitting and reading books – two goals I had for this year, so yay me!

I managed to knit a top-down raglan from a disasterous swoncho, and a few baby blankets.

When it came to reading, I participated in the To Be Read 20 challenge where I got down to reading 10 books! This is an accomplishment for me…I read zero books last year! I did very well in that regard, and would like to continue on this path for 2016.

The books read:

  1. The Camera My Mother Gave Me – Susannah Kaysen
  2. The Tragically Hip Limited Edition Super Deluxe Box Set Book
  3. Airframe – Michael Crichton
  4. In the Pleasure Groove – John Taylor
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  6. It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken – Seth
  7. Generation X – Douglas Coupland
  8. 9. and 10. A Game of Thrones: The Comic Book Series, volumes 1-24

Coffee reviews are still a staple on Caught Me Gaming, and will continue to be in 2016! Hey man, java is the nectar of the gods! Expect more home-grown brews as I attempt to branch out and explore coffee from my community this year. Prepare yourselves, Cupfaces!

This past year, I also discovered a different outlet that I hadn’t used in years – that of graphic designer. I had dabbled into that line of work in the past, and thanks to a call for artists by Geoff over at 1001albums, I have become his steady graphic designer for the last few blog projects. I had put away the visual artist part of my life for almost a decade now, so dipping my toe in and designing on my tablet was a fun experience, especially since he gives me carte blanche! If you want to read some great musings on music and see my work, check out Geoff’s blog at 1001albumsin10years.wordpress.com.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t address the awesome packages I received this year full of coffee, music and cool stuff! Never mind the fun stuff I sent off to friends in the blogging community! These things were truly fun and really put a smile on my face.

Overall, my blog has turned more personal – more anecdotal – incorporating pieces of my life with how it fits in with music, books, and gaming. I plan to do a lot more of that – it’s definitely an outlet for me creatively – a light for my darkness if you will. As for the depression, I feel myself very slowly turning a corner. I can’t promise I will write frequently, but I do promise to keep writing.

Guys, thanks so much for hanging in with me and supporting me, checking in with me and reading my ramblings this year. Things have been rough for me, but with a new year comes a clean slate, and with a clean slate, hopefully more light. Any day now.

Happy New Year!!

~Sarca