hidden object games

Hanging On to More Hopeful Lists

I have a habit of holding on to things – sometimes on purpose, other times due to forgetting I still had them. Sometimes finding forgotten things is like a Eureka! moment.

A prime example is this past Christmas when I went to put the decorations away. Every year that I have put decorations up, I end the holiday by hastily packing up decorations and throwing them into storage – sort of like to say that the Holidays are over – thank God! – let’s clean this crap up and move on. It’s been at least 10 years since I took the time to take inventory of what I have. This year was different, though. This New Year’s Day, in the quietness of the day, I took the time to go through some Christmas stuff – organize it, lovingly pack it up, and be ruthless to the point of purging pretty much a whole container’s worth of it. It felt great going through it all.

Sometimes though, finding stuff can trigger some no-so-great memories.

In one of these serendipitous clean-ups, I came upon an old spiral notebook that originated from my first “grown-up” office job out of college and it dredged up a feeling or two… In this job going back a long time ago, I was an electronic media intern for a company funded by the provincial government that was responsible for creating and distributing curricula online to high schools. It was new technology that was slow to gain traction (hard to believe that online education is pretty prevalent now). The gig was my first taste of office politics and micro-management. The notebook reflected this, as it was filled with lists upon lists of tasks to complete, weekly accountability sheets, instructions on office rules, and personal pep-talks to curb my daily rising anxiety with working under what one would consider an authoritative environment.

The head of the company was a tenured high-school teacher seconded to CEO of this company, and his ego was way too big for his britches. He would breeze in and out in Bermudas, change up some rules just in time to take his mandated nine weeks off in the summer to go sailing, and then whisk away to leave the minions (me) under the thumbs of 9 other people who should never be managers… in an office of 16. Being the leader really seemed to go to this guy’s head. Protocols he created were severe and unfriendly. It was tough, because I was a Yes Ma’am, yet everything I seemed to do was wrong, and I’d get pulled in for a talking down weekly. I was trying to be a good and attentive employee, but their instructions were constantly confusing and unreasonable. They were very hard to please.

We worked in an open office environment – basically an open room full of desks without partitions. One of the protocols the Boss established was insisting that employees call each other on the phone instead of conversing in person, even though we were sitting across from each other. Having central auditory processing problems, I often have a hard time understanding people on the phone as it is. Being able to converse face-to-face was important to overcome this hurdle, so I was living in Hell.

I lasted at this company short of six months, and felt free when I quit. As I happily moved on with my life, I wasn’t surprised to learn from an ex-colleague, the funding ran dry and the company closed down a couple of years later. Having a taste of what I consider the worst job allowed me to appreciate and put into perspective the good things in my challenging career today.

I still have my old notebook from my days working at my most hellish job; the remaining paper now used to keep track of Dominoes scores and scribbling hasty errand lists. A more hopeful list comes from 2010 when I had a voracious thirst for Hidden Object games and needed to keep track of the titles to ensure I didn’t play the same game twice (because, let’s be honest…the titles start to sound the same, the plotlines are similar…). I have replayed and reviewed several of these games for this blog! Not only is this page important to me to recall what I played back then, but if you turn the page around, you’ll find something else equally nostalgic…

The page represents a typical day working for the Hell company. It lists accountability tasks of the day as well as instructions on how to answer the phone if we received a call for the CEO…

The note says, “Boss is VERY particular. If Boss is here OR not, get person’s name, phone number and reason for the call. Give Boss the option of taking the call. You may disturb him in a meeting, but be patient with him.”

How can one live up to those instructions?

What I think is important to remember is this page represents discovery on two fronts – while on the job side, I was trying to wade my way through a challenging business culture, preparing me for the future, while on the gaming side, I was trying to dig my way through this gaming thing. I can say I am still learning – on both fronts! But, I am certainly having a better times navigating it all! It’s a good reminder that life’s journey is for learning – in good and bad – and it shapes you. I appreciate what I have now, in my life and career, and continue to find pleasure in a good video game.

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[Review] Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst (Nintendo 3DS / PC)

The Mystery Case Files series is an extremely popular and far reaching series that is mostly known among casual gamers. I have played several and reviewed three. Any of them I have played, I have enjoyed, and I thought it was high time I investigate other MCF games in the series. This time, we will look at Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst.

Ravenhearst tells the story of a mysterious mansion in England with a past. Inside is the long lost diary of Emma Ravenhearst who tells her tale of love and loss. Her story is slowly revealed as her diary pages are released to you after you have solved hidden object, jigsaw and elaborate domino-effect puzzles. The mansion’s many rooms and grounds are unlocked to reveal further puzzles to solve, and you must beat the clock as each puzzle gives you a time limit (I loathe time limits – what for??).

Having played several PC games as of late, I was feeling a little like my Nintendo 3DS was being neglected, so I decided to play Ravenhearst on the ol’ hand-held. It’s a game I originally bought on the Nintendo eShop. I knew going in that this was a port from PC game, released on the 3DS in 2013 (the original is from 2006 on PC), but took a chance that maybe some independent developer spit-shone it clean to make it a not-so-terrible experience (maybe?).

As I have been repeating like a mantra, ports to the Nintendo DS and 3DS are often not great, and unfortunately, this game was NO EXCEPTION. Dude, I had to make an appointment with my neurologist after playing Ravenhearst on the 3DS for an hour – eye strains and migraines abound. Each hidden object scene had objects appearing too small and blurry like smeared poo. To make it worse, the music was poorly mixed here. In one scene, I could tell where the music looped from the obvious digital “pop” I heard over and over. Really bad. I had to quit before finishing. It was a game for the senses, and not in a good way. Maybe the PC version is better?

Luckily, I hoard boxed PC games, and found a copy of Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst in my collection. I recollect a few years back, buying the Mystery Case Files boxed collection from EB Games. Once I wiped the dust off of it and loaded it onto my PC, I was ready to go to town on Ravenhearst.

Except…the game did not get along very well with my PC’s graphics card as it flashed incessantly all over my TV. After much fiddling with resolutions and compatibility modes, the only way I could get Ravenhearst to stop flashing was to play the game in windowed mode as opposed to full screen.  The mechanics and gameplay are pretty much the same in both PC and 3DS versions, although things do look better on PC. Having to play in windowed mode however, objects were small, which can be fixed by using the Ease of Access Magnifier. Still, I found playing the game a tad uncomfortable this way.

Once I got it going, Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst was an ok hidden object game for its 2006 release, if a little stale. In similar fashion to other HOGs I have played, this one offers the same scenes to search, the same objects to search… which can be a bore, especially when what you are rewarded with are diary pages to a story that is unengaging. I think this one does suffer the ravages of time especially since the genre has had a long time to hone its chops and I concede that latter Mystery Case Files games have done this a lot better. Moving on…

Nintendo 3DS (2013) – 1.5 / 5
PC (2006)- 2.5 / 5

Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst
Big Fish Games

*NOTE: Images are from the PC version of the game.

Now for other Mystery Case Files I’ve reviewed:

MCF: 13th Skull (PC)
MCF: MillionHeir (Nintendo DS)
MCF: Malgrave Incident (Wii)

[Review] Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend (PC)

Lillian is a young girl growing up in 19th Century New Orleans; a place steeped in traditions of Black Magic. Lillian has been cutting her witchcraft chops with famed Voodoo Whisperer, Marie Leveau…and good thing, because Lillian’s friends and family have just become possessed by an evil demon and it’s up to her to save them from certain fate. Given a trusty recipe book, Lillian (you) scours the town for important ingredients to blend together using a mortar and pestle. A little alchemy…a little chant…maybe a voodoo doll…and poof! She breaks the spell.

Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend is a hidden object game that had been long forgotten about at the very dingy bottom of my Steam library, and its purchase was likely a flash Steam sale in 2014. I chose to play this one on a whim.

Developed by Gogii Games, Voodoo Whisperer tries hard to do something a little different with the hidden object genre. Sure, there are the familiar puzzles we often see with this type of game. But, being somewhat of a period piece set in the 19th century, Voodoo Whisperer never deviates from the epoch. It provides a good ambiance in decent graphics and enjoyable classical music (great oboe!). It helps too that hidden object scenes have you searching through objects of the time period (monocle, cane, felt hat, lace hanky) which shows great attention to detail.

Speaking of…Kudos to the developers for providing  an on-board magnifying glass so you can zoom in on the hidden object scenes. And, how about that in-game map? Applause!

With all these accolades, I still had a problem with Voodoo Whisperer…in that it got a little repetitive. In the game, Lillian had to save at least 5 people, and each one had a spell she had to break by finding ingredients to create a potion. The game indicates areas to search, but some areas had you look into drawers, closets and rooms only to have the game tell you “there’s nothing there” or “it’s just an empty drawer…” What? Why waste my time with that? There was also a lot of back-tracking to find certain missing ingredients which got tiresome and frankly tedious. With the outcomes of breaking the spell being the exact same with every person, I found myself hoping the end would come soon and that it would all be worth it.

Let me tell you, that ending…

Folks, the end of Voodoo Whisperer left it at quite a disturbing cliff-hanger and concluded with a “…to be continued…” slate. Reading online, there was supposed to be a part 2, but the project has been shut down indefinitely as the developer and publisher parted ways. Too bad, because the ending left Lillian in quite a terrible predicament.

[spoilers spoilers spoilers – (scroll over the area below to see)]

Lillian falls into a well, only to have an evil spirit seal the well head with a wood cap…leaving Lillian in peril.

[End of spoilers spoilers spoilers]

Overall, Voodoo Whisperer had some great gaming elements that I wish other HOG developers would implement. And about the tedium, I admit some people don’t mind the repetition in gameplay that this game offers. I only wish the developers followed through with their plan for sequel, because that ending! Yikes!

2.75 / 5

Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend
Gogii / Strategy First
2014

[Review] 9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek (PC)

The year is 1953. Journalist, Helen Hunter, reporting on the town of Serpent Creek’s yearly festival, noticed something amiss with the townfolk. For one thing, they seem to be moving around in a catatonic state. She discovers there may be a link between their behaviour and that Black Mambi drink the festival keeps pushing on the festival-goers. Funny thing though, the creepy mayor and the sheriff don’t seem affected. Helen, your best friend, almost gets to the bottom of this weirdness. But, she smells corruption, and knows she is being trailed. She fears for her safety. While on the phone with you to convey her fears and share this odd story, she is stolen away to parts unknown.

Determined to find her, you take to this snake-bitten town, looking for Helen in the hopes of finding her alive. Little does the town know, you are a sleuth with a nose for the truth; these corrupt enforcers who took Helen don’t know what hit ’em! And while you search for Helen, you discover a whole bunch of snake oil with this mayor. There is more than just a creepy air to him, but sooner or later, he “sheds his skin” to reveal his true self.

9 Clues: the Secret of Serpent Creek was sitting in my Steam Library since 2014, and it was high time I got to my neglected list of games already! A hidden object adventure game by Tap It Games, it was a short but sweet journey of under 4 hours. Now, it isn’t a very difficult game at all…the hidden object scenes are not challenging, the puzzles are simple to figure out…but, sometimes, you don’t need a big challenge to enjoy a game. 9 Clues arrived at a good time following my confused experience playing the last game, Insane Cold: Back to the Ice Age. This game had an interesting story with a linear sensibility that curbed confusion. In fact, I didn’t hit the Hint button once playing this game.

The graphics in 9 Clues were superb, giving the atmosphere an eerie dark vibe. Although the puzzles were the usual HOG fare (fix the pipe, untangle the cord, make all the lights green…) I didn’t seem to mind the repetition here, perhaps because the game had elements not often seen in casual games that added some enjoyment. How about a map where I can click on geographic areas and teleport to that area instantly – 9 Clues had it. Or achievements? Casual gamers like achievements too!  9 Clues had that! The achievements for what it’s worth are attainable (for example, solve the game without hitting the Hint button, and you get one). About the only negative comment I have for this game is the sound-acting; which was a little wooden, but at least it wasn’t used in every scene.

Ultimately, 9 Clues: the Secret of Serpent Creek is a simple but mighty hidden object game  that is worth your time. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and highly recommend it! I only wish I didn’t wait so long to play it!

4.5/5

9 Clues: the Secret of Serpent Creek
Tap It Games / Artifex Mundi
2013

 

[Review] Insane Cold: Back to the Ice Age (PC)

With the temps constantly plunged below minus 10 degrees Celsius around here, including a windchill of “f— it’s cold,” it’s obvious a game title like Insane Cold: Back to the Ice Age would pique my interest when it popped up in my Steam’s “suggested games”.  The game’s trailer sealed the deal when it showed an image of what looked like the corner of Main and Market in my town just this week. Lawd ha’ mercy with this cold! Even my furnace couldn’t handle it this week and we wound up having to lay down the big bucks for a new one.

Although our house sustained a frigid 13 degrees on Wednesday, my experience with cold was nowhere near as bad as what Helen faced. You see, Helen’s beau, Jacob, was planning a romantic anniversary evening with his beloved Helen which included dinner and the gift of an amulet he found at a local antique shop. Little did he know this amulet was cursed. Thanks to his purchase, Frost Giants have now awakened and descended upon the town, depositing ice everywhere and taking souls in their wake – including Helen’s – leaving behind ice-encrusted figures. Way to go, Jacob! Now he must frantically find and save her and everyone affected in town by using the amulet against the frost’s creator, the Frost King.

Insane Cold: Back to the Ice Age is a hidden object game by creators Mysterytag. As cheesy a story as this game is, a lot of care was taken to develop the story and see it to the very end. Along the way, the gamer encounters plenty of hidden object scenes, puzzles, items to collect and people to save. The hidden object scenes are the usual junk piles in random areas, and do repeat themselves at least twice, but at least each time the clues change, and the scenes are clear enough that you don’t have to use the Windows Magnifier.

Insane Cold happens to be a pretty long game, as I clocked in at almost 8 hours of gameplay. Once you get far into it, you realize how expansive this game is, taking you to at least 15 different places around town. Each locale is its own frozen tundra, beautifully set with its own clues to find and puzzles to solve. And each area is interconnected with the last, so backtracking should be expected as you resolve old puzzles or engage in new hidden object scenes. Once an area is seemingly complete, you are not closed off from it when you actually are done. Expect an interesting moment or two when you are unsure where you are supposed to go next and eventually find yourself back near the beginning. That’s ok, there is always the Hint button…

Speaking of which…

Alright, the truth is you are taxed with confusion many a time in this game, although I believe the challenge has more to do with game programming than the actual puzzles at play. Insane Cold failed on multiple occasions to identify my clicking on the right image. In other words, if a hidden object scene asked me to find the butterfly in the scene, I’d click on the butterfly, but the game would not register it – not until I weirdly asked for a hint, at which point, the game would identify the EXACT item I had been clicking on. In another scene, I was pairing one object to another, and the game wouldn’t register them together until I hit the Hint button. As a result I found myself pounding the Hint button on several occasions. I guess it didn’t help that some things got lost in translation when developers converted things from Russian to English; like pocket change being called “notes,” a teapot was a “kettle,” or a caster called a “chair wheel.” So what I thought I was searching for wasn’t really what the creators meant. It made for an interesting gameplay.

All in all, aside from some technical glitches, Insane Cold: Back to the Ice Age wasn’t a terrible game. For the price, it was a decent looking game, immersive, with plenty to do while the weather remains frightful out there.

Stay warm!

6.5/10

Insane Cold: Back to the Ice Age
Mysterytag
2014

[Review] Adam Wolfe (2016) (PC)

This past Spring, I picked up the game Adam Wolfe on a Steam sale. At first glance, what immediately struck me was how similar this game’s name was to a favourite game of mine:

Familiar? Yes, indeed; in appearance, and in initials (A.W.)! And the similarities go further – both games use aspects of the paranormal in their story. (Both A.W.s are different in genre, however: Alan Wake being more on the survival horror spectrum, while Adam Wolfe is hidden object adventure).

More to the point, the paranormal as a plot device in games is a familiar one. Adventure games in particular have used it repeatedly. I am quite familiar with it having played games like Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You Can, and Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker, among many more. Some gaming studios have taken the device to dead horse flogging territory, using it over and over again (looking atchu, Big Fish Games…). You would think by now I would avoid games like this… but there was just something about Adam Wolfe that pulled me in.

Adam Wolfe is a paranormal investigator with the San Francisco Police Department, responsible for cases that are too “out there” for run-of-the-mill detective work. First order of business is to chase down a firebug who is wrecking havoc in the Bay area. He mantracks the perp and discovers there is something supernatural about the dude.

In this scene, the perp just melts on screen – literally!

Meanwhile, Adam’s sister mysteriously goes missing, and he soon discovers the firebug case he is investigating and his sister’s disappearance are interrelated. This leads Adam into the seedy underbelly of San Francisco, face to face with a strange cult whose leader claims he has the secret to eternal life on Earth. Along the way, Adam discovers a watch that allows him the ability to turn back time to a period when crimes took place; helpful to Adam who uses it in his investigation to get a better grasp of what happened. Using a cellphone, he is able to GPS his way around the city, and call his partner, Marv, back at the station, for information needed to further his investigation.

Over the four-part game, Adam Wolfe draws you into an intriguing story that infuses suspense and horror into the plot successfully.  There are indeed some scary moments in the game that made me jump out of my seat, which isn’t normally expected in a hidden object game. Granted, the plot devices of missing relatives, turning back time, and the supernatural is totally cliched in hidden object adventure games, but I forgive Adam Wolfe as there are bigger standouts that trump the negatives. For one, the quality of the graphics in this game are unparalleled when compared to other hidden object games I have played as of late.  The gameplay is taut and the puzzles are varied and challenging, including clear-picture hidden object scenes, and picture scrambles. Most interesting is the game gives opportunities to be a part of Adam’s police work: take crime scene samples, shoot Adam’s gun, beat up perps with fists, and drive Adam’s motorcycle through the streets of San Francisco…all in a day’s work!

Having played dozens of hidden object games in my life, Adam Wolfe is one of the better hidden object adventure games going, and is definitely worth your attention. Available on PC, Mac. iOS and Android, I highly recommend you pick this one up.

4.5/5

Adam Wolfe (PC)
MadHead Games
2016

[Review] Hidden Expedition: Titanic (Nintendo 3DS)

Thank you for sticking with me through my Titanic-themed games series! This review will be my last for awhile, and let me tell you, I think I saved the best handheld Titanic game for last!

Feeling pissed off about my experience with Murder on the Titanic for the Nintendo 3DS, I was reluctant to take a leap of faith and acquire Hidden Expedition: Titanic, also for the 3DS, through the Nintendo eShop. On preview, I discovered this game is developed by Big Fish Games, the leading authority on casual gaming. Now, BFG have made some choice titles, but they have also made some real bowsers. And as I have written throughout this series, a port from PC to the Nintendo often does not go well at all. I am here to tell you, I got lucky for once; Hidden Expedition: Titanic is pretty good! It is a port, but you wouldn’t know it to play it. Huzzah!

You are working as a professional diver, and have been hired by the Titanic Museum Foundation to do a series of dives to find the Queen’s crown. A cargo manifest from 1912 shows the crown was being shipped on the Titanic to New York to be a part of a museum exhibit. Researchers have some idea where the crown is located on the sunken ship, but it will require several dives into the wreckage to find the exact location. Along the way you are asked to save lost artifacts and gems scattered throughout the ship. Since this dive is a dangerous mission, you are permitted to keep any gems you find.

There are 14 dives in total, with each dive exploring up to three areas of the ship, starting from the top to the bottom. Each dive has a time limit of at least 20 minutes long. Within this time period, you are completing at least two hidden object puzzles and finding at least 10 gems. A hint button is provided, but you are penalized two minutes off the clock for using it. Once you have completed a dive, you are then to complete another casual puzzle in the time you have remaining. If you let the clock run down without finishing, you have to start the whole dive over again.

For once, there is a Titanic game that I can confidently say has some replay value. The hidden object scenes in Hidden Expedition: Titanic are challenging – no getting bored! And the images are crystal clear and detailed, even when zoomed in. My only “complaint” is putting a timer on this game – what for? I suppose it’s to simulate the limited amount of time you can be underwater on a dive?

And I played a decent Titanic game!

Of course, my complaint is a very minor jab on this game. Hidden Expedition: Titanic is enjoyable, and the plot behind it makes some plausible sense. It’s a very enjoyable game, and (I can’t believe I am finally saying this after all this time…) I RECOMMEND IT!

4/5 !!

Hidden Expedition: Titanic (Nintendo 3DS)
Big Fish Games
2014