PC Games

[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

Advertisements

[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] Bottle (2016)

It’s been a couple of months since I played a game. In this time I had some upgrades installed in the ol’ PC that required a total wipe of my hard drive. Although some might find this bothersome, I always see some opportunities in starting fresh. So, I took some time to set up the computer how I like it, and this week, I felt like playing something. I decided to break ‘er in with Bottle, a very simplistic walking simulator.

You are a solitary man living in a cabin in the woods in the dead of winter. In the first scene you hear a cork pop and liquid pouring into a glass. You open your eyes, and immediately walk around collecting notes from someone presumed to be your loved one, and by the tone of the notes, you can deduce they are no longer with us. You travel through the woods, following a path and encounter apparitions of your loved one. She says nonsense and then vanishes. You also encounter deer. Sooner or later you encounter a monument, a hollowed-out church and more notes in broken English. The game then abruptly ends with confusing finality.

Bottle was created by Tonguc Bodur, a developer known for creating Drizzlepath, another walking simulator that is sitting in my Steam Library. This game was cheap – I paid a buck – and it’s also short, concluding after an hour with no save point. Bottle forces you to play the entire game in one sitting.

The controls in Bottle are simplistic, using the keyboard WASD keys to move, and the mouse for direction. I got to hand it to Bodur: the graphics are ambitious – beautiful – but, at times they were confusing. As a gamer, you are often searching for visual cues that signal an area that needs to be checked out or interacted with, and often this comes in the form of twinkling objects or areas. In Bottle, every rock and tree top shimmered, making me think every hemlock and boulder needed attention, when all it was was sunlight on snow.

Glowing Orbs

There are also similarities to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture in golden orbs of light that appear a few times in the game; I am assuming these indicate where the dead once were, but can’t be sure. Nothing much happened for me when they appeared except a crescendo of piano music. There is also a “Bottle Dark” feature in the game that allows you to play Bottle at night; it’s the same game but you travel by the light of the moon.

Bottle Dark

The objects you interact with are few and far between in Bottle; aside from collecting notes, there was your overcoat and an axe you are allowed to touch once. The deer don’t move when you walk up to them and there isn’t much else to interact with. There are some unsettling moments in Bottle, especially when you are alone and see apparitions, or hear the noises of the wind and wildlife filling the soundtrack, but the feelings quickly pass. After 30 minutes of the same I asked myself what more there was to all of this. It’s an afternoon trek through a wintry forest where the enjoyment is supposed to be in walking around.

If you are looking for a juicy plot, Bottle is not your game. I found it mostly dry in the plot department; I couldn’t see the point to any of it. If you are looking for an hour trek through a pretty simulated forest, this is what you are looking for. Don’t expect much else though.

2/5

Bottle
Tonguc Bodur
2016

[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] Drawn: The Painted Tower (PC)

I first reviewed Drawn: the Painted Tower in October 2013, just when I started to gain traction with this blogging thang. Back then I wrote that I had just started playing adventure games three years previous…people, that was 8 YEARS AGO!!

In the summer of 2013, the hubs and I traveled to Barrie, ON to Video Time, where I found, among other dusty games, Drawn: the Painted Tower in box for $5. The artwork attracted me instantly, as well as the fact it was a Big Fish Game which was my main gaming wingman back then! This was not the first time hearing of Drawn…the game was held in high regard as one of the must-play adventure games in the casual gaming community. At its release in 2010, Drawn: the Painted Tower arrived right at the dawn of the casual gaming “golden era” when hidden object adventure games slowly began to show some decent production value with story, graphics, artistry, menu design and…most of all great puzzle play. It was a slow climb from the pixel dregs, but Drawn: the Painted Tower really gave casual gaming producers a run for their money.

Having already played it, I sort of ignored the Steam bundle sales of three Drawn games for one low price that kept popping up periodically. But, then the price of the bundle last summer became way too good to pass up. Having reviewed it over 4 years ago now, I thought it wise to take another look at Drawn: the Painted Tower. Glad it did!

Iris is a little girl who has the ability to make her drawings come to life (sort of like Simon and his chalk drawings, but this game is a lot more elaborate). She is living in an oppressed and evil kingdom, whose king would like nothing more than having Iris’s powers for himself. Her family sends her into exile to protect her. She goes into hiding in a tower she has constructed in her drawings, making even more paintings in the tower to hide in as well. There you are tasked with finding her in the labyrinth of mazes and gorgeous paintings to save her before the king finds her.

From the first title screen, Drawn: The Painted Tower was nothing but beautiful, sad, and absorbing, with a lovely soundtrack to match.

An interesting twist is being able to enter Iris’s living paintings to explore, find necessary tools and solve important puzzles. The gameplay is linear, yet I did find there was quite a bit of backtracking and some pixel hunting. However, hints are given along the way, as well as a task list to complete, so there is no question as to what you need to do next. The puzzles were not your typical fare, and are memorable; one that I particularly loved was where I got to mix paints and then use them to paint a wooden toy and stone carving!

When I originally played Drawn: the Painted Tower, I had written that I finished the game in under two hours…that can’t be right, unless I am losing my touch or they expanded on the story, because this time it was over 4 hours for me, but it was time well-spent. If you ever find the opportunity, play Drawn: the Painted Tower – I recommend it!

4.5/5

Now to play Drawn’s two sequels!!

Drawn: The Painted Tower
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Released: 2010

[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] Lifeless Planet (2014) (PC)

An astronaut on a mission crash lands on a mysterious planet, loses his crew and wanders around trying to figure out where he is and if there is any life. This is complicated by the fact he has limited oxygen and must frequently find oxygen outlets and tanks around the planet. The landscape has a varied ecology, with desert, mountains, and greenery. He soon discovers utility poles on the horizon, which lead him to a tiny abandoned Russian outpost. He finds clues that at one point this planet was manned by Scientists from the Soviet Union but something bad happened. The astronaut thinks he is the last being on this Lifeless Planet…but then suddenly he isn’t so sure…

Lifeless Planet is a puzzle platformer that is pretty open-world. At first blush, I liked the look of this game. The astronaut reminded me a lot of an animated version of the MTV fella. The planet he explores was well rendered and I did feel a sense of foreboding with its empty landscapes. The premise of Lifeless Planet was also interesting enough to keep me going for over six hours. Maybe it was my endurance, or maybe my stubbornness, because this game has long stretches where nothing at all happens with one or two things that do blow your mind.

Let me tell you though, the gameplay to Lifeless Planet left a lot to be desired. You wander this astronaut around the planet using your mouse and keyboard, and overall, it’s a pretty frustrating and uncomfortable experience. The options menu was very pared down (at least in the PC version), with not much in the way of customization. This isn’t a problem if the developers make things easy on the gamer, but unfortunately that wasn’t my experience with this game. Try navigating your little astronaut around and have the perspective change on a dime from being able to see your astronaut far away, to an extreme close-up of the back of his head. Who can play a game like that? The gameplay was a pretty nauseating experience as a result. Open-world games can make my stomach flip at the best of times, especially if there is no option to add a cross-hair to the centre of my screen to help curb my stomach-flipping, and that option was not there in this game.

Lastly, the safe points in Lifeless Planet were false! I’d reach a safe point…or so I thought. Every time I’d return to the game, I would be sent back to the start of another level; I’d never start at a safe point. This was not just some odd glitch – this happened most of the time! And after the six hours of gameplay, with no progression in the storyline, and after repeating a level for the third time, my patience ran thin. I decided there was more excitement on my own planet, and walked away from Lifeless Planet. So it goes.

The game is available on PC, OSX, PS4 and Xbox One. Hope you have an better time than I did!

2.5/5

Lifeless Planet (PC)
Stage 2 Studios
2014