puzzle games

[Review] Papo & Yo (PC)

When I hear a game is a “platformer,” I have to mentally prepare to play it. I have played my share of platformers in my time, and have found some of them to be frustrating. So when the hubs suggested I play Papo & Yo for my next game, I installed it….and left it there on my PC for over a year. He recently encouraged me again to play it, and finding I no longer had any excuse, I went for it. Glad I did! Papo & Yo not only is fun to play, it has a good story attached.

The game begins in Brazil in a slum, with a young boy named Quico. Quico enters a fantasy world where he befriends and cares for Monster, a gorilla-like figure with a big rhinoceros horn. Monster has a problem: he is addicted to frogs. If he eats a frog, he fills with rage and often takes it out on Quico. The boy receives sage advice in this fantasy from Alejandra, a young girl who encourages Quico to lure Monster to a Shaman to get him cured. Along with a little robot named Lula, Quico is able to manipulate the world around him to try to get Monster the help he needs. Switches and gears are pushed and pulled so that Quico can turn buildings into platforms and bridges to get from one place to the next so that he can reach the Shaman temple before it’s too late…

If you read between the lines, there is a metaphor at play in this game involving Quico and Monster that reveals itself early on…and it’s a sad one, but it motivates you to help Quico reach the goal. I won’t reveal anything further…

Papo & Yo was originally released on the PS3 and later released on Steam. I played on PC using a controller and found that to be a comfortable experience. The graphics were great and the music was gorgeous. There was no map or inventory, but these were not needed as the game followed a linear thread, and there really was no chance for screw-ups. I did find a couple of graphical glitches in the game: in one instance, I jumped down from a platform and was stuck in mid-air. I forgive the game for this because if anyone finds a glitch it would be me!

As for the puzzles and platforming, both were pretty intuitive. The game is quite forgiving too, so if I fell off a platform, I would respawn without penalty. Papo & Yo‘s puzzles did make you think, but there was no timer, and if you gave your brain a chance to think through a puzzle, you didn’t have to reach for that walkthrough!

Overall, Papo & Yo was a fun puzzle platformer, with a fantastic story. It’s a 5/5!

Papo & Yo
Minority Media
2013

[Review] Facility 47 (PC)

Something about the puzzle game, Facility 47, intrigued me immediately. Not only was the price right ($0.98), but the visuals pulled me in right away. I’ll also admit, a recent rewatch of the classic film, The Thing got me interested as you play a scientist stationed at an outpost in Antarctica who wakes up in a daze, locked in a cage…

It isn’t that you aren’t supposed to be at Facility 47, it’s that something has happened to you and your crew. How did you wind up locked in a cell? You find the keys on the ground close by, and you then embark on solving this mystery. The scientists at Facility 47 were conducting experiments as well as developing a special serum on the down-low that when injected would boost one’s immune system exponentially. It did have its serious side-effects, however…and as you go through the facility, you discover your crew is either dead or missing. Diary notes from colleagues and internal memos are found strewn about the place, and reveal some of what was happening at the facility before things turned tragic.

Facility 47 is a point-and-click puzzle game that does have some good things going for it. It looks great, for one thing; some great top notch graphics. The music, although on a loop, is eerie, but tolerable. The mystery aspect also sucks you in.

However, this game suffers from poor mechanics. You pixel hunt your way through as there are no visual signals to indicate any area of interest. The game is not very linear; at one point I found myself in a quandary where I had six locked doors I needed keys for in order to advance the game, and all I had was a useless butter knife. The puzzles were tricky to solve – some of them fun, others revealed answers that often made no sense to me. I embarrassingly had to resort to the hint button or a walkthrough throughout the game. Never mind, with there being a lot of locales to access in this game, and with all the backtracking you need to do (go here, go there…), this game did not provide any map, dammit! Facility 47 does not suffer fools!

I was close to 5 hours in, and at that stage, I was keeping a walkthrough on my phone on constant standby. Facility 47 just got to be a slog. I know this is not a popular view if one were to look at all the positive reviews for this game on Steam. Too bad, I feel the game had some potential, it just wasn’t executed well.

2.5/5

Facility 47
Inertia Game Studios
2014

[Review] The Search (PC)

Often when playing games, a song, a character, a plotline leads me to really engage with a game. Some get their hooks into me and really make me think about myself and my place in the world. The puzzle game the Search did this for me in a personal way to such an extent that I played the game two years ago, and its message has hung on this long.

In the Search, you are an artist whose palette is dried up…whose canvas a bare. Your inspiration is non-existent. You begin the game’s journey staring out into a blank void…only illuminated by a series of lampposts, podiums under them. Each podium provides a message, a clue or an object from an entity who calls itself “the Invisible”. You are then given a ticket to put into a slot which then transports you to a vibrant world by which you explore. You are often hindered by a series of blocked paths and gates; access is gained by finding blank canvas to stretch across frames, which you must paint using found object in you inventory.

The Invisible is your constant companion by providing “food for thought” notes. Your inner voice – separate from the Invisible – speaks in philosophic terms, trying to decipher these notes. “Where am I and what am I doing here?” You often see yourself as a metaphor, for example, comparing yourself to a caged bird by quoting Carl Jung: “What use now is his lofty perch and his wide horizon, when his dear soul is languishing in prison?” to which you identify, as you express feeling trapped.

The Search is brought to you by Jason Godbey, the creator of Discolored, a game I got to demo in development back in 2019 (and is now a full game!). Godbey has a great aesthetic. Graphically, the game is beautiful. Navigating the terrain can be a bit of a turnaround as it is a point and click game, and relies on players to click on arrows to move through the scenes; I don’t think that is necessarily a problem in general…it is for me, however, since I can lose my place easily, lol. I was pleased to see I could save my progress in the game and could have more than one save profile. It even kept my old saves from when I last played the game in July 2019. The voice acting is stellar, done by video game voice over actress Cissy Jones, known to me best as Delilah from Firewatch. Lastly, if you’re into achievements, this one’s got ’em too via Steam.

The Search is a nicely rendered puzzle game that is not overly challenging in gameplay, but I found very thought-provoking in its message. Having stood in front of many a bare canvas in my life, I instantly identified with the main character’s feelings of emptiness. Some may find the philosophical talk a tad too heady or even preachy, but obviously I was open to it.

4/5

The Search
Jason Godbey
2017

[Review] Sonya: The Great Adventure (PC)

Sonya: The Great Adventure had been popping up on Steam as a suggested game repeatedly since my big 2019 Winter Sale buy where I bought a couple of hidden object bundles. And lo and behold, the Summer Sale is on…and looky here, I am pretty much stuck here at home on staycation…what more is a girl to do but buy more games?

What convinced me to buy this game in the end? First it’s called “Sonya” which is a name you don’t come across too often…but, I have a close friend also named Sonya (spelled Sonia, actually). Second, the artwork of the trailer was bright and modern. I know this has tripped me up before, where an attractive 2 second trailer shows the good bits, only to buy it and it’s a Windows 10 compatibility mess; however, to quote Mortal Kombat, “Sonya wins!” In gameplay, it really does win! The plot, however, is pretty tiresome…

Sonya’s sister Lily has been kidnapped by armed assailants, who have also locked you in a room. Once you escape, you are ported to parts unknown to figure out who has taken her. You find doorways blocked by coloured smoke. To gain access, you must find orbs that can destroy the smoke, so you can gain access to Sonya’s sister. Along the way, you discover the assailant has left a string of victims behind, so it is imperative you find Lily before it’s too late! Are you asleep yet?

Really, the strength of Sonya: the Great Adventure is in the gameplay. I’ve often ignored the plot for a decent hidden object game, and have managed just fine. Here, we are rewarded for our moderate ignorance in a nice array of puzzles and HO scenes. The only thing is that Sonya lacks a map since there is a bit of backtracking. However, the game does have a clue indicator by way of a blinking eye that gamers can use to indicate areas of interest (as opposed to constantly hitting the hint button). My version also provided a walkthrough guide, so I could refer to it when completely lost (which wasn’t too often).

Stylistically, I liked the look of the game overall. My main complaint is more that the voice-acting left a lot to be desired and the font they used was very difficult to read. However, the graphics and soundtrack felt modern which, for a game from 2012, is impressive. The puzzles were more challenging than the hidden object scenes. If you buy this game on Steam, you are also given achievements (if you are into that…)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention there is a bonus game after you’ve completed the main story, because, Sonya’s adventure was great, and she now needs to find her way home.

Overall, I would recommend Sonya: the Great Adventure, if anything, for its variety of puzzles and hidden object scenes.

3/5
Sonya: The Great Adventure
SpecialBit
2012

[Review] The Guest (PC)

The year is 1986. Evgueni Leonov is a scientist from Volograd who is in Boston to deliver a speech at a conference. Somewhere along the way he ends up a guest at the Oak Wood Hotel in Belmont, Massachusetts. “Guest” is a loose term here as you wake up as him in a hotel room, doors all locked (including the bathroom!). A message is left on your answering machine: “Take your pills! Go to bed!”

The room is tastefully decorated. Strange clues are left strewn around. Soon after finding appropriate items and solving some puzzles, you gain access to the dark bathroom, then out of the room to another dim room…and another …and another, until you reach the end of this obtuse and implausible tale which, I can only gather, is the result of someone who got high one night. The plot in the Guest made little sense to me and left me with more questions than answers: Was this scientist mentally ill? On hallucinogens? Were people trying to suppress him to do experiments on him?

The Guest is a puzzle adventure game that is a lot like the Room but really not as good. You can easily navigate around a room using keyboard and mouse. Every object you find can be stored in your inventory, but not all will be used which is something not seen too often in adventure games like this. Every dark room requires you to find a light bulb. The puzzles themselves can be mind-benders, and I think that in itself is the game’s strength. There was one maze of corridors I was made to walk though to reach the end; I was stuck in this hell for at least 10 minutes straight until I found my way out (rage quitting was imminent). Overall though, I think there is something to offer in the puzzles, but the Guest isn’t something I’d want to play again. There are better games out there…

2.75/5
The Guest
Team Gotham
2016

[Review] Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale (PC)

Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale is another offering from New Brunswick-based Gogii Games. I played its predecessor, Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret, in 2014! Back then, I recall it being a damn fine HOG with an adventure element. Gogii does produce a half-decent sequel in Part 2, in graphics and gameplay, even while the storyline itself is a little strange.

In the Darkest Secret, Anna discovered that she is the Empress of the Deep – her sister Pandora was jealous of her and had her locked under sea in a tomb, asleep. Pandora destroyed the tomb, and Anna narrowly escaped with her life. Now in Song of the Blue Whale, she is being summoned to the Temple in the Sky to find the four Children of Light and save them from Pandora’s evil clutches. In this temple she must also seek the animal guardians who will free the children and restore harmony. Yes, a lot of responsibility on Anna’s shoulders!

The sequel holds the Empress of the Deep canon well. My memory might be fuzzy on the past, but I think Part 2 might be stronger than its predecessor. It certainly has a lot to offer… The puzzles are engaging and varied; I found the hidden object scenes clear and interesting, but easy. The game is short (it took me under 3 hours to complete), but there are plenty of scenes to navigate. If I am to offer any critique, it would have to do with being given a map that I had difficulty deciphering, and that there seemed to be quite a bit of backtracking which made me lose my place a lot.

Mostly though, I really enjoyed the atmosphere in this game – the beautiful soundtrack, the odd soundbites of children talking and the serenity of water falling. Like its predecessor, there are aspects of the game that give a feeling of peace, similar to the Fall, or even Myst. And one takes pause at the calming pace at which the voiceover of Anna is delivered, acted by none other than Lucy DeCoutère (Trailer Park Boys). Gogii chose rightly here; just perfect!

Overall, Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale is a fine compliment to the first set, and often goes on sale on Steam – I highly recommend that you pick it up when it does!

4.75/5

Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale
Gogii
2011

[Review] The Other Side: Tower of Souls (PC)

I played The Other Side: Tower of Souls as part of a 6-in-1 hidden object bundle by developer Alawar I recently purchased on Steam during the 2019 Winter Sale.

Two alchemists lived in a tower and created a gateway to the spiritual world, unaware that evil wanted to pass through to the real world. They attempted to shut out the evil spirits by locking a massive gate, but the evil is busting through. One man sacrificed himself to the cause by using his soul to lock the gate for good. But, it too is failing, and evil is slowly leaching in…

The Other Side: Tower of Souls is from 2014 and looks much older. Get the Swiffer; this one’s really dusty.

Initially, the game needed to download some kind of driver so it would play. Then, it tried playing at 480P cutting off the left and right halves of the screen with black bars. I then had to go into the guts of the game to adjust the scaling so it would play right. But, even after fixing it. the game continued to run like shit; pretty unplayable, actually. The graphics were super fuzzy, and text on-screen was really small; I used the Windows Magnifier consistently while playing. Don’t let these screenshots fool you…

Not only that, the serious tone of the initial story line was downgraded to jokes when we are met with Boris the Cat, a smarmy steadfast companion throughout the game who loved his gags and refused to shut up. Sorry, that is an automatic turn-off. I’ve played games where there is a partner who is in every scene, giving you direction and helping you along. I don’t really dig that dynamic, especially when they have an opinion on every single move you make.

The Other Side got really great reviews on other sites, and I will just have to chalk it up to taste; this one isn’t mine. More filler in the Alawar 6 in 1 bundle…

The Other Side: Tower of Souls
Alawar
2014

[Review] Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood (PC)

I played Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood as part of a 6-in-1 hidden object bundle by developer Alawar I recently purchased on Steam during the 2019 Winter Sale.

Your boyfriend, Kevin, drops you off after a wonderful evening date. You had worn your red hooded jacket for the occasion. As you enter the house, you find a teddy bear sitting on the hallway table. What’s this? A gift from Kevin? You lift it up to take a better look, and like a disturbed Teddy Ruxpin, it speaks to you in a robotic voice, saying that Kevin has disappeared in the old cemetery. You don’t believe it. You quickly get in your car and drive to the spooky property, enclosed in some rusty gates, guarded by a rabid wolf. Who is this mysterious person? And, why Kevin?

Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood is an older game from 2012, and honestly, Alawar hit it out of the park production-wise: It feels fresh and new, animations are interesting and sharp. There is some high production value here! I found the game relatively short to play (under 3 hours), but there are at least 30 different scenes to explore which include a biker bar, a gas station, a boat, a lighthouse… And best news of all: there is an awesome map! There is a lot of backtracking in-game but the map allows you to warp to different areas instantly with a mouse-click. The mini-games and HOGs in Cruel Games are typical fare and pretty easy to solve (not that it is necessarily a bad thing). There is plenty to do, and I didn’t once feel bored.

Funny bit: in one scene you had to go into a biker bar, and get met with this guy who says, “Leave me alone. I’m drinking my beer.” Haha

When it comes to the Alawar 6 in 1 hidden object bundle, I have to say having Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood included in this collection alone makes it a great deal. It’s good times!

5/5

Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood
Alawar
2012

 

[Review] Panopticon: Path of Reflections (PC)

I played Panopticon: Path of Reflections as part of a 6-in-1 hidden object bundle by developer Alawar I recently purchased on Steam during the 2019 Winter Sale.

The famous illusionist Andy Fox, well known for his disappearing acts on stage has gone missing during one of his performances. He had used his invention- a time-travel machine – to make him disappear to the netherworld, but the device is supposed to return him back and something went berserk. Now he is trapped in some unknown place. What’s worse, his assistant Angela is also trapped. You, the famous detective John Perry, have been asked to investigate Fox’s and Angela’s disappearance on behalf of the 18th century town’s police chief. And hey, if you find them, Houdini might come and do an act with Fox!

Panopticon: Path of Reflections is an “okayyy” HOG in this Alawar 6 in 1. It’s an older game (~2014), so I went in with low expectations. What I discovered were some pretty modern graphic scenes. However, the character animations were rendered barrel-shaped, walking around like they took Metamucil and needed to relieve themselves. …Not sure what that was about…

Panopticon is certainly long enough (over 3 hours) with several scenes to explore (at least 12). No map that I could find, but the backtracking was easy enough to navigate. The puzzles were a range of stupidly easy HOG scenes, gathering items to add to other items, and puzzles that gave you vague instructions. Mostly though, I was doing a lot of clicking and pixel hunting. In several instances, I would try to use an item on something I knew I had to – say a screwdriver to loosen a screw – but, the game wouldn’t let me do it. Frustrated, I’d press the hint button, and it was then that I was allowed to perform that action. Why, oh why? Thank goodness the game didn’t keep score on my hints…

One thing I experienced with Panopticon right off the bat was that I couldn’t find the menu button to back out of the game. Now, I have played one or two games in my life where there was absolutely no main menu button, and I’d have to Ctrl-Alt-Delete if I wanted to quit. My first bit playing this, I backed out of the game using the ol’ Windows trick, fearful the game wouldn’t save my progress (it did, all good). If it hadn’t, Panopticon would have received a one-line review and an automatic F from me. Well, Alawar, I’m sorry I doubted your game devs – the menu button was not in a typical spot – it’s a hidden button in the top left corner that toggles down when your mouse pointer grazes the area. All good, nothing to see here…

Overall, Panopticon: Path of Reflections is okayyy. Not the best game, and I likely wouldn’t recommend buying it as a standalone game. So, let’s just consider it filler in the Alawar 6-in-1 Hidden Object pack and move along.

A cautious 3/5

Panopticon: Path of Reflections
~2014
Alawar

[Review] Mexicana: Deadly Holiday (PC)

I played Mexicana: Deadly Holiday as part of a 6-in-1 hidden object bundle by developer Alawar I recently purchased on Steam during the 2019 Winter Sale.

Katrina and Vitor are vacationing in Mexico during the Day of the Dead festival. On a lark they decide to get their fortunes told by a shaman. But, their future is in question when the card reading goes awry and a spell is cast causing Vitor to disappear into the World of the Dead. Katrina must now brave this strange world by battling evil demons who want her dead, but also receiving a kind helping hand by way ancient gods.

Mexicana: Deadly Holiday was quite good in the style department. I really dug how it looked – nice, bright scenes and it also had great acoustic music reminiscent in style to the Gypsy Kings. I have always enjoyed casual games that delve into Latin American history, mythology and mysticism. And frankly, this one is a nice switch-up from the “missing children taken by ghosts” plotlines. The puzzles varied from usual HOG scenes, to collecting objects and finding keys to unlock doors, to rounding out the play with some interesting mini-games. Mexicana was not overly challenging and made for a nice relaxing time. And it seemed to go on and on….and on forever! Well, not that it is a bad thing necessarily, only that the story felt like it went on three chapters longer than it should have…If you weren’t engaging with the plot, I doubt you would have even notice!

Overall, Mexicana: Deadly Holiday was fun, and again I felt I got my money’s worth with this 6-in-1 bundle!

3.5/5

Mexicana: Deadly Holiday
Alawar
2014