puzzle games

[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

[Review] The Lake House: Children of Silence (PC)

I played The Lake House: Children of Silence as part of a 6-in-1 hidden object bundle by developer Alawar I recently purchased on Steam during the 2019 Winter Sale.

Ann and Henry suffer a break-in to their home. The only thing that was messed with was their precious photo album; pics of the couple are ripped up or Henry’s face is scratched out. A package arrives for Ann, and inside are childhood toys belonging to her brother Tommy, as well as a ripped photo of the old lake house where they lived as children. Tommy tragically drowned there, and the family moved away promptly after, abandoning the property. As Ann assembles the picture, she has a vision of her brother in his favourite mask calling to her to return to the old lake house. She doesn’t know why, but feels compelled to comply. As they search the property, Ann sees the image of her brother just as she is kidnapped by a figure wearing the same mask her brother liked to wear. Now Henry must find Ann and discover who is behind the kidnapping. As he searches, the pieces of information unfold by way of old home movie film strips which shows that there is more than meets the eye with Ann’s family.

Unlike Kronville: Stolen Dreams, The Lake House: Children of Silence is very much worth the $4 I paid for the 6-in-1 bundle. This is a well-made HOG game with all the fixins. The game looks great, mechanics are intuitive and the music was beautiful. Most of all, the plot was engaging for once! The puzzles mostly consisted of collecting items and hidden object scenes. To that end, if there was anything to gripe about, the hidden object scenes changed every time, but the items to search for could have used some imagination; finding a cork, a ribbon or a spool of thread each time can get a tad tedious.

Gripes aside, my version of the Lake House was the collector’s edition which came with a strategy guide, and a bonus chapter which unlocks after you have completed the game. Let me tell you, the bonus chapter turns the story on its head – totally worth it!

The Lake House: Children of Silence gets a 5/5 from me! Highly recommended!

The Lake House: Children of Silence
Alawar
2012

[Review] Kronville: Stolen Dreams (PC)

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

Maisy is a school counsellor with a haunting past who is trying to discover what happened in the disappearance of a dozen students from the little town of Kronville. Maisy herself had a traumatic event in her childhood where one day she returned home from school to find her house in flames. Her dad was trapped inside. Maisy attempted to save him, but he unfortunately perished. This terrible event keeps playing over in her mind…is there a link between this and the disappearances? She takes to sleuthing around Kronville to discover the truth…

I have to say that I was very disappointed in Kronville: Stolen Dreams. For one thing, the game is a glitchy mess that cut out important contextual parts of the story. The first part of the game that I experienced had Maisy climb a ladder to save her father from the house fire, but then abruptly cut to her in an office with a child sitting there at a desk. It took me a bit to figure out what I was doing there and why. I eventually took to YouTube and watched a playthrough where Maisy was supposed to have a conversation with the local sheriff about the boy who was disrupting his class…ok, that’s important information to know! Kronville continued to glitch out cut scenes like this. I was thrown into rooms inexplicably and throughout my experience, I was constantly trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing there; I wasn’t sure if there were serious deficits in plot or what!

Overall the graphics and puzzles were decent in Kronville, which is really too bad because with the glitches, I quit the game mid-way through. Surely (hopefully?) if you were to buy this as a standalone game (available only from Big Fish Games – not Steam), you would likely have a different experience. I can’t imagine Alawar would release a game with so many issues, so let’s blame how it was packaged with the 6-in-1 bundle because in my opinion, Kronville: Stolen Dreams is otherwise unplayable.

2/5

Kronville: Stolen Dreams (PC)
Alawar
2015

[Review] Discolored (Demo) (PC)

Discolored is a walking sim puzzle game currently in development by Jason Godbey for which I received a Steam key for a demo of this game for free! Jason is known for his artwork and most notably, the development of the point-and-click puzzle game The Search. I came upon Discolored by accident, as I often do when browsing games on Steam. An invitation to request a Steam key for this game’s demo arrived, and curious, I jumped at the chance to try it out.

Because Discolored is still in development, the demo is understandably short. You start at a phone booth in the middle of nowhere in a black and white world. The environment is pretty desolate, and devoid of people. Across the street is a diner that appears empty, but open. Around the side of the diner is a well which launches the start of this puzzle. The game consists of finding an object and using it to open, start or disengage something that results in colouring the environment in a monochromatic palette. The demo to the game is not challenging, and gives just enough of a taste of the story to know there is something there that you want to know the ending to.

It’s too early to tell with this demo if the completed game will be successful; however, what I played looks like something I look forward to playing once released.

Discolored (demo)
Jason Godbey
2019