this game blows

[Review] Puzzle de Harvest Moon (Nintendo DS)

Last year, my husband returned from the Spring Waterloo Game Swap with a gift for me. A friend (@CanadianRetro?) gave him a Nintendo DS game cartridge without a manual or case…He said to me, “Here…a French Harvest Moon game for you…” Um, thanks…?  I stored the game away until this weekend. I was cleaning up my living room and discovered the cartridge in a catch-all basket under my side table yesterday along with three other DS games. Oops! I should do something with this, I thought.

Full disclosure on two counts: I have never played a Harvest Moon game before now, and it’s been a LONG time since I have delved into anything French (20 years). Now, to address the former concern: in my mind, I equated Harvest Moon to Farmville; a time-management-type farming simulator game where you have to adjust your personal life to log in, farm and harvest crops by making sure you water them on time or else risk your virtual livelihood. I have never liked having my life dictated to by a video game…that is unless I am getting paid to do so. So you can guess how long I lasted with a game like Farmville (one week, tops)…Harvest Moon, I hear, is fun, but I assume similar. So, it has taken me a long time to be excited enough to go in and try any Harvest Moon. Addressing the latter concern around French, I haven’t read or spoken French in ages, and being surrounded by Anglophones doesn’t help, but I figure if there are subtitles in English, at least I should be fine. In any case, when I found the game yesterday, the hubs said I should take my DS out of cobwebs and see if there is an English option within.

Well, people, it turns out, this game is in English. The developers calling the game Puzzle de Harvest Moon was simply to make it sound exotic, I guess? Because, this game isn’t great and I suspect it needed a little sophistication to help get people to play it beyond adding Harvest Moon to the title.

Puzzle de Harvest Moon is a strategy game, the objective of which is to compete against opponents to harvest as many crops as possible to gain the most points. The first thing I did when I fired up the game was try out the in-game tutorial so I knew what I was up against. It seemed relatively easy…You are given a plot of land you share with three other “players” (the Nintendo DS’s A.I. if playing Single Player). You play over the course of “four seasons” (or 4 to 8 minutes, depending on preference). Each player is given seeds, watering cans and fertilizer to use to tend to their crops; these tools are provided at random. Each crop is colour-coded to denote which player owns which crop. As you farm using the tools provided, your crops will tell you what they need (water, fertilizer) with tiny graphic indicators. Animals are also provided to use to distract and prevent other players from tending their crops. For example, chickens can be used to eat up freshly sowed seeds, but, these animals can also be used against you in the same way. Your crops grow and eventually become ready to be harvested. One can harvest crops one of two ways: Baskets are provided to harvest your crops, but these are given at random, it seems. The other option is to use the stylus to reap crops by scribbling on the crop of choice, which then dissolves the crop from the plot. For every crop you harvest, you are awarded points. What do you do if you have run out of your own crops? Well, now there is a solution for that! Go on and steal harvest the crops of your neighbours, not for them, but for you! I don’t remember that gameplay tactic in the Farmville manual…

When it came to the actual gameplay outside the tutorial, this is where things were confusing and inconsistent. I chose a character (one of 12), that I think are original to the Harvest Moon franchise, but whose strengths or background seemed to have no benefit to the outcome of the game. The first time I played, I planted my crops, watered, and fertilized them as I was supposed to. My crops were ready to be harvested, but I got no baskets to use. I tried the other trick of using my stylus to scribble the crop away, and that didn’t work for some reason. The game then ramped up, and all the other players were able to plant and harvest to their heart’s content. I was only given two seeds to plant the whole round, so I lost miserably. Giving the game the benefit of the doubt, I studied the tutorial one more time…was I missing something?

I played as Elli…and as you can see from the points, I am killing it.
I am also not trying very hard…

I tried playing again several times to get the rhythm right. After over 20 rounds, here is what I discovered: I didn’t actually have to do much crop tending at all! I concluded all that labour watering, fertilizing and tending to my crops was for losers! Seriously, I could win the game by a large point margin simply by sitting back and letting the opponents do all the heavy lifting labouring over the plot. Then, like shooting fish in a barrel, I could swoop down with my stylus and scribble away everyone’s fully grown crops to win the game! That’s right, I became a parasitic gamer! The competition in Puzzle de Harvest Moon became less about tending crops, and more about how quickly you could scribble on crops to harvest them. There wasn’t much point to this that I could see – I could scribble the DS’s computer under the table!

I was on fire today…I also just scribbled the entire time

So, does that make this game fun? Um, not to me. People, I think there are Nintendo games that are less confusing, more consistent, and much more fun than Puzzle de Harvest Moon. Oui, oui mes amis.

2/5

Puzzle de Harvest Moon (Nintendo DS)
Natsume
2007

[Review] Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)

I was so looking forward to playing this one! After I completed Unsolved Crimes for the Nintendo DS, I went searching for other DS games like it, and the game, Crime Scene, kept popping up. (I can hear readers scream “Phoenix Wright”….don’t worry, folks, I have it in my library…) Crime Scene is a rare title and difficult to find in my area…but after six months of searching, I finally found it at my local EB Games. Crime Scene wasn’t cheap ($19.99, new for a game from 2010). I was anxious to play it over my vacation, and started playing it immediately…And darn it, if I have anything good to say about it. It blows.

As it often goes with these Cop Shop type games, you play as Matt Simmons, the newest and eager forensic investigator of the Crossburg Police Department. Using your instincts, know-how and latest forensic equipment, you investigate the 5 murders plaguing Crossburg by interviewing suspects, analysing evidence and reporting back to your Superintendent, Alexandra Malone. Your skills are tested every step of the investigation. You better study hard and have a steady stylus hand in Crime Scene, or Malone will send your ass packing quickly.

No doubt, the game looks great! The imagery is crisp. But, don’t be fooled by its appearance, as its mechanics are broken. The “charm” to Crime Scene is the part where one collects evidence using a number of different given tools – latex gloves, cotton swabs, an X-acto knife, tweezers, fingerprint powder and tape, and luminol & black light. The police department is counting on Simmons knowing how to use these items to solve the crime, so the game equips players with an integrity meter that gauges how well you as Simmons are doing. The game provides you with confusing instructions on how to use each of these tools while in play that one must figure out while the clock ticks down fast. When time’s up, your integrity can take a nasty hit. The tools are used by dragging them with the stylus and holding down the L or R bumper. Sometimes they don’t work properly at all and the game penalizes you severely. In one situation you are to take a blood sample as evidence by dipping a cotton swab in solution, then rubbing it on a blood stain. I couldn’t figure out why my swab kept breaking mid-sample, causing me to have to re-take the sample. Every time I “broke” a swab, my integrity meter would decrease. In another scenario, I had to cut evidence out of fabric using an X-acto knife, and I’ll be damned if I could get the knife to cut anything.

The actual analysis of evidence is treated in a series of mini-games, which at first blush seem fun enough. In one game, you use a pipette to draw a sample of blood to place on a microscope slide. Once the slide is prepared, you use a laser to zap red blood cells. Reading this back, it sounds like it’s lame…and really, it is especially if you were asked to repeat these mini-games several times within the case. And like I said, if you don’t get the tool mechanics just right, you lose the game, so make sure you save often so you can re-start the game at a save point (that is… if you plan on playing this). I, for one, was sent packing many times. It never got easier.

Many of you will NOT remember when I reviewed the CSI: Dark Motives game for the DS…mainly because it was the second or third game I reviewed for this blog over three years ago and no one was paying any mind back then. At that time, I said you were better off eating a Mr. Big chocolate bar than play that game, mainly because the game was confusing, unforgiving and had broken mechanics; your only consolation was to eat a Mr. Big. Same goes for Crime Scene, only this time I’ll take a Coffee Crisp, please, because, if I gotta replay that damn crime scene one more time, I might as well gnaw on something that tastes like delicious coffee wafer dipped in awesome chocolate, thanks.

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2/5

Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)
Dev: Nobilis / South Peak
2010

[Review] Sudoku Ball – Detective (Nintendo DS)

Anyone like Sudoku? If you are not familiar with this challenging grided number-placement puzzle, get going! Along with crossword puzzles and search-a-word, it is my favourite pencil-to-paper puzzle game. I started enjoying them about 15 years ago when we’d occasionally get a free newspaper delivered to our house. Now, I have a couple of Sudoku games on my tablet and phone. It’s fun and challenging enough to give the mind a little exercise. So when I discovered a Sudoku puzzle game for the Nintendo DS, Sudoku Ball – Detective, I was all over it! And imagine: Sudoku tied into a story-based murder mystery! What a great concept! I’d buy that!

…and I did. And the game is…ehhh…

Edward G. Bannister, a retired Scotland Yard detective, is investigating the sudden death of his close friend. The story is all too familiar: you play as Edward as he interviews suspects, picks locks and lifts fingerprints to search for clues…except instead of you doing any of this, you play Sudoku Ball, a variant of Sudoku where the Sudoku grid is bent in a 3D sphere shape. Once you complete a puzzle, you get a clue which is used to carry the story. The puzzles in the game vary in level of difficulty and from timed to untimed. In the timed components, if the clock runs out, there is no real penalty, as you are able to restart the puzzle after rewatching a short clip.

I have encountered some terrible DS games in the past, and although Sudoku Ball – Detective is not the worst I’ve played on the system, it is on this side of mediocre. I wanted so much more for it than I got especially since I like Sudoku, and there are FREE Sudoku games in the mobile environment that look and play better than this. To be fair, Sudoku Ball – Detective is from 2009, so time hasn’t been kind. The graphic rendering of the characters looked ghastly, and the Sudoku puzzles are pixelated and blocky. One thing I hand it to this game and the DS for that matter – it has very decent handwriting recognition whereby you fill in a Sudoku square by hand-writing in the number with your stylus. The DS then replaces your handwritten number for a typed equivalent. It was quite intuitive – it even got my lazy lefty chicken-scratch pretty well! But alas, this is where the good ends. The tale wasn’t all that engaging and after awhile, I quit paying attention and just played Sudoku. If you wanted to, you could bypass the story and play the 90 standalone Sudoku puzzles, but again, why would you want to? Those puzzles just look terrible on the DS.

If you come across a copy of Sudoku Ball – Detective, feel confident in passing it by. There are so many free methods of playing Sudoku that are so much better than this.

1/5

Sudoku Ball – Detective (Nintendo DS)
Dev: Playlogic
2009

[Review] Silent Hill: Downpour (PS3)

Silent Hill is a survival horror franchise that I have a little history with. I played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the PSP five summers ago and was terrified most of the time. I reflect back on that survival horror game, and consider it one of the first from the genre that got me into playing scary games in the first place. When the hubs suggested we play Silent Hill: Downpour together on the PS3 this past December, I agreed to it. Together, we slogged through it over a couple of weekends.

You play as Murphy Pendleton who is, at first blush, all kinds of bad. In prison serving an unknown wrap, Murphy is making enemies everywhere he goes, including officer Ann Cunningham, who has a serious bone to pick with him. It is while being transported to another penitentiary that Murphy’s bus crashes, killing everyone on board but Murphy. He is left to his own devices in the forest, but before he can even think of his freedom, he finds himself amid the eerie, rainy and somewhat abandoned town of Silent Hill, a perpetual hell where there is never any escape. While in Silent Hill, Murphy is pursued by monsters which he must defend against. He goes searching through the town, exploring abandoned buildings to find clues about his fate and objects he can use for his escape. Silent Hill’s gloomy buildings can transform spontaneously into a parallel universe where the walls turn dark, blunt obstacles turn sharp, and red shadows chase and disorientate Murphy.

Murphy’s back story is a mystery from the get-go. You are given very few details about him, and as the game progresses things eventually fall into place (sort of), but it’s a long winding journey. The gamer is provided with flashbacks periodically that lift the curtain a little on Murphy, but I have to say the pacing of the story was very slow, and I soon found myself impatient, wondering why the hell this guy was in Silent Hill, and why the heck I should bother saving him in the first place.

You direct Murphy in third-person gameplay. Like other Silent Hill games, Downpour had some jump-scare moments, especially when Murphy suddenly entered into the evil parallel world where he was being chased, or gets confronted by a monster. To that end, I found the combat in Downpour was pretty lame. You are only able to pick up one weapon at a time, each often felt pretty ineffective. Along the way you are given a gun, but the aiming sucks, so it barely did anything. Beating a creep down with any weapon, in fact, felt like an exercise in futility, and we often found ourselves running away from a monster as a more effective method than sticking around.

Wild guess: Which screenshot comes from Silent Hill: Downpour and which is from Alan Wake?*

Throughout my experience with this game, I couldn’t help but think the game designers of Downpour took inspiration from Alan Wake, nicking some key plot tropes from one of my favourite games. In fact, I can think of at least 10 similarities between the two:

  • A gloomy landscape
  • Forest hiking
  • Use of a flash light
  • Flocks of birds that attack
  • Flashbacks to the past
  • Riding a Gondola lift
  • Breaking into spooky buildings
  • Trespassing through diners and gas stations
  • A Female police officer
  • And look out for gusts of wind and fog; the monsters are coming!

There are more but, this list is a start. Whether by accident or coincidence, Downpour has really tapped into obvious parallels with Wake. The whole time, I turned to the hubs and said, “I feel like I’ve played this before….This feels like Alan Wake…” Except, Alan Wake is two years younger than Silent Hill: Downpour…and does things a lot better than this game; the story, weapons and general gameplay were much more enjoyable.

I can’t help but feel disappointment with Silent Hill: Downpour, especially since Shattered Memories was so engrossing. Take a pass on Downpour – there are better survival horror games out there.

2/5

Silent Hill: Downpour (PS3)
Konami
2012

*Alan Wake is on the left, Silent Hill: Downpour is on the right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[END OF SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.5/10

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

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

*Originally reviewed in March 2014, reduxed 2016.

[Review] Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer (PC) Blows Goats

I got a lot of boxed games…and they are begging to be played! Most are point-and-click, and most I’m sure you’ve never heard of! Here is one of them!

Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer is a point-and-click crime adventure game, and a sequel to Art of Murder: Deadly Secrets, a game I had reviewed waaay back in Fall 2013. That game was terrible, and this one was no better. You might think I am a glutton for punishment…trying to play a sequel to a game I had given my precious “This Game Blows” Seal of Disdain to. But my long-term memory failed me, and my need to clear out some of my boxed games is a priority, soooo here we are.

In Deadly Secrets, we saw Nicole Bonnet, NYC FBI detective investigating a murder. In Hunt for the Puppeteer, she is in France investigating a murder that might be related to a string of murders that have taken place in New York. The Gendarme are on the scene, as a body of a ballerina has been found in a studio, posed in a similar fashion to artist Edgar Degas’ (1834-1917) painting Waiting (1880-1882) by using wires suspended from the wall and ceiling. Nicole, posing as a guest to the Gendarme, comes in to investigate in secret, as the police don’t really want her tampering with the crime scene. Somehow, she manages to build an evidence dossier using plastic document protectors, pencil lead and tape at hand, but not until she and the gamer consult an in-depth walkthrough on the internet.

degas ballet

The Waiting by Degas

Okay that last part of sentence isn’t quite true. I consulted an in-depth walkthrough….thanks Gamezebo.

The game looks pretty good, and collecting equipment to have at hand in your inventory is fairly easy. What isn’t is actually using your equipment…did you know if you join a stapler and a pencil, you can easily cut a pencil in half? Or how about using a match stick and cotton to make a q-tip? But, wait, why couldn’t I just use that pencil tip and cotton as a swab? Several choices in items you use to investigate didn’t make sense to me, and were not intuitive. And once I got my evidence, I thought we could just move along in the game past the first chapter. I was wrong.

Truthfully, the first time I played this game was about five years ago. I quit after the first chapter because I could not progress in the game, even after consulting walkthroughs. My gaming chops were not grown in yet, so I figured I would get more gaming under my belt. Since then, I have played many adventure point-and-click games, including Broken Sword and Syberia – both excellent games! I’ve played Mass Effect for chrissakes!

I have the chops, yet Hunt for the Puppeteer eluded me. I could not get Nicole Bonnet to leave the crime scene. She kept saying she had more to investigate. I tried again with a new gamer profile…following step-by-step instructions on everything Nicole was to do. Still, somehow there was more to investigate.

puppeteer hell

I don’t know what I was doing wrong or what I was missing. But, forget it folks, daylight is fading and who gives a shit. I am out! Detective Nicole Bonnet will be solving this one on her own! Au revoir!

2/10

Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer
City Interactive
2009

[Review] Safecracker (Nintendo DS)

I enjoy me a good puzzle game and I’d like to think the Nintendo DS is built for puzzle games. But, lately, I have to wonder. Just because a game is decent on one device, doesn’t mean it will port well to another.

Case in point, Safecracker. I found this game cheap at EB Games, and it boasted as being the ultimate puzzle challenge. Yeah, I don’t know about ultimate, but I would definitely have to agree with the challenge…

This puzzle game was originally released on the PC in 2006. The story sees you as a bonafide safecracker hired by heirs to a rich uncle’s fortune. You are charged with finding his last will, hidden away in one of many safes locked away in a large property. Each safe is a puzzle to solve, the mansion itself is a labyrinth of corridors, rooms and courtyards. The game showed some promise, but I am here to tell you this game blows. Or at least this version of it blows.

To start, you are given a compass, a magnifying glass, a map of the mansion and arrows to select direction…and it’s all useless. If a directional arrow points straight ahead, and the compass points going North, I expect to go north, not…spin around the room and wind up going east like this game had me going. The last time I took orientation with a compass, that isn’t how that was supposed to work. Second, the map of the mansion was somewhat helpful. A red X on the map indicates where there is a clue to find or a puzzle to solve. But because the navigation sucked, it was difficult to get to an X. Third, there was a toolbox that collected some items, but no journal entry capability. Those notes that I’d find, I had no idea whether I should commit them to memory or not. Lastly, the puzzles provided no instructions as to what you were supposed to do. I don’t mind if the goal is obvious. But, some puzzles had me scratching my head, like this puzzle for example:

IMG_20141125_094459

I think since I started blogging almost a year and a half ago now, the majority of games I’ve played that were next to no good were games played on the Nintendo DS.  I don’t want to disparage the device itself because I really do enjoy the DS…but, I think often games that are ported to the DS are the problem. Poorly ported seems to be Safecracker’s issue and I wouldn’t mind seeing what the PC version is like.

Needless to say, I do not recommend Safecracker on the Nintendo DS. The search continues for good puzzle games on this device!

4/10

Safecracker
Developer: The Adventure Company
2009 (Nintendo DS)