Big Fish Games

[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)

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[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] Hidden Expedition: Titanic (Nintendo 3DS)

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

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

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

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

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

And I played a decent Titanic game!

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

4/5 !!

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

[Review] Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull (PC)

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!

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull is the seventh installment of the Mystery Case Files collection by Big Fish Games. I have some familiarity with MCF games, having played Mystery Case Files: Malgrave Incident on the Wii a couple of years ago, as well as Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir on the Nintendo DS. I like the series as every game is unique in its own right, either by its storytelling, or graphic execution. The production value is predominantly top-notch, and 13th Skull is no exception.

Sara and Marcus Lawson move from Ohio into a run-down mansion amid the swampy bayous of Louisiana, along with their daughter Magnolia. Soon after settling in, Marcus goes missing, and Sara calls upon you, a detective, to find him. In the meantime, you must rummage through this dirty creepy mansion, interview rednecks and avoid alligators all in the name of detective work, just so you can locate Sara’s husband. While gathering evidence, you discover that the mansion and town are steeped in pirate history, the townfolk are superstitious and a brigand by the name of Phineas Crown once lived and buried his treasure at the mansion. There is also gossip around town of the curse of the 13th Skull, a spell that is cast on anyone who locates the treasure. Sooner or later, Marcus is found, along with some interesting plot twists. Arr Matey!

13th Skull is a point and click hidden object adventure game that does very well to encapsulate a feeling of the old South with its characters, settings and music. The puzzles in this game are typical, but fun and challenging. What sets this one apart from other HOGs, is the use of live-action interview scenes that the gamer is made to participate in to advance the story. The major characters of the story – Sara Lawson, her daughter Magnolia, their superstitious housekeepers, and some town locals are represented. The game places the full-motion actor within the game’s UI, so it appears as though the actor is living in this virtual world. The interview part is an interesting aspect and enriches the experience. The acting? Well…it’s a bit cheesy and exaggerated, but I liked how Big Fish Games tried to do something different within a hidden object game.

Although the puzzles were challenging in 13th Skull, there happened to be several instances where you would have to scour the game’s numerous scenes, including the bar, swamp, cemetery and the Lawson house’s 10 rooms to find one single object needed to continue in the story. At the end of the puzzle, it was easy to lose track of where you are going and what you were supposed to be doing next. This is a minor critique, and the game comes with a walkthough to help you out, if you are so inclined to use it.

Critiques aside, 13th Skull is a fun game that shouldn’t be missed, and fits nicely within the pantheon of Mystery Case Files games.

3.5/5

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull (PC)
Big Fish Games
2010

[Review] Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret (PC)

If I were to assign a particular theme among the games I have played this year, I would have to say that a strong nautical theme would definitely be one of them. Escape The Emerald Star, Myst, and BioShock all have themes where you are out to sea, in water, under water or live in some sort of waterlogged utopia. My latest game, Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret can definitely be placed in that category, actually borrowing some familiar plot devices from each of the aforementioned games. But, before you write this game off as a derivative boring game, Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret uses these devices by infusing its own flavour to them, creating a charming little hidden object adventure game for the PC that I feel is worth checking out.

Imagine you are coaxed awake by an unfamiliar voice only to find yourself locked in a sarcophagus in an underwater city called the “Ark of Humanity”. This voice calls himself Jacob – your name is Anna, so he says. He tells you that you have been locked away for almost a century; that it’s time to rise and “save your people”. Immediately, you question yourself: who am I? MY people? You don’t understand what he is talking about…This is all too confusing! Then another voice can be heard – that of a young girl. She tells you not to believe Jacob because he is a senile old man. Jacob says the young girl cannot be trusted. Who to trust? You try to extrapolate truth from lies while you search this underwater mecca to find out who you are, what this all means and the secrets of your destiny.

The Good: Great graphics, atmospheric soundtrack, that can unnerve at times. Nice variety of puzzles. Hooray for a great map!

The bad: Hidden object scenes are super easy. Story is a little bizarre, but I forgive it.

Definitely, Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret copies elements from other games. Specifically, the underwater Ark reminded me of BioShock, minus the mutant un-dead residents found on rapture. In Myst, there was the round ball gondola to get you from point A to point B; same in this game!

What sets this game apart is, of course, the gameplay. The game bills itself as Hidden Object, but more than that there is an adventure element that forces the player to go from one end of the Ark to the other. There is no getting lost here though, as the game provides you with fantastic navigation, complete with an awesome map. The puzzles in Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret are unique and various. Some include searching famous nautical paintings, like Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa for items, or having to line up a drawing of Cassiopeia on a starry sky. The strongest part of this game has got to be the immersive soundtrack. I recommend playing this game with earphones on – it will surround you with the sounds of lapping water and diving bells.

The Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret  is a great game and I highly recommend it!

4.75/5

Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret
Developer: Big Fish Games
Released: 2010

[Review] Shiver: Poltergeist (Android)

From the makers of one of the best* horror hidden object games ever created – Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker – comes its sequel, Shiver: Poltergeist, and it’s everything I had hoped for. Much like its predecessor, Poltergeist is atmospheric, mysterious and spooky. I certainly was anxious to play it, and excited when it recently went on sale on Google Play.

The Shiver series is actually a trilogy, which also includes the unsatisfactory and frankly inferior Moonlit Grove, a game I reviewed last fall. Poltergeist, the middle child in this series really continued where Vanishing Hitchhiker left off in terms of spooky imagery and gameplay and is a great addition to the Shiver franchise.

One day, you receive notice that you have inherited the Kengale Estate, a property on a private island that has a mysterious past. Sounds awesome sauce, until you approach the island by boat, and a big storm rolls in that never goes away. At first glance, the grounds look neglected. You are met by a kind butler who attempts to keep up the house, but the place is still a junk pile and in disrepair despite his efforts. You are free to tour the estate as you please, but as you do so, you have apparitions of a young unhappy woman. Every time she appears, strange phenomena take place – mysterious fires occur, mirrors shatter…In the story, you discover you have some semblance to a guy long dead who lived in the manor, and you spend the game trying to figure out who this woman is and how you are linked to her.

Shiver: Poltergeist was creepy in every way. Visually stunning, the game takes you to a macabre environment leaving you feeling unsettled and a bit frightened of what you might find. It’s a hidden object game with a bit of adventure attached. The game seemed longer than the average hidden object game (4 hours +), and the bonus gameplay at the end was a great surprise. Elements from Vanishing Hitchhiker were a nice touch, such as a flashlight that you use in pitch black rooms (scary!) or the old “look through the peephole to see another eye looking back at you” schtick (but, works every time!).

Aside from its imagery, what makes this game scary is the atmospheric music and sound effects. Listening to the game through headphones scared me enough to make me sweat at every turn, and heaven help me if I was playing in a dark room – gah! It sounded like a lot of work went into the game’s music – real piano, violin, and classical bass could be heard.

One element that I didn’t like terribly, that I found broke the mood of the game was when there was any voice acting. Total cheese. To be frank, it sounded forced and insincere to the story. I don’t say this often, but the game would have been better off with just subtitles!

Beside Android, this game is available on PC, Mac, and iOS devices. Overall, I recommend Shiver: Poltergeist, and place this game in the pantheon of great and scary hidden object games!

5/5

*I know, a matter of opinion – my opinion! hah! But, if you find a hidden object game that is even scarier then holla!

Shiver: Poltergeist
Developer: Artogon/ Big Fish Games
Released: 2012

More Shiver reviews:

Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker

Shiver: Moonlit Grove

[Review] Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold (PC)

When I am in a gaming slump, it’s always good to get back to square and re-visit some “old haunts”. For me, that includes games I have already played, but deemed excellent. Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold fits into that pantheon of great hidden object games. Well made, fun to play and never boring.
top1

I first played Visions of Gold on my 3rd generation iPod Touch, and it was one of the first games from the hidden object genre that I had ever played. When I found the Treasure Seekers trilogy on PC for sale during a boxing day sale at Staples, I had to buy it. Re-playing this game brought back memories for me, and my feelings about it still hold true. If you are after a true and excellent hidden object experience, you cannot go wrong with Visions of Gold.

The Good:

oliver-twist-visions

The Bad: Well, if there is anything bad about this game it’s…well…the story. There I said it. The story is cheese and “out there” but it’s all for fun, so get over yourself, Sarca!!

TreasureSeekers Nelly cmg

Nelly and Tom are kids and adventure seekers whose long-dead grandma was a pirate. Grandma had a trove of gold hidden away on some distant island. Armed only with their wits, the two embark on an adventure which includes riding off on a raft downstream, going exploring underwater and meeting up with weird characters…all with their parents’ permission, right? RIGHT?? …Okay, best not to ask…

TreasureSeekers Tom cmg

Yes, the story is far-fetched…I mean, who would believe this woman was a pirate*?

charlottetreasureseekers

Regardless, what makes this game great are the graphics, complexity of hidden object puzzles and variety of scenes.  The hidden object puzzles are plentiful and interesting – you click on an object and are asked to locate items for that object. Tiny grey outlines of the items are given, and once located are simply dragged and dropped onto the object. There is a hint button, and a skip button is there if you want to blaze a trail through the game.

TreasureSeekers hog cmg

The one thing I like about Visions of Gold is just how placid a game it is. There are no timers, no punishments for overclicking or choosing an incorrect object…When I mentioned this to the hubs, he said, “What’s the point?” The point is to have a game that allows you good time without any stress. Sometimes, that’s what the casual gamer is after. This one really is just a relaxing game to play. Visions of Gold truly is a casual gamer’s dream.

9/10

*Okay, maybe she downloads music illegally or something.

Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold
Developer: G5 / Big Fish Games
Released: 2010