Big Fish Games

[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.
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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:

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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!!

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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…

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

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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.

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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

Steam and the Casual Gamer

This week marks the Steam Summer Sale, a time when gamers pick up some wicked deals on PC / Mac games. And as always, when these sales happen, gamers also notice a dip in their bank accounts.

Steam

(Photo: media edge-online)

If you haven’t heard of Steam, here is the breakdown: It’s an internet-based gaming system that allows you to buy and access over 3,000 games in any genre you can think of. You would have access to those games through the Steam client – a software application you would download onto your computer. There are Steam apps available on most platforms that allow you to browse games, purchase and see your library, but you can only play games in the Steam Client on your computer. To that end, games are available for PC, Mac and Linux, and many are cross-platform compatible (meaning, if you buy a game for PC and switch to Mac, you have license to play that game on Mac.)

(Photo: wikimedia)

(Photo: wikimedia)

When I first started playing casual games – particularly hidden object – my go-to game stop was Big Fish Games (BFG). Of course, they have a curb on the market when it comes to the casual gaming genre. They are excellent at what they do, and have a similar way to access games as Steam, but the gaming sales on the site are only open to those who pay a monthly subscription fee to be a part of their Game Club; everyone else pays full price, which average from $10 to $20. Never one to be pigeon-holed, I always like to shop around to see what else is out there (okay, I am a cheap gamer!). This is always a risk, because BFG is a gaming distributor, but they are also a gaming developer, so many of their games are proprietary to their site, and not available on other gaming systems like Steam. BUT, sometimes you do find games sold on BFG available elsewhere. It can take a bit of work, but in your labour, there can be some fruit. And this is where you can win!

Case in point: STEAM SALES!!

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In the past, I would basically ignore the Steam sales that my husband would always participate in, thinking there would never be anything I’d want to play (meanwhile, watching the bank account take a hit…). It wasn’t until the hubs encouraged me to start a Steam account so we could play Magika that I decided to take a look at what was out there for the Casual Gamer. Glad I did. Where BFG’s gaming subject matter falls right in the casual gaming fold and only the casual gaming fold, Steam has something for EVERY gamer. For example, it partners the RPG gamer with the adventure gamer seamlessly, and might even match the two to give some ideas for other games out there that fall in both genres, so a gamer looking to spread their casual wings into something a little more complex has some choices. I think this is great!

When you first search on Steam, the first place to look is under the Games drop-down tab. This lists all the game categories available.

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My go-to search is under Adventure and Casual categories. Unfortunately, though, if you are looking specifically for “Hidden Object” or say, “Survival Horror”, no category like that exists on the Games drop-down tab. But, there are a couple of other places to try.

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There is, of course, the Search box at the top that you can use, but another way to search on Steam that is in Beta right now is via tags. Steam is allowing users to tag games into specific categories that are atypical, and Hidden Object and Survival Horror are a couple of the categories. I was so happy to find this existed. It’s great, and new sets of games are being tagged daily.

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How did this help me with the Steam sales? Let me show you:

Last Summer, I played a game called Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek. The sequel, Enigmatis: The Mists of Ravenwood is on sale for a deep discount on Steam. But wait! Big Fish Games is also selling this game.

Big Fish Games is selling it for $10.21 ($7.14 if you are part of their Game Club).

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On Steam? $3.99, regular $7.99.

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Seeing is believing, no?

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Damn straight! It pays to shop around…and take advantage of Steam sales. So, how have I faired so far?

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Four new games to play and review! (And the week isn’t over yet)

There you go. Now that I have imparted my gaming resource librarian skills, go forth and shop for deals! But most of all, HAPPY GAMING!!

Images: wikimedia BFG logo / media edge-online.com / quotespics / the rest are my screenshots

[Review] Midnight Mysteries: Salem Witch Trials (PC)

Who would have thought that a hidden object game would teach me a thing or two about American history. Being Canadian, I never came across the story of Nathaniel Hawthorne. The only thing I knew about him is that he wrote the Scarlet Letter.

 

What does Hawthorne have to do with Salem Witches? Well, Hawthorne was from Salem, Massachusetts, home of the famous Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Hawthorne had an ancestor, John Hathorne who was a judge on those trials who never repented for his involvement. Hawthorne, embarrassed by his legacy, added a “w” to his last name to hide his ancestry. This element plays a big role in the plot of the game.

In Midnight Mysteries: Salem Witch Trials, we first meet up with the ghost of Nathaniel Hawthorne who died in a snow storm. He comes to you seeking answers as to what happened to him. Along the way, we meet a varied cast that includes accused “witches”, former President Franklin Pierce, as well as Abraham Lincoln. The plot twists and turns leading the gamer through Hawthorne’s history, some factual, some fiction.

The good: Interesting story, great music, great scenery.

The bad: Short gameplay.

Of course, Midnight Mysteries: Salem Witch Trials fudges, fabricates, and adds some ghosts and native American elements to spice things up, but that aside, this was a great game! There are interesting puzzles, clear hidden object scenes and some smooth and spooky music to go along with it. There are some fun elements too, like finding hidden clover, or clicking on any crows you find to get an extra hint point.

The game is relatively short – I finished the game in under three hours – but that’s no reason not to check this one out. It’s a good’un!

Midnight Mysteries: Salem Witch Trials
Developer: Mumbo Jumbo / Big Fish Games
Released: 2010

[Review] Dark Dimensions: City of Fog (PC)

The legend of Dark Dimensions…a space between the living and dead. Where the light has been snuffed out, like the wind has blown the flame out of a candle. All that is left is the smokey semblance of what was. Silvertown, ME has been living in a dark dimension for a over a century. A fog has descended, and the townfolk have all disappeared. What is left are the ghosts and demons of those people, roaming around the town.

You have your own story: as a child, your family died in a car accident. Ever since, you are obsessed with the supernatural and dark dimensions, and have always wanted to bear witness to one with the hope that you will be able to see your family again. Your chance to experience it comes one day when a mysterious letter appears on your desk at work that talks about dark dimensions in the town of Silvertown, ME. You hastily quit your job to pursue it. You pack up your CRV and enroute, somehow crash it at the gates of Silvertown, ME – was it your bad driving? The weather? Or the demon souls in Big Fish Games’ hidden object game, Dark Dimensions: City of Fog? Let’s find out…

The good: Great vivid graphics, uncomplicated hidden object scenes and eerie music that startles. Complex labyrinth of many rooms, locations and pathways to explore.

The bad: Clichéed plot devices. The map is useless. And [where’s my slingshot?] that caw caw cawing crow…

To start, let’s acknowledge the plot is a little hoo-ish. When you crash your car, a guide book “mysteriously” appears in your car that tells a more scientific explanation for dark dimensions:

“Researchers have theorized that 30% of earth made up of dark matter particles, invisible to naked eye. Origins of dark particles [has to do with] super-symmetry equations and dark-dimensional theories, [which is] also said to be cause of newly discovered Dark Dimensions located throughout the world. One place is Silvertown, ME. The town disappeared a century ago. According to gravitational readings, conditions will mirror those existing when the city was swallowed by a thick fog.”

I am not sure what any of that means, except it’s fancy-speak for “you are traipsing around an abandoned town in fog.” Really, THAT’S IT. But, forget that. The game is fun.

City of Fog is gorgeous: every single scene is meticulously done, and nothing appears unfinished. It actually made you feel like you were searching in a cold dark place. The developers obviously worked hard on every aspect. The gameplay is smooth and I experienced no glitches while playing. City of Fog is fulsome with many areas to explore and search – at least 30 separate areas by my estimation. This is not a traditional linear game, so you were permitted to go around and search where you want provided you have the right tools to access them. The hidden object scenes were easy and there is also an interesting mix of other puzzles to play. And the music…eerie and startling at times.

As with many hidden object games, there were also clichéed plot devices in City of Fog: Misty fall weather, a train station, a repetitive cawing crow that wouldn’t quit and ritual sacrifice involving burning sage. If there are any ghosts, you can bet there will be some ritual herbs to be found or some candles to be lit. I don’t consider this a problem so much as not unique. At least the developers created a great distraction (or attraction) to hide this tired rehashing.

My main complaint with City of Fog has to do with the map. With such an elaborate game with so many locations, why wouldn’t they include a half decent map??  The game provides a lame-o guide that looks like it was hand-drawn from outer space…it shows locations from the top of a skyscraper…but going into rooms and alleyways, you need a closer perspective here. I had a walkthrough on stand-by as I was nearing the end of the game, because I could remember the room an object was in…I just couldn’t recall HOW TO GET TO IT…

Overall, Dark Dimensions: City of Fog is one of the better hidden object games I have played, and highly recommend it!

Dark Dimensions: City of Fog
Developers: Daily Magic Productions
Released: 2011

[Review] Death Pages: Ghost Library (PC) – One Title to Check Out

Just when you get tired of these hidden object games with their repetitive plots about missing people and death, one squeaks by and surprises you with something a li’l bit different. Death Pages: Ghost Library is one such game. I know, I know; the title has “death” and “ghosts” in it – same as it ever was. But hold up a second…this game has a few interesting twists.

Three students go to the local library to do some research, but their souls get held captive in well-known novels by some evil literary madman, resembling a weird version of Mr. Garrison from South Park (complete with wacky hand puppet!). The students’ bodies are placed in hyperbaric chambers while we try to save their souls. The stories the game focuses on are a bit disjointed; it moves from Romeo and Juliet, to Hamlet…to the Picture of Dorian Gray. It is convoluted; I mean, Dorian Gray and Hamlet? Why not stick to Shakespeare…have the Taming of the Shrew or something?

Please, Mr. Garrison, don’t hurt me!

This game looks stunning, and for once, it fit my TV screen without me having to adjust the settings! The gameplay is point and click, but relies on you passing through portals to get from one scene to another. There is a fair bit of back-tracking, but the destinations are very easy to recall. A map is also included with the game that helps you navigate along the way. Its hidden object puzzles are atypical, as you are given items to put back into the scene, instead of having to find items. I liked this twist for a nice change. The other mini-games are ones we have seen before, but the story and hidden object puzzles more than make up for the mini-games’ shortcomings.

Death Pages: Ghost Library is a casual game you should definitely check out if you are interested in a different spin on the same old hidden object game. I certainly was impressed!

Death Pages: Ghost Library
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Released: January 2013

[Review] Sacra Terra: Angelic Night (PC/Android)

99 cents! 99 cents! I got this game for 99 cents!

Ahem, actually it was $1.02 Canadian on Google Play, but still…El cheapo. I came upon an app called Appsales that notifies you of Android apps on sale. Flipping through, I was curious to see if there were any games that have gone down in price. According to Appsales’ history, Sacra Terra: Angelic Night was advertised for $1.02, a 50% discount four months ago, and surprisingly, it is still at that price. I couldn’t resist playing this game on my Android tablet, as I had played it on PC a couple of years ago and had fond memories of it. Sacra Terra: Angelic Night is full of everything – great graphics, great gameplay and plenty of hidden object puzzles to keep the HOG fan happy for at least a couple of hours. It is from Alawar, the developers that brought you Twisted Lands: Shadow Town, and that game wasn’t bad.

Angelic Night starts predictably in an abandoned mental hospital where you wake up disoriented. You soon discover a spell has been cast, and demons representing the 7 deadly sins are poised to take over the world. It is your task to destroy these demons and save the world from damnation. Soon, you meet up with an apparition of a beautiful angel who is there to guide you through your task.

I really enjoyed this game for its puzzles and hidden object scenes alone. The plot was a bit of a stretch, and what was this game’s weakest element as it had some confusing plot twists and turns that really went over my head. At any rate, the graphics were well-rendered, and you could actually see even the smallest speck on screen. The PC and Android versions are very similar; it has been two years since playing the PC version, so the brain’s a little foggy – but I’d hazard they are the same game.

The negative for me? The Android version of Sacra Terra: Angelic Night crashed every time I moved from one scene to the other on my tablet. Every time! I’m not sure if my tablet’s recent update is causing problems…I would still recommend buying this game on either the PC or Android device, even while it might crash – that says something about the game!

99 cents / $1.02 for Sacra Terra: Angelic Night on Google Play – right now! I think the PC version costs $10.71 on Big Fish Games. Either way, pick it up!

Sacra Terra: Angelic Night
Developer: Alawar
Released: 2011

Credits: ggpht / blaze.com

[Review] Mystery Case Files: Malgrave Incident (Wii)

I have always associated the Wii with fun casual games like Wii Sports and Boom Blox, so a hidden object game for the system wouldn’t be that far fetched. In comes Mystery Case Files: Malgrave Incident, a full-on hidden object adventure game for the Wii! I am no stranger to the Mystery Case Files series, having played Dire Grove, Ravenhurst, 13th Skull, among others on the PC. Let me tell you, I was not the least bit disappointed in Malgrave Incident; it was fun, well-made and addictive. I just couldn’t stop playing it.

51rVrnknZlLIn the game you are hired as a detective by Winston Malgrave – a rich fosselized inventor who has called you to his island to help save the life of his wife Sarah. His island apparently has a magic dust that restores youth and cures all illnesses, but it is currently in short supply, so Malgrave wants you to investigate his island and find as much of the stuff as you can. But, upon arriving on the island, you discover things are amiss, run-down and deserted, which adds to the mystery behind Malgrave’s request: What is this dust? Who is this Malgrave?

Malgrave Incident was a great story with a very fun gameplay. The five-chaptered story takes you to different locales through the island that are easy to navigate, thanks to an interactive map, which allows you to move between scenes easily instead of manually moving from one scene to the next. The game is full of complex, multi-layered hidden object games. The Wii-mote allowed you to zoom into HOG scenes nice and close which was great for those with bad eyesight (you lookin’ at me??). There are also other puzzles you need to solve in order to unlock a door or to release the magic dust into the several dust collecting machines Malgrave has you use at the end of every chapter. The game’s graphics, animations and music were very well-done. No cheese here!

A couple of disappointing aspects though: some of the hidden object scenes are re-used, which isn’t a problem in and of itself; but, the second last hidden object scene had me search for the very same items I had searched for previously. That is just laziness on the part of the game developers! And one more thing: If you give me a puzzle, I expect a brief instruction on what I am supposed to do. Every puzzle presented to me had no instructions, and some were vague, which resulted in my consulting a walkthrough just to get a clue!

Overall, I would highly recommend Mystery Case Files: Malgrave Incident. It’s a great game with excellent replay value. And, you can play multi-player, which adds to the Wii’s appeal. Pick up a copy and add it to your collection!

Mystery Case Files: Malgrave Incident
Developer: Big Fish Games / Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 2011

[Review] Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse Mountain (PC) – Keeping it Fresh

Hot on the heels of the recently-reviewed Secrets of the Dark: Temple of Night comes its sequel, Eclipse Mountain. This game was included on a Secrets of the Dark two-pack gaming CD I picked up recently. Because I loved Temple of Night, I was interested in trying out Eclipse Mountain to see how the developers, Orneon, made out creating a sequel to such an awesome HOG. Although the game was noticeably shorter than its predecessor, I found the setting fresh, the graphics professional, and again, the music was exceptional.

In Eclipse Mountain you travel to Thailand to search for your vacationing friends who have been spirited away by an evil dark soul. You get to explore the humid shacks and cultural temples for signs of your friends. Like Temple of Night, you have to darken settings in order to see the evil spirit; a cool detail which allows you to search other settings and play more puzzles.

I loved the South East Asian flavour given to the game; it was a welcome change where many hidden object adventure games are set in Latin America. The ‘hint’ button was a lotus flower, which was a nice touch. The game was noticeably shorter (or maybe because I enjoyed the game so much I breezed through it…) and I wouldn’t consider it the best HOG I’ve ever played, but, it’s still a worthy game.

I recommend buying the Secrets of the Dark two-pack which includes both Temple of Night and Eclipse Mountain for under $10. You will not regret it!

Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse Mountain
Developer: Orneon / Publisher: Big Fish Games
Released: 2012

Credit: Jayisgames

[Review] Secrets of the Dark – Temple of Night (PC)

Right now I am sitting in my living room, writing this review with my mother-in-law next to me. She is on her laptop playing Secrets of the Dark – Temple of Night, totally engrossed in the game. I lent her my copy as she has been playing social HOGs on Facebook and was getting tired of relying on others to let her advance in her game. I felt Temple of Night was a great first introduction to playing HOGs on the PC. I hope the game doesn’t spoil her too much…

Why, you ask?

Because, in my opinion, Temple of Night is one of the best hidden object adventure games ever made. I have played many a HOG, and I put Temple of Night in my pantheon of top HOGs (along with previously reviewed Shiver: the Vanishing Hitchhiker) for its quality of production, gameplay, graphics, music (yes, MUSIC!) and story.

I had played Temple of Night two years ago on PC; a friend’s copy through Big Fish Games. I wasn’t able to finish the game, however, due to a glitch in the game that basically had me at a dead end. Desperate, I looked online, and discovered that some casual gamers were experiencing the same problem, and that Big Fish Games was developing a patch for it. I moved on to another game before I could see Temple of Night to the end, but it was strong in the back of my mind that I needed to play this game again. So, when I found it at Walmart packaged with its sequel, Eclipse Mountain – for $9 – I was sold!

This game engrossed me as it had me go to a dusty abandoned Mexican town searching for journalists who have mysteriously vanished. The story is steeped in legend from the Aztecs (although not sure how historically accurate – it kept saying Mexico is in South America…). Along the way you encounter evil spirits who stole your journalist friends to feed off their souls for all eternity. These spirits would only appear in the dark, so if you were to draw the curtains or turn off the light in certain rooms in the game, the scenery would change into dark crypts, caves and temples where you are able to explore further and play extra puzzles. The graphics are excellent and the music is well-composed. Its soundtrack really does set the mood for the game.

I really do give Secrets of the Dark: Temple of Night a high recommendation. Run to Walmart and pick up the two-pack!

Secrets of the Dark: Temple of Night
Developer: Orneon / Publisher: Big Fish Games
Released: June 2011

Credit: Big Fish Games

[Review] Off the Record: Linden Shades (PC)

“A mysterious figure in red… Something’s driven everyone away from Linden Shades. No one’s been back since that time of terror when the kids drew startling images of blood-red ghosts, and the police were no help. Your editor’s sure there’s a story hidden in the Shades. Can you get the truth, off the record?” – Big Fish Games

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I am the first to acknowledge the stories that go into hidden object games are not always the best written tales around. They are often derivative, usually originating from folklore or urban legends, and almost always involves the player having to explore some abandoned dirty house. There is sometimes a farm nearby, some old dude who needs to stick his nose in to see what you are up to, some kind of spirit lurking. Off the Record: Linden Shades, the latest effort from Eipix Games has ALL of these elements within its story. For the record, this game is a regurgitated story at best, but saves itself with its puzzles.

In Off the Record, you play a newspaper reporter who is attempting to get the scoop on why the local orphanage, Linden Shades, closed down. The story told by the locals is the building is haunted by a mysterious figure dressed in a hooded red robe, wearing a red scarf over its face. Your editor wants you to get to the bottom of it, so you can get a great byline, sell a ton of newspapers, and be a star reporter. And well, I won’t ruin the story for you, just that it has all the particulars that make for a story akin to the Bloodhound Gang…or Scooby Doo for that matter…

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Aha! Ol’ man Smithers!

The game is a combo of live action and animation with voice overs, as well as some hand-drawn graphic design mixed in. The live action is weird: it has actors going through the motions in pantomime, but voice overs tell their story. Weird camera angles take over; their mouths are covered by a newspaper as they “talk”, a camera pans to a guy’s fat gut, and often the actors’ backs are turned away from the camera. I suspect this is in an effort to be able to dub the game into another language. The live action was then juxtaposed with the same actors in animation. This was odd, too. There is one character, Ricky, who is supposed to be a young kid, but was played by what appears to be a young adult actor. To add to the weirdness, his voice was that of a grown man trying to be a young boy…yeah, that creeped me out a little, actually.

linden-shades2The scenes looked good – not too stylized. The scenery does well to try and pull you into its mood. You are made to explore the usual dark corners in Off the Record, but the game as a whole was not scary at all. Every once in a while you get a red figure popping out of nowhere, but it’s not like you need to take an aspirin afterwards…

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In terms of gameplay, Off the Record isn’t bad if you like to be taken by the hand the whole way through the game; but if you are seeking challenge, you aren’t going to find it here. There were plenty of hidden object puzzles within the game. Many puzzles required you to partner objects to open things or to operate machinery, but the game went out of its way to tell you exactly what you should do and where you should go which got irritating. There were also many side puzzles mixed in, in an attempt to keep the player engaged. The game is about 3 hours long, so you somewhat feel like you get your money’s worth out of it.

I would recommend Off the Record: Linden Shades to those new to the hidden object genre who haven’t experienced the standard HOG fare and like their games to lead them through them. Expert players can safely pass.

 

Off the Record: Linden Shades
Developer: Eipix / Publisher: Big Fish Games
Released: June 2013

Photo credit: 1. fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net / 2. tvtropes / 3. eipix.com /4. rackcdn.com