Thursday, 19 January 2017

Faces of Illusion: The Twin Phantoms

It’s a brand new hidden object game from Artifex Mundi – this time concerning a set of mysterious stage magicians fighting over a magical book! That’s right, it features both illusion and legit magic, in a rare combination. You can find the video review below!


Monday, 16 January 2017

I Expect You To Die - The Obsession

After a solid month of playing levels, replaying levels, taking a week off and thinking about levels incessantly, then coming back and playing more levels, I think I've finally reached a point where I'm as good at I Expect You to Die as I'm going to get.

So here are the videos of my best times* for each level.
* (Updated 19 Jan 2017 - The first level is now down to 9 seconds)

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Haunted Hotel: The X

This is the tenth game in the series, and the second subject of a HOGuru video review!


Elementary, My Dear Majesty


This might be a 'be careful what you wish for' type of situation. I'm often heard wondering why developers don't make more wholly 3D HOGs. While the occasionally game built around polygonal art occasionally turns up, by and large those are still 2D affairs, with art considerably less attractive than their hand-drawn competition. Elementary, My Dear Majesty joins Ferrum Secrets as one of the two fully-3D HOGs I've encountered, and like that title, it takes some interesting and innovative chances while at the same time having enough bugs and strange mistakes that it can't be considered a complete success.

Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?

Not as much as it would at first appear. While it's true that every one of the islands that the game takes place on has random objects scattered all over it, the developers do an excellent job of justifying the huge messes. The main character, a troubleshooter tasked with rescuing the King's daughter after she's transformed into a terrifying monster, always arrives at islands in the midst of some kind of upheaval, explaining their rough condition. There's a pirate ship overrun with mutineers, striking natives who want better working conditions before they'll get their oil refinery working, and even a set of asian-themed buildings that the player arrives at just after a ninja attack. The developers even go the extra mile of attemping to justify item positioning - yes, there's some gravity cheating, but for the most part items appear in fundamentally logical positions.

Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?

This game is a master-class in search justification. At no point in the game will the player ever be asked to find an item which isn't directly related to the plot. In each new location the player has an overall goal - generally locate a particular item - they'll accomplish by fulfilling the requests of a series of NPCs, who need items recovered and puzzles solved before they'll help the player in return. While many of the requests themselves are flat-out ridiculous, there's always a rock-solid internal logic to them, and the player will never find themselves confused about just why they're trying to pick up a set of butterflies or a pouch full of gold coins.

Actually picking those items up, on the other hand, can be inordinately trying. The developers goofed by not including a proper tutorial mode to explain how this 3D world is significantly different from traditional HOGs - which it absolutely is. While most of the levels have the player looking through a fixed camera angle, some islands can be viewed from a 45 degree angle to either side - this is absolutely necessary, as many items will be completely hidden behind world geometry if the player isn't looking at the exact right angle. Luckily there's a fast-recharging hint button to help players through the rough parts, and two difficulty levels allow players to decide if they want to find all of the items in each group, or just 60% of them. Still, a tutorial designed to ease players into the world would have gone a long way to making my first hour with the game considerably less frustrating.

Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?

In addition to the wholly justified hidden object searches, the game offers a few different types of puzzles. These vary wildly in quality. There are numerous sliding block puzzles, which get old very fast, and a number of trial and error pattern lock sequences that are more annoying than challenging. There are plenty of good puzzles as well, though - two standouts being a pair of puzzle rooms in which the player must set off a set of traps. No matter how much the puzzles my vary in quality, they all fit well into the context of the game world, and do a good job of adding a little supporting texture to the hidden object scenes - which may not be a useful descriptor in this case, since every one of the game's screens is packed with hidden objects that need to be found.

As strange as the 3D HOG experience was at times, and as frustrated as I became waiting for the hint to recharge for the last few items every other screen, I was always taken by Elementary. There's enough hidden object searching here to satisfy even the most ravenous clickhound, and the story is a consistently witty affair. While there may not be much depth - or even width - to the story, the dialogue is often humorous, and the developers were able to consistently come up with visual gags and funny situations - some of them even lampooning the game's lack of impressive technology. Elementary, My Dear Majesty was satisfyingly odd, and a good pick for anyone who wants to mix up their HOGaming with something they've never tried before.

Curious about the playthrough that led to this review? You can find the first part below!


Saturday, 7 January 2017

Jack the Ripper: Letters From Hell

The HOGuru continues his journey through the Microids 12-in-1 hidden object bundle! This time, it's Victorian London and the Whitechapel murders, in Jack the Ripper: Letters From Hell!

Also, it's HOGuru's first attempt at a video review! Enjoy!




Friday, 6 January 2017

Frankenstein: The Dismembered Bride


Okay, now this is a strange one. Players control Brad, a reporter searching for his missing wife Janet, who's disappeared during a European vacation. His questions lead him to... Castle Frankenstein. Here's the strange part - that's where the Rocky Horror references end. The rest of the game is a pretty straightforward comedy/horror in which the player tracks down Janet's body parts in a messy castle and then tries to reassemble her corpse using Doctor Frankenstein's bizarre technology. It's equal parts silly and gruesome, and oddly fascinating as a result. Now, on to the hidden object criteria!

Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?

To the utmost. The whole castle is a complete mess, with next to no justification for any of it. Once could make the argument that, what with it being largely uninhabited for some time, the castle has fallen into disrepair, but that wouldn't explain the tools, books, jewelry, and foodstuffs scattered around every location. The screens are also fairly cheap in their construction - lots of size and gravity cheating, not to mention some borderline colouring issues. The one saving grace is that collecting is permanent in the game - players will be revisiting every room in the castle multiple times, and it's extremely satisfying to watch rooms which start out packed with garbage gradually become relatively clean.

Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?

It's almost entirely 12-1 screens here. Brad will arrive in a room, be told he needs a tchotchke, then have to tag a dozen other items before he has a chance to pick it up. There are a few justified scenes, however. Occasionally the player is asked to find a series of books on the subject of reanimation, or a set of valuable rings - those screens are few and far between, but they're a nice change of pace when they arrive.

The game's hint system is also a little on the strange side. Players can have a maximum of six hints at a time, obtaining new ones by completing puzzles or finding hidden stars in the various screen. I don't know why developers in the early days of HOGs were so dead-set against simple recharging hint meters, but Dismembered Bride is a perfect example of how oblique item placement and limited hints can render a game more frustrating than it should have been.

Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?

While Frankenstein doesn't have what I'd consider a truly strong narrative, it's certianly the most interesting part of the game. With mediocre HOSs, and puzzles that mostly revolve around tile swapping or playing match-3 (which I'm on record as stating has no place in a HOG), the narrative's consistent daffiness at least justifies continuing through to the end. Brad spends the majority of the game wandering around bickering with his wife's shockingly animate brain, and it leads to fairly consistent merriment. They're both kind of terrible - in general as well as to each other - and I was always excited to see just what they'd say next.

Frankenstein: The Dismembered Bride isn't a good HOG. Sloppy screens, dull puzzles, a plot that ends immediately and abruptly just after suggesting something really interesting which is never resolved. There's a real train-wreck vibe to the whole experience. Which is why I have to recommend it at least slightly. It's just so strange that it has to be seen to be believed - and since it's part of a 12-in-1 pack of hidden object games on Steam, the price of admission is startlingly low. Don't go in expecting a good game, though - it's so ill-conceived that it even features parallax-scrolling screens, which is one of the biggest sins a game can commit. It even lacks a map, and since the screens' contents are so arbitrary, players will constantly find themselves wandering from room to room until they stumble onto the next HOS. Just terrible.

I honestly don't even know if I'm legitimately encouraging anyone to play it at this point. But if you're curious about the playthrough which led to this review, you can find it below!


Monday, 2 January 2017

Haunted Hotel: Eclipse


I'm not sure this review can be trusted. It's entirely possible that I love this game far too much for my opinions about its merits to be trusted. What explains this adoration? It revolves entirely around the game's premise, and its straightforward exploration thereof. That premise? What if a group of monsters were all staying at the same hotel, and one by one they began to get murdered - someone would have to investigate, right? Yes, this is the long-awaited game that puts the player in the role of a monster detective. The idea of it fills me with glee - and the game's execution, which has the player tracking down clues and unlocking deduction sequences in which a video plays laying out a theory of the crime. It's the most delightful genre mashup I've seen in ages, and the sheer lunacy of the premise kept a smile on my face for the entirety of the game.

Now, on to the hidden object criteria!

Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?

It's barely a problem here. This is the first game in the series developed by Elephant Games, and their expertise was already on display. The HOSs are universally well-drawn, and completely logical. The main character is arriving at the hotel in the midst of a multi-day battle between supernatural armies, so it's completely understandable that things would have gotten more than a little messy. Whether the player is searching a dryad's garden for clocks or a voodoo priest's room for dolls, the HOSs fit perfectly within the world the developers have created. They even use one of my favourite conceits - having the player smash a crate open and then have to search through its contents. Always a pleasure to see that one.

Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?

Eclipse focuses entirely on 12:1 screens, so it wasn't exactly pushing the genre forward any. They're well-drawn and fair screens, however, never resulting to size or colour cheating. There's a few questionable placements from a gravity point of view, but beyond that, these are top-notch scenes.

Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?

It's a fantastic job from beginning to end. The Final Journey hotel is a huge and layered location, with enormous variety in its rooms. There's a huge library, crumbling tunnels, well-appointed suites, and even a creepy graveyard, because of course there is. It's a monster hotel. The game's puzzles fit the location perfectly - there are dozens of doors to unlock and panels to open, but by far the most interesting element to the puzzle solving is the main character's sidekick, a tiny fire elemental who solves a surprisingly large number of her problems for her.

Perhaps the most amazing thing that Eclipse has going for it is how well it works as a mystery. Each one of the murders that the player can solve has a completely logical explanation, but within each is a piece of a larger story, one that gradually comes into focus over the length of the game. Even the bonus game in the collector's edition is worth the time and trouble to play it, as it offers a nice epilogue and hints at a larger mystery running through the entire series! While I may have gotten frustrated a few times with some of the game's puzzles, and had to hit the hint button more than once when it wasn't entirely clear what I was supposed to do next, I can't find it within myself to weigh Eclipse's minor problems too heavily.

To reiterate, this is a game about solving a murder mystery in which all of the victims and suspects are monsters. To me, and doubtless to others as well, it's a lunatic dream come true, and on some level I can't believe something so amazing actually exists.

Curious about the playthrough which led to this review? Check out the first video below!