Monday, November 24, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #158 - Quest for Glory III - Eastern Fricana Savanna



Composed by: Rudy Helm

This piece plays when the Hero ventures east from the Liontaur city of Tarna towards the Simbani camp, the Simbani being a people obviously modelled off the Maasai people of East Africa. Before you arrive there you'll have to cross what is known as the East African Savannah - er, I mean the "East Fricana Savanna". The music is really epic and I think that's why it sticks in my mind to this day - probably the most epic main city departure music you'll ever hear in a Quest for Glory game, but to be fair, it's not like Quest for Glory 1, Quest for Glory 2 or Quest for Glory 4 had much in terms of wilderness music. I especially like it when the harmonising kicks in around 1:06.

Thanks to Sierra On-Line and Quest Studios for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

First Impressions - Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

During this year's Steam Summer Sale, I managed to grab quite a few games and one of those games was Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for a neat $5 USD. The game is set in post-apocalyptic America but the story is apparently based off one of the great classical novels of Chinese literature known as Journey to the West. I'm fascinated by Chinese culture, history and literature so while this is probably a very liberal take on the story, I was nevertheless intrigued to see how Ninja Theory adapted it.

What I like

  • Tie-in with Journey to the West: As I've already mentioned, this game is a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi adaptation of Journey to the West. So you've obviously got characters like Monkey and Tripitaka but it's interesting how the developers represent them in this world (and how they came about with those names). I also found some amusement in how they adapted magical items in the original story into pieces of technology for the sci-fi game version
  • Top notch voice acting: Monkey is voice acted by noneother than Captain Gollum Haddock himself: Andy Serkis and he does a splendid job of it. Lindsey Shaw as Tripitaka is no slouch either.
  • Breathtaking combat: While other aspects of gameplay might not be so good the combat is really quite exciting. Monkey is actually pretty vulnerable if you don't time your blocks well enough and the slo-mo finishing moves makes the game look like a John Woo film. All we need now are the doves.
  • Great character detail: Despite the rest of the game's graphics having quite a few low-res textures (apparently this game was originally a 2010 game for consoles) the painstaking detail that must've gone into the character models and animations is obvious.

What I don't like

  • Annoying camera angles: Unfortunately Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one of those games with an automated camera angle. Consequently there will be many times where during combat the camera will be flying all over the place and it'll be difficult to focus on the action or realise which way you're really facing now.
  • Hard-coded keybinds: A minor pet peeve of mine but I don't like games that force you to use certain key bindings (and I suspect a lot of PC gamers would agree). One of the worst offenders is middle mouse button being hard-coded since that also happens to be my Push-to-Talk key for TeamSpeak.
  • No long-term appeal: While the levels I've played so far require a minimal amount of puzzle solving, overall there doesn't seem to be too much variation in the type of enemies you fight (robots) or how to approach the level. Ultimately, everything comes back to how good you're in combat anyway since even if you're able to be stealthy and avoid some combat there will always be some mechs you'll have no option but to fight with, especially during boss fights. The game is also quite linear too which makes the gameplay seem dated when compared to other games from 2013 such as Tomb Raider


Verdict

I'll never be able to get over the annoying camera angles and I'm starting to doubt the game's ability in drawing me back due to monotonous gameplay. However, the game is a sci-fi adaptation of a classic work of Chinese literature and this, along with the sublime voice acting and character animations, have kept my attention.

[ LINK: Official Enslaved: Odyssey to the West website ]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Finding Teddy Review

Five little speckled frogs, sat on a speckled log...

  • Developer: LookAtMyGames
  • Publisher: Plug In Digital
  • Release Date: 3 December 2013
  • Time played: 2 hours

At first glance, Finding Teddy isn't usually the sort of game I go after. Games that look like retro, 8-bit platformers are commonplace nowadays so even though I know I should never judge a game by its screenshots, this is what I thought Finding Teddy was. I originally got the game as part of one of the Humble Bundles, even though the original intent of purchasing the Humble Bundle was to gift it to a friend. Turns out he already had many of the games so I ended up with quite a few (and now I feel like Homer Simpson in that episode - you know, the one where he buys Marge a bowling ball as a gift).

Anyway, on closer inspection turns out that despite the game looking like a retro platformer, it's actually a retro point 'n' click adventure - well sort of - without the verb interface.

Plot (4/5)
So what exactly is this game about? Well as you've probably guessed by just reading the title, it's about a little girl on a quest to find her teddy bear. One night, what appears to be a giant spider, grabs the girl's teddy bear right out of her arms and drags it into her wardrobe. The little girl pursues her teddy bear's abductor and ends up in a magical world. The wardrobe being a portal to another world is obviously inspired by the likes of "The Chronicles of Narnia" and the little girl exploring a cute but dangerous fantasy world seems reminiscent of "Alice in Wonderland".

Since there's not really any information about the world and no conversation trees (as you would normally do in classic Lucasarts point 'n' click adventure games) a lot is left to your imagination and while that's generally a good thing it also means there are several questions left unanswered, not to mention it's hard to find anything deep and meaningful in the game if you don't know what exactly you're dealing with.

Alternatively, there probably is a hidden meaning to the whole story (maybe the little girl is fighting her fears and doubts personified or something?) but it's so subtle (at least to me) that it just flew over my head.

Gameplay (3/5)
The game claims to be "the revival of Point 'n' Click" which is a bit misleading, unless you take the term literally in that you can point and click using your mouse, but even then many games already use that as a control scheme on the PC so it's not exactly a revival then either. Anyway, what I think they're trying to say is that it's a revival of point 'n' click adventure games and while that'd be the closest genre to this game, it's a very basic point 'n' click adventure if you wish to define it that way. Sure you click to interact with items or to pick up items - you can even store items in your inventory and use them on objects in the environment. Besides that though, there are no conversation trees and no way to examine or look at items. This was quite annoying sometimes since thanks to the retro graphics, it was hard to tell what exactly I was carrying in the inventory at times: a plastic bag? A parachute? A vest? It would've been nice if they at least allowed you to hover over the item and a tooltip popping up notifying the player of what the item actually is.

Also, puzzles are generally easy once you figure them out although sometimes I found that I was at ends with the controls. For example, in order to use items from your inventory, you have to click on the protagonist, select the item and then click on the environment. There's no help to indicate how you're meant to use the interface so I just assumed you drag and dropped items from the inventory onto the environment. Sadly, this would result in me just interacting with the environment without using the inventory item and I would often die as a result, mistakenly thinking that the inventory item didn't work. So half the challenge was learning how the game actually worked instead of actually solving the puzzles. This is about the time that I come in and say "you can tell this is a port of a mobile game".

One aspect of the game I did like was solving some puzzles through the use of musical spells a bit like the old Lucasarts adventure game Loom. However, unlike Loom you'll discover that these musical spells are just a front for something else...

Isn't Tarant a city in Arcanum?

Sound (5/5)
To be honest, I don't actually recall much in the way of sound effects besides the sound the inventory makes when you open it. Music plays a much larger role in this but the sound effects that do exist are effective enough.

Music (3/5)
If you purchase this game on Steam you'll receive the soundtrack for free - it's just a pity that it's not exactly something I'd recommend. I mean sure, the music complements the game well but it's just a minimalist, ambient affair. If you want an example of a retro-themed, mobile-centric adventure game with a fantastic soundtrack I'd recommend people check out Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics are of the pixellated, retro kind. I guess it has a certain charm to it (if you're into these kind of graphics) otherwise it feels like a bit of a time warp back to the 1980s (although with more colours).

Replay (1/5)
The game is incredibly short; it only took me two hours to complete and I was stuck on puzzles half of that time too! Consequently there isn't much reason to replay the game unless you want to unlock special scenes and Steam achievements. You're also able to earn Steam Trading Cards.

Polish (5/5)
Game doesn't seem that buggy to me but then again you wouldn't expect it to be considering how minimalist the game is :).

Score – 7/10

Don't do what I did and immediately throw Finding Teddy into the generic retro platformer basket: Finding Teddy is a simple but entertaining point 'n' click adventure inspired by the likes of "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Chronicles of Narnia". While the game is terribly short, it's a nice little distraction for point 'n' click adventure gamers for an hour or two.

Finding Teddy is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Official Finding Teddy website ]