Sunday, February 26, 2006

Independent Adventuring - January 2006

January offered a mix of very good games and titles, which were a disgrace to the adventure gaming community. The latter suffered mainly from interface problems; graphics didn’t seem to be an issue anymore. In fact, last month one of the games made a huge step out of the ordinary, delivering very unique and highly effective graphics. The game was Life of D. Duck.

Niche news
January was a month of reviews and adventure engine upgrades. Delaware St. John 2: The Town with no Name was reviewed by three sites. The Quandary found the atmosphere to be great, but the puzzles too few and easy. Just Adventure largely agreed, but the reviewer saw the game to be good enough for an “A” rating. Adventure Gamers was also very happy with the atmosphere, but the review considered the game to be too short for its price. Four Fat Chicks praised the atmosphere of another game, Hope Springs Eternal, but criticized the low difficulty of play and abrupt ending. The First Mile, a new text adventure, received a “C” rating from Just Adventure, after the reviewer criticized clichéd puzzles and design problems. The Quandary found Force Majeure II: The Zone to be only average, and gave it a three out of five rating. The site also previewed an upcoming game, Keepsake.

Adventure Game Studio was updated to version 2.71. Despite the low version number (the previous version was 2.7), the update features lots of improvements and fixes, such as sprite compression and new string support. The entire changelog can be found here. Another editor, Point and Click Development Kit was upgraded to version 2.

Scratches and Keepsake found publishers. Scratches will be published by Got Game Entertainment, while Keepsake will be released by Dreamcatcher. Tears of Betrayal, a new adventure game was released for $32, and soon it will earn the distinction as the adventure game with the worst interface in the past few years. Pinhead Studios announced a new project, Nearly Departed: The Story of a Reluctant Zombie. The graphics will be made by John Green, who was responsible for graphics in The Lion King game, and who currently illustrates Disney Adventures Magazine. And if all this is not enough for you, Just Adventure has published an excellent feature containing interviews with the best known current independent adventure developers.

1213, Episode 2. Our bandaged hero is back, in the second installment of the 1213 trilogy. As it is customary for the game’s author, the title is full of great writing, subtly hinting at the origins of 1213, as well as the motives of his tormentor. The game is primarily a platformer, with few adventuring elements, but the atmosphere is pure adventure. It is as captivating as the first part, and I found it marginally easier, thanks to enemies that have the good habit of dying much faster.

1213, Episode 3. Finally, 1213 meets his nemesis. And his maker. And his teacher, and a few other characters from his past. You’ll learn who you truly are, and what you were meant to do. This game features two alternate endings, the second being available only after you finish the game the first time. And there lies the problem. Unlike the previous two games, you’ll be now facing enemies that refuse to die, and your only option will be stealth and lots of acrobatics. I’m an adventure gamer first, and my reflexes aren’t good enough to even finish the action sequences in the latest Broken Sword game, thus I don’t really know how the game ends. One of the battles always got the better of me…

24 Hours is a short, well-done game where you play a student who needs to write an essay. Unfortunately, as a typical teenager you need three things to survive: food, sleep and fun. The author has incorporated these three factors into a sort of power bars, which you always need to keep from filling up. As a result, in addition to finding your inspiration, writing your essay and dealing with an overweight repairman, you’ll need to carefully balance your sleeping time, stress reduction and eating in order to be well rested and ready to write your masterwork. I found this game to be quite fun to play, even though it took only three attempts to find a good combination of actions to allow me to complete my task on time.

A Knight’s Pursuit. This is a very short one-room game where you play a knight about to go see the king. To do so, however, he needs his robe, shield and sword. The game features a squire who carries your entire inventory, very nice graphics and no sound. It is nice, but not spectacular; I’d like to see the author develop something longer, while keeping the same features.

Christmas Quest: The Best Adventure Game Ever! The good folks at Adventure Gamers have graced us with their own game. You play Dork. No, really; that’s your name. And you’ve gotten The Best Adventure Game Ever for Christmas, but before playing it you need to create the right Christmas ambience. This is a short, fairly straightforward game full of deliberate clichés and jokes at the expense of other adventures. The one, which poked fun of the latest Broken Sword game, was by far the best. The music and graphics are cute and appropriate, and the only gripe I’ve head that the text was sometimes difficult to read, thanks to white-on-white letters.

The Family Treasure. By all accounts, this is a very good game, if I am to paraphrase people on the AGS forums. Unfortunately, I was unable to move from the first screen, even after following the instructions of people who successfully finished the game. I attribute this to an awkward interface, and possibly some pixel hunting. The graphics and music are very good, but I personally found the game unplayable. Correction: After some help from people who finished this game, I was able to move throught the obstacle that stopped me, and finish the title. The obstacle was a problem with scripting: one part of the game was telling me that I assembled a required objectm while another was telling me to assemble it. Once I was over this hurdle, the game was very smooth and well balanced, offering a good story and puzzles. With one other exception the feedback didn't give me problems anymore, and after finishing the game I can recommend it to everybory else.

I’m Only Sleeping. The latest addition to the Reality on the Norm universe is quite a good one. The game features Simon Jones, who wakes up from a nightmare and can’t get back to sleep. The fact that the Grim Reaper is sitting downstairs and watching Gilligan’s Island doesn’t faze him, though… The title features quite good humor and a specific soundtrack for each room, while adopting the existing templates for the Jones’s house. Every fan of the series should try this one.

Infantry Division 1338. This is a short, team-based adventure game where you have four characters, and each is necessary to solve some of the puzzles in order for you to advance. The game takes place in Vietnam during the war, and your mission is to rescue your general. The game reminds me strongly of the Hot Shots movies, with its inept general and very weird cast of characters. The puzzles are quite challenging, but not impossible, and the graphics and music make this quite a fun title. Too bad I’m so sensitive to poor grammar, though…

Life of D. Duck. This is a superb medium-length adventure where you play a duck, which wants to make some oat porridge. The game is relatively straight-forward, but still requires some thinking, as some of the puzzles are more on the obscure side. What makes the title really good, however, is the very unique graphical style. Objectively, the graphics could be described as terrible, but I really liked them, and I felt that they were consistent throughout the game. The graphics are also very original and quite funny, and as somebody who draws a lot, I found them quite professional. All in all, the developer managed to deliver a solid title with great production value.

Lonely Night. The author of this game has a long history of creating adventure games that are not exactly the common sort. So far, she’s always managed to surprise me with a much better developed story than what I’d expect from MAGS entries, and this game is no exception. You play a retired police officer in a wheelchair, who experiences something of a déjà vu, when a burglar invades his home. Being wheelchair-bound adds a whole new level of challenge to the game, which will draw you in with a lengthy and good intro, and a very interesting setting. Unfortunately, the graphics could have been better. They may be pretty, but they also require lots of pixel hunting, as some items you’ll need are only a few pixels in size.

Mordy 2: The Mirror of Truth. The second installment of the Mordy series is enormous in size. Download size, I mean, even though the gameplay length isn’t too bad, either. This time, you find yourself on a planet that features everything in 3D, including all the characters. You need to find a certain item for the local demon, in order to get finally home. The graphics are much improved in their 3D form, and so is the music, which features some original tracks. The title is full of jokes at the expense of other games, ranging from fellow adventures to Counterstrike. All in all, I found the game very engaging, albeit a little on the easy side.

Rude Awakening. This is a short game with a sub-average production value. You wake up (or so it seems), stuck in your room without a way out. You know what you need to do… The title does offer one unique puzzle solution, but that’s more than offset by the lack of sound and stale graphics.

Santa’s Sidekick is a poorly made adventure with good graphics. The game can be quite frustrating, thanks to very small hot spots that transport the character to the next screen, and thanks to an absolutely unresponsive action icon. Despite the fact that my character recognized many objects when he looked at them, he was unable to use any of them. After walking through two empty rooms and clicking on everything multiple times, I simply gave up. The Readme file indicates the current version number to be 0.2; I’d wait for the final version before trying to download this title.

The Tomb of the Moon. You are an Indiana Jones clone in this short, but quite well done adventure game. You need to solve a puzzle in a small temple, in order to get a “priceless” artifact. The game features simple, yet effective graphics and a quite interesting soundtrack.

Veteran Rampage. You are a retiree, enjoying the quiet afternoon, when some kids outside start making noise. So you pull out your gun and shoot them all. This is the premise of the ultra-short, poorly drawn thing, which I’m very reluctant to call an adventure game. With the exception of a few clicks, you won’t need to do anything.

Other games
FIFA International Football 2004. I’m always eager to try new games from the maker of Duzz Quest, but this time I’ve been a little disappointed. This game features one- and two-person play, but even that doesn’t save it from its quite poor interface implementation. Despite my best efforts, the best score I achieved was losing 26 to 2, and I still haven’t figured out how I scored those two goals. Controlling the ball is quite complicated, thanks to a very fast computer, which takes the ball from you every time you change directions.

January was a month of good news and a few good titles. Unfortunately, it also featured a few sub-par games. This time, however, the production value stayed way above average, and instead it was the scripting that hurt those titles. I remain very hopeful, though. For me, it indicates that new authors are playing with adventure engines, and that soon they’ll deliver much better titles.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

fyi: "FIFA International Football 2004" was released 2003

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To everyone who reads this, this is a ONE man's opinion, and it's not at all the opionion of most people! So test everything out for yourself in stead of listening to a frustrated jerk who only wants to pick on things.

4:14 AM  

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