Totem Tribe Review

February 5th, 2009

This year has been full of good games so far. Not only did I get caught playing Eternal Eden; on a whim I decided to try out Totem Tribe by Enkord as well. And boy do I regret that. Not because the game is bad, but because it’s too darn addictive!

After reading the description I didn’t have very high expectations on the game:

“High adventure, real time strategy and hidden object gameplay come together for the first time in Totem Tribe.”

Hidden object gameplay. Meh.

Still, eager to broaden my horizon, I decided to give the game a go – and I was pleasantly surprised. The game is divided into different islands on which you have to perform various tasks ranging from finding objects strewn all over the island, to building your village and defeating various kinds of enemies รก la classical real-time strategy games. It’s easy to suspect that a casual real-time strategy game would fall into a single type of RTS. Tower defense style, or build-stuff-and-overwhelm-your-opponent style, for example. The beauty of Totem Tribe is that both these gameplay styles are included – and many more as well, as there’s great variety between the tasks given.

The RTS part is in general fairly simple but surprisingly fun despite that. There are lots of units, lots of different tasks, and lots of things to see and do. And most importantly – for a game I play as a diversion, for relaxation – it’s hard to lose. Not impossible, though. So don’t get too cocky, thinking that you’ll breeze through every single island of the game. Especially not the last stage of the game. Sweet mercy, the difficulty ramps up incredibly for that one!

In fact, that’s one of the game’s negative sides. I dislike backtracking or redoing things in casual games – I want to see steady progress. I really hated having to restart an island in Totem Tribe, the few times it happened. It’s hard to balance loss/gain/challenge/boredom but I have a suspicion that it could have been done a bit better.

Another annoying thing is the hidden object parts. Trust me, I was pleasantly surprised by those too, but I still found myself grinding my teeth now and then as I found myself missing an orange, or a single bleeding turtle shell that was nowhere to be found. I really really really hated the fact that I didn’t even have a hint button, or some way to purchase (maybe with some in-game currency) hints, or anything at all to guide me toward the missing items.

On a final note I have to mention that the game is gorgeous and sounds very nice indeed, and that I’m very pleased with my gaming experience – despite a few irritating moments.

Graphics

Good graphics, nice sprites. Really, there’s nothing that I feel that I have to complain about.

4/5

Sound

To be honest I can’t recall the music at the time of this writing…but I think that it serves as evidence that it is integrated properly and works quite well.

3/5

Gameplay

Build stuff! Explore! Battle! Find hidden things! There’s a lot to do here, and I like it.

4/5

Addictiveness

I was seriously debating with myself what grade this game should get. It’s very addictive, but also annoying at times. Either way, the game is highly recommended.

4/5

Technical notes

The only annoyance was the usual problem with dual displays and fullscreen mode. Running the game in fullscreen messes up the display on the other screen. One of these days I’m going to have to look into the reason for that – many games I try display the same behaviour.



Eternal Eden Review

January 8th, 2009

The new year is upon us, and despite the fact that it’s been a pretty awful year so far there have been a few good points too. A few glimpses of light to brighten this dark and dreary January. One of those lights is an excellent CRPG by Blossomsoft, called Eternal Eden. “What’s a CRPG,” I hear you wonder. It’s short for Console Role-Playing Game, and essentially means “kinda like the good ol’ RPG games you played on 16-bit systems like the SNES.” You can also call this JRPG if you wish. I don’t care.

In this game you assume the role of young Noah, an inhabitant in the eternal land of Eden. Together with your friend Downey and other assorted heroic types you roam the obligatory two dimensions (there’s always a light world and a dark world isn’t there?) and try to set things straight after someone messed things up by eating the forbidden fruits whom the enigmatic Father explicitly told everyone to leave well alone. The game is obviously quite inspired by Christian mythology and the Bible, and as an atheist fascinated with these things, that is exactly what drew me to the game in the first place.

Unfortunately Eternal Eden doesn’t follow up on the promise of religious interpretation very well; I was let down a bit by the common, secular storyline that emerged from this extremely promising beginning. Maybe I’m simply missing some of the more religious points, but it feels that Blossomsoft missed out on an opportunity to create something deeper and more thought-provoking. Still, what the game delivers is a well-designed and interesting RPG experience that lasted some 15-16 hours. Much of it was filled with battles and the usual leveling up, but there was surprisingly little forced level grinding – not a single time did I have to backtrack and fight stuff in order to become stronger.

One of the reason for this is that there are no random battles. Hallelujah! Praise the lawd and all that jazz. All the enemies are clearly visible and avoidable if one chooses. Much appreciated move. What this means is that the game is more streamlined, more simple in a way since the designer placed enough enemies so that you’ll always be prepared for what comes next as long as you fight your alloted fights. But it also means that you always see how many fights you have ahead of you – at least in the current area. This may not seem like a big deal but to me it felt like an enormous relief to be able to plan how many of the sodding sasquatches I had to slay before I got to where I wanted.

There are other neat things about the game. The graphics are good (although fairly simple compared to games like FF IV, FF V, FF VI, etc), the sound is good (but nothing special), and there are a few interesting minigames like bounty hunting and turtle hunting. Yes, turtle hunting. You go around an island looking for turtles. It sounds insane, but it really is fun! I never found all those stealth turtles though…

The most important thing about the game is that it has that elusive addictive quality, though. The areas never become too big or long-winded, and there is always more to see just around the corner. The scope of the game is much smaller than FF IV or FF V or FF VI (yes yes, I use them as examples again), but I most definitely think that that’s one of its major strengths as well. Because of its limited length this is a game I wanted to buy and finish, unlike most RPGs I’ve played lately. The relative shortness of the game might even be why it felt so addictive – it wasn’t stuffed with too much filler content. Kudos to you for that, Blossomsoft.

Graphics

Good graphics and special FX. Even though the resolution is higher than that of SNES RPGs, the latter win in comparison by virtue of better animation, design and variation.

3/5

Sound

Decent music, although a bit synthetic. The sound effects were okay. In the end I chose to not have the audio on throughout the whole game.

2/5

Gameplay

If you like the standard JRPG/CRPG deal you’ll definitely like this.

4/5

Addictiveness

Could it be? Could this be the first game I review to get a full score in addictiveness? Indeed it is! I couldn’t put the game down. I rarely buy games, but this was well worth the dough.

5/5

Technical notes

Eternal Eden was made with Game Maker or RPG Maker or some other kind of engine like that, but it’s not very noticeable – it performed well and felt like a solid game. One annoyance is that I’d like a larger window, more resolution choices or a scalable window – I want to play windowed, but the default resolution is just too small on my laptop! Also, when I alt-tab the game is paused (good!) but that music just keeps on playing (bad!)



My Tribe Review

December 26th, 2008

My Tribe by Grubby Games is an island simulator in which a tribe of people are stranded on an island and have to learn how to survive. This includes gathering food, building shelter, chopping down trees and harvesting rocks (um…) among other things. I’ve debated with myself whether or not to call it a blatant clone of Virtual Villagers, but there really is no getting around it – My Tribe is a blatant clone. But it’s also a very good game.

The graphics are adorable. The intro was very cute and I like the look in general – a slightly more painted look than the standard CG colored or pixel art look often present in casual games. The animation also receives some bonus points as it’s fluid and pleasant, and the game screen is full of life. Butterflies and stuff fluttering around everywhere. Very nice. At times it’s hard to differentiate between objects one can interact with and a colorful bird that’s just decoration, but that’s a small price to pay for a lively background. The audio is also quite pleasant, and I was impressed by the speech in the tutorials. Nice touch.

The gameplay quite simply is fun. There’s a lot to do, a lot to explore, and you always have the urge to solve the next mystery or see what the next technology level will bring. While My Tribe is a ripoff of Virtual Villagers, it does bring some new things such as random islands instead of just a static one. Also, the island is a bit bigger and more dynamic – chopping down trees cause them to disappear and you have the option to plant new ones as well. In general there are more ways to affect the environment than in Virtual Villagers.

After a while I started feeling that the island was limited, though. I think that there needs to be more stuff to do – a bigger set of things to interact with. I may not be the ideal person for these kinds of simulators but I feel that there ought to be more to do all the time. Sure, I need to let my little islanders work in order to improve their skills, but I’d like to have minigames to play at the same time. Something to occupy my restless mind with. The game is still fun, but I can’t concentrate on it since there’s often nothing to do. Which brings me to another aspect of the game…

The game is progressing even when it’s not running, so while you’re away your islanders are still chopping up wood and fishing and researching. This is a neat idea, but also a very frustrating one: you need to remember to play now and then in order to not wipe out your entire tribe. I left the game a couple of days and feared that white skeletons would greet me upon my return, but I was pleasantly surprised. They had managed to take care of themselves and had given me an excrement-load of science points to boot! Great! I assumed that the game wasn’t all that keen on that death thing, so I got cocky and left the game a couple of more days.

Disaster! Tombstones littered the island. My once proud tribe was reduced to its bare minimum. I did find two survivors though: Jeremy and Hannah were starving but mysteriously still alive. Also, a young girl was alive as well. I wonder if this is a contingency plan by the developers? “That lame dude left all his islanders to die! Well, we’d better make sure that he has enough to breed more people at least.” If so, it’s a brilliant idea. However, it doesn’t work in practice.

This is where the game enters a downward spiral. With so few people left it’s no fun to play the game, which means that you won’t be arsed to start up the game very often. Which of course means that the tribe won’t expand very quickly – or at all. In the end I had a tribe consisting of 54 year old Xavier, an aged woman and a young girl. It’s impossible to breed more people once they are too old, so these few are the remnants of a once proud budding civilization now destined for extinction.

By the way, when you click on an islander you can see his or her thoughts. I kept seeing “Xavier is very happy to live on the island” and “Xavier thinks this island has no equal.” No shit. Here’s a guy who’s lived a nice and cozy life alone with two women on a deserted island. You old goat, you.

Finally I have to mention that despite the game’s flaws it’s strangely addictive. My current tribe is doomed but I have the urge to start a new one – see if I can get things right this time. The game is still a bit limited, but fun nonetheless.

Graphics

Quite nice! Good animations and lovely painted look in the intro.

4/5

Sound

Nice music, and good sound effects. Extra credit for the voice acting even though the girl sounds smug. You biatch! Don’t smirk at me while you tell me how to play!

3/5

Gameplay

My Tribes is fun, there’s no getting around that. A bit lacking in variety and things to do on the island.

3/5

Addictiveness

I want to make my tribe great! I want to solve the mysteries! I want to explore lots of islands! I guess that means that the game is pretty addictive?

4/5

Technical notes

The game started up in fullscreen and did awful things to my two-screen setup. Everything was restored fine when I put it in windowed mode, though, so no harm done aside from messing up my desktop brightness. I like the loading screen – “sailing to your island” and a boat moving to the right to indicate the progress instead of a simple loading bar.

Edit: As was mentioned by Olivia in the comments below, the game can be set in slow mode if one intends to leave it for a while. The problem for me is that I never know in advance if I’ll be gone for a few days – I play games when I feel like it and have the time to spare, so it’s not always easy to predict these things.



The Princess Bride Game Review

December 13th, 2008

I adore The Princess Bride. The movie, that is. It’s a wonderfully witty tale of true love, courage, enormous rats, six-fingered murderers, swashbuckling, miracles, torture and everything else that belongs in a great story.

The Princess Bride game, on the other hand, is a casual game aimed at… At… I’m not sure… It tries to do everything all at once, but you know what they say about jacks of all trades. They end up with stress and ulcers when they attempt to act like masters in a particular area.

The game features a time management minigame, a hidden object minigame, a trivia minigame, a platformer, and a very original form of hidden object adventure thingy. Except for the last one, I’d say that the game’s components are all sub par for their respective genres.

The time management minigame is dull and repetetive. It’s as if a couple of managers played Diner Dash and decided that they know all about how to make a good time management game. The hidden object minigame is uninspired and repetetive, even though it features a very cute colour mixing component. The platformer minigame is great in theory: you control both Wesley (who has a sword) and Buttercup (who can leap high), and switch between them in order to get past various obstacles. But it’s not all that fun to actually play. It’s a real pity, ’cause there are too few platformers that utilize the use-different-characters-to-advance mechanic a la Lost Vikings.

The trivia minigame’s difficulty is pretty uneven but at least it’s short and quick to play. It also features some of the most ridiculous multiple choice questions that I’ve ever seen. E.g.

Be careful with roses because you might hurt yourself on…

A) A thorn
B) A wild badger

That’s bloody brilliant! And on that note I have to say that The Princess Bride game is pretty funny overall. Not hilarious and witty like the movie, but cute and worth a brief smile. Speaking of things that bring a smile to my lips (aside from naked women and beer): the game’s fifth minigame is really innovative! Storm the Castle it’s called, and it’s nothing more that placing objects in their assigned positions. “What’s so innovative about that, you silly sod,” you ask. Well, the innovation comes from the fact that all of these objects have to be found in the intro and outro movies played throughout the game! Sure, it’s not all that fun to have to watch all the movies and click on random things, but the concept, the idea, is absolutely brilliant.

Finally, the game’s production values are excellent: smooth animation, funny characters, good intros and outros that follow the movie storyline, and a lot of voice acting. Voice acting that’s actually pretty good! The music isn’t bad either – although the title tune doesn’t fit in at all. I’d really like to see this game’s budget. I could probably make dozens of games for half that!

Graphics

Great characters, mostly great animation, great backgrounds, great movies. Some of the minigames could have better art.

4/5

Sound

Horrible title tune. Quite good music other than that. Tries to sound like the movie soundtrack (but fails).

4/5

Gameplay

A lot of variety in game styles but often too repetetive and simple.

2/5

Addictiveness

Not awful, but the shallow minigames doesn’t exactly leave a player yearning for more.

2/5

Technical notes

Just one small thing to mention: the game doesn’t pause when I alt-tab away.



Kudos 2 Review

December 11th, 2008

I have a ginormous backlog of items to fix on Wildhollow, but today I chose to spend my precious time on research instead. “Research?” you ask in a bewildered tone. “Indeed,” I answer with a wry smile. Keeping myself informed about what’s going on in the indie games world is essential to success! Which is why I chose to play Kudos 2, a game that came out months ago and has nothing in common with the style of Wildhollow. Ehm. Wait a minute… That may not have been so smart after all.

Kudos 2 is the sequel to the life simulator Kudos (no surprise there), which was a stats-based game centered around balancing all the little elements that makes up a young person’s life, and ensuring that he/she becomes a healthy, wealtyh, social and happy member of society. Or, if one is thus inclined, an ugly moronic misfit shunned by everyone.

When Kudos 2 was announced I saw one poster complain that it’s just a re-skinned version of the original Kudos. I don’t agree at all…but there’s no denying that – on a conceptual level – the games are essentially the same. You make choices that affect your character’s stats in various ways, and in that area nothing much has changed between the games. But Kudos 2 has received a massive injection of fun! The writing is improved, the interface is improved (I love how the diary is used to convey information), the choices are a bit more varied now and then, and so on. It all adds up.

I didn’t like the original Kudos but I kinda like Kudos 2. It’s still not a game for me, though, because I’m not sure that I can win the game. I want my character to be attractive, smart, social, wealthy, cultured, have an excellent job and heaps of friends – but from what I’ve seen I doubt that it’s possible. The game is semi-realistic in that it requires you to make hard choices and balance all those aspects against each other. I don’t like that. I tried to make Mister Fagballs smart and educated in the hope that it would give him a good job which would enable him to do lots of cool stuff later…but for some reason his lousy friends didn’t understand that he needed to concentrate on his studies rather than hang out. “It’s more work than it’s worth it, being friends with you,” they said. Well, screw them! Who needs ‘em! Mister Fagballs has his science classes and his biology, not to mention his sudoku book.

Oh, the sudoku book. It all went downhill after he bought that sudoku book. Rather than spend an evening at a pop concert Mister Fagballs sharpened his logic skills with sudokus instead. The game probably sensed his loneliness because it unlocked the “go to church” event – almost like it sensed that he was in need of some spiritual guidance. I assume that that was a sign from above. But just in that instance, another sign from above came: the saga of Mister Fagballs was abruptly brought to an end as the game crashed and burned. Well, okay, it didn’t burn. But it crashed at least.

Graphics

Simplistic but pleasant. Nice characters and portraits, although a few stood out like a sore thumb. Serves its purpose well.

3/5

Sound

Pretty varied and decent enough. Nothing special.

3/5

Gameplay

I love the concept of making choices to see how a character turns out. At least in theory. There’s no denying that there’s a good game here.

4/5

Addictiveness

I’m divided about this. It’s a fun game with a lot of replay value, but I find it frustrating to always balance different stats against each other.

3/5

Technical notes

The game started up in fullscreen and did awful things to my two-screen setup. Everything was restored fine when I put it in windowed mode, though, so no harm done. (Come to think of it… Is it my imagination or did the game alter my brightness/gamma settings?) There’s a massive delay when switching to the game window, and it appears to be crash prone.