March 28, 2012
Lauded by many as a purveyor of the intellectual evolution of video games, thatgamecompany has received high praises in recent years for developing minimalistic video games that leave an emotional impact. Released just a few weeks ago for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Network, Journey continues this trend.
Journey, is about just that, a journey. The journeyer in question travels through harsh environments on an unspecified quest. Lacking dialogue and an overt narrative, Journey is open to interpretation, which is what the bulk of this review will encompass – my interpretation of Journey. Before that, I’d like to briefly discuss the game.
Controlling the journeyer I navigated deserts, ruins, and mountains, all the while figuring out how to get around the occasional impediment, usually by jumping. When connected to the internet, people would randomly join my game and we’d attempt working together. Groups never exceeded two players, although I met three or four throughout the length of the game. These few players were never a hindrance but cooperation was tough due to the inability to directly communicate with each other, more on that in my interpretation. Speaking of which, let’s dive into it.
Set in the far-flung future, the journeyer I controlled was on a mission of enlightenment. The world he lives in might at one point have been described as the pinnacle of civilization. But the people eventually turned against each other and nearly destroyed the world in a process of unending war. Now, remaining humanity is in search of a reason; a reason for the past, a reason for the future, a reason to continue living in a harsh, unforgiving world.
Believing the enlightened one residing high atop a mountain at the peak of the world would have an answer to his questions, the journeyer set out. He didn’t get to skip down a yellow brick road either; his quest led him through an unforgiving desert that never seemed to end. Blanketed throughout this near-infinite desert were the ruins of the long destroyed ancient civilization. Their murals contained descriptions of similar journeys from ages ago. The wall paintings mirrored the journeyer’s travels with uncanny precision, and helped lead him to his destination while reminding him that he was no different from those who lived generations before him.
Along the way, the journeyer occasionally met contemporaries who also sought enlightenment. Lacking a common language but sharing a common destination, the journeyer aided the fellow travelers he met and developed an emotional bond with them. Even though communication was difficult because of the absence of a shared language, the journeyers were able to cooperate by studying body movement and using simplistic noises. The journey was tough and those he met did not always make it. The journeyer missed their presence, but knew he had to continue.
Obstacles in the journeyer’s way became ever more prevalent as he continued. Getting past them required thinking through straightforward puzzles, executing tricky jumps, and navigating around enormous enemies.
It wasn’t long until the journeyer reached the foot of the mountain. It was there that the red-orange of the desert ended and the white of the mountain began. Snow pelted the journeyer as he made his ascent. Fortunately he was not alone in this stretch of his journey. A fellow journeyer also reached the foot of the mountain and they inched forward, body against body, fighting with all their might to push forward against the howling snow. At points the winds were so strong that all they could do was brace onto windbreakers sticking out of the ground to not get blown off the mountain, no doubt placed there by journeyers before them. This part of the journey was tougher than anything previously encountered, but the journeyer prevailed, albeit alone.
When he crossed into the summit, the journeyer met with the figure that he’d seen scrawled onto the ruins, the figure that he’d been seeking, the enlightened one. Though he made noises that the journeyer was unfamiliar with, he could somehow understand the enlightened one. He said little, but what he said left a major impact on the journeyer.
“The civilizations before your time destroyed each other because they focused on their differences rather than their similarities. You may think you and the journeyers you met on your way here are far different, but you share more than you think. Without cooperation, you never would have reached me.”
“I can’t tell you what the future holds, you decide that. You pushed forward, now reflect on all that you’ve done. You sought enlightenment and you achieved it. It wasn’t the destination that you needed, it was the journey. Now shut up about Mass Effect 3’s ending.”
So that’s one way I interpret Journey. Pretty bleak huh? Civilization, reaches a pinnacle and then freefalls into a rapid decline through never-ending war culminating in the near destruction of EVERYTHING. So, does this interpretation reflect my inner lack of faith in humanity? Personally, I’d say yes and no. I’m an optimistic person, but I can foresee a future where humanity eventually destroys everything (although I imagine everyone can picture that). I’d also say my interpretation of Journey is derived from similar stories in entertainment. The story I envisioned is in no way a new idea and I know I’ve encountered it in multiple formats, such as books, movies, and other video games.
Although my interpretation also has positive messages too, namely that we can overcome any differences we perceive in each other. Cooperation eased the journeyer’s travels, even though he worked with journeyers far different than he, they couldn’t even speak the same language! Yet, the journeyers found a way to understand each other and overcame many obstacles.
The minimalistic nature of Journey has left me ruminating on it more so than any other game I’ve played. It was a brief, however enjoyable experience that is very open to interpretation. I’d recommend Journey, especially if you’re able to experience it with someone else.
If anyone else has played Journey, what’s your interpretation?
December 21, 2011
Blue Toad Murder Files in its entirety consists of six episodic downloads wherein one to four players assumes the role of a detective and solves crimes. The first episode, Little Riddle’s Deadly Dilemma is available for free on the PlayStation Network and my friend and I recently played through it.
Developed and published by UK based Relentless Software, Blue Toad Murder Files is a departure from what they’re known for: the Buzz! series. At the same time, they’ve used their experience and crafted a game that is fun with friends, cooperatively or competitively.
Set in a picturesque British village with banal villagers who talk in a nearly foreign tongue, to me (an American) Blue Toad Murder Files seems as British as it gets. But that’s part of the game’s charm. When it comes to detectives, Sherlock Holmes and the work of Agatha Christie are forefront in my mind, never mind that Hercule Poirot is Belgian…
Anyways, my friend and I soon witnessed the mayor of Little Riddle get shot and we began questioning the villagers attempting to find the culprit. Nearly every time we talked with someone they had a puzzle for us. We were supposed to solve these ourselves but we worked cooperatively. The puzzles reminded me of the ones I saw in Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Puzzles didn’t fall into one category and for all twelve of them we were asked to do something different. The difficulty was well paced and we had fun attempting to get the gold medal on each one.
Blue Toad Murder Files: Little Riddle’s Deadly Dilemma couldn’t be tackled in a free fashion; it was a guided adventure that gave us all the information it had and then tasked us with putting it all together and coming to a conclusion. I loved the setting and the character’s and dug the variety of the puzzles. It took us about an hour to play through and I suspect we might play through the rest. If that’s the case, expect another write-up over the game in full.
December 2, 2011
Q: What is Juggernaut?
A: Juggernaut is a first-person adventure game where the primary mechanic is solving puzzles. A great shorthand reference would be the popular game Myst, a less ideal one would be either Mansion of Hidden Souls or The Mansion of Hidden Souls, two similar games that I wrote about earlier in the year. Juggernaut was released on the Playstation in 1999, many years after any of these games.
Q: What is Juggernaut about?
A: The protagonist’s girlfriend has become possessed by an evil spirit (presumably the devil) and a priest has notified the protagonist that the exorcism he performed was ineffective. Telling the protagonist that his love for her is the greatest chance of removing the evil, he sends him into her body to rid her of the evil.
Q: Wait, what!?
A: Yes, that’s only the beginning to the surreal adventure that plays out in Juggernaut. Inside the girlfriend’s body my friend and I did not find organs and blood but instead a mansion; perhaps a nod to the Mansion games?
Q: Okay, but why a mansion?
A: Well I suppose it could be a metaphor for something. Maybe it symbolizes her soul with the rooms inside representing specific chapters of her life, maybe not though. Functionally it provides a great backdrop for a single environment that requires a lot of exploration and houses many puzzles.
Q: You’ve mentioned puzzles, but what’s gameplay like besides them, what do you do?
A: My friend and I controlled the protagonist and explored the mansion and other environments. We’d explore until we couldn’t progress any farther, usually because of puzzles, although I use that term lightly. Most puzzles seemed to revolve around finding an item and making the connection as to what it’s used for. There were puzzles that required my friend and me to get scratch paper out and think something through, but for the most part making connections was the name of the game.
Q: So it’s a puzzle game and the puzzles aren’t that great, why should I even care about Juggernaut?
A: That’s a great point actually. My friend and I felt the same way until we encountered an evil microcosm, what we were attempting to rid the girlfriend’s body of. The evil microcosms were one-off stories that featured unique plots, characters, and environments. The stories and dialogue in the microcosms were absurd! Definitely some of the weirdest stuff I’ve encountered in a video game.
There were eight microcosms in all. Two of them took place in the future, entirely on the internet via virtual reality. Two of them took place in an isolated prison. One of these featured a spy who yelled out karate moves before he attacked people, like “karate correspondence manual page 12, flying kangaroo”. It ended in a goofy/creepy five minute conversation with another character that had my friend and me laughing, and confused. Two took place on tropical islands and they also resulted in confusion. The last two took place in woods and they dealt with a ghost shaman from Africa and a killer who slashed out eyes. I’m only scratching the surface of what makes these storylines strange by the way, just know the plots develop strangely and the dialogue is detailed
Q: After everything you did was the ending satisfying?
A: Yes, actually. What was more satisfying was the epilogue though. It added another puzzle and a lot of exposition from the girlfriend’s perspective, plus, a twist.
Q: Who made Juggernaut?
A: I’m unclear on that. There are two Japanese companies attached to Juggernaut, Will and TonkinHouse. From what I’ve gathered Will developed it and Tonkin House published it in Japan. Jaleco published it in America. Remember, it came out on the PlayStation in 1999.
Q: So should I play it?
A: Nah. The gameplay was slow and it takes a long place to get somewhere. There was an interesting mechanic in the mansion of having to switch bodies to access specific rooms but this was time consuming. Juggernaut is a pretty ugly game even considering how old it is but I liked the soundtrack, it wasn’t overbearing, it was moody, and set the tone well. It was fun solving puzzles and experiencing the oddities with a friend and the microcosms were surreal, but you can probably YouTube that stuff.
September 22, 2011
What is it about realism and video games? For some games that portray a realistic world it can be easy to suspend belief about how things should operate and play along because a mechanic is fun, like with Driver: San Francisco. What about when games portray a partially realistic world but contain elements that make it hard to go along with? Well that’s my issue with Red Johnson’s Chronicles, an otherwise stellar adventure game.
Red Johnson’s Chronicles is a downloadable game released this past week for the PlayStation Network, developed and published by French studio Lexis Numerique. It’s a puzzle-based adventure game following private investigator Red Johnson. I controlled him and was introduced to a few additional characters pretty quickly.
As Red was sitting in his office, a rotund police officer entered. The two obviously have a past together and Red helps out by investigating a murder. I was swept off to a shady area of town and soon I was moving my cursor around the screen looking for objects I could interact with. There were no witnesses of this murder but a security camera surely caught the perpetrator. After a few puzzles I was finally able to access the camera.
The camera however didn’t have power, which is odd because to reach the camera I had to find a power grid to operate a ladder right next to the camera. It turns out the circuits inside the camera are not in order, forcing me to arrange them correctly. This begs the question, if the camera was on when the murder was committed, who climbed up to the camera, took it apart, rearranged the insides, put it back together, and left it? If it was the murderer, why wouldn’t he just destroy the camera or take the videotape?
So that’s my major complaint with Red Johnson’s Chronicles. The game looks really nice, I mean considering most of it consists of still screens, but it had an interesting art style blending realism and cartoons. Going along with the art style, the game’s characters seemed straight out of a cartoon with their overdramatic acting. I couldn’t get past that one unlikely puzzle however so I’ll probably miss out on an otherwise stellar adventure game.
August 9, 2011
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a downloadable adventure game for iOS devices. There are two versions, one specifically for the iPad and another that works on the iPhone and the iPod Touch. It was developed by Capybara Games; art was done by Superbrothers, and special mention was given to the musical stylings of Jim Guthrie. The two versions were released in March and April of this year, respectively.
Superbrothers is a point and click adventure game. To move my character (The Scythian), I clicked where I wanted her to go and she went there. Alternatively I could hold my finger on the screen and drag to where I wanted her to go. I played the game on my iPod Touch, and I wasn’t really that happy with the size of the screen. Then again, I don’t have a past with point and click adventure games, so this was sort of a new experience for me.
I explored my surroundings and tried to figure out what was going on and what I had to do. The Scythian wasn’t all brain however. Occasionally as I explored, I’d run into enemies and have to fight them. Normally I’d hold the iPod in landscape mode, but whenever I had to fight I’d have to stand the iPod upright. During fights, icons of a sword and a shield would appear in the bottom right of the screen. Battles were infrequent, but battling the bosses became tedious. The bosses attacked in mostly the same way and a lot of these fights required precise timing swinging my sword; easier said than done.
The game is broken down into sessions. My first session lasted about thirty minutes and it introduced me to the character I controlled, The Scythian, my surroundings, apparently the Caucasus Mountains in Eurasia, and my quest. After a bit of walking I ran into a couple of people. One of them, Logfella (voiced by Robert Ashley!) led me to Mingi Taw, where I found the Megatome. For one reason or another, the Megatome is what the Scythian was after. After it was removed however, a deathless spectre awoke and I had to find a way to deal with it.
The art style for Superbrothers was very interesting. I usually don’t like games that use a darker palette, but the pixel-like design of Superbrothers drew me in. The mystery behind the story also drew me in. I was perplexed by the quest The Scythian was on and the hipster dialogue kept me questioning the time period the game was set in. The objectives I accomplished were conceptually very interesting, but the actual gameplay I had to go through was oftentimes not ideal. I enjoyed everything but the gameplay in Superbrothers and for a couple of bucks, that’s a good deal, even if I didn’t beat it.
June 2, 2011
Set twenty years after the events of Mansion of Hidden Souls, The Mansion of Hidden Souls sees a return to the ominous mansion that houses humans turned into butterflies. As I did with the Sega CD game, I played through The Mansion of Hidden Souls with a friend.
Released in 1995 for the Sega Saturn, The Mansion of Hidden Souls was developed by System Sacom and published by Sega. While Mansion of Hidden Souls on the Sega CD was published by a different company (Vic Tokai) I can’t believe Sega basically chose the same name for the sequel. Because of this, there is a lot of misinformation about the two games on the internet. While this pains me, perhaps my two reviews can provide a clearer image for anyone who wants to know about the games.
Rather than stumbling upon the mansion with his sister as the player’s character did in the Sega CD game, I gathered that the character my friend and I took control of, Jun, lived in the mansion, along with his mystery solving buddy, Mike. After a sweeping intro showcasing the mansion, my friend and I were introduced to the elder, who told Jun and Mike of his worries over the red color of the moon. He believes it is a bad omen and asked us to do some investigating.
My friend and I left the elder’s room and set foot in the foyer of the mansion, ready to begin reacquainting ourselves with the mansion and meeting its residents. This was an easy task however as the mansion had retained a similar, if not identical floor plan as it had in the Sega CD game. Even after playing the Sega CD game a week or two earlier, I still got a feeling of nostalgia. So, already familiar with mansion, we began meeting with its residents.
All of the mansion’s residents are butterflies. They all were human at one point, but decided to be turned into butterflies to escape the woe associated with being human. One of the residents, a young girl, explained to Jun and Mike of the arguments that her divorced parents used to have, that they hated each other so, and presumably, she ran away to get away from it. Every resident told us why they were here, through dream-like sequences. Each sequence implemented a unique art style and after I knew they were different, I anticipated watching them.
Around the time we met everyone, Mike’s room was burgled and an important book was stolen. It belonged to the elder and had everything to do with the ominous moon. My friend and I began considering suspects, but easily settled on one. Left behind in Mike’s room was a lighter with a “D” engraved on it. Surely this belonged to Danny, an older resident who had an interest in firearms. Mike was quick to accuse Danny, as was everyone else we talked to, but the elder was wary to point a finger so easily. My friend and I decided to confront Danny anyways and when he asked, we told him we thought he did it, something we couldn’t have done in the Sega CD game.
New to The Manson of Hidden Souls was the ability for my friend and me to answer yes or no questions. While they weren’t that frequent and the story eventually turned out to be quite linear, we both enjoyed having a little more control. Once we accused Danny of the crime, my friend and I received a bad ending and chose to restart from an earlier save. This gave me an interesting idea, what if the game resembled the movie Clue? The game could have multiple scenarios where the culprit was someone different each time and the story played out slightly differently. Unfortunately, this was not the case. There was a culprit, and only one.
Instead of relying on objects for puzzles, The Mansion of Hidden Souls’ puzzles were based around conversations more than anything else. Rather than finding objects and using them in certain situations, finding out who to talk to progress our adventure was our goal. There wasn’t a magical painting that showcased what to do next however and we spent a lot of time checking in every room before finding who we needed to talk to.
After more puzzle solving, or should I say conversations, my friend and I cracked the case and were treated to a lengthy, and very weird, ending cinematic. Whereas the story in the Sega CD game was the personal story of a boy rescuing his sister, the story in The Mansion of Hidden Souls, especially at the end, seemed more metaphorical. My interpretation of the final cutscene is this. Living a life with no hardships may be easy, but there is no meaning to the life. Exploring the world, aging, and going through trials and tribulations makes joyous occasions joyous; without struggles, there is nothing to celebrate.
While they had a lot in common, The Mansion of Hidden Souls was an improvement over Mansion of Hidden Souls. As it was released for a more advanced console, The Mansion of Hidden Souls looked much better compared to the Sega CD game, and I bet many other Sega Saturn games, it looked very nice for sure. I’m torn on the voice acting improvements though. There are no longer grossly stereotypical accents, but the voice acting in general is not wonderful either. I suppose its better overall but the cheeky voice acting from the Sega CD game was quite comedic.
Excluding the decreased emphasis on using objects for puzzle solving and the ability to answer yes or no questions, the two games play identically. Playing from the first-person perspective made me feel as though it was me in Jun’s shoes, but I probably could’ve done without the locked routes I could walk. That seems like a custom for the genre that they didn’t buck. My last thought? I enjoyed the narrative in The Mansion of Hidden Souls more than the Sega CD’s game. I liked that it delved into philosophical territory, even if the ending was very odd. The Mansion of Hidden Souls was a decent adventure game that was better than the first, and a good buy for a Sega Saturn owner, but not necessarily that interesting to many others.
May 19, 2011
Mansion of Hidden Souls is a peculiar game. Everything about the game was creepy. The poorly rendered graphics added an odd vibe, while the plot and setting were downright strange. I was pleasantly surprised by the game however. A friend and I played through the game together and enjoyed solving the puzzles and unraveling the game.
Developed by System Sacom and published by Vic Tokai, Mansion of Hidden Souls was released for the Sega CD in 1994. My friend and I took on the role of a young boy looking for his sister who has run away to a creepy mansion in the woods. He soon discovers that people who stumble upon this mansion are turned into butterflies, and that his sister finds this appealing. He then sets out to find her and get out of there.
There were plenty of obstacles standing in his way though. The game is played from the first-person perspective, meaning my friend and I took on the role of the young boy directly. We chose where to go in the mansion and explored it in its entirety. The game uses pre-rendered backgrounds so it has a distinct look to it and is quite detailed, but due to the Sega CD, the game appears very grainy. Rather than sprites which were predominately used in games of that era, pre-rendered graphics looked like “realistic” interpretations of items.
We chose which direction we wanted to go and the young boy would walk where we told him. We stumbled upon objects or areas that could be interacted with and, at the right time in the game, something important would happen. Everything in the game is there for a reason, there isn’t anything extra. By the end of the game, we had utilized everything that we could interact with, which led to a lot of backtracking.
Mansion of Hidden Souls takes place entirely in the mansion and it is a fairly large environment to explore. Each room has a theme and they are all quite varied. The majority of the rooms also contain a butterfly, who was once a human. The butterflies retain their ability to communicate with the boy and some are helpful while others are spiteful. The great thing about being on a compact disc is the ample storage space allowed for voice acting. The unfortunate thing about the voice acting is how poor it is or what I should say is the voice acting is comedic; each butterfly had a unique accent that was butchered by the voice actors.
Early on we had limited access to the mansion as we lacked keys, but in one of the rooms is a black painting that gives a glimpse of what we need to interact with next. This was very helpful. A lot of the puzzles my friend and I figured out before checking the black painting, but with so many intricate objects to interact with, and some uses being less obvious than others, it was great to have something to turn to.
For the first half of the game, we explored each room, learning where objects were and received input from the butterflies. Once we retrieved the main character’s sister (early on in the stages of human to butterfly transformation) we had to escape from the mansion’s owner. At this point we received a clock and had one hour (in-game time) to complete the game. Time didn’t pass when we stood still which meant we could think about what to do, and it seemed as if we had ample time to check the black painting. This time limit added an interesting dynamic that we didn’t find annoying thanks to the ability to save in case we did make a mistake (which happened a few times) and died because of it.
I took a gamble with Mansion of Hidden Souls. I saw it for sale and having never seen a copy of it before, purchased it. I didn’t have any intention of playing it as soon as I did, but I found a peculiar, yet halfway compelling adventure that was short enough for my friend and I to complete in one sitting. We made a lot of the connections about the use of objects ourselves but the ability to seek out the black painting for what to do next was helpful. Mansion of Hidden Souls was a creepy game that I had more fun playing through than I expected I would.