Her Story - A Different Type of Video Game

I don't play video games very often. Sometimes there are stories that I need to play through to see where it goes. Her Story is that type of game.

Her Story isn't your typical video game. There are no monsters or bad guys to kill. There are no princesses to save. There are no treasure chests to be opened. Instead, you are given a computer with access to a police database. You have to search the database for video clips of woman taking part in a number of police interviews. These clips do not contain the officer's side of the conversation. Only hers. And you can only access the clips by searching for keywords. Some of these keywords are contained in previously viewed clips (you are given one keyword to start off - "murder") but some of them you have to figure out on your own. When you have watched enough of the main storyline videos, an instant message will pop up asking if you have figured it out. The answer is up to you.

I bought this game from Steam because (1) it was $6.00 and (2) the gameplay sounded interesting. I'm not good at shoot-em-up games or difficult puzzle games but I am good at hidden picture or games that require you to figure out the answer. Since the gameplay is so much different from every other game out there, I was intrigued. There are no real controls. You just have to search a database. How difficult can that be?

The game, itself, is not difficult. There are a few instances where I ran out of obvious keywords so I had to broaden my searches a bit. The difficulty in the game lies in the fact that there is no real solution. As you watch the videos, it is obvious that the case is about the murder of a man. The woman in the video is his wife. She tells a variety of stories - a lot of them based on fairy tales. You have to decide which stories to believe. And the goal of the game is not to decide whether or not this woman committed the murder. No. You have to decide if the videos depict twin sisters or one woman with multiple personalities. At no point are you given a definitive answer. And, from what I can tell, the answer is different for everyone. Some people see traits that prove the twin theory and some people see traits that prove this is only one woman.

While I did enjoy the game, the lack of an ending is frustrating. I wanted there to be some sort of definitive answer and there is not. Sam Barlow, the creator, wanted it that way. To be honest, I have more fun scouring the (real) internet for other people's opinions. Maybe that is what Barlow was aiming for. Not so much the experience of the game itself but the interaction of the players after the game was over. There have been a ton of online discussions debating what was real versus what was a lie. I think that alone makes Her Story one of the most interesting video games of the year.

Game review: Virtual Villagers 4: The Tree of Life

Virtual Villagers is one of my favorite games. The fourth game in the series is titled The Tree of Life. Your tribe (from the previous games) is sending out 5 villagers to check out some strange happenings on the island. Instead of randomly assigning you villagers, you get to choose your party. Once you arrive at your destination, you find out that the Tree of Life is dying. It is your job to figure out how to heal the tree. As usual, the gameplay has not changed. All of the commands are exactly the same as the previous incarnations of the game. However, this is not a bad thing. Experienced players can skip the tutorial and jump right into the game with no problems. At the same time, the controls are easy enough the beginners can pick them up quickly.

Besides, the best part of the game is the puzzles. Each version of the game gives you a variety of puzzles for your islanders to solve. It's usually something that will advance your tribe's abilities. For example, "build nets to catch fish" will help your villagers bulk up their food supply. It is so much fun to figure out exactly what you need to do in order to finish all of the puzzles. Meanwhile, there are still collectibles for the children to gather. I haven't finished most of the collections yet, but there is usually a reward once each collection is complete.

I would say this game is aimed at fans of The Sims or other simulation games. Though, if you really enjoy puzzles, you might like this too.

Game review: The Lost Cases of 221B Baker St.

While I was waiting for my laundry to finish yesterday, I decided to give one of the Sherlock Holmes hidden object games a go. Usually these are a little more difficult for a lazy Sunday afternoon, but I had faith that I could finish these puzzles without using my brain too much. I ended up being very surprised at what was presented to me. Instead of one big case you are trying to solve, The Lost Cases of 221B Baker St. is a collection of multiple smaller cases. In the sixty minute time frame of the demo, I was able to finish four different cases. Each case had similar yet different aspects. They each had a hidden object section, a puzzle section, and a memory section. The hidden object section was where you found your clues and, generally, one clue is messed up. This is where the puzzle section comes in. Sometimes you are piecing together a ripped up piece of paper; sometimes you are trying to slide a rock piece out of a box...each one is different. After you have found all of your clues, you move onto the memory section, where you figure out who is the suspect. Each suspect is attributed to a clue and it is your job to remember which clue goes to which suspect. You need to pick out the clue that has changed to eliminate that suspect.

I found the game much more interesting than other Sherlock Holmes games. There is usually a lot more exposition, which limits your actual game time. With this game, you can actually choose to play a version that has less dialogue. I prefer to get down to the game, myself. I can't wait to buy the full version of this game to see what the other cases have to offer.

Game review: Alice in Wonderland

A few months ago, I reviewed an Alice in Wonderland themed time management game. Despite how difficult that game was, I gave into my love for all things Alice and tried the hidden object Alice in Wonderland game. While the storyline wasn't quite Alice in Wonderland, it was very similar. Your character recently purchased a new house. In the basement, you find a portal to another world. In one of the rooms upstairs, you find a newspaper article about some missing girls. Much to your surprise, you find one of the missing girls in the other world! It is up to you to travel to the strange world and save all of the missing girls.

As should be expected from a Wonderland game, this isn't just a plain hidden object game. Some of the objects need to be put together before you can use them. Some of the parts for these 'bigger' objects aren't even in the same room. However, you do get slight hints when that happens. (The items turn red when you aren't in the same room as the object.) This makes the game a little more difficult, yet not so difficult that it is annoying. There are also a few mini-games - letters that need to be pieced together or gears that need to be lined up. (I fully admit that I sucked at the gears and frequently skipped that part.)

I love when games add little things like these to separate them from the run of the mill games. And I love it even more when they do it well enough to make the game fun and interesting instead of aggravating. I had tons of fun playing and I think you will too.

Game review: Alice's Teacup Madness

In an attempt get myself geared up for Tim Burton's "Alice," I loaded up Alice's Teacup Madness from Big Fish Games. Of course, Alice is back in Wonderland. This time she has to earn some money to get back home. (Yes, I know it is a rather ridiculous plot. Bear with me.) The White Rabbit sets her up with a tea shop so she can brew up some of the best tea in Wonderland. The similarities between this game and Cake Mania are painfully obvious right from the beginning. However, Alice tries to up the difficulty level. Instead of being able to carry more than one item at a time, you can drag your mouse across the 'set up area.' For example, if you need strawberries put on two teacups, you click on the strawberry then drag it across both cups. The problem comes when you try to serve the tea. Alice still can't carry more than one thing at a time! So if you have three customers waiting for their order, you need to run back and forth to get it. Alice should be able to carry at least two teacups or baked items at once to make it easier on herself!

On top of that, there are three different types of cups, three different types of tea, and at least two different types of tea toppings. That doesn't even take the baked items into account! Adding all of these different combinations to Alice's lack of waitressing skills, the game is a little too difficult for its own good. Yes, the beginning levels are very easy, as they should be. It's when you get to the higher levels that you realize how messed up everything is.

Game review: Artist Colony

Since we were snowed in all weekend, I decided to waste some time playing Artist Colony. It looked a lot like Virtual Villagers. Since I really enjoyed that series, this should be fun too, right? Well, it's mostly fun. As with most simulation games, there is a set of goals that the characters need to finish. The story is about a group of artists coming together to rebuild an old artists' colony. (There's a backstory about friendship and love, but it's not really all that necessary to the game play.) You get money to complete tasks by selling the artists' works. Since you begin with only two artists, it's a little difficult to raise money. However, once you start attracting new artists to the colony, things can really get moving. Then it ends up being a little difficult to keep track of everyone. On top of that, I found myself getting bored with the tedious task of training the artist and having them create masterpieces to sell. Perhaps if the selling part went a little faster, the creating part wouldn't be so dull. As it was, I ended up with artists that couldn't create anything because I filled up my gallery yet no one was coming to buy anything.

Overall, it was a decent game. There were little annoyances, but I could easily overlook them. If nothing else, I wanted to see what the end result was.

Game review: Escape the Museum 2

Back in April 2008, I talked about Escape the Museum, a rather innovative hidden object game. A couple of days ago, I played the sequel, Escape the Museum 2. The underlying basis of the original game is there, however, they have changed a few things that make the game a little difficult. Each area you need to explore has two pieces: a hidden object section (and there's usually more than one of those) and a 'fix it' section. The hidden object part is pretty basic. They give you a list and you find the objects. Then, for the 'fix it' section, you use certain pieces from those hidden object lists to fix whatever is impeding your progress to the next area. Both of these are fine and dandy. Unfortunately, the game has added an ultimate 'fix it' section where you need to pick up pieces of a bridge that will be used later. These pieces are usually hidden under other objects in the main area. For instance, you have to move a pile of bricks to find one piece. The only way you know a piece is under those bricks is the slight shuddering of the pile when you mouse over it. If you don't find the piece, the area is marked "Unfinished." I don't know about you...but it bugs me to have an unfinished area so I had to keep going back to try to find whatever I was missing.

I really would like this game if it didn't have those 'Ultimate Hidden Object' pieces. Not only are they impossible to find, but you don't even know they are there unless you stumble onto them or leave an area to see it marked "Unfinished." It doesn't show up in any list at all. If that part doesn't bother you, then it's a fun game that I think you would enjoy.

Game review: Keys to Manhattan

A couple of days ago, my daughter asked if we could play a hidden object game together. Since I love spending time with her, I agreed. She chose Keys to Manhattan. In the game, you are Emily, an artist trying to save her childhood home. Her uncle, who she lived with after her parents died, has gone missing as well. As Emily, you have to track down the items needed to restore the house, as well as try to find her uncle.

After playing so many extremely difficult hidden object games, I was hoping that this one would be easy enough for my daughter to play. Many times you can't tell the difference between a 'family' hidden object game (where the puzzles are easy enough for the kids to play with their family members) and an 'adult' hidden object game (where you pretty much have to have ESP in order to find some of the items). Luckily, Keys to Manhattan came through for us. Not only were the hidden object puzzles adequately suited to a multi-player game, there were also parts of the house that needed to be aligned with their outlines in the house. We both had tons of fun playing and I hope to see more games like this in the future.

Game review: Princess Isabella - A Witch's Curse

It's been awhile since my daughter and I played a video game together. We decided to give Princess Isabella: A Witch's Curse a try. You play Princess Isabella. She has been away and, when she returns, she finds the castle under an evil spell with all of the people locked inside mirrors. The princess needs to find who is behind the evil, while rescuing her family.

Big Fish Games has classified this as a hidden object game. However, it is so much more. Each room has a number of puzzles contained within. Some of them are hidden object but others are jigsaw puzzles or areas where you need to use an object you are holding in order to open the next area of the room or 'trivia' questions. We found this to be a great game because, while there are some areas that my daughter could do by herself, there were also areas that I needed to do by myself or that we needed to work on together. It was a great way to spend a few hours with my kid. I highly recommend it to any parents wanting a little extra time with the little one. (And by 'little one,' I mean in the 6 - 10 age range...)

Game review: Mr Jones' Graveyard Shift

When I saw the title of this game, I knew I had to play it. Something called Mr Jones' Graveyard Shift would either be awesome or awful. It turns out that it is a time management game. You play as Mr. Jones, owner of the local graveyard. Your job is to fill your customers' requests for their loved ones' funerals. Some want specific flowers, some don't want trees...there's a lot that they ask for, but, the gameplay for each is pretty much the same.

I actually had to play the game twice. The first time, I screwed up royally and had to start over. The second time, I figured out where I messed up and made sure to not make the same mistake again. That is when the fun kicked in. I didn't think I would actually enjoy arranging funerals. After all, it's a rather morbid thought. But it was lots of fun. At the very least, it's a good Halloween game!