October 15, 2009
I spied GapKids Adventure at my favorite spent shop and hoped that I had located the sequel to the Snow Day game, one of the first games from this Gaming Pathology project (and I know that such a game exists, and I know I will locate it one day). Alas, this is unrelated to Snow Day save for its GapKids theme and the probability that it was distributed in the same way as Snow Day (at various GapKids stores). My copy of the sleeve has the handwritten note “code 427″ on the front of the sleeve. Will this game feature more of that GapKids trickery goading players to return to the store at set intervals in order to learn secret codes to access more games?
The game sleeve is larger than a typical CD-ROM sleeve because it contains a pair of paper glasses similar to cheap red/blue “3D” glasses. However, these glasses have red tint over both eyes.
It turns out that the glasses will be used to “decode” certain obscured clues throughout the game. Such clues look like this secret clue poster which, for some reason, is hanging in the character’s bedroom:
I haven’t seen this technique since the tech specs found on the back of Transformers toy packages over 2 decades ago. I can’t shake the feeling that there must be some standard color adjustment tool found in many graphic editors which would allow you to undo the masking.
Anyway, the game, apparently written in Flash 6.0 circa 2002-2003, has the player selecting either a boy or a girl, dressing them, gathering useful items from their bedroom, selecting a mode of transport and heading over to the tree house after completing some athletic obstacle courses.
The tree house sits atop a magnificent tree with an intricate ladder maze which must be negotiated before partaking in the recreational treasures of the tree house:
The ladder maze is platformer action which somehow manages to defy both the rules of real world physics (as all platformers do with their platforms moving to and fro in mid-air) as well as accepted video game physics (jump on a moving platform and the character remains stationary in air as the platform moves out from beneath).
So I finally get to the tree house (the gameplay was arduous enough that I almost gave up). What’s inside? Well, we have an optical illusion book, a fortune teller fold-up that can be printed, a certificate of completion in the form of a poster that can be completed and printed, a DJ mix station activity, and a secret password that accesses a bonus half pipe game. Oh, and there’s also a compartment with a numeric lock. This is where the code that was scrawled on the sleeve (and was seen earlier in the game using the red shading mechanism) comes into play. What’s the hidden secret in the compartment?
These kids are keeping a monkey prisoner in their tree house! It seems animal rights types would be all over Gap Inc. if anyone had ever heard of this game in the first place (Google searches only produce references to Snow Day).
Also in the tree house is a video game system that offers 2 games. GapKids Adventure was created by a group named Orange Design who demo a number of Flash games on their site. I get the feeling that the 2 arcade games here are Flash games that they had laying around and thought this would be a good opportunity to publish them. One is a Lunar Lander-type game. Wouldn’t you know– here’s the exact Flash game on their website.
The other is standard Pong game with a twist– the whole game field is obscured by the same red masking as the clues, necessitating the use of the red glasses.
You might be able to sort out the clues if you stare at the static images long enough. But you’ll be lost trying to find the paddle and the ball in this field without the glasses.
The game sleeve threatens that this is only Volume 1 so I will be on the lookout for more volumes. Or I suppose I could email the creators who still seem to be in business.
Update:: Thanks to my contact at Orange Design who informed me that they only produced 1 volume of this game.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Action Games,Mac Games,Windows Games | Comments (2)
July 29, 2009
The month is winding to a close and I don’t like for an entire month to transpire without making sure I play at least one strange new (old) game. So I picked one that I have had my eye on for quite some time due to its natural mysteriousness: Sky Island Mysteries. See? “Mystery” is right there in the title. Combined with sparse cover art and no manual, it sounds intriguing.
As usual, my interest was quickly dashed when I dove into the actual content. It’s another Macromedia Director-driven educational kids game. One thing I’ve finally started to notice about these games is that I’m pretty sure I’m hearing a lot of the same sound effects among various Director-derived games. I’m beginning to suspect that Director comes with a library of royalty-free sound effects that authors are allowed to distribute in their games.
So here I am, enlisted as a special assistant to one detective Joe Clue-steau. At Clue Central, he describes an outbreak of criminal activity and how I can help gather clues. (Brief aside: I wonder if I’m the only one who has been trained to cringe at the word “clue”? In the last decade, the word has so often been used in the context of an epithet.) The method for gathering clues is to solve puzzles unique to each of 3 sky islands. This doesn’t actually have anything to do with sleuthing, from what I could discern. After solving enough puzzles, some snake creature goes and retrieves a clue for us.
One type of puzzle — seen above — is the rebus found on, well, Rebus Isle. I had never heard of this before but it was certainly interesting. Based on the pictorial and animated clues, add or subtract sounds to develop words that answer the joke riddles. The one above was the most complicated that I encountered. It seems that rebus puzzles require a decent command of English phonetics.
Then there was Airshow Isle as shown above. To be honest, I was completely baffled by this one– something about organizing the logistics and flight plans of an entire airshow. Aren’t we supposed to be catching criminals, darn it? I just took a screenshot and moved on to Stadium Isle, home of — you guessed it — the stadium. The puzzle involves something called “Fripple”. The game doesn’t make it entirely clear what a Fripple is. Depending on the context I heard the word used, it could either be the sporting event being played in the stadium, or the race of misshapen creatures gathered for the event.
The player’s job during these puzzles is to place different creatures in seats depending on certain ad-hoc rules for those creatures. E.g., the cheerleaders only feel secure cheering when their sitting near other cheerleaders.
I was left a bit frightened of the consequences when the game challenged me thusly:
I assure you that, despite your overactive imagination and cynical worldview, the Fripples do something quite innocuous.
Somewhere along the line, these inane puzzles were supposed to net me enough clue currency to whittle down the list of suspects and solve various mysteries. No one has ever accused me of being very civic-minded and I didn’t care that much about taking a bite out of crime. I guess that makes me part of the problem rather than the solution.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Childrens Games,Educational Games,Mac Games,Windows Games | Comments (0)
April 17, 2009
M&M’s The Lost Formulas is a story about corporate mismanagement, wanton workplace hazards, and math. Yes, this is meant to be an educational game focused on math skills. It succeeds in being the harshest math experience I have had since the AP calculus exam in high school.
The red and the yellow candies are all set for their tropical vacation when Red thinks to ask Yellow who is in charge on the candy factory in their absence. Turns out it’s the M&M’s Minis who, to put it gently, are not qualified to perform the task. Yellow is charged with returning to the factory pronto and putting things back in order. The first level has him hopping in his ride and racing back to work.
The math comes in with math formulas posted on the side of the road. Soon afer, there will be 3 crates on the road. Choose the one with the correct numerical answer and smash through; the crates with the wrong answers are made of steel.
So you’re driving at an uncontrollably automatic high speed (scratch that– it’s possible to manually accelerate in short bursts to even higher speeds) in a car with tenuous steering at best, and then you have to worry about solving math problems in real time or smash up against a steel crate. It’s sort of a “scared straight” style of math instruction. All those math tests in school don’t seem so terrible when compared in this context, now do they?
The first stage driving will feel safe and secure in comparison to the horrors that await you at the candy factory, which fails to adhere to most occupational safety requirements. There is more high-speed driving in later levels (including on a forklift). But several levels are influenced by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Yellow has to solve math problems in order to advance to the next numerical platform and avoid whatever workplace hazard is down below.
Yellow takes a lot of static from Red. Indeed, Yellow’s mannerisms are in keeping with a complete buffoon during the cutscenes. But he is an extraordinarily gifted acrobat as seen during the assorted 3D platform action levels as he effortlessly somersaults to and fro. Certain stages have Yellow on a conveyor belt marching towards a platform with 3 numbered doors. What door holds the correct solution? For this one, you have to be paying attention as you were hauled down the belt. There are various monitors with numbers in a certain pattern. Find the number that fits the sequence.
It must be noted that The Lost Formulas was developed by an outfit named Boston Animation. Another notable game they have to their record is Darkened Skye, a fantasy game infamous for its tie-in to another popular candy– Skittles. The credits for this game proved nearly pointless to process. While the Simon and Schuster (the publisher) credits were easy enough to understand, when the credits roll down tot he Boston Animation credits, every person gets a photo but most of the names are obfuscated.
Based on the MobyGames credits for Darkened Skye, I was able to positively identify a few of the photos and submit them to the database for posterity. But I decided against trying to enter the entire set. I don’t quite understand the motivation for this– The Lost Formulas is a fairly decent and well-engineered game, even if it’s a bit traumatizing in the educational department. They shouldn’t want their names stricken from the record over this work.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Action Games,Educational Games,Licensed Schlock,Mac Games,Windows Games | Comments (0)
January 6, 2009
Why, yes! I do have more Barbie fairy tale remakes! Thanks for asking. I know you enjoyed reading about the last two, almost as much as I enjoyed playing them and writing them up for MobyGames. I’m sad to report, however, that Barbie as Sleeping Beauty simply is not as engrossing as the previous 2 fairy tale adaptations. And how could it be? The protagonist is supposed to sleep through much of the tale. So, all in all, not terribly interesting… save for the boss battle against a fairy! More on that later.
The developers had to reach a bit for ways to turn this into a game; several of the activities just take the form of “click here, here, and here on the screen; okay, next activity.” This minigame was decent, though: Barbie has to wake up her forest friends by delivering a unique wake up call to each using her magic flute. The birds above show the way.
Of course, it’s not Barbie, it’s Barbie in her dramatic turn as Princess Rose. As a brief refresher, the princess is born and a bunch of nice fairies come to bless the child with gifts. But there is one malicious fairy who — same as in the Rapunzel tale — felt that she was snubbed (dang, fragile egos and dark magic do not mix) and curses the child such that if she punctures her skin on a sewing spindle prior to her 16th birthday, she will snooze for 100 subsequent years. Another fairy is able to soften the curse somewhat by adding the stipulation that a prince can wake her with a kiss.
As the story goes, the king orders all sewing spindles in the kingdown destroyed. Good thing that the curse is restricted to sewing spindles and not all sharp objects, because look at this crown I made for the princess’ 16th birthday:
Yes, there are create-a-dress and create-a-crown activities as can be expected from this type of game. Anyway, one thing leads to another and the evil fairy shows up and whips out a sewing spindle and Princess Rose can’t wait to prick her finger on the needle. The fairies put the rest of the castle to sleep while they work out a solution (was that part of the original tale?).
So they find a nearby prince and encourage him to lend his lips to the situation. The bad fairy, however, foresaw such a threat and summons thorny bushes to surround the castle. The prince must first slash through the thorns and then rotate pieces of the path to allow passage to the castle gate, in the game’s other halfway novel minigame.
The prince/princess kiss takes place — thank goodness that wasn’t some kind of minigame — and the princess faces off with the fairy in a first person fairy boss battle:
I’m hard pressed to think of another game where a fairy is the lead villain and must be dispatched in a first person battle. Actually, this battle just involves deflecting her evil magic with your wand using a mouse until you can get close enough to… turn her into a butterfly and reclaim your magic flute.
Don’t worry– more Barbie games to come!
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Barbie Games,Childrens Games,Girlie Games,Mac Games,Windows Games | Comments (3)
January 5, 2009
Let’s keep this Barbie kick going with another game based on the alpha doll appropriating another classic fairy tale (a somewhat profound proposition to be sure, since Barbie is, herself, the modern embodiment of a fairy tale). Fortunately, Barbie as Rapunzel is already in the database, so this is just a screenshot recon effort (and credits entry, and I see that the description could use a touch-up).
In the story of Rapunzel — or at least in Barbie’s version of it — Rapunzel and her Prince Stefan are going to throw a masquerade ball. An evil witch named Gothel grows indignant that she did not get an invite. So she casts a spell on the castle, throwing it into immediate disrepair and the prince is turned to stone while 6 stones from his crown are scattered about the castle grounds. Gothel seems to have exacted the perfect revenge in response to the snubbing.
But there’s one doll she didn’t count on…
Barbie/Rapunzel’s task in this game is to move about 6 rooms in the castle, clean them up, find 1 stone in each, and then rescue the prince. Simple, concrete goals, and this definitely qualifies as a game. Above is one of the rooms that Barbie must restore. Each room has a number of areas which can be magically renovated by using a magic wand or paintbrush from the magic toolchest. But each room also has a creativity exercise. For the hallway shown above, the creativity exercise is the painting:
You get to select a painting design, color it as you see fit, and select a frame. Printing afterwards is optional. This is an interesting activity, algorithmically, because, rather than a freeform brush or area fill method, the paint brush only works on a particular layer as the program makes you work across sections of the painting.
After the room has been completely revitalized, you get to use a magical magnifying glass to find one of the stones in the room.
It's Big Head Barbie! New from Mattel...
Then it’s on to the other rooms to repeat the same process, only with designing a floor mosaic, a carpet, a mask for the ball, matching thrones for the throne room, and customizing (pimping?) flowers for the flower garden. It became a bit rote after awhile and I developed a pattern for just getting through the activity (the game wouldn’t let me pass until all the areas were colored; I couldn’t even leave the clouds white). I was reminded of Mike Judge’s restaurant manager character in, Office Space; I could envision him asking, “What do you think about someone who only does the bare minimum?”
After all the stones are collected, it’s time to hit the hedge maze– real 3rd-person 3D action! At various junctures, that evil witch has thrown up strange obstacles that can easily be overcome by items in the magical toolbox:
And, long story short, the prince is rescued and the masquerade ball proceeds as planned. And the final insult is that Gothel’s evil spell was completely undone in less than a half hour.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Barbie Games,Childrens Games,Girlie Games,Mac Games,Windows Games | Comments (3)
January 4, 2009
I’m still working on a good system for capturing screenshots from console video (so very close to solving this problem after all these years), but I had an itch to process at least one game today. I remembered I have a large pool of Barbie games that has gone completely untouched up until now. Even though MobyGames enjoys good coverage of Barbie titles, I still have quite a few that don’t show up. There is really nothing to fear– I’m quite confident that these are well-engineered (i.e., won’t crash or screw up my system), colorful, and above all, easy games that will take no more than a 1/2 hour to breeze through. In fact, I almost feel like I have an unfair advantage at gaining MobyGames points because I have access to such a large pool of games like this.
So I decided to go with Barbie as Princess Bride today. The story unfolds with Princess Barbie and Prince Ken growing up in a kingdom somewhere “on the other side of the world”. They are really quite keen on each other and have every intention of marrying when they become the appropriate age. It’s not explained whether or not the prince and princess are actually siblings, though per my understanding of royal traditions, that would not be entirely unexpected.
When Prince Ken is old enough, he sails off on a vague, undefined journey, as princes are wont to do. After patiently and optimistically waiting for many years, Butterfly Fairy shows up to assure Princess Barbie that Prince Ken is on his way back and that she should prepare for the eminent wedding.
So what kind of game is on offer here? Why, it’s a wedding planning game! If there’s anything this gaming blog can claim to specialize in now, it’s wedding planning games. All 12 of the minigames/activities (even one completely non-interactive musical interlude) revolve around the princess’ upcoming nuptials. The first 2 activities pertain to delivering wedding invitations to all of her woodland friends. Whether she consorts with any humans instead of just fairies and forest creatures is left unexplained.
Note that “woodland friends” includes skunks. Ah, her wedding, her guest list.
Then, Princess Barbie has to bake a cake using such off-the-shelf ingredients as flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and — according to my notes — harmony and the gift of giving. They’re both right there in her pantry. While the cake is in the oven, the princess visits the Butterfly Fairy’s garden of statues and edible plants to find suitable decorations for the cake which she will apply in the next activity:
Fortunately, so strong is the love between Ken and Barbie that Ken is likely to overlook the abomination I decorated on his bride’s behalf.
As alluded previously, one of the activities (#6) is actually a musical number. Princess Barbie hops up on a bridge, hopped up on the love she feels for her dear prince, and sings a song.
The music in question is stored on disc in MP3 format. And for this occasion, I’m experimenting with embedding an MP3 file directly in a blog post. Give it a try:
Hey, it worked! Thanks, WordPress Audio Player plugin. Oh, the possibilities. Back to the game, though, as soon as Princess Barbie steps off the bridge, she meets a boy by the town well. The dunce has gone and accidentally dropped a bunch of rather important stuff in the well and the activity is to fish it back out with the bucket.
Look at that! Both the crown and the wedding ring took the plunge. I can’t help but think that this would be a beheadable offense in a real kingdom. But there are apparently no hard feelings as the kid shows up as the ring bearer in the final wedding:
So yeah, Princess Ken makes it back safely (one of the later activities is to help sail Ken’s boat back through severe ocean weather and dolphins) and finally, formally proposes to Princess Barbie. The proposal wasn’t even a lock as the Barbie was making all of these preparations. Wow, that could have been one heck of a plot twist for a fairy tale video game if Ken found another princess abroad.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Barbie Games,Childrens Games,Girlie Games,Mac Games,Windows Games | Comments (8)