I already have hundreds of games stockpiled. But that’s not good enough, oh goodness, no. I had to go and by 433,000 new games. Would you believe these new acquisitions?
First, there’s a CD-ROM (it’s actually 3) that alleges to contain 100,000 games. Not satisfied with that, the very same companies (jewel cases both list Viva Media and Selectsoft) released a DVD-ROM claiming 333,000 games.
So what’s the wager? Do you really think the games contain so many games? Or do you think it’s another situation like the 1997-in-1 game handheld unit that actually contained 14 unique games but hundreds of “levels” for each? What does Occam’s Razor have to say about the situation?
Yeah, there is just a handful of games with thousands of uninspired “levels” for each. I tried a few of the games on the first (of 3) CD-ROMs covering the 100,000 games title but most of them are of a quality level that would have been embarrassing 15 years ago (the 100,000 games box lists a copyright of 2008; the 333,000 games DVD lists 2009).
In a way, I felt relieved to learn that there weren’t 333,000 unique games on the DVD. I have my doubts that so many unique games have yet to exist in the history of computer gaming. Still, confronted with so many choices, I feel absolutely daunted. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to play a game. Similarly, I have over 180 game demos downloaded onto my PlayStation 3; in those rare situations that I feel inspired to sit down and try a game, I can’t decide what to play. I suspect this is a familiar situation that leads to “500 channels and nothing’s on” sort of mentality.
Yes! Barbie’s back! It seems that the initial outing for Team Barbie Detective in Barbie Detective (which I will probably eventually acquire so it can be entered into the database) was popular enough to warrant a sequel. So Barbie, Ken, and their wheelchair-bound friend — together comprising a formidable crime-solving force — take off on a much-needed vacation only to find themselves toe to toe with another tantalizing mystery at their resort destination.
So how bad could this really be, right? I’ve suffered through quite a lot, Barbie-wise, for the sake of this blog and MobyGames. What could this game possibly serve up to push me to the brink? How about this Barbie Detective theme song which forcibly plays during installation? Listen to it; listen to it all! Share in my pain…
It’s darn creepy, mind you, the male singer crooning inappropriately that, “there’s just one girl you need to call / and she will … ease … your … mind.”
I’m not afraid, though, so I pressed forth. And I’m glad I did because this is the kind of game I live for in this Gaming Pathology project. Games that elicit just the right combination of awe, bewilderment, and outright guffaws. Really, I haven’t laughed so hard at a game while being simultaneously stunned since… I don’t know, maybe Secret Agent Barbie.
Remember that one music trivia game I played, Radio Active, the one that stored a database of 761 possible player names so it could personally address you? Before I found the fixed database, I wondered if it might actually sound out the name you input. Detective Barbie 2 actually does just that:
Yeah, it’s a little weird when you first study the list. You can click on any of the selections and the game will cheerfully sound it out, though many of the adjacent selections sound the same. Throughout the game, Barbie will specifically address you by this name, although the pronunciation tends to sound a tad inconsistent with her normal speech patterns.
So, about the story: Team Barbie Detective arrives at the Inn at Lighthouse Cove for a little R&R. The Inn, it must be noted, was built by an eccentric inventor and is known to be loaded with puzzles. Before they even get a chance to check in and bring their bags in from the car, the team learns from the innkeeper that some long-forgotten antique jewelry has been stolen. This makes me wonder how they knew it had been stolen if it was already long forgotten. But that’s just what the manual indicated. The in-game narrative is a little fuzzier on the details. I just know I’m supposed to wander around the Inn and surrounding grounds in search of “clues,” ones that usually hang out in plain sight, as we’ll see a bit later. Some are only visible with the help of the magnifying glass that Barbie finds and takes a shine to:
When hovering the magnifying glass over the globe, a handprint glows green. I suspect I was supposed to care, but I couldn’t find a way to act on it.
Detective Barbie 2 was developed by Gorilla Systems Corporation. They were also responsible for Barbie as Sleeping Beauty as well as Barbie Magic Genie Bottle (and presumably the custom accessory that came with it). This game is based on a marginal 3D engine, perhaps similar to that found in Magic Genie Bottle. You guide Barbie left, right, forward, and back against a backdrop that scales in and out when going forward or back on the plane. It started to make me wonder if these were just straight bitmaps that were scaled in and out. However, Barbie can go behind and in front of objects. Further, she casts quasi-accurate shadows, so there might be some actual 3D work going on here.
When using the magnifying glass over a region, all the pixels are just made bigger and blockier.
Along the way, the player talks to a colorful cast of characters, each of whom is naturally a suspect. Take the chef above, for example. Personally, I found her most suspect characteristic to be her accent, which seemed to shift between French, German, and Russian. I would like to include a sample here but I can’t figure out the coding format the speech samples are stored in.
Here’s another nitpicky detail I got hung up on:
So teammate Kelly is wheelchair-bound. Fine, not a big deal. I’m just wondering how they managed to transport Kelly’s motorized wheelchair in Barbie’s pink convertible roadster:
And what kind of car is that, anyway? At first, it looked a bit like a Porsche. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a spacious Porsche convertible.
So, like I said, Barbie has to walk around the place and be spoon-fed clues and cues to advance the plot. Further, there are a few, more action-oriented activities, such as boat racing and hang gliding. I found the latter activity during my brief play. There wasn’t really any point (goal) to it that I could find; just a brief diversion. This is supposed to be a vacation after all.
I have to admit, the Inn was constructed beautifully enough that I rather enjoyed exploring the grounds, though I often had to fight with the awkward control scheme to do so (push the mouse cursor to extreme edges of the screen to make Barbie move). It’s just too bad I couldn’t bring myself to care too deeply about the mystery at hand. However, I got one last giant laugh from this scene and then decided I had reached my Barbie limit for the evening:
I must have tripped a plot point by visiting some other location because when I returned to this room, what do I find, but a phantom teacup just sort of floating there. This game isn’t supposed to have supernatural elements to it so I can only assume that this is merely an idiosyncrasy of the 3D engine. Anyway, I photograph it and feed the data into the portable crime computer. Kelly then notifies me via videoconference that it appears to be a teacup, most likely used for a garden party. She says this seriously as though it’s some kind of critical clue.
This game is just ridiculous enough that I’m tempted to play it again some time to see what other kinds of amusement might await.
What is a casual game? Generally, it’s a game that has a fairly simple central concept — say, rotating falling blocks in order to form solid lines as in Tetris — which is easy to comprehend yet can keep a player occupied for hours, days, or however much free time happens to be available. There are a number of popular casual game concepts that float about and any halfway talented programmer can slam together their own version of one (I understand that the iPhone is seeing a lot of this very phenomenon right now).
But what makes a premium casual game? My first brush with the concept came from Magic Match last year which specifically bills itself as such. I liked the game so much, as did a close friend of mine, that I sought out more games under MumboJumbo’s “Casual Premium Games” brand. I found a 6-pack of such games for $20 on Amazon which arrived in the following, decidedly shipping-unfriendly packaging:
In fact, I hesitated to touch any of the games for a good while because I was still debating how best to scan the whole package for MobyGames. I finally settled on a solution and was free to start playing, which I did, and that was several months ago. Why haven’t I gotten around to writing them up yet? Because I have enjoyed playing them so much that I would rather play them than write things about them.
So, again, what defines a premium casual game above and beyond a standard casual game? The premium flavor takes the simple concept and spruces it up in the graphics, animation, sound, music, storyline, and gameplay dynamic departments. The first 4 items of that list, pertaining to video and audio, should be pretty straightforward to comprehend. As for storyline, most of these games attempt to have some sort of plot to justify the progression of levels, even though each level is the same basic game over and over again. The game tries to give the player a feeling of progression. Finally, these premium titles usually throw in assorted value-adds to the gameplay — and typically hold the player’s hand while introducing them — in order to give the player a few more characteristics about the game to master.
The first game I’d like to discuss is called 7 Wonders of the Ancient World and it’s easily mine and my friend’s very favorite of the lot. For the past few months, I have been telling everyone who will listen how awesome this game is and how often I’ve been playing it. Then I describe the gameplay and they shrug, wondering what’s so remarkable about the game — the concept has been around for years.
I guess you just have to be there…
According to MobyGames, 7 Wonders is categorized as a tile matching (creation) puzzle game and it presently lists 138 games of the type. It’s simple enough– you swap adjacent pairs of symbols in order to complete strings of 3 symbols. In this variation, there are 7 stages corresponding to the 7 wonders of the ancient world, and each has 7 levels. Your job is to build them by supplying enough bricks for the cheerful, driven workers down below. The value-adds, gameplay-wise, are that destroying strings of symbols also destroys blocks that they are sitting on, which is the raw building material for the wonders. After enough blocks are destroyed, the game drops a cornerstone piece into the puzzle that the player must navigate down to the bottom where the workers can use it. And of course, the hourglass is ticking through all of this.
Naturally, there are a number of powerups (horizontal and horizontal/vertical fireballs which destroy all symbols on their rows/columns; stars that randomly destroy symbols) to keep the gameplay a little more varied. It’s amazing how much strategy you can develop for even the simplest games. In the level shown above, for example, I would identify the top 4 rows as the “pain points”, the areas that would be the toughest to clear. I made sure to focus on those at the start of each turn and worry about the remainder of the puzzle as a secondary concern. After all, fireball powerups would naturally descend, and those often serve as wildcards during the endgame.
The second game I tried from the 6-pack was Jewel Quest. It’s strange to think that if I had tried this game before I had played 7 Wonders, I might have been gushing about this one instead. As it stands, this one struck me as unremarkable since it was the same type of game as the first. Not a knock; I just enjoyed 7 Wonders a bit more.
Then there was Luxor which was confusingly packaged as Luxor 2 (Luxor 2 on the outside, but a CD-ROM plainly marked Luxor on the inside). I don’t know which it was supposed to be, but I hardly suspect it makes a big difference. These both fall into a casual game category called Puzz Loop variants. The idea here is that some force is pushing a bunch of multi-colored jewels/marbles/stones towards an end destination. The player must fire colored orbs into the chain in order to create chains of 3 or more of the same color and destroy them before any balls reach the end destination.
So Luxor is the second game of the 6-pack that I fell in love with. I didn’t think I would get so involved until I played for 4+ hours straight one night, only retiring at 2am. Of course, there are tons of powerups to help you destroy the balls, and the game throws some fiendish courses right back at you to ramp up the difficulty. Oh, the strategies you will assess.
I hit a real slump with Mystery Solitaire: Secret Island. I had to give it the old college try for the sake of a MobyGames entry but I just don’t have any interest in solitaire card games. In fact, this might be the first computer solitaire card game I have ever played. I remember playing solitaire card games as a kid and I seem to recall that I didn’t enjoy it very much. Maybe that helps to explain my quest at a young age to find computer games — any computer games — to play.
It seems that all I’m doing is matching pairs of cards until all the pairs are matched. Then the game allows me to progress to another island (trying to keep some kind of tenuous story arc). To it’s credit, the game lives up to its premium casual game branding in terms of audio, graphics, story progression, and gameplay. But this is still the most pointless of all the games in this pack.
Having said that about card solitaire, it’s odd that I should enjoy Mah Jong Quest. I remember playing Mahjongg — real, physical, multiplayer Mahjongg — when I was growing up, and I remember seeing many people playing solitaire Mahjongg games on various computer systems as far back as the DOS days. But I have never played a solitaire Mahjongg computer game. It doesn’t sound like it would be too interesting — just matching pairs of tiles.
But danged if it didn’t keep me coming back for more, night after night.
Now this game has a real storyline. Young Kwazi is peacefully playing with his Mahjongg tiles when his village is ravaged by demons. Kwazi must embark on a quest throughout the lands to defeat the demons while meeting and helping a lot of people along the way. And he accomplishes everything by… playing with his Mahjongg tiles. That’s powerful stuff.
So how is this so different than card solitaire if they’re both pair matching games? I’m not sure exactly. Perhaps it’s the fact that I can see all (or many) of the tiles up front. That can help me plan moves. Plus, I can’t just take any tiles; there are certain constraints (a tile can’t be paired if both sides are touching other tiles, or if another tile is stacked on top of it). Somehow, I can imagine an upgraded version of this concept being the first casual game created for the emerging 3D monitors. Depth perception helps.
There’s one more game in the pack and it’s probably the least intuitive of the bunch — Slingo Quest. Slingo, it turns out, is a combination of slot machines and Bingo. You spin the slots that occur below each column of a Bingo card and mark off numbers as they come up. I’ll be the first to admit that it sounded totally uninteresting.
And I’ll also be the first to admit that it had me playing for hours on end the first time I booted it up for a review.
Again, I can’t believe how much I obsessed over optimal strategy when I played this game, or how far I managed to get (and wanted to get).
Once upon a time in this blog, I was seriously looking forward to playing a game called 3D Marble Flip one evening because it reminded me of a game I had always wanted to play when I was a kid but never had the opportunity. The experience left me disappointed.
Today, I was reading about something called The Apple Design Awards. The “Best iPhone Student App” went to a title named Wooden Labyrinth 3D. Now this is more along the lines of what I was looking for. So I finally took the plunge today into Apple’s App Store — only 11 months after it first opened for business (I’m not an early adopter by any stretch of the imagination) — and made this game my first app purchase for my iPod Touch.
This is actually a marked improvement, both over the previously mentioned computerized version as well as the original wooden version. It’s better than 3D Marble Flip because it actually has some decent physics and the board doesn’t right itself when you discontinue input. In fact, you can’t discontinue input, and that’s what makes this game so compelling and appropriate for the platform– you use the unit’s accelerometer to control the ball, i.e., tilt the iPhone/iPod Touch in order to maneuver the marble.
How is this better than the original game? The original game had approximately one difficulty level, if memory serves, and it was quite challenging. This game throws you a few softballs to get acclimated and then ramps up the difficulty (see above screenshot). Further, this game has a nifty jump feature that allows you to overcome low obstacles– just tap the bottom of the unit. Brilliant.
I’m pleased to say that this game earns a rare spot on my Good list.
I’m rather looking forward to checking out some more iPhone/iPod Touch games– it’s a rapidly growing area and plenty of opportunity for MobyGames entry. Further, screenshots are unbelievably easy to capture (hold home button and press the top button; Mac software will automatically offer to download screenshots during the next sync).
I recently hunted down the 1996 CD-ROM title Tracer after I found it mentioned in passing in one of my old multimedia exploration journal entries and noticed that it wasn’t in MobyGames. I haven’t read so much inane, incomprehensible cyber-pap to describe how to play a cyberspace-themed game since Forbes: Corporate Warrior. And when I tried to run one of the 4 accompanying tutorial programs, I wasn’t sure if this message screen was just part of the gimmick:
I mean “Tracer” is supposed to be the name of a dreaded computer virus that can kill a hacker like you, so this might be part of the narrative setup. The year is 2023 and you’re a successful, mercenary hacker, highly reputed in the underground for being able to destroy entire multi-national corporations by sabotaging their computer systems. You do this by entering cyberspace somehow and use a series of code pads in order to forge paths to the data core. After you tap into this latest assignment, your coach/agent/guide artificial intelligence (AI) warns you that this job is a setup and that there is a killer virus on your tail.
It was rather frustrating to keep up with all the jargon in the manual describing navigating through cyberspace. As someone who is well familiar with computer hardware and software, I should probably just “go with it”.
It’s a fortunate thing that I was able to let go and roll with it because I have to tell you: once I got into this game and figured out the gameplay, I discovered one very good game. Not a great game, but a very fun one, nonetheless, and one that immediately earns a spot on my “good” list.
What we have here is essentially a fast-paced 3D puzzle game. You are standing in a large grid. You have to put down code pads on an adjacent square in order to move to that square. You have up to 10 code pads which are shown at the bottom of the screen. Each code pad has 4 sides, each of which has a color (red, green, blue, or magenta). Adjoining sides must have the same color. It’s a bit confusing until you jump into it. But you don’t have much time to think about it because the Tracer virus is constantly pursuing you, consuming the code paths that you have already laid down. You must build code paths to areas of the grid that contain refills on code paths as well as a few more items (a magnetic pad slows down the virus’ pursuit for a short time), all while trying to forge your way to the exit.
The game boasts 50 levels, plus a level editor. The levels keep throwing more and clever obstacles for you to think your way around. You are able to cycle through your available code pads in order to build the optimal path to your next destination. In practice, that’s incredibly hard to do since the Tracer virus is always closing in so quickly. The game’s tagline, “Think fast… or your next move may be your last!” is absolutely no joke.
I must mention that the soundtrack is definitely up to snuff for the genre. Great electronic/techno music recorded as 5 redbook CD audio tracks, all ripped, all on my iPod now (part of my ever-growing “Game Music” playlist consisting largely of ripped redbook audio tracks). Here is the first track for your approval:
The game also has personality. I guess what that boils down to is that I appreciated the voice acting. It wasn’t hard to get into the mood of the game with an intro like this, which starts out with an underground radio DJ and winds up with your fast-talking AI agent briefing you on your next job:
Tech support section (where I display problematic error dialogs I encountered and type out their text for the benefit of search engines): I saw a number of curious dialogs when I tried to install Tracer:
“Severe: 7th Level Setup: Out of memory. (E9)”
“Read Only File Detected: A read only file, .\tracer.txt, was found while attempting to copy files to the destination location. To overwrite the file, click the Yes button, otherwise click the No button.”
“Severe: General file transfer error. Please check your target location and try again.
Related File: .\TRACER.TXT”
Wouldn’t you know, the standard remedy applied: Using the properties dialog on the SETUP.EXE file on the CD-ROM, set the compatibility mode to Windows 95. That saves many an old game and never ceases to impress me.
And as a bonus for the game programming geeks (and wannabes like myself), I observed that the directory structure has a directory named ASCILVLS which I surmised means “ASCII levels”. Sure enough– dozens of .TXT files which pretty clearly spell out the initial arrangement of each level. Program a little game logic around them and you could probably reimplement the game. Here is a sample level file:
I’m not familiar with Disney’s 1999 animated feature film Tarzan. But that turns out not to be strictly necessary in order to follow Terk & Tantor Power Lunch, another in Disney’s Hot Shots series of casual games. Terk is a gorilla and Tantor is an elephant; they are your hosts for this game, only present to do their best to explain the gameplay and then crack jokes at the start of each level. I say “do their best” because the gameplay is just a tad baffling.
What we have here is a block smashing game of a type that I have never seen before. It works like this:
A particular board has, at the very least, some number of animals along with food items that that particular animal eats
The player begins with 8 chameleons
A chameleon takes the field and rolls into a ball, initially white
The chameleon bounces up and down between the boundaries
The player presses left or right to alter the longitudinal path along which the chameleon is currently traveling
When the chameleon touches an animal, he turns the color of the food that the animal prefers (monkey turns the chameleon yellow)
When the chameleon turns a particular color (like yellow), he can then touch and collect blocks containing the same colored food (like banana)
Got that? It didn’t make much sense to me at first. But I kept at it, mostly because there is nothing really to stop you throughout the first 5 or so levels. Like any casual game, I eventually got the hang of it and even started to wonder how far I could possibly get. Hey, it takes some strategy after awhile. Turns out that 23 levels (out of 50 total) was my limit when Kerchak (a gorilla antagonist from the film) puts an end to my remaining chameleons:
The boards also have cheetah and sloth powerups (or powerdowns, depending on what you need at the time) that speed up or slow down the chameleon, respectively. The there is the butterfly block which, when used properly, can eliminate a lot of food on the board at once.
So that’s the game portion. Tech support time. Installing this game was a comedy of errors, which is especially strange since the Lion King Hot Shots games seemed to work quite well, and they were released before this game. First, it presented me with this dialog upon installation, demanding to know the region in which I purchased the game:
Note that the default selection is blank. Thus, the game feels it only appropriate to respond with a blank dialog message:
After I got past that, I encountered this minor incongruency between operating systems: