Going Back – Adam Wolfe

Source: Review Copy
Price: £4.79 for Episode 1, £14.99 for all 4 episodes.
Where To Get It: Steam

It may come as a surprise that this is a going back, considering my long held opinions on the state of Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures (Often bad with colourblindness, puzzles that make no sense in the context, extremely thin story that doesn’t have a great track record with treating women well, despite being marketed to said women for the most part), but this one, I feel, deserves it for, at the very least, being less egregious about it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the game is enjoyable. So let’s unpack that.

This is, surprisingly, not quite how it seems. And a reason why I’m somewhat fond of Episode 1.

Adam Wolfe is an episodic hidden object puzzle adventure game… Which seems to tend more toward the adventure end than the hidden object end. Why? Because every puzzle I’ve seen so far has context, even if the puzzles, on closer examination, can seem a little silly, and a few have colourblindness problems. Can’t win ’em all. The final episode was released in November 2016, and I was approached to review it last week.

Episode 1 is a pretty strong start in many respects. The only traditional hidden object puzzle is, amusingly enough, when Adam tips out the junk from moving (Including, for some reason, a pizza box… For shame, Adam!), and this is somewhat less traditional in that it has a strict order, as Adam recalls various things. Still keep only one item, but fine, like I said, can’t win ’em all. The rest are more like forensic puzzles, in which Adam uses a mysterrrrrious watch to try and recreate crime scenes. He doesn’t even get all of them right, in the end, which is a nice touch.

There is a reason, later on, I say this should have been spotted before release. No other episode does this. Also, the file is above the lockbox. See if you can spot it.

But Episode 2, sadly, brings things back to form with a hidden object puzzle where not only are objects, unlike the other episodes, clearly a little glitched (“I’m looking for a %FILE% to do the thing”), there is a puzzle where Adam Wolfe finds a variety of objects to try and open a small lockbox, before eventually settling on the only one that works, a hammer. Adam’s an ex-cop. Which makes this hidden object puzzle, again with its strict order, all the more heartbreakingly stupid and obvious padding. Oh, and that file wasn’t visible without a guide, another common problem with HOPA puzzles.

The rest of the episodes, though, seem fine, for a HOPA… And this is where I go back to a macro-view of the game, because it’s more important to clarify what goes well, what goes the same, and what’s flawed, to highlight that, for all its flaws, Adam Wolfe is a step forward in terms of Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures. Firstly, the story, while another supernatural mystery, is specifically patterned after supernatural mystery shows, taking the episodic pacing cues from the genre, along with a more action based story which makes sense in the context. The cast gets less diverse from Episode 2 onwards, sadly, but considering how often HOPAs don’t really write characters well at all, especially women and folks of colour? I’m actually okay with this. I liked that the villains are all white men, effectively. I liked how most of the characters feel like people, and not just “Plot Device X” (I’m not saying all, but most. Some really are just there to be obstacles or exposition.)

Yes, there are still highly silly puzzle locks like this. But, again, they’re less egregious, and more often, this kind of symbol hunting is restricted to, for example, a ritual binding.

Similarly, it’s a step forward to limit the magical protagonist power that all HOPA protagonists seem to have (Never explained, never given context) to the magical end of things (Rituals, spectral signatures, bindings.) The puzzles still feel a bit silly, but they’re less silly than “Oh, hey, a drawing of a bat, that’s exactly what I’m looking for!” It’s good to see this experimentation, like “I need to collect things that make up one object”, rather than “I am going to collect all these things, and keep one object” (Which, sadly, still happens in Adam Wolfe too, but is at least sometimes given context. Baby steps.) Equally interesting to see are the QTE segments. Now, yes, QTEs can be good or bad, and Adam Wolfe’s are mostly in that middle ground of “Clunky, but entertaining”, but, again, this is a step forward. This is something new, being tried in a genre which, as a whole, prefers to crank out three a year of the same kind of thing.

Again, some of these puzzles could have been more clear (There’s rarely consequence for failure, but it does lead to some irritable clicking or mouse moving when no, you’re not told what to shoot, or you’re shown glowies when you’re actually meant to continue to shoot the bad time-wizard, or the like) and hints aren’t always helpful, but, in the end, here’s my summary of Adam Wolfe: For all that it still has some flaws of the HOPA genre at large, it experiments, it tries to emulate a genre of media and mostly succeeds, it tries to give puzzles context and change up the puzzle format and at least half succeeds, and it does enough interesting things that I am perfectly willing, despite my dislike of the HOPA genre’s stagnancy, to say that this game both deserves a playthrough, and this Going Back article. It’s not an amazing game. If it weren’t for episode 2’s highlighting of flaws and bugs that should have been noticed before release, I would say it was a “Highly enjoyable” game (In-between Good and Great, if you’re curious.) But it is by no means a bad game, and I would say that other HOPA developers, current and prospective, would want to look at Adam Wolfe and consider…

I couldn’t really leave this review without a screenshot of one of the fight sequences. Okay, yes, it’s not quite Super PunchOut. But it didn’t *feel* bad to play, and I am content with that.

“…Hey, this guy who dislikes HOPAs is saying the word ‘like’ more, maybe we should ask why?”

The Mad Welshman cannot peel hamburgers off adverts to feed his constant hunger, why should a HOPA protagonist have it any easier?

Hidden Folks (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Page

It’s not often I get to review a game that’s so very honest about what it is: A hidden object/person search in the purest sense of the word, where the entire point is to click on things in the hope that yes, that’s the one you’re looking for. Or, y’know, get eyestrain trying to do it legitimately. That’s an option too.

Clicking on things, as it turns out, is the wiser option. As is discovering the scroll wheel does zoom in and out in many places. And that click and drag moves things. The game doesn’t outright tell you any of this, but you do discover it fairly quickly and organically, so I can’t really have a go at the developers for that.

Goodness me, there’s a lot going on here, isn’t there?

In fact, there’s a lot going for what, at first, appears a simple and unassuming game, and a lot of that is because the developers have done their homework on both their source inspiration (Things like the Where’s Wally?/Waldo? books) and how a game… Can somewhat get around the limitations of their source.

Like the hidden person books from which they’ve drawn inspiration, there are stories in each image. The butterfly hunt. A day at the farm. A concert in the middle of the desert, which proved… Not to be the best idea. But interaction is required to fully spot everything you want (Although you can move forward before spotting everything, if you so desire, which is very nice.) Some people and objects are hidden behind leaves, or rocks that you drag, or, in one case, you have to appease the gods of the corn for your blessing to appear (Yes, I’m being cryptic. It’s not a long game, so I’m trying my damnedest not to give you any hints that the game isn’t.) Clicking on the objects to find in the bottom bar will give you a hint. Not always a very useful hint, but then, they weren’t always very useful in the Where’s Wally books either. And, of course, sometimes something is more apparent zoomed in, than zoomed out.

All these lovely… HEY, SHEPHERD! THAT’S NO PLACE TO TAKE A SHOWER!

Adding to this is the charm of the audio. Pretty much everything is done, soundwise, via foley, aka “Let’s try and imitate the noises with our mouths”, and I shamelessly love that. There’s a sense of playfulness about it as a result. Similarly, while the black and white line-art of the visuals may be a turn-off for some, it neatly sidesteps colourblindness issues that could be such a problem in hidden person books, and, again, it has charm.

Honestly, there’s only two things I would really criticise, and both of those are effectively niggles: The flavour text boxes for each level don’t run on a replay (You can delete your progress and replay), and the varieties of left mouse interaction aren’t very well explained (But become apparent with experimentation on the second level.)

For the price, one and a half times that of one of those pocket Where’s Wally books, I’d honestly recommend Hidden Folks to fans of this sort of thing, and for folks who want a relaxing, somewhat likeable game that involves just exploring the landscape.

The Mad Welshman grinned as he moved the train down the tracks. Ostensibly, he’d find one of those people he was hired to… But the hero tied up in front was definitely a bonus!

Going Back: Musaic Box

Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures, in my considered opinion, are mostly creatively bankrupt. I’ll save the rant as to why for another time, but one of the main elements is that there is little to no consideration of where the puzzles fit. I’ve seen Memory puzzles in churches and “secret doors”, I’ve seen evil lairs guarded by the amazing security system that is… A brute forcable colour matching puzzle. The story, similarly, is often formulaic, and often has a “Tell” that conflicts with its “Show.”

Five rooms, each filled with bits of music trivia and puzzles for your puzzle box.

Five rooms, each filled with bits of music trivia and puzzles for your puzzle box.

But I have actually found a good HOPA. And I’d completely forgotten about it. Let me correct this injustice, and show people why it works, when so many others make me groan and grumble. Let me tell you about Musaic Box.

Musaic box is the tale of a woman of somewhat indeterminate age, who has an explorer grandfather with a taste for music that was passed down. She comes to visit her grandfather, on the promise of a very special birthday present. But first, she must solve the riddle of the Musaic Box, and the clues are left around the house. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? It even takes around the same time as your average HOPA (Two or so hours.) However…

You didn't really think I'd show you a completed puzzle, did you? For shame!

You didn’t really think I’d show you a completed puzzle, did you? For shame!

It’s tightly focused. One house, six rooms, and every room has something to do with music or musical history. Within each room is a collection of patterns for the Musaic Box, hidden in places like on the shade of a lamp, or on a printing press stamp, and those patterns lead to the core element of the game: The puzzles. The descriptions for the puzzles are from the character’s perspective, so we know that she was called ‘Little Figaro’ for singing the Barber of Seville at an early age, that she used to do ballet, that she skinned her knee while climbing trees… The puzzles round out her character in a way that supports her sometimes bemused commentary on Grandfather’s collection. In its small way, the story supports the game. And, because it’s in a small way, it doesn’t over-reach itself. There’s no moment to moment supernatural drama that falls apart after a slight examination here, just a young lady playing a game on her birthday. But, as I mentioned, the puzzles are the core element to the game. Let’s go into those.

Not only the core of the game, but where we get character backstory. Not a whole lot of it, but the game doesn't contradict itself.

Not only the core of the game, but where we get character backstory. Not a whole lot of it, but the game doesn’t contradict itself.

Musaic is a portmanteau of “music” and “mosaic”, and, essentially? That’s the puzzle right there. It’s a jigsaw, but a jigsaw that involves music. There’s usually (But not always!) one instrument that you can hear, and you’re supposed to piece together the short tune, making sure that matching colours of symbols aren’t on the same column. Sometimes there’s no lead instrument to listen to, sometimes there’s patterns to match up instead, but for the majority of the game, it goes like that, leading to one of my two criticisms of the game: It’s only moderately challenging until near the end. Otherwise, it does everything it sets out to do, it entertains, and everything fits together as a well designed game should. Of course, finishing the game nets you the birthday present, an “Atlantis amulet” (sic) that allows you to rearrange the tunes in the game any way you want (Which sounds horrible, for the most part: My second criticism of the game) , but then you realise “I spent a third of what I would spend on Hidden Secrets: The Horrific Jumble Of Items” , and you remember that the game has some pretty good short arrangements of classical tunes (Including a surfer rock version of “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean”, and a properly swinging “When The Saints Go Marching In”.) And you smile. You may not play it twice, but you have had fun.

HOPA devs could learn from this example, which goes to show that “more complex” doesn’t necessarily mean better.

The Mad Welshman smiled as he slotted the last part of the Musaic into place. Victory, as it turns out, sounds like The Entertainer.

Dark Heritage: Guardians of Hope (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Every now and again, there comes a time when there’s no diplomatic way to say that a game is terrible. Dark Heritage: Guardians of Hope is one of those times. This game is appalling, even for a genre not exactly known for high production values, or even polish at times. That genre is Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures (or HOPAs). Bear with me, while I explain why this game is the pits.

It is an unwritten law that all houses must have a ResEvil Lock/Safe somewhere on the property. Ghosts are not exempted from this.

It is an unwritten law that all houses must have a ResEvil Lock/Safe somewhere on the property. Ghosts are not exempted from this.

For those who don’t know, HOPAs are a specific subgenre of adventure games, where at least a third of the puzzles (Usually more than half) involve finding hidden objects because… Well, between one and three of them (Usually just one) are important plot items, and the rest… Is just for the joy of finding hidden objects. Your mileage may vary immensely on whether that really is a joy, not only as a personal preference, but also within games. They mostly tend toward supernatural, sometimes romantic or familial stories, rely on simple characterisations, and have retained many of the same core UI elements as they had in their humble beginnings (Around 1998). Backgrounder over, let’s talk criticism.

For a start, unless specifically pluralised, hidden objects tend to be the only one of their kind in an individual puzzle. Not so with Dark Heritage, which not only has objects similar to each other (You may try and click on a “Hammer”, only to find out, near the end of the game, that it was actually a “Lever”. The actual hammer is on the other side), but exactly the same type of object (For example, two wheels. One’s a bicycle wheel, one’s a cart wheel. Only one of these choices is correct.

The game gives you clues via the usual journal. Those clues are not always visually clear, however.

The game gives you clues via the usual journal. Those clues are not always visually clear, however.

The inventory puzzles, similarly, involve arbitrary interactions, much more so than usual. I couldn’t use a saw or an axe on some planks, because, since they had bolts on them, I was clearly meant to use a wrench. You’ll lose cutting tools (Because adventure game rules), then wonder why, as your main interactions appear to be cutting, smashing, and sawing of some description. Not all of them… But enough to leave you scratching your head, wondering why the hell you can’t smash this time.

As to the puzzles… There’s a lot of repeat puzzles, with at least two variations on the “Push levers which affect other levers, making sure they all go up/down” puzzle, a couple of jigsaws, and the lever push’s annoying cousin, “Three dials that go round and, bee tee dubs, affect each other. Good luck aligning them in patterns you may or may not have seen somewhere!”

This is the emotion portrayed throughout the conversation. Note also that that's a webcam wig. You can tell because of the odd movements compared to the head.

This is the emotion portrayed throughout the conversation. Note also that that’s a webcam wig. You can tell because of the odd movements compared to the head.

The game attempts to experiment, with FMV actors over the usual fare of mixed 2d/3d scenes. This would be interesting, if a) They had something worth saying, and b) The actors weren’t asked, for some bizarre reason, to mostly just portray a single emotion, maybe two (Sometimes none!), with little to no relation to what is being said, or how it’s being said. The story is paper thin, even for a HOPA, and it can basically be summed up as Hero’s Journey Lite. “Get McGuffin, Beat Evil Master, and also solve the fiendish mysteri-” Oh, wait, we already covered those mysteries, didn’t we? They’re fiendish, alright, but not in the way you’d like.

HOPA fans will find the hidden object annoyances frustrating, Adventure game fans will not be sustained by the story, the acting (Voice or otherwise), and both will be annoyed by the inventory puzzles. This is one of those times I can’t recommend a game to anybody except those of us who look at games to see what the hell went wrong. And that makes me sad.

The Mad Welshman checked his pockets and sighed. He’d left his keys at home, and would have to solve a jigsaw puzzle, find a crowbar in among 11 other objects, break some planks, find some nails and a hammer (One of which was behind a colour matching lock), and build a ladder to get back in. Just another day, he sighed, as a Ghoul engaged him in conversation at the bus stop.