Posts by: Phil Scuderi

Adventure Game of the Year 2013 Runner-up: Gemini Rue

Crooked rain, crooked rain.

Crooked rain, crooked rain.

Why do you play games? If ever it’s for the Reading Rainbow/Muppet Babies/Star Trek holodeck sense of pure escapism into a well realized world, you’ve simply got to check out Gemini Rue. It’s one of the purest stimulants of the imagination gland known to science.

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Review: Battle Camp

No guitar skills are worth this.

Robert Johnson glanced down at the contract, and this is what he saw.

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Battle Camp doesn’t make a favorable first impression. Nor second, as you can see above. In fact, the impressions it makes occupy a limited range, from distasteful to repugnant. It’s the worst example of abusive, exploitative, nickel-and-dime game design I’ve ever played. It and its ilk are a scourge to decency and a blight upon mobile games.

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Review: SimpleRockets

Oh, the humanity!

All we need now is someone to fly it. Any volunteers?

I’ve long fancied myself a student, and even a steward, of neglected game genres. In the mid ’90s when RPG’s lay cold and forlorn, I made a point of playing all those creaky, cumbersome dungeon-crawlers that eventually starved the genre of life. Then when adventure games succumbed, I replayed the old classics once a year lest their memories fade. As various genres waned and went dormant, I pledged to hold vigil until their inevitable return to market.

When Kerbal Space Program appeared in 2011, I realized I’d been derelict in my duties. Despite all my historical doting I’d forgotten there ever was such a thing as a realistic space simulator. The genre died abruptly after 1994’s Microsoft Space Simulator, which I recall seeing in stores alongside all the crappy edutainment titles that used to clog the shelves, and with which I fear shoppers may have hastily lumped it.

After 17 long years without a major commercial space sim, KSP seemed utterly fresh, as though it were the first of its kind. Its remarkable success shows that demanding simulations can thrive in today’s market. In its wake a couple of pared-down rocketry sims have appeared on mobile devices, and today’s SimpleRockets is one of them.

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Review: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Episode 2

Let's chat at the watercooler.

Can a detective go the whole day without griping about the boss?

How would you like to play a supernatural detective thriller point-and-click adventure? As FBI agent Erica Reed you’ll pursue Boston’s latest serial killer, grapple with your emergent psychic powers, and grieve for your past traumas.

Sound good? It should also sound familiar if you played Cognition: Episode 1. I really enjoyed the first title, and I’m pleased to see the sequel features the same strong points. Regrettably it presents the same flaw, too—an inordinately contrived plot that strains adult credulity, and thus is at odds with the game’s graphic violence, profanity and other adult elements—and it’s the kind of flaw that gets worse with repetition.

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Review: Pixel Defenders Puzzle

Next update will include a Bowie cameo.

Dance, magic dance / Put that baby spell on me.

Pixel Defenders Puzzle has a bit of a branding problem. It bills itself as a match-three game, but that’s misleading and actually does the game a disservice–don’t expect Bejeweled or Piyo Blocks. The word “defenders” conjures up thoughts of tower-defense, but that’s not what this game’s up to either. As for the “pixel” bit, well, the less said about that cutesy crutch the better. The title preys upon one’s expectations, but who from the title would have expected such a thoughtful and addictive timewaster as this?

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Review: Anodyne

I don't think that's how it's spelled, Phil.

What’d that dude say? “Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho.” Hmm.

The overhead action-adventure game died a death so complete we seemed to forget it existed at all–as though the reigning emperor had ordered all monuments to the prior regime carved over. From the mid ’80s to the mid ’90s, it was a mainstay genre with AAA appeal, led of course by Nintendo’s flagship Zelda franchise. But when the N64, Playstation and 3DFX Voodoo chipsets caused a collective obsession with accelerating polygons, 2D sprite-based games became anathema. Poor action-adventures had it extra bad since they were doubly 2D: flat graphics combined with a flat gamespace. In the wake of Diablo, those few action-adventures that survived the 3D revolution jettisoned their core mechanics of exploration and puzzle-solving in order to compete as loot-dropping slot-machines.

And that pretty much catches us up to the present day. I don’t think I’ve played a true, new top-down action-adventure since 1997’s Yoda Stories. And unlike for other maligned genres such as adventure games and flight sims, for the last 15-odd years nobody has been publicly agonizing over the death of the classic action-adventure. We all just sort of accepted its demise. Somehow we learned to reconcile our belief on the one hand that the classic Zelda titles are among the best games ever made, and our implicit expectation on the other that such games can’t succeed ever again.

Unto this, enter Anodyne, a two-man labor of love from Analgesic Productions and a joyous resurrection of the best genre that ever lived and died. It’s got appealing sprites, challenging dungeon puzzles, and a variety of items to gather and enemies to fight. Its NPCs offer enigmatic clues to help you chase the game’s MacGuffin (a strange force dubbed The Briar). Along the way you have to suss out each new enemy’s quirky vulnerability: some can only be damaged from one direction; others move or attack in a predictable and thus exploitable pattern. And in-between dungeons, you get to explore a large, open world replete with rewarding puzzles. If you’re over 25, all this should make you feel giddy as a kid again.

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Review: Shell Shock 1864

And possibly ours as well.

One way or the other, this will be Smithfield’s last stand.

“Lean back. Put your headphones on. Enjoy the experience.”

Those words flashed on the screen when I began playing Shell Shock 1864. I received them initially as a benign suggestion and a promise of good times to come. I quickly came to view them as an urgent bidding: Enjoy it, I say! Later I decided they also serve as a preemptive defense of this bewildering, flawed game. Oh, you didn’t like it? Did you lean back far enough? Maybe you need better headphones. You did decide to enjoy yourself before you played, right?

I remember thinking, “Enjoy the experience? You bet I will. This calls for a drink!” (With me, it doesn’t take much.) I mixed a Sazerac, the ancestral drink of my people, and returned with my iPad to the couch. It would be the first libation of many that night. I fear abundant drink is the only respite from this game’s perverse punishments.
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Review: Runaway — A Road Adventure

T-Rexes are scary.

This is truly the stuff of nightmares, and I don’t mean the dinosaurs.

My only objection to Anita Sarkeesian’s recent Damsel in Distress video is that in accumulating evidence for the trope’s prevalence she relies heavily on a bunch of Japanese console games that I’ve never played. If only she knew of the glut of examples waiting to be plucked from quirky Spanish adventure games from the 2000’s, games like Runaway: A Road Adventure. Then, given my recently developed expertise in the subgenre, I could watch her video without feeling so annoyed at the gaping lacunae in my knowledge of games. Because, you know, male inadequacy is the real problem, here.

How’s this for a damsel in distress? In Runaway’s opening sequence, Brian, our young Manhattanite protagonist, is driving to the bookstore when, alas, he smashes his car into a panicked, racily clad femme fatale. Her name is Gina and she’s “amazingly beautiful,” as Brian so poetically observes. He creepily follows her to her hospital room, where just before she succumbs to her “tranquilizers” she mysteriously begs him not to leave her side. She’s fleeing some nasty mafia-types and needs Brian’s help, and gosh it was a good thing he was there to help by slamming his bumper into her legs at just the right moment…

So, it’s to be that kind of story: a bit clumsy, tried, and oh so familiar. The plot develops into a mishmash of themes from The Godfather and Indiana Jones, full of enjoyable mob stereotypes, mysterious artifacts and colorful locales. But an adventure game can ride far on clichés like these, and Runaway satisfies many important genre desiderata.

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