Xbox one

King’s Quest

Year released: 2016

Genre: Adventure

Developer: The Odd Gentlemen

Publisher: Activision

 

I’m not sure how to write this post. I’m not sure how I can convey how absurdly much this game series has meant to me over the course of my life.

The first game I played in the series wasn’t King’s Quest I. That was before my time. The first one I played was King’s Quest V. I couldn’t have been older than 10 or 11. The game came on a whole bunch of 5 1/4″ floppies, holding a whopping 512 Kb each. Graham, standing beside a creek, outside a small house with smoke flowing out the top. King Graham. But no crown – a blue cap. Blue cap, red shirt. I never even came close to beating the game. I didn’t even see the second half of it until years later. But it latched into my mind.

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I might be a *little* biased, but I think this game has the most beautiful pixel art of all time.

I have always loved fantasy, and that’s thanks not to The Lord of The Rings; It’s thanks to The Prydain Chronicles, The Wizard of Oz, and maybe most importantly, King’s Quest. There was something about the way the game combined fantasy, mystery, and humour that completely captivated me. I eventually went on to play every game in the series (yes, even Mask of Infinity, aka the King’s Quest Game that Shall Not Be Named), and even completed a couple of them.

So when I heard that a new King’s Quest game was in development, I felt an odd mix of excitement and trepidation. On one hand, I knew that no game would be able to fully capture the magic of my memories. On the other, I was eager to return to Daventry just one last time.

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The new KQ plays out over five episodes, each focusing on a different point in King Graham’s life, and offers ‘reinterpretations’ of moments covered in earlier games. The new game itself never actually overlaps with those earlier games, but fills in gaps between them and offers new takes on some of their endings. For example, at the end of the original King’s Quest II Graham meets his future wife, queen Valanice, at the top of a tower in a mystical realm. This new game starts just as Graham reaches that tower (although it’s no longer in a mystical realm any more) and at the top there is not one but two women being held captive. Depending on your choices in the game, one of them will become the future queen. The way the game integrates old ideas and new is actually rather clever, and I appreciated the callbacks greatly.

I’ve only played through two and a half episodes at this point, but so far I’ve been liking what I’ve been seeing. It’s been hit or miss at points – sometimes the humour is a little too slapstick, and sometimes the characters don’t resonate as I think they should. But for the most part, the game feels like a King’s Quest game, and that is not small feat.

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The game isn’t perfect. No game could be. If I were to make it, I probably would have chosen to do it pixel art style to increase the nostalgia factor, but I’ll take what I can get.

Rating: 4 out of 7 King’s Quests.

Next up: Life is Strange.

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Xbox one

Hitman

Year released: 2016

Genre: Hitman Simulation

Developer: IO Interactive

Publisher: Square Enix

 

Sorry for the delay (again!) – I’ve spent the last few months moving and starting a new job. Finally starting to settle into some routine now, and so it’s time to start the blog back up, picking up right where we left off. The next game up is Hitman (2016). The Hitman  series has been around for a long time now, and always follows a similar format – you play a bald dude with a barcode on the back of his head, who is hired by various shadowy organizations to kill people involved with other shadowy organizations. Hitman levels are structured like sandboxes – there are objectives to complete (like murdering your target), but how you complete them is totally up to you.

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The appeal of these games is how open-ended they are. As Agent 47 you can disguise yourself as nearly anyone in the game world, and you can employ nearly any object as a weapon. The Hitman games are unique in that they’re not exactly ‘stealth’ games – you’re not sneaking through long grass or anything like that – but they’re also definitely not ‘action’ games – Taking a headon approach will get you killed real quick. These games sit in a unique spot genre-wise. They’re really more puzzle games than action games – each level is a giant interlocking puzzle waiting to be teased apart.

This newest Hitman game refines the formula employed by the others to a staggering degree. Every NPC is going somewhere and doing something. Every locked door has at least three ways through, over, or under it. Every murder can be staged in hundreds of different ways. Want to disguise yourself as a fashion model and poison a designer? OK. Want to dress as a chef, poison an entrepreneur, and push him off a cliff as he vomits? Why not. The possibilities feel nearly endless.

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I’m not terribly good at these games. It takes me a long time to see systems – my brother is great at seeing systems. I am not. I need to fail a lot in order to figure out what works, and even then I often don’t understand why it works, just that it does. So in this game, while the concept is amazing, I usually just wind up luring my target into a bathroom and strangling him. Not glamorous, but effective. I watch videos of this game and I think ‘wow, I’d love to set up a crazy scenario like that, ending with a giant speaker landing on my target’, but after being gunned down by his bodyguards a dozen times, I always wind up taking the easiest route out.

So, great game. Interesting, well-designed, and innovative. I’m just not very good at it.

Rating: 8 out of 10 rat poison canisters.

Next up: King’s Quest.

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Xbox one

Hand of Fate

Year released: 2015

Genre: Fantasy Card Game Simulator

Developer: Defiant Development

Publisher: Defiant Development

I’m baackkkk… It’s been a very long couple of months, but I’m finally starting this series up again. It will probably be a little irregular for the next month or so, but we will soldier on!

Hand of Fate is a fascinating little game. Part action/adventure, part card game, part Choose Your Own Adventure, the game doesn’t fit into any categories very nicely. The graphics aren’t great, the loading times are longer than they should be, and the combat is frustrating.

Despite all these flaws, I have played this way more than I would have thought. In fact, I brokey self-imposed rules and played this for way longer than my alotted hour. It’s been a stressful and really tough couple of months, and Hand of Fate was exactly the no-thinking-required game that I needed.

The game is played by moving across a map made of randomly dealt cards. Each card contains a challenge, a shop, or monster. Certain challenges upon completion unlock more cards which will be dealt out in the next game that you play. The gameplay is repetitive, but the randomly dealt cards offer enough variety to give the game that ‘just one more time’ style of play.

I really enjoy this game, and am looking forward to picking up the sequel (which is apparently even better) when I can afford it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stolen goblin crowns

Next up: Hitman.

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Xbox one

Grow Home

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Year released: 2015

Genre: Third-person Adventure/platformer/botany Game

Developer: Ubisoft Reflections

Publisher: Ubisoft

 Grow Up is a weird little game. You play as a robot (BUD) tasked with rebuilding his ship while recording and categorizing various local flora along the way. 

 The graphics are pretty basic, but the controls are interesting. BUD is able to climb anything, and while climbing the player controls each arm independently. It’s definitely unique. I’m not really sure it’s fun or not though. 

During the journey you’ll climb gaunt plants, float over strange vistas, and probably get preset frustrated at least a couple times. This is a weird little experience, and I hope more little games like this are made – but it’s also kind of aimless, and it’s easy to get stuck not knowing what to do next. 

Rating: 4 out of 6 weird plants. 

Next up: Hand of Fate

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Xbox one

Goat Simulator

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Year released: 2014 (2015 on Xbox One)

Genre: Third-Goat Action/Adventure/XTREME SPORTS Goat Simulator

Developer: Coffee Stain Studios (ported by Double Eleven)

Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios (ported by Double Eleven)

From the Goat Simulator website: “Goat Simulator is a small, broken and stupid game. It was made in a couple of weeks so don’t expect a game in the size and scope of GTA with goats. In fact, you’re better off not expecting anything at all actually. To be completely honest, it would be best if you’d spend your $10 on a hula hoop, a pile of bricks, or maybe a real-life goat.

That about sums it up. To imagine playing Goat Simulator, imagine this: Playing a game with the control and scoring scheme of old school Tony Hawk Pro Skater, except you’re a glitchy goat with a super long tongue and a penchant for destruction. It’s super weird, super broken, and good for a few laughs. Somehow it’s spawned a whole slew of expansions, none of which I’ve played. I don’t think I’ll be going back to this one. But here’s some screenshots!

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Rating: 1.5 out of 6 goat tongues

Next up: Ubisoft’s Indie platformer, Grow Home.

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Xbox one

Gone Home

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Year released: 2013 (2016 on Xbox One)

Genre: First-Person Adventure Game

Developer: The Fullbright Company (ported by Midnight City)

Publisher: The Fullbright Company (ported by Majesco Entertainment)

Gone Home belongs to that same strange section of gaming as Firewatch. Sometimes derisively referred to as ‘walking simulators’, these games use the first-person perspective as a storytelling device. By limiting perspective, the game creator can really place the player within the story. It’s a very unique thing. It’s not like reading a story or watching a movie, but it’s not exactly like playing a game either. The player technically has agency, but in most of these games the player is given very limited choice.

In the case of Gone Home, the player embodies a college-aged girl returning home after an extended absence. She finds the large house empty, and slowly pieces together what has happened to her family over the past couple of months. While the premise sounds very spooky, in reality it is a very personal and emotional story.

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The experience (game might be too strong a word) is short and poignant, like playing a short story. The graphics aren’t incredible, but they do a serviceable job in creating atmosphere. Using an explorable environment to tell a story is a brilliant concept. While Gone Home doesn’t perfect this concept, it was one of the first experiences to really bring the idea into the mainstream. I’ll probably revisit this idea again before I’m done this game series.

Rating: 3 out of 5 hidden keys

Next up: The Bizarre Goat Simulator.

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