Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek Collector's Edition (2012 - PC)

Not a bad hidden object game, but it seemed like it was very heavily inspired by Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove. The plot revolves around a detective who travels to a sleepy Vermont town in search of a missing girl, only to find herself involved in a decades-old occult conspiracy.

The hidden object scenes are some of the most cluttered I've seen, and the game is a little picky about where you can click on an item to obtain it. It occasionallys ask you to find something that has possible answers - I kept clicking on a tennis shoe in one scene that was asking me to find a "shoe" to no avail, only to click on a boot and find that was what it wanted. *grumble*

I also love that the town is called "Maple Creek", but their landmark tree is an oak.

Rating: 2.5/5

Enigmatis 2: The Mists of Ravenwood Collector's Edition (2014 - PC)

Well, now this was a step up that I wasn't expecting! Enigmatis was a humdrum clone of Dire Grove, but the sequel is far more like Artifex Mundi's own Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride, which is one of my all-time favorite HOG's. Enigmatis 2 came a little earlier, so Grim Legends must've borrowed from it. (The Illusive Items very obviously originated with this game because they relate directly to the story.) The first Enigmatis had a semi-realistic art style, but the sequel is far more stylized, like the backgrounds of a hand-drawn Disney cartoon. The puzzles and hidden object scenes are more varied, such as one clever scenario in which you direct a girl around the room because your own character is tied up.

Hidden object games don't often have much in the way of villains, but the characters in Enigmatis 2 are constantly terrorized by an enormous, monster raven that at one point tears apart a camping vehicle like something out of Jurassic Park. The series' backstory is revealed in chunks each time you bring a magical artifact to a man trapped in a prison cell. While the identity of this mysterious man will come as no surprise to anyone who played the first game, it creates an interesting final conflict.

While hidden object games are a dime-a-dozen these days, this one finds enough new ways to reinvent the wheel that I can easily recommend it to anyone who likes the genre or liked Grim Legends, although I still give the latter more brownie points for the orange kitten helper.

The story is not quite resolved at the end, so I'm hoping there will be an Enigmatis 3, and that it will live up to expectations.

Rating: 3.5/5

House of 1,000 Doors: The Palm of Zoroaster Collector's Edition (2014 - PC)

A direct sequel to House of 1,000 Doors: Family Secrets, it's not a bad hidden object game, but not as good as Enigmatis 2 or Grim Legends.

Alawar's HOGs often have the distinction of making you accumulate a lot of stuff in your inventory without knowing what it's for, and this one is no exception. You'll have several possible paths available to you, but each one requires an item you don't have. You finally solve a puzzle somewhere, and you end up with an item, but instead of being something that works with anything you're aware of, it's another object with mysterious function. Essentially, you trade one cryptic item for another. So, then you have to go around looking for what else you've missed, which is tougher if you're playing on Expert Mode since it won't highlight active zones. This is actually the good part, as I like being stumped.

The bad part is that I have a pet peeve about HOG's placing items you already found back into the HO scenes when you have to redo them. It makes it feel like gathering them the first time was pointless, and it gets confusing when an important item that's still in your inventory or had been used elsewhere is relocated to a scene.

Normally, I don't mind challenge, especially in casual games like this that are usually pretty easy even with self-imposed limitations, but I came to a puzzle in this one that upset my patience. You have to fill an empty space with Tetris blocks, but they only fit a particular way and there's no way of knowing if a piece is in the correct place as they don't lock in. I couldn't wrap my mind around it and I really didn't want to deal with it. So, I looked at the in-game Strategy Guide for the solution.

The ending is rather abrupt (on both the main game and the bonus chapter) and predictable. I feel that Family Secrets was better, or at least more memorable. Saving the lost souls by resolving their personal mysteries seemed less generic than looking for a gem. But I won't argue that Palm of Zoroaster doesn't have decent scenery porn. It does. I particularly liked the Tibetan Monastery and the Madagascar settings.

One really odd thing about the game's story is that the opening makes a big deal out of the House appearing in Cherry Hill, NJ, which is the area of the world I grew up in. Yet that really has no bearing on anything since most of the game takes place inside the house and has you traveling to foreign countries via magic paintings.

Rating: 2.5/5


Ranma 1/2: Hard Battle (1993 - SNES)

Based on Rumiko Takahashi's popular anime series, Ranma 1/2: Hard Battle is not a very complex fighting game. It has really good animation, some decent music, and a generous helping of cynical humor, but that's about it. Well, and you can play as a panda bear and a bull named Pantyhose. Maybe that counts for something.

The fighting mechanics are simple and the same strategies for winning can apply to most characters. Usually you can find an opponent's AI flaw and exploit it big time (Akane, for example, does not move if you're blocking). On Expert Mode, the computer cheats big time with some characters, firing off special moves in rapid succession or being far more nimble (especially with Shampoo) than a human can possibly be. This leaves you little choice other than relying on cheesy moves or a turbo controller.

It seems like 16-bit fighting games almost always have a useless dumpy guy. In Samurai Shodown, it was Earthquake, and here it's King - a gambler that looks like a cross between the king on a deck of cards and Dr. John. Don't play as him on Expert Mode, he sucks. And his music sounds like a broken carousel.

I don't know much about the anime. I assume those who are familiar with it will get more out of this game. But if Rumiko Takahashi is as cynical towards her own characters as this game is, I'd be surprised. None of them has what can be called a "good" ending, and the dialogue describes the nerd as "making mildew look cheerful".

Rating: 2.5/5

Robot Rescue (1987 - APL2)

This is not a game that is reviewable. It was a mystery that haunted me for almost 30 years. I played this "edutainment" adventure game briefly in elementary school in the late 80's. Back then, no one in the class was able to solve it, and years later, I couldn't recall its name. Repeated internet searching of the details I could remember never resulted in a match.

After a week of deep internet sleuthing, I finally identified it as Robot Rescue on Scholastic Microzine #21, and I've done a complete writeup on it here.

Rating: N/A

Pioneer Woman (1973 - DVD)

Much like Yuma, this is another made-for-TV western that was supposed to be the pilot episode of a series that never got made. After purchasing some land in Nebraska, a man (played by William Shatner) leaves his rented home with his family via covered wagon, but the wife is none too happy about it. When they arrive, squatters have already settled on the land he purchased and won't let him have it. So, they move onto Wyoming and settle there, instead, meeting lots of hardships that frontier people in the 1800s would typically face.

While it's not bad for what it is, it's easy to understand why a whole series didn't result from it. The story feels finished and there probably isn't much new territory it could've covered that Little House on the Prairie didn't. It's also weird that William Shatner would not have been able to continue into the show after what happens to his character.

One of the most interesting details is that the little girl in the family is played by Helen Hunt in her first TV role.

Rating: 2.5/5

What's New Scooby-Doo? Complete 1st Season (2002 - DVD)

I am a naive person. I had this hope that someone could take a concept like Scooby-Doo and somehow make it better. This show was maybe about 1/4 in the right direction, what with some of its self-aware humor, but then it actually manages to take backwards strides from the original series.

The cardinal example is an episode that violates one of my rules of storytelling - You should never attempt to explain things that need no explanation. The original show started in the late 60s, so you didn't think about why they had a van painted in a Flower Child motif. It was the times. This series postulates that the van originally belonged to a teenybopper singing duo called the Mystery Kids. Perhaps it's stupid to complain about anything in a show as dumb as Scooby-Doo, but I don't accept this anyway. Suggesting that this group of teens that loves solving mysteries didn't buy an old van, name it the Mystery Machine after their passion, and paint it to their personal liking robs them of implied creativity and makes them seem even more like blank slates than they already are.

Shaggy and Scooby act so spaced out and unaware of everything going on around them that it often feels like you could remove them from the show entirely and the outcomes would be the same.

Some episodes don't even make much sense. In one that I had seen before, a villain tampers with amusement park rides so that they fall apart while people are riding them. The episode concludes with the characters deciding nothing illegal had been done. Come again? Even after seeing it twice, I don't know what the villain's motive was.

And is it really too much to ask that once in awhile the monsters be real? I was kind of hoping the sea serpent was. Only a real animal would've been able to move the way it did, and what's the harm? Didn't these guys meet real catpeople in a made-for-TV movie? And what about Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers where they met actual ghosts?

I will admit that Velma saying she knew this actor character wasn't the villain because, "he can't do anything, he can't even act", made me laugh hysterically, but that's not enough to recommend the rest of the show. It needed more of that sort of humor and less relying on guest stars whose fifteen minutes of fame was probably up before this even hit DVD shelves since I've never heard of any of them.

Rating: 1.5/5



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