27 September 2010

Casual Game: My Kingdom for the Princess

Description from Big Fish Games:

A terrible tornado has been turned the kingdom upside down! The beautiful Princess Helen must return to her sick father, King Olgert, but the roads are in ruins, the hamlets are destroyed, and a hungry dragon circles the skies above. Rebuild the empire from the ground up and fix the destroyed towns. Help the brave and noble knight, Arthur, restore the land using your Time Management talents in My Kingdom for the Princess!

My thoughts:

Many of the time-management games I've played start out to be mildly fun, only to devolve into a game of "how fast can you click?". There isn't much strategy involved. My Kingdom for the Princess is different.

Like games such as Farm Frenzy, on each level you are given a task that must be completed before nightfall, such as repairing three roads and two bridges. The difference is that if you don't pick up resources and use them in the right order, you could end up stuck with no way to finish the task in the allotted time. There are many options on the board that you don't necessarily have to use to complete the task. For instance, you may use up your resources upgrading every single mill, market, and mine, only to find that your resources won't replenish in time for you to beat the level. You could also spend your time trying to unblock one road to get all the resources at the end of it, but then run of time to unblock the road that will end the level. For me, this makes it more interesting to repeat a level because it is not just a matter of trying to do it faster. I actually have to figure out a different order to do things in to make sure I finish the task on time.

04 September 2010

Collector's Editions for Casual Games?

I've noticed recently that many casual games are being released as collector's editions. Since these games are acquired mainly via download, a collector's edition (or CE) for a casual game isn't the same as what you would get with a console game. A CE for an XBox game, for example, may come with a plushie, an action figure, or a t-shirt. In the casual game realm, buying a CE usually means paying $20 for digital goodies like extra levels, desktop wallpaper, and a strategy guide or walkthrough of the game.

I've played a few CEs, but I still haven't made my mind up about them. From a gameplay aspect, I like having the strategy guide built into the game. I know that I will look for at least two hints during any game I play, so having them available in-game is easier than opening another browser tab or window. Having said that, I don't think the strategy guide alone is worth the extra $13 that a CE costs over the regular version. Yes, there are sometimes extra levels and desktop wallpaper included, but do you really consider that stuff collectible? I never even look at it. Also, sites like Gamezebo and Jay Is Games offer free walkthroughs that are as good as the ones offered in the CEs; some of the screenshots are identical.

Another thing to consider is how often you play games. My husband generally shies away from computer and console games, but the other day he decided he wanted a few games on his laptop to help him destress during breaks at work. I would suggest that he get a CE version of a game because the in-game hints would keep him from getting frustrated. On the other hand, my daughter C2 routinely finishes hidden-object games in three or four hours without ever using the strategy guide. The extras in a CE are wasted on an experienced player like her.

Whether you want to pay for extras with your game is a personal choice. I'm not going to say buying a CE is right or wrong. However, I do think that these packages should be called something else. To me, there isn't anything collectable about a digital download. Perhaps "enhanced version" might be a better name for them.

01 September 2010

Coming soon . . . more reviews!

I've been feeling guilty about this blog. I play games every day, but they aren't the tabletop games I intended to blog about. My gaming itch has been scratched by casual games and console games. As a result, this blog has been sitting dormant. However, this week I decided I need to get over myself and just blog about whatever games I'm playing. The longer I play casual games, the more I am discovering that they aren't all the same, as I originally thought. So if you've been patient and kept my feed in your RSS reader, your patience will be rewarded!

03 July 2010

Still Playing Casual Games

Back in March I wrote an extensive post about the casual games I was playing. I ended it by speculating that I would probably get bored with such games in a couple weeks and move back to card games and such. Well, here I am almost four months later, and I am still playing games of the hidden object, match three, and time-management varieties. Why? Because they are ideally suited to what my brain can handle right now.

With my Gamefly account, I make sure to spread my choices across all the platforms we have available in this house: PS2, PSP, Nintendo DS, and the Wii. Even though the subscription was a birthday gift to myself, it has turned out to be more of a treat for the kids because all the games that I thought I wanted to play turn out to be too frustrating for me. I've become accustomed to playing on PCs where most of the control is done through simple mouse clicks. I can click or mouse-over anything on the screen to figure out how to use it or what my game objective is. I've played several games where I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing or how I was supposed to be doing it. Right now the only console games that make sense to me are music games like Rock Band and exercise games like DDR or Wii Fit.

Another great thing about casual games is how quickly you can drop in and out of them. I've read that in several articles about the genre and dismissed the comment as obvious, but now I truly understand the appeal of that aspect. There have been several times just this past week when I've spent the whole morning working intensely and wishing for just five minutes of mindless fun. It is nice to be able to fire up a game like Pizza Frenzy or Farm Craft, play for a few minutes, and drop out of it quickly without worrying about saving your progress or anything. I can play these games and talk to my coworkers at the same time on my lunch break.

I still have this fantasy in the back of my head that when I retire, I'll be able to play a game that requires more commitment and mental concentration from me. I really do want to play something that offers me entertainment and challenge in the same package. Right now, though, casual games give me the fun without the frustration.

08 June 2010

What Kind of Gamer am I?

I rarely take these types of online quizzes, but this one created by The Escapist interested me. Their assessment of my gaming personality is spot on. I don't mind playing a game that has some depth or intricate puzzles, but for the most part I want my video games in particular to be shiny and happy and pretty.

The Pony-Lover
The Pony-Lover

Take this quiz

16 May 2010

Life Quest (PC Game)

Description from the Big Fish Games website:

Want to accomplish your life goals? Find out if you’re up to the challenge in Life Quest! Discover your fulfilling career, dream home, and happy family in this fun and quirky Simulation game! But look out, your high school rivals are lining up to beat you to the punch! Can you be the talk of your high school reunion before all your rivals? Use your time and resources wisely and you may just succeed!

The supposed challenge in Life Quest is to reach certain milestones before your classmates, but it isn't terribly difficult to do. It is just tedious. In the beginning, there is a tiny bit of strategy involved because you don't have enough hours in the day to do everything you want. However, by the time I got to the point where the challenge was to start a family, I ended up sending my character to bed with a full time meter so I could rush the days and get to the marriage. I maxed out on all the classes available for my character at the college and the gym before I got halfway through the game simply because I had so much time and money on my hands.

Most casual games are time-wasters, but at least they engage you with amusing graphics or some sort of strategic challenge. Life Quest has neither. It might have been more intriguing if, like Farmville, your real friends were controlling those high school rivals in the game. Without that component, I can't find a reason to recommend this game.

09 May 2010

Celebrating Mother's Day with Band Hero

I spent most of Mother's Day afternoon playing Band Hero with my girls, which we just got from GameFly this weekend. When the game was first released, I remember reading criticisms from reviewers that it was dumbed down for family play and didn't rock as hard as Guitar Hero or Rock Band. That may be true, but my kids sure love it. They enjoy Rock Band, too, and many of the songs have become favorites. They didn't even know who Bon Jovi was before playing that game, but they love "Dead or Alive" now. However, there is something to be said for having a game where you already recognize a lot of the songs. That's what Band Hero accomplishes.

01 May 2010

Got a Wii Fit Plus! Now What?

ABM got our tax return in and immediately purchased a Wii Fit Plus bundle (balance board and game). We had talked about buying one at Christmas when we purchased our Wii console but decided to wait. I think my enthusiasm for fitness games helped ABM make up his mind. He's been working out a lot and he wants us to get in shape together, but I have trouble sticking to an exercise routine. However, I've logged 30 miles in the past two weeks with Walk It Out! I guess he figured he should get me another exercise game while my enthusiasm is high :-).

Anyway, I would love to hear from any of you who have a Wii balance board. What are your favorite games that utilize it? I've already decided to try it with Walk It Out! to see if I like using the balance board better than the Wiimote and nunchuk. I've also heard that there is a DDR game that used the board instead of a dance pad. Any other suggestions?

18 April 2010

Walk It Out! isn't lame just because it isn't for you

One of the main reasons I subscribed to GameFly was to try out the various fitness and motion games for the Wii. They always seem to be unavailable at my local rental shop, and I found that they are pretty popular with the rent-by-mail crowd, too. It took me several months to get a fitness title, and it was Walk It Out! by Konami. There is an in-depth review at Wii Love It so I won't try to replicate it. Go read it!

I've read many disparaging comments about Walk It Out! online. More accurately, they were negative comments about the idea of walking indoors. Fans of Konami's Dance Dance Revolution franchise in particular bemoan the fact that the company released something they see as lame. The DDR games are big fun, but everyone doesn't have the coordination to handle all those complicated step combinations. Walk It Out! is great for an overweight 40-something who wants a simple start to an exercise program, like me.

I got the game last Monday and I managed to walk almost 15 miles by Saturday. Considering that in a good week on the treadmill I would only walk three miles, that in itself is a testament to the addictive nature of the game. There is no storyline or boss monster to beat at the end, but there is something about collecting every item in a game that appeals to me. If you have ever played a video game a little longer than you should to unlock one more item before bed, then Walk It Out! may be the game to get you off the couch.

29 March 2010

Playing Lots of Casual Games

For some reason, I've been seized by the desire to play casual games. I've played a bit of Bejeweled or Zuma in the past for about 10 minutes at a time, but this month I've been coming home from work and playing games for hours. These games are much cheaper than they used to be and definitely less expensive than games for consoles like the Wii. Casual games once started at about $20 a game but now you can find many of them for $6-$8 each or playable online for free.

Bejeweled Blitz: I am obsessed with this game and wish that it was available somewhere other than Facebook. It is the same match-3 game that everyone knows, but the twist is that you are trying to get the highest score you can in one minute. You compare your scores only with the people in your friends list, which gives the game that old-school feeling of trying to get your initials to the top of the high-score list on a machine at the neighborhood arcade. The scores are reset once a week, so everyone gets a chance to be the champion. The one-minute time limit makes me keep saying "just one more game" and I end up playing it for two hours! It would be even more fun for me if this game was available in a few other venues where I have friends that might actually play.

Valerie Porter and the Scarlet Scandal: This is the first hidden-object game that I've played all the way through, and it has changed my opinion of them. I got a couple of these games for my kids when they first started popping up online. I thought of them as digital versions of the pages in Highlights magazine. However, hidden-object games have evolved into the kernel that a story or adventure game is built around, and Valerie Porter is a good example of that. The premise is that Valerie Porter is a cub reporter in the 1920s working on her first big story, the murder of an actress. The graphics are attractive and the puzzles are just challenging enough to keep the story moving. I could see a fan of those cozy mystery novels playing this game.

Penny Dreadfuls -- Sweeney Todd: This game ups the difficulty a few notches. There are a LOT of items to find in each hidden-object screen, and the puzzles in between are a challenge. I had to look for hints several times. The game is based on the dime novel version of the Sweeney Todd story, not the musical, so it may have a different ending than you expect.

Azada: I'm still in the middle of this game. It is like Myst (character trapped in a book) with more recognizable puzzles. I played Myst back in the day and I welcomed having that experience again with puzzles that actually have instructions! If you like variety, this game is for you. There are matchstick, sudoku, memory match, and even dots puzzles. The one aspect I find frustrating is that the puzzles come in sets and you have about 35 minutes to finish every puzzle in the set. If you get stuck on a particular puzzle (sudoku sucks!) then you have to do the whole set again. Still, I would recommend this game to a person who thinks she would get bored doing the same type of puzzle over and over.

Farm Frenzy - Pizza Party: I don't even know why I am playing this game. It is one of those time management games like Diner Dash -- certain tasks around the screen have different time tables, some tasks have to be done before others, and the whole schedule becomes more hectic as you get to the higher levels. Once I realized that these games are pretty much about clicking, I decided I didn't need to play any new ones that are released. Yet, here I am, letting Farm Frenzy suck away several hours of my weekend. I think the key to keeping me engaged with this game is that the designers included a "best time" for each level. Having a time to beat added more interest for me.

I go through phases with games, so I'm sure I will burn out on the casual genre soon and start craving a good card game. Right now, though, I've got to go make a Farm Frenzy pizza!

22 February 2010

Finally Learned to Play Cribbage

Cribbage is one of those card games, along with bridge and canasta, that I've heard mentioned in 1940s movies and always wanted to learn to play. I've even had two cribbage sets in my house for the past several years. However, every time I would look at the rules, I couldn't wrap my brain around them. This was frustrating because I am pretty good at teaching myself how to do all sorts of things from books. I resigned myself to the fact I wasn't going to be able to teach myself this game.

Last weekend, I was hanging out at my best friend Rabbit's house when all of a sudden she pipes up with, "Do you know how to play cribbage?" Now, it was 11p and at least one of us had been drinking, so it wasn't the most conducive atmosphere for learning a game :-). Still, I managed to pick it up and I can't wait to teach it to my daughter C2. Cribbage is the type of game where my sweet and quiet 13-year-old will beat the pants off the adults!

18 February 2010

Rock Band Unplugged (PSP game)

I wasn't sure if I would like Rock Band Unplugged. After playing the game on the Wii, I couldn't imagine playing it on the PSP. I mean, you can't sing into the PSP, and that is my favorite thing to do when I play with the kids. Even without the singing, though, this is a compelling game.

To me this game is like Frequency with a Rock Band skin. You play guitar, bass, drums, and vocals -- but not all at the same time, of course. You switch tracks, trying to keep them all at the top of the meter. If you successfully play a phrase on one track, it will play by itself for a little while so you can switch to another track. I never thought I would get the hang of all the switching because I had a terrible time of it when I played Frequency. However, I did get into the groove after a few sessions.

I would say that playing Rock Band Unplugged satisfies a different gaming need than playing it on the Wii or one of the other consoles. When I play on the console, I like to grab the microphone and pretend that I am a rock star. On the PSP, Rock Band is more of a skill game; I don't even think much about the music. I worry much more about being fast and hitting the notes at just the right moment. So even if you thought that music games weren't for you, give this version a try.

09 February 2010

Professor Layton and the Curious Village (DS Game)

I put Professor Layton and the Curious Village in my Gamefly queue because I have fond memories of playing point-and-click adventure games in the late '80s and early '90s. What I should have remembered was that I had to buy a walkthrough guide to get through Myst. When I got this game in my hands, I was frustrated by the time I got to the 7th puzzle! It has been a long time since I've played any kind of game that taxed my brain, so perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind to play it. Since I am renting the games, I feel the pressure to play it for a week and send it back. If I get stuck on a puzzle, I feel like I'm wasting time.

Even though my feeble brain couldn't handle the game, my 16-year-old daughter M got a kick out of it. She especially enjoyed the cut scenes; they reminded her of the anime movies that she likes. We both liked the "Story So Far" feature that reminds the player of the plot when you turn the game back on. M sped through the game and finished it over the weekend, but I know she didn't hit all the puzzles or bonuses that could be unlocked. I will probably rent the next couple games in the series for her to try, but I'm not sure if my brain is up to playing. I think this is the kind of game the doctors are talking about when they say you should do puzzles to keep your brain sharp in your old age!

08 February 2010

Loco Roco (PSP game)

Loco Roco is a cutesy little platform game for the PSP. As you can see in the video, you tilt the landscape to make your little person move forward. The more flowers you roll over, the bigger your person gets.That is about as much as I understood about this game. I'm not a big fan of platformers; I'll play them for a few minutes if I have a break but they don't hold my interest enough to play through all the levels. My daughter M actually finished the game in the week that we had it on loan from Gamefly, so it must not be a very long game. The best thing I can say about this game is that the graphics and music elevated my mood. They make you think of spring and sunshine and children playing in the park. Perhaps they should hand this game to depressed people.

12 January 2010

LEGO: Rock Band (Wii Video Game)

First off, I want to say that I don't have much experience with these "rock star" games. I've only played Rock Band for a couple hours and I've never played Guitar Hero. So this review of Lego Rock Band is coming from a relative newbie to these games.

A reviewer on GameFly wondered what Lego has to do with music. I admit that Lego has about as much to do with music as with Batman or Star Wars. However, the Lego versions of these comic book and sci-fi games have set Lego up as a brand that parents can look at and say, "I know that game will be safe for my kids." That's why I rented the game. Even though my tweens and teens have already played the original Rock Band game, I thought the Lego version might have a playfulness that was more appropriate for 12-year-olds. What got was only partially satisfying.

As expected, the skill level in Lego Rock Band is dialed down a bit. I usually sing in these games, and I set the vocals on Medium only if I really know a song. In Lego Rock Band, I played many songs on Hard or even Expert. This is fine for a person who has never played a Rock Band game before, but it is a letdown if you have played the original game first.

The true letdown for me, however, was the tour mode. Since this game is aimed at kids, I expected a bit more of a storyline between songs but there wasn't much of one. There isn't one in Rock Band, either, but that game is mainly about playing the songs. Why do a Lego version if you aren't going to add something to it? At the end of each song, you earn all these little trinkets that go in the Rock Shop. They don't really affect your gameplay; they're just cute.

I think the subtitle for this game should be My First Rock Band. Give it to a 9- or 10-year-old who has never played the original game, if you can find one.

GameFly: LEGO: Rock Band Wii Video Game | Buy LEGO: Rock Band for Wii | Rent LEGO: Rock Band

11 January 2010

Boogie Superstar (Wii Video Game)

We just got our Wii for Christmas 2009, and I wanted to try out some games that would make use of the microphone we bought with it. My girls are big fans of rhythm games and music games. Boogie Superstar fit the bill for them.

The game uses a talent show format. Each talent show consists of three songs. The cool thing is that you can play whatever the game throws at you, or you can customize. That means you can have an all-dance show, an all-singing show, all solos, etc. So you can rent the game and try out the dance part even if you don't have a microphone.

The graphics in the game are pleasant. You have several teenage avatars to choose from, and they perform in several locations such as the red carpet, the dance studio, or poolside at a resort. At the end of each talent show, you earn coins that let you buy music packs. Each pack (pop, urban, or electro dance) contains a new dance move, a new outfit, and unlocks two songs. Only 12 songs are unlocked in the beginning, so this gave my kids the incentive to keep playing.

To me, the best part of the game is the dancing. It involves a lot of upper-body movement, and you can't just flick your wrist and score (a common criticism of Wii motion games). I played it with a broken foot and tried to stay in my seat, but my score was terrible! I'm not saying it is a great workout if you are already fit, but it will at least get your heart beating faster if you are normally sedentary and you throw your whole body into it. The avatars are fun to watch, too.

The main reason I rated it a 7 is that the songs won't appeal much to adults. I didn't even know half of them, but my 12-year-old daughters did. The song list is heavy with Jonas Brothers, Aly and AJ, and Hilary Duff covers. It got them off the couch, though, so I think it was worth renting.

GameFly: Boogie Superstar Wii Video Game | Buy Boogie Superstar for Wii | Rent Boogie Superstar

10 January 2010

Not Sure About GameFly

I know that I've only been subscribed to GameFly for a couple weeks (I haven't even gotten out of the free trial period yet), but I'm starting to have my doubts about the service. My biggest issue with it is the speed of delivery. I put my first two games in the mail on Monday and Tuesday, expecting to get my next two games by Thursday. I didn't get another game until Saturday; I still haven't gotten my second game yet. When I switch to the one-game-at-a-time plan, I'll be lucky to manage four games a month, and that is if I rush to play them on the weekend and put them in the mail by Monday.

Perhaps I am spoiled by having had a NetFlix subscription for several years. With NetFlix, I can put a DVD in the mail on Monday and have the next DVD by Wednesday or Thursday. That's because NetFlix has 58 distribution centers all over the country, as opposed to GameFly's four centers. I'm on the three-at-a-time plan with NetFlix, so it isn't unusual for us to go through 12 DVDs in some months. All this for $16.99. You can see why I might feel that I am not getting my money's worth paying $15.99 for the one-game plan at GameFly.

Outside of the speed, I think the service is pretty good. I enjoy the convenience of having games delivered to my door, and the selection is bigger than that of the video store down the road that rents games. I imagine that if I lived closer to Austin, TX or Tampa, FL (the two GameFly distribution centers closest to me) then I would get quicker delivery. I'm sure that my speedy service from NetFlix has something to do with the fact that they have a hub in Greensboro, which is only a few hours' away from me. So here's hoping that GameFly gets as popular as NetFlix and opens up a few more centers soon!