Casual Collection 1
Casual Collection 1

Casual Collection - September 2010 releases

If you’re wondering where all the adventures have gone, we’ll tell you where: they’ve gone casual! So much so, it’s impossible to keep up with reviews for them all. But since casual games are here to stay and getting ever more adventure-like by the day, we’re determined not to let new titles of interest simply fall through the cracks. To ensure they don't, we’re launching our latest monthly (or thereabouts) round-up of new casual adventure releases.

Think casual games are nothing more than matching gems, popping marbles, or finding lists of cluttered junk? Think again! Tried some a while back and think you’ve seen them all? Au contraire! Look again, and you may just be surprised at how far this rapidly evolving subgenre has come. They may not be The Longest Journey, but these shorter excursions offer whole new worlds to explore, often beautifully designed and packed full of puzzles and adventurous new challenges. They may be “lite” but they’re for real.

This feature is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all games with some adventure elements, merely those we feel have significant enough genre elements to warrant inclusion. Please note that these are not intended to be reviews, and the games listed may not have been played through to completion. The article’s purpose is simply to act as a signpost for games that may appeal to adventure gamers. Take ‘em or leave ‘em, the choice is yours. But now you’ll know, and all download links come with free one-hour trial periods to check out for yourselves.
 



Lite Adventures


Royal Trouble

Unlike most of the games released in September, Orchid Games’ Royal Trouble is a straightforward point-and-click adventure, albeit a fairly streamlined one. There’s little story to speak of, as a brief introductory narration sets the stage: two unlikely characters have been captured and locked in a medieval dungeon, and must now escape to return to their respective kingdoms. Our heroes turn out to be Princess Loreen and Prince Nathaniel, who form an uneasy alliance to overcome their obstacles, though at times they’re more a hindrance than help to each other.

The game progresses through a series of self-contained scenarios of a few screens apiece, allowing a little exploration but never very far. From prison cells to opulent tower rooms to pirate ship decks, the two nobles must alternately make their way past their own unique challenges, occasionally sharing items and information with the other in passing. Most obstacles are solved through traditional inventory collection, often combining items to make ink, create makeshift bombs, or build platforms. You’ll also encounter the occasional standalone puzzle involving rotating rings, flipping switches, and matching patterns to proceed. Many are the kind of garden variety puzzles we’ve often seen before, but they offer a momentary change of pace and have a skip option to bypass.

Despite its dungeon setting, Royal Trouble is a bright, vividly coloured adventure with a charming cartoon aesthetic. You’ll see rats and the skeletal remains of your unsuccessful predecessors, then cheerfully continue on your way. The dialogue is lighthearted and fun as well, as the two royals bicker every time they meet up, presumably smitten and yet suspicious of each other at first. The pace is every bit as snappy as the banter, as the confined settings and clear, intuitive interface keep the adventure moving briskly, though there are plenty of optional objects to look at and consider along the way. If you do hit a snag, a progressive hint system offers tiered clues on how to get past the various obstacles in the current scene. You shouldn’t encounter much “royal trouble” of your own, but it just might be fun to guide others through theirs.


The Fall Trilogy: Chapter 2 – Reconstruction

Remember Kheops? Once one of the genre’s most prolific developers, the French studio recently set its sights on more casualized fare with the launch of The Fall Trilogy. It’s been a while since the debut of Chapter 1 – Separation, but now the second installment has arrived. Reconstruction plays very similarly to its predecessor, though at first glance the two episodes have very little in common. The first took place in an Asian temple, and the sequel occurs in a modern day high-rise office building. You’re still the same protagonist, however, on the same surreal adventure, as you’ll discover soon enough when you begin playing.

As a protagonist with amnesia, you have very little recollection of your past, and no idea at all how you’ve managed to wind up in your current surroundings. Where the goal in the original was simply to escape, here you receive a phone call referring to you as “John” and urging you to secure highly-classified information from the 13th floor. Naturally, it’s not going to be easy to acquire, or even to reach, as all kinds of obstacles and puzzles stand in your way. Whether it’s broken elevators, unsoldered circuit boards, or complex safe codes to overcome, you’ll face one challenge after another – or at the same time, as you’ll encounter multiple puzzles the more you freely explore. Your current objectives are recorded in the onscreen task list for easy reference, and moving about is done in traditional first-person fashion, either with node-based directional icons or 360-degree camera panning enabled.

Puzzles run the gamut from logical inventory application to spatial brainteasers to variations on Minesweeper, and there’s a clear attempt to integrate most of them into the environment. Some work better than others, like connecting loose colour-coded wires or selecting which surveillance cameras to operate at any given time, but others are far more loosely worked in. Solving a jigsaw to kill time while a guard is nearby or a slider to delete an answering machine message are more noticeably contrived. There’s an occasional need to find sets of various items on a single screen, like keycards or electrical components, but these are quick, easy, and fairly infrequent. All this is done with the expected production values; the graphics clear (if not displaying the most exotic of locations) and the game fully voiced by the protagonist. In fact, it’s easy to tell this is Kheops all around. Apart from a bit more streamlining, The Fall Trilogy plays very much like the studio’s full-fledged offerings of the past, only episodic in nature, and should appeal to any puzzle-adventure fan.


Nightmare Adventures: The Witch’s Prison

“Creepy” is a word used often in Ghost Ship Studios’ Nightmare Adventures: The Witch’s Prison, and it's easy to understand given the vibe for which this title is going. Dark in tone, the tale begins with Kiera Vale being interrogated by government agents for reasons unknown, before playing out in a flashback as Vale explores her recent inheritance: Blackwater Asylum. Upon her arrival, a unsettling meeting with the groundskeeper and a subsequent search of the grounds reveal a disturbing mystery involving a secret agency, an evil witch, and a family legacy that dates back centuries.

And there is quite a lot of adventure-style rooting around to do, as you're not presented with a list of items to hunt for. With the exception of a single hidden object minigame on one character's computer (which neatly highlights the genre at its least realistic), you'll be scouring the actual environments for anything required to solve puzzles. These are predominantly inventory-based, though there are also a fair number of others – jigsaw puzzles, rotating alignments, colour and symbol matching and riddle-solving are some that make an appearance. With a fairly limited area of exploration available at any given time, this is a game for those who prefer a steady dose of challenges, although a recharging hint system and “skip” option will help keep the story moving if you’re having trouble.

Locations within the game are varied, as you'll find yourself rummaging around a cottage, exploring a bleak graveyard and uncovering a sinister turn of events in a chapel, as you try to uncover precisely what the government agency is up to, and why Kiera was actually summoned to the asylum. A few of the puzzles aren't that well explained along the way, but Nightmare Adventures is a well-presented, slick piece of casual entertainment, with elegant use of sound and detailed, intentionally gloomy artwork. And, of course, extra “creepy”, like you’d expect from any nightmare adventure.


Mystic Gateways: The Celestial Quest

Ten Heavens’ Mystic Gateways: The Celestial Quest includes both item hunts and puzzle-filled exploration, but it’s really more of a hyper-streamlined, task-based adventure than a traditional casual hybrid. Cast as a young woman following her fellow “Shadow Vanguard” member through a series of inter-dimensional portals to such destinations as the pyramids of Egypt, the Brazilian rainforest, and Easter Island, players must successfully overcome a series of obstacles in order to access the next gateway and proceed. During your travels, you can expect to gather plenty of inventory and find the usual complement of logic puzzles, whether it’s rotating dials, aligning circuits, or other standalone tasks you’ve likely encountered before.

Objects are not so much “hidden” here as they are scattered, and it’s your task to retrieve them and use them appropriately. As you wander about a handful of screens per location, the smart cursor changes over interactive hotspots, and a rechargeable hint button highlights the closest available item needed to complete your current task. Goals may include things like finding torn pages of a photo or plucking lemons from a grove, but this is all done in context rather than a distinct exercise of item scavenging through arbitrary clutter. Really it’s just an extension of the standard inventory collection, which you’ll also do frequently. You’ll even acquire three permanent tools, often needing to apply your dustbrush, hammer, or shovel to help uncover more missing items. Everything collected is used almost immediately, and usually in logical ways, though at times only the journal provides the necessary feedback.

Artistically, Mystic Gateways is more functional than attractive. The design is certainly competent, but the graphics are static and bland, and even the choice of locations feels fairly generic. The music is repetitive but culturally suitable to each area, creating more variety as you go. Unfortunately, there are very few notable sound effects to liven things up, contributing to the rather flat, uninspired presentation overall. There are plenty of things to do besides gawking at the scenery, however, and the constant string of tasks should keep you briskly on the move from one gateway to the next.

Continued on the next page...

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Comments

Sughly Sughly
Oct 11, 2010

Great idea! I for one appreciate it - I may not be the biggest casual gamer but I’ve enjoyed a number of recommendations from around here in the past, and some of these seem interesting enough. I imagine some of the masses will be displeased, but my thoughts towards them is a bit fat MEH. Look forward to seeing what you guys suggest in the future…

rtrooney rtrooney
Oct 11, 2010

I’ve played three of the titles, Black Cat, Little Black Lies and Witch’s Nightmare. For reasons unknown, the latter played miserably on my machine; quirky graphics, uncontrolled mouse movements. I quit after about ten minutes of frustration.

Of the former, Black cat was very enjoyable. I did not play the Collector’s Edition, so did not have acces to the strategy guide. In some instances I doubt it would have helped. Whether intended or not, there are some inconsistencies. In some instances a hand cursor indicates you must pick up an object and add it to inventory. In another instance the hand cursor causes an object to move, e.g., a drawer to open. A third option is manipulating an object, e.g., moving an object from one position on the screen to another. In one early puzzle I must have spent 30 frustrating minutes before figuring out that the on/off switch under my hand was actually a fastening device that needed to be moved from one position to another.

I look for games from this developer. With Rue Morge and Curse of the Raven already in their portfolio, Black Cat is another step forward.

Little Black Lies is better than the last, but not nearly as good as the first two. Interesting to see that, unlike the first three games, Oberon Games wasn’t credited at all, and Jane Jensen’s Creative Director credit was the last credit to scroll. She must be busy with business elsewhere.

Mohlin
Oct 12, 2010

Great idea. I like a casual game now and then. They are a nice “bite size” and not too complicated, a pleasant and relaxing way to spend some hours between finishing the housework and going to bed.

Majsan Majsan
Oct 12, 2010

This is a great idea! I have played almost all of these titles and enjoyed them all. My favorite was Nightmare Adventures: Witch’s Prison. It was hard to stop playing that game!
About casual games in general I agree with Mohlin!

nonax
Oct 14, 2010

Thank you for all the tips. I am certainly going to try the ones I haven’t played yet!

gboukensha gboukensha
Nov 3, 2010

LOVE this kind of articles, thanks!

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