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Casual Collection - September 2010 releases

Casual Collection 1
Casual Collection 1

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.

Image #1The 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.

Image #2As 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.

Image #3And 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.

Image #4Objects 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.

Escape from Frankenstein’s Castle

PlayFirst and Spark Plug Games have hit the ground running with their new take on a classic tale in Escape from Frankenstein’s Castle, blending adventure and object gathering elements seamlessly together. The story kicks off with Hannah and her fiancé Horatio riding their motorcycle along a dirt road. Suddenly, a shadowy, monstrous-looking figure lurches out before them, causing the bike to careen over the edge of a cliff. Some time later, Hannah wakes up in a towering castle with amnesia, and is instructed to carry out some menial tasks for the owner of the castle, Victor Frankenstein. As the story progresses, her memory slowly begins to return, and with help from Isabella, the ghost of a previous victim of the Doctor, players must try to find Horatio and guide Hannah to an escape route.

Image #5To gain access to the castle’s hidden laboratories, there are many puzzles to be solved. Most of these are inventory-based, while others involve such things as matching colour patterns or solving sliding block challenges, requiring both strategic planning and trial-and-error to complete. There is also a short card game sequence early on that is fairly simple and fun to play, and can be replayed at any time. The puzzles are all quite logical and straightforward; most of the time the solution involves an object you came across earlier or information you read about previously, though on some occasions you’ll find that items that should work do not. Isabella provides a hint system that points you in the right direction while being vague enough to still leave some challenge. This allows the game to run along at a fair pace, moving smoothly from one situation to the next – or it would, if not for some laborious backtracking using traditional but sometimes awkward slideshow-based controls.

The art style is suitably gothic and foreboding, though the graphics aren’t particularly crisp. Although referred to as a hidden object game, Frankenstein’s Castle is really a lite adventure, as any “hidden object” tasks are weaved directly into the gameplay. Instead of presenting a list of random items, the notebook advises you what you need to find and what to do with them to reach your objective. Such objects, like scattered books missing from their shelves, might be found across several locations and are handled like regular inventory items. The trickiest items to find are usually just for achievements or uncovering more of your ghostly guide's backstory. Apart from these optional tasks, the main game is fairly linear, as everything must be completed in a certain order, though you can freely roam around. The more you progress, the less the story seems to have to do with Mary Shelley’s original masterpiece, but it does largely succeed in piecing together an interesting new tale in its own right.

Hidden Object/Adventure hybrids

Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat

Having previously blown the lid off the Murders in the Rue Morgue, ERS Game Studios has turned once again to Edgar Allan Poe for the second Dark Tales installment, The Black Cat. Apart the occasional appearance of detective C. Auguste Dupin (who isn’t even introduced this time around), the two storylines share nothing in common, and at least at first, there aren’t many obvious similarities to Poe’s original work, either. (Which is probably good, because it would freak people out and cause PETA to implode.) After witnessing a woman’s brutal murder in silhouette during the game’s introduction, you’ll find yourself arriving at a stately Victorian home to investigate not only the disappearance of Madame Davies, but reports of her ghostly appearances ever since, accompanied by her black cat Pluto.

Image #6While this dark tale is completely different from its predecessor, the gameplay will feel instantly familiar to returning players. A mix of hidden object searches and traditional adventure gameplay, The Black Cat gives you limited freedom to start, but as you collect items, search for clues, overcome environmental obstacles, and solve various puzzles, you’ll open up new areas to explore. Just to even reach the mansion, you’ll first need to devise a makeshift tool from multiple item combinations, and the balance remains heavily tilted towards lite adventure gameplay throughout. The hidden object scenarios are fairly designed, with clear depictions and rechargeable highlighter, though there isn’t much attempt to integrate them into the story. Many items are suitable to the period, but your standard 19th century parlour likely didn’t include North America, the number 4, and two loose fish. The logic puzzles can be equally arbitrary, matching patterns or rotating dials just to open doors, but many are more organic, such as fixing a clock’s gears.

Presentation is a high point, as The Black Cat features impressive artwork, though many of the scenes are restricted to indoor mansion locations. That’s a shame, as the outdoor locations come complete with ambient animation and realistic sound effects. The stormy night setting is nicely staged with heavy clouds rolling, lightning peals, flooded gutters, and rumbling thunder. On the easier difficulty setting, twinkles highlight the interactive areas of interest, which is about the only help you’ll get in the main adventure. A journal records key information along the way, but there are no overt hints offered to help you out, though all standalone puzzles are skippable. The Collector’s Edition does include a strategy guide, but everyone else is on their own. As for whodunit, or if anyone dun it at all, that’s for the cat to know and you to find out if you’re willing to follow its lead.

Reincarnations: Uncover the Past

Vogat Interactive returns with a second installment of Reincarnations, as Uncover the Past continues the story of a journalist named Jane who can revisit past incarnations of herself and interact with those worlds. What began in Reincarnations: Awakening as research for an article has now taken a turn for the worse, as an evil doctor has found out about the power Jane wields and intends to make himself famous by studying her. To that end, Jane is kidnapped and committed to an ancient-looking asylum, and players must help her break free by going back through more of her past lives to discover the secrets that will help her in the present.

Image #7Areas you’ll visit include a Victorian London theater and Renaissance Venice, and these allow for some great variety in locales. Unlike the original game, Uncover the Past requires a fair bit of backtracking as you find new objects and puzzles, though you never have too far to travel. Gameplay consists largely of hidden object scenes interspersed between inventory tasks and numerous logic puzzles like jigsaws and sliding tile challenges of various sorts. Hidden object scenes aren’t timed, but certain items can only be found once you have interacted with an object already in view, sometimes using other items on the same screen, such as enticing a mouse with cheese. This adds an extra layer of interaction, but some actions are less straightforward than others, requiring pixel-hunting for cursor changes rather than deduction to solve. Standalone puzzles range from very simple to quite tricky, and there is a charging skip feature that allows any to be bypassed, assuming you’ve acquired the necessary objects first. There is also a rechargeable hint system that can be used in most situations, helping you find that tricky hidden object or pointing you in the right direction if you are not sure what to do next.

The graphics are sylish and attractive, but voiceovers have been dropped from the sequel, although this is probably a good thing since they were a noticeably weak part of the original. Sound effects are basic, but the background music is atmospheric, nicely reflecting the changes between different time periods and locales. By being able to move from one past life to another, new scenarios are gradually introduced, which keeps the storyline fresh and interesting. Whether it’s a man trying to solve his brother’s murder to a woman trying to free her lover from wrongful imprisonment, each serves as a mini-adventure in its own right. There are more hidden object sequences in this game than other hybrids on this list, but there are plenty of other things to see and do across time, which should keep you well motivated to see Jane’s plight through to the end.

Women's Murder Club: Little Black Lies

The release of Little Black Lies isn’t the first time the Women’s Murder Club series has appeared on the casual adventuring radar. With Jane Jensen serving as Creative Director, James Patterson’s popular franchise once seemed poised to the lead the way in melding the standard hidden object formula with lite adventure gameplay. But following A Darker Shade of Grey, the series took a step back towards more traditional casual fare with last year’s Twice in a Blue Moon. So where does the fourth PC installment fall?

Image #8The modern day murder investigation of Little Black Lies dates back to a 35-year old mystery. A young woman was brutally killed in 1975, allegedly by the cult to which she belonged, but the charges were never proven and the chief culprit eventually disappeared. Recently, a friend of medical examiner Dr. Claire Washburn visited the small town setting of the murder to do research for her new novel. But when she too turns up dead, it’s up to Claire, detective Lindsay Boxer and reporter Cindy Thomas to discover what happened, no thanks to the townsfolk who seem intent on keeping their dark past an unspoken secret.

As before, the game is a mix of hidden object searches and investigative adventuring, with some puzzles and minigames added to round out the experience. In the same scene, you may find yourself scouring through a dumpster for seemingly random items (some of which will prove useful) or simply searching the environment for necessary objects required to proceed. There’s an admirable attempt to integrate the object searches this time around, and inventory puzzles are frequent, maintaining a decent balance throughout. Lab work will include such standalone tasks as identifying compounds by their reactions and comparing magnified images. There are plenty of hotspots to click on for commentary, a journal to keep you up to date, and even a built-in strategy guide to walk you through every solution. You’re unlikely to be stuck for long anyway, but there’s more to see and do than the last WMC game, and if it’s not quite enough to make you feel like a real detective, at times you may just feel like an adventurer again.

Twisted Lands: Shadow Town

Another game getting the “Collector’s Edition” treatment at launch is Twisted Lands: Shadow Town, from Alawar Stargaze. A fairly traditional example of the current breed of HOG/adventure hybrids, the game tells a surprisingly creepy story of a young man who falls overboard at sea and is separated from his girlfriend, washing ashore on a seemingly deserted island. Its abandonment is a mystery, as there is plenty of evidence of civilization, from a grounded passenger ship with a giant hole in its hull to a church with its own cemetery, and even a small town. The more you explore this sprawling environment, the more you’ll learn about the terrifying curse of madness and disease that afflicted its previous inhabitants, some of whom you’ll see in brief spectral visions. With each new deadly anecdote uncovered in journals and letters, the need to find your girlfriend and discover a way home becomes increasingly urgent.

Image #9To do that, you’ll need to solve an abundance of puzzles. Several are the standalone variety, or logic puzzles requiring clues yielded elsewhere, and these can be challenging, though a “skip” option allows you to bypass them if necessary. Most puzzles are inventory-based, however, as you’ll collect a large number of items in your travels, only a few of which are through hidden object searches. Exploration is handled in the standard first-person slideshow format, with exits and all interactive areas clearly marked. Most of the puzzles are logical, but the game does frequently fall prey to arbitrary obstacles and random solutions, demanding that only specific items be used when others are just as suitable. This gives the game a fairly linear progression that belies the freedom (and indeed constant backtracking) through its expansive areas, including a couple of small fog-shrouded mazes.

Hidden object tasks are regular but not particularly numerous. These close-up scenes are nicely designed and partially integrated, generally filled with reasonable (if unreasonably cluttered) objects. The only real failing is the tendency for new HOG tasks to pop up unannounced in the most unexpected of places, with nothing to alert you that a key item you need is now magically available in a place you’ve already visited often. Fortunately, the recharging hint option not only reveals hidden object locations, it also guides you step-by-step to the nearest solvable puzzle or unfinished task if you’re stuck. The Collector’s Edition includes a walkthrough and a new playable chapter. Set in a more confined area in and around a lighthouse, the additional gameplay is actually superior to the main game, and more tangibly frightening for reasons best experienced yourself. Whether the extra hour or so of gameplay is worth the added cost is a matter of taste, but kudos to the developers for making the “bonus” segment worthwhile.

Victorian Mysteries: Woman in White

Freeze Tag’s Victorian Mysteries: Woman in White provides a good bout of dark and moody game playing, which mixes casual adventuring and hidden object tasks with an intriguing story of forbidden love, wealth, and insanity. You play as Walter Hartright, an art tutor hired by the persnickety Lord Fairlie to help his beautiful daughter Laura and her somber half-sister Marian. On his way to the Fairlie estate, Walter encounters a sad looking woman dressed all in white. She disappears soon after you meet her, and thus begins a series of mysterious occurrences, each one drawing you deeper into a web of lies and intrigue. Along the way, Hartright falls into a romantic entanglement and has to use his powers of deduction and observation to uncover the sinister secrets threatening his happiness.

Image #10There are plenty of helpful items waiting for you to collect them at Limmeridge House. Inventory use is straightforward, but some areas can be a bit dark and filled with non-interactive items, making the necessary ones difficult to spot, especially on the “expert” level, which doesn’t highlight hotspots. You’ll also play through periodic hidden object scenes to pick up multiple items you’ll need to solve puzzles, such as unlocking doors, restoring old paintings, and feeding exotic animals. These scenes are somewhat integrated into the story, but at times the drawings are so crowded and the details so small that it can be difficult to spot the listed objects, though the rechargeable hint feature minimizes this problem. There are also times you’ll need to interact with the environment (open objects or move them aside) to find truly “hidden” objects, and these instances are not clearly indicated. As you progress through the game, you’ll also encounter a few standalone puzzles and minigames, including a simple Simon-based music sequence and a somewhat finicky fishing game, all of which you can skip if so desired.

The well-told story is based on the Victorian-era detective novel of the same name by Wilkie Collins. The voice acting is strong (despite a few clunkers in the mix), and there are many, many characters to meet, from the titular woman in white to uptight old aristocrats and nefarious suitors. In fact, there are so many that the game provides an ingenious family tree outlining all the characters, their relationships, and secrets. A map and task list are included as well, along with a hint owl, which is helpful in finding objects in the hidden object scenes, but not so helpful during the regular adventuring. Clicking on the owl only highlights interactive areas – not very useful if you don’t have, and don’t know how to find, the object you need in that spot. All this adds up to very casual fare, but it makes for a fun time wandering around a 19th century manor and exposing its many hidden mysteries.

Dominic Crane 2: Dark Mystery Revealed

Match Gems’ Dominic Crane 2: Dark Mystery Revealed starts with the titular protagonist visiting a psychiatrist about his troubled dreams. These dreams are about his sister, who mysteriously disappeared as a child and now returns to him as fully grown woman, paying nightly visits to his subconscious. Through hypnosis, he is now able to search through his dreams to unravel this mystery by collecting scrolls along the way. Settings are spread across different worlds formed from Dominic’s dreams, whether from the Victorian era, the ancient Orient, or a forest treehouse, each consisting of a few explorable screens with plenty of items to gather and puzzles to solve.

Image #11For the most part, gameplay is a linear set of puzzles and minigames. You’ll need to scour the regular backgrounds carefully to find necessary inventory objects, and collect others from hidden object scenes using a list of three items at a time. You’ll also regularly encounter other familiar puzzles like jigsaws, Concentration, coloured symbol matching and combination locks. The focus here is on logic and deduction challenges rather than story-based problems. You may need to feed a hungry animal blocking your way, which makes sense, but often there’s no reason given at all for particular puzzles to exist (apparently Dominic’s a puzzle lover if he dreams about them this often). There isn’t much or any feedback about a puzzle’s objective, either. Interactive areas often sparkle to alert you, but sometimes there’s no response at all to clicking on them unless you have everything you need or are using the right item. If you do get stuck on one of the non-inventory puzzles, there’s a skip option available after a while.

Visually, Dominic Crane 2 is a mixed bag, as the background art is solid but compromised by the game’s low resolution. This becomes more evident when trying to find particularly small items, which can leave you with some eye strain, though a rechargeable hint button can help. The game also offers decent background music and sound effects. Still, the presentation here seems dated in comparison to many of its casual contemporaries, making it feel more like a “budget” title even among budget games. There’s some mild enjoyment to be had, but the game simply lacks the polish or refined gameplay elements that adventurers and casual gamers alike have probably come to expect. If you liked Dominic’s Dreamscape Mystery, there’s nothing here to discourage you from the sequel, but if you’re new to the series and hoping it compares favourably with other casual adventures available, you’d better pinch yourself, because you’re dreaming.


House M.D.

House M.D. is an anomaly among today’s same-old, same-old TV dramas. The snarky, antisocial, and brilliant diagnostician Gregory House (played by Hugh Laurie) and the doctors who work for him are to sick people what the CSI crew is to crime scenes. Each show presents a patient’s bizarre illness like a mystery the doctors must solve. Their attempts to do so are heightened by quick, cutting banter – some of the funniest writing on television today. In short: it’s a show that would make a great adventure game. And now it is one, from Legacy Interactive. Well, it’s a game, anyway, and it has some elements that adventure gamers will enjoy. Others… not so much.

Image #12The Collector's Edition (currently the only version available) has five cases, and just like a TV episode, the first case starts with a character suddenly falling victim to a mysterious illness and being admitted to Princeton Plainsboro hospital. House and his team approach the diagnosis exactly as you’d expect them to. Doctors Foreman, Taub, Chase, and Thirteen sit around the whiteboard throwing out possible illnesses while House berates them. Diagnostic procedures are done. Questions are asked of the patient and people close to him. The team even visits the patient’s workplace and house, searching for clues. The gameplay doesn’t feel very House-like, however, because much of the interaction takes place in medical minigames. Example: the patient can’t breathe. To save him, you drag instruments into his open mouth (gross), pull back his tongue, thrust a tube down his throat, and pump the tube full of air, all of which is done with painfully simple mechanics. You also get to “examine” patients for symptoms, and while House M.D. is of course a medical drama, the anatomy-related tasks are about as much fun as lab day in biology class (and just as unsettling).

Other minigames include Hangman-like word-guessing sequences (from a bunch of words floating around on the screen); lab tests that require clicking arrows and dials in specific orders; and a microbe-matching procedure. At the end of each minigame, you’re rated on how quickly the task was completed and the number of mistakes made. A few gameplay elements do feel more adventure-gamey. For instance, questions are raised to shed light on a patient’s condition using simple dialogue trees. There are also investigation scenes where you get to “scour” an environment for clues. The process is limited, however, with the cursor turning green whenever you can select something, and the items themselves having little or no obvious importance.

The character artwork is very good, with each of the main characters looking uncannily close to their TV counterparts. The pixelated environments in the investigation scenes are less impressive, and the close-ups of body parts and fluids in the procedure minigames can be fairly graphic. The snappy dialogue is true to the show, but without voice acting and gestures, some of the more biting lines come across much harsher (and less funny) than on television. Combined with the repetitive minigames, the end result is a very casual game with a few adventure elements, not the other way around, and it’s best recommended for fans of the show who don’t mind simple gameplay and aren’t overly squeamish.

Whew! That's it for one busy month. But this is only the beginning. The Casual Collection column (try saying that three times fast) will be back each month there's enough new content to report, so stay tuned!

Jack Allin, Robert Lacey, Merlina McGovern, Emily Morganti, Rob Murrant, and Robin Parker contributed to this article.

Note: Adventure Gamers is a Big Fish Games affiliate.


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Community Comments

LOVE this kind of articles, thanks!
Nov 3, 2010
Thank you for all the tips. I am certainly going to try the ones I haven't played yet!
Oct 14, 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!
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.
Oct 12, 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.
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...
Oct 11, 2010
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