Casual Collection 5
Casual Collection 5

Casual Collection - January 2011 releases

Ghost stories, time travel, murder mysteries, and magic curses… Yep, sounds the adventure genre, all right. Only this time it’s the casual variety, as another month of hidden object hybrids offers up a smorgasbord of popular themes and lite adventure gameplay. We’ve sampled them all, so read on to find out which new releases are deserving of your attention and which merit nothing more than the “skip” button.

Shadow Wolf Mysteries: Curse of the Full Moon

Jack Allin

Here’s a shocker: another new game release from ERS Game Factor… I mean, Studios. The company that never rests is right back at it with their latest hidden object adventure in Shadow Wolf Mysteries: Curse of the Full Moon. That, as most casual game fans already know, is a good thing. Rather than cranking out cheaply-produced assembly-line adventures, the developers consistently show that they’re refining their craft as they go along. The same is true of this latest game, which once again demonstrates ERS’ commitment to quality while retaining the oh-so-familiar dark setting and ominous atmosphere that characterizes all of their games. This time around the subject is werewolves, as you’re called in to a small Victorian-era town to investigate a string of murders the locals attribute to the legendary creature.

Over the course of one gloomy, oppressive night, you must explore the deserted town streets and its immediate environs, with a side trip to a visiting circus encampment. You’ll visit a generous helping of locations, including several homes and the local prefecture in town, then out through the locked stony gates and into rocky hills, wooded forests and down to a lakeside mill. The night setting and grisly theme make the mood a sombre one, but each screen is stylishly hand drawn, with small animated touches like thick rolling clouds and scurrying mice to liven up the otherwise still backdrops. There are even some fully-animated cinematics at crucial points, like when you get a little too close to a wolf for comfort. You’ll meet a few people as well, whose motives may not always be what they’d like you to believe. All dialogue is fully voiced, though not always to the game’s benefit. Some fare better than others, but the mysterious fortuneteller delivers a particularly dreadful performance. So does the wolf, surprisingly. Okay, it doesn’t talk, but its howl sounds decidedly unrealistic. The music is a little heavy-handed, too, though the tracks themselves are a nice mix of violins, organs, bells, and other gothic-oriented instruments.

Gameplay follows the traditional hidden object formula with really no deviations. By collecting inventory, scouring periodic close-ups for lists of items, and solving the occasional logic puzzle, you’ll progress through a series of ever-expanding locations. You can move freely between areas once opened, usually by overcoming obstacles like locked doors and blocked passageways first. Since there’s no map available, there can be a bit of backtracking involved, though it’s easy enough to keep your bearings and quickly click through several screens at a time. Adding to the meandering nature of the game is some rather loosely-defined objectives. Unlike many casual games, Shadow Wolf Mysteries has no task list or hint feature for the adventuring portions, though twinkles alert you to interactive areas and a journal records key observations that should help point the way. Often there are several goals to pursue simultaneously, however, so you’ll usually need to switch between them to advance in both, which can feel a little random. Inventory puzzles are fairly intuitive, though of course only one tool will ever be right for a job, and standalone puzzles are relatively sparse. If you get stuck rotating rings of coloured balls into patterns, aligning clock hands, or sliding rows of tiles into place, any puzzle can be skipped on either the Regular or Expert difficulty setting. A few are nicely integrated, like creating your own explosive, comparing microscopic hair samples, and picking the tumblers on a lock, but many are just there to arbitrarily block your progress.

Hidden object sequences are similarly contrived, providing lists of random items to find. Some can only be found by interacting with other objects first, but these are clearly marked to let you know which you can’t see naturally, and the rechargeable hint option will highlight anything you miss in the clutter. As with most HOGs, there’s really no rhyme or reason for this collection of junk beyond the one item you need, but the items are more or less organic to the setting, even when you’re examining a newly-discovered (but entirely non-gruesome) corpse. The only real complaint about these hidden object tasks is that you’ll need to revisit the same scenes twice. Even when looking for different items, this always feels like a cheap way to pad out game length, which ends up being fairly substantial here. The Collector’s Edition offers another half hour of similar gameplay and a few new locations around and underneath the town. Unfortunately, neither ending is particularly satisfying, each resolving a separate part of the full mystery in a rather rushed and unfulfilling way. Even so, there won’t be many howls of protest, as otherwise this is yet another solid hybrid adventure from ERS, with more than enough to sink your teeth into along the way.

Dream Mysteries – Case of the Red Fox

Robin Parker

In GameInvest’s Dream Mysteries – Case of the Red Fox, players get to explore dreams and the secrets of the subconscious as Dr. Corey Foster, a uniquely gifted psychiatrist who works at the Dream Seekers Research Clinic. The clinic treats patients for a variety of maladies, delving into their minds in order to relieve the trauma they are suffering. A normal day at the clinic begins to take a strange turn, however, when Dr. Foster finds mysterious links between the nightmares of her patients – including the titular creepy-looking red fox – and she begins to experience haunting visions of her own.

Probing the minds of others involves a variety of steps, as actions carried out in the real world can influence and affect a person’s dream state. For example, Dr. Foster can brighten an opera singer’s dream by making it lighter in her actual room. There are objects and items scattered around both worlds to be collected, and the inventory allows for these to be carried between locations and combined when appropriate. Tasks are largely inventory-based, with small rings appearing around hotspots to show which items are needed, but there are regular hidden object sequences interspersed throughout. These scavenger hunts are well designed and generally fairly simple, though if you get stuck on the odd item, the hint system recharges quite quickly and the only real punishment for clicking on an incorrect object is that the screen will slowly darken with each incorrect click (and lighten again with correct ones). Some of these HOG scenes are recycled multiple times, which is disappointingly repetitive.

There are also standalone puzzles and minigames to overcome. These usually act as a gateway into the subconscious of a patient. By solving such a puzzle, you can unlock entry into a dream in order to clear the person’s fog-shrouded mind. Among the variety of activities, some are simple jigsaws and Concentration matches, whilst others require slight reflexes, such as a fishing minigame where you must avoid other fish knocking your catch off the line. I found none of these exercises particularly taxing, but for those who dislike certain puzzles or find them tricky, there is a skip option provided for each. As you explore, key objects will sparkle and the hint feature can be accessed to highlight any hotspots you’ve missed or inform you when there are no more items to be found in the current location. Backtracking does come into play somewhat, but it never feels excessive since you can often gather items the first time through a scene, even if you won’t need them until much later in the game. The addition of a journal helps players keep track of the clues and leads gathered, even providing some extra insight in some instances.

The background graphics are fairly good and quite diverse, as the dream worlds transport you from the various room in the clinic to such places as an opera house, a seaside beach, a forest, and even underwater. The character models are also quite detailed, helping flesh out the personalities of a bizarre cast that includes the likes of a ship captain, a lumberjack, and even Dr. Foster’s pet turtle, Mr. Bubbles. It is satisfying to see so many other characters in this game, as most casual titles are set in very empty game worlds. Unfortunately, this emphasizes the lack of voices of any kind. There is quite a lot of conversation in the game, and voice acting could have added a welcome level of polish. Background music and sounds effects are suitable to the setting, at least, sounding quite sinister when the situation calls for it but giving way to more subtle tracks and even silence at other times. Together it provides a solid backdrop to support the game’s intriguing premise, as the idea of jumping into dreams is an interesting one that allows for all kinds of creative possibilities. You’ll need to be sly to solve the case of the red fox, but it’s a dream assignment for any casual gamer.

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rtrooney rtrooney
Feb 10, 2011

Would seem that this month’s collection is a group of duds. Can’t say I disagree. Have only played one of the reviewed, Phantasmat. Would have to comment that it is not up to the standards of games reviewed in previous months.

rtrooney rtrooney
Feb 11, 2011

I should have added, and would have if Comments could be edited, that the proliferation of Casual games, or Adventure-Lite games has caused another problem. That is the proliferation of game sites from which the games can be purchased. I subscribe to BigFish Games. They seem to have most games available…but not all. And they, themselves have some exclusives. I do occasionally purchase from other sites. E.g., MSN/Oberon seems to have an exclusive on the Women’s Murder Myster Club franchise. Several of the games mentioned in this review seem to be exclusive to sites I’ve never heard of. All of this is to say that if, being a BFG subscriber allows me to purchase games for $6.99US, it is unlikely I will be purchasing games from other sites to which I don’t subscribe for two or three times as much, no matter how well the game is reviewed. The game is a quick fix. I will finish it in 3-6 hours if I set my mind to it. I just don’t see where the extra money spent, (excluding the WMMC exception noted above,) justifies the extra money.

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