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Ratings by Vegetable Party

Return of the Phantom

Stars - 40

Rating by Vegetable Party posted on Feb 5, 2021 | edit | delete

a curious tribute to theatre & adventure games

“Return of the Phantom”, we’ve finally met and it’s been pretty real.

This game came out in a time often considered the genre’s heyday. It didn’t become one of the well known classics and I learned of it’s existence when it wasn’t commercially available anymore. I’m not big on piracy and even though I’ve prospected a great number of bins in many a thrift store, the game was obscure enough never to cross my path.

With a title like this, maybe the game was destined to reemerge at some point. Fortunately, it did!

Is it a bona fide classic? An underappreciated champ of “The Golden Age”?

Well, I guess, maybe? Most of the games from the 90s were pretty weird, one way or another, including the ones we tend to put on a pedestal. This one is kind of particular, though. If you love adventure games and theatre, this might be the game for you.

Phantom does a couple of things right. It sets the scene. It pays great attention to detail. Melodramatic characters come into play. Theatrics ensue.

The main dude, Raoul Montand: yes, please. You can sort of choose your own style, dialogue options offer a small selection of responses. Overal, Raoul has the appearance of a 30s Clark Gable, but not as slick; he’s more of a straight talker. He will bring the drama when he has to, though - and it’s the best.

The other characters are mostly fine. I especially liked the stagemanager, he’s pretty well informed about the history of the Opera and delivers it with flair and a bit of a reactionary vibe. He has a couple of ideas about the communards. And every single person in and around the theatre. Talking to the dude is optional, I think, but please do.

Voice acting is pretty good, if somewhat inconsistent. The sound quality is somewhere between decent and tin can on a string.

The story offers a twist on “The Phantom of the Opera” - it’s a bit wilder than the game’s initial air would suggest. Things get pretty crazy.

Gameplay is standard. It has a multitude of verbs in the interface, something I genuinely love, though it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The puzzles are a bit lacking and the whole experience is not streamlined with the spirit of modern games. It also does that weird thing where it spikes in difficulty and gets really convoluted near te end. It’s.. manageable? You might want to rely on a hint or walkthrough, every now and then.

If all of this doesn’t inspire much confidence, consider the Phantom’s strong(est) suit: atmosphere. It’s in everything. You can explore the entire building, every side of the stage and beyond. Behind the curtains, out of sight to the public, the structure looks worn. You can see the mechanics, the lighting, the pulleys. Nearly everything has a description. I was there.

Then there’s a maze. I know people hate mazes, I do not, but this one is a piece of work. I think this is the only place where the difficulty setting matters and “Challenging” essentially just flips you off. Don’t do it, folks. Go for novice, use a walkthrough.

But do give “Return of the Phantom” a try. How many games can pull of a flaming bone organ AND deliver an Edgar Degas diss without batting an eye? I can think of only one!

Read the review »

Time Played: 2-5 hours
Difficulty: Easy

King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!

Stars - 25

Rating by Vegetable Party posted on Jan 28, 2021 | edit | delete

average score, but a well-cautioned recommendation

King’s Quest V, you crazy so-and-so.

If you’ve never played “King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!”, there’s a chance you are new to the genre. In that case: this is kind of like the Sierra Necronomicon. It will have a lasting impact on you, namely insanity. Perhaps you’ll put it down before the damage is done. I did not, this is my tale.

King Graham is a man with a knack for adventure. He’s not the type to let governing or parenting get in the way of a good quest. Sometimes he’s driven by ambition, or the suggestions of a talking mirror, but in this case, adventure just falls into his lap.

King’s Quest V has a strong beginning. From the moment the opening credits roll, you get the Sierra guarantee of excellence in entertainment. Does it last? Well, it remains cinematic. It has a lot of problems, though.

The first issue is a character named Cedric. People hate this little dude, for a number of reasons. Some argue that his entire presence is a blight. I have no problems with this particular owl, though I won’t argue against his critics. Because they are correct. I would say, in Cedric’s defense, that he is not a dissonant, but rather a part of the weird tapestry that is KQ5.

The second issue is the presence of death screens and dead ends. They’re not just present, they hide behind obscure puzzle sequences and wanton timed events. You will have no idea what hit you. Whether by quick poison or delayed effect; you get stuck, or Graham gets killed.

The third is more or less a King’s Quest staple. Like Cedric, it’s just part of the experience to me. But it’s worth mentioning: this game is somewhat tonally confused. We get a narrator, speaking for Graham, telling us of his emotional struggle with the whole situation, but our good King himself seems barely fazed and rather into this new pursuit.

The whole ordeal leads to an ending that (inadvertently) drives home this point, with one of the most deranged zingers I’ve ever come across in an adventure game.

Here is a question you should ask yourself before playing this game. Do I want to have fun? Do I want to visit a piece of adventure game history? Or do I want the King’s Quest V experience?

If you’ve checked box one/two, use a walkthrough. Maybe click through every scene with Cedric. If you go for option three, you have been warned. Suddenly, you may find yourself going off on a tangent about “moon logic” for no apparent reason at all. Chances are you’ll fall into a cycle, subjecting yourself to punishing puzzles, insisting this is some kind of fun diversion for you. You might end up writing reviews like this one.

Is it worth it?

Read the review »

Time Played: Over 20 hours
Difficulty: Hard

Samaritan Paradox, The

Stars - 15

Rating by Vegetable Party posted on Jan 16, 2021 | edit | delete

marred by harmful insensitivity

What the f*ck, Samaritan Paradox.

That is my experience with this game. This game spoke to me and then it jammed a pencil into my shoulder.

I expected a conspiracy thriller. The title’s formula suggests as much. That made me a bit hesitant; conspiracies are rather suspect in general. They tend to wade through pretty murky waters, open to all kinds of messed up undercurrents, crawling with hungry political bottom feeders.

It’s a sub-genre that easily crosses over into creepy territory, is what I mean.

Oddly enough, this game manages to steer clear of anything really problematic, at least.. in the political thriller part of the plot. The personal story is essentially a deliberate lack of trigger warning. It hinges on a revelation that screams for caution. But that’s the big reveal. You didn’t see it coming.

It’s horrible. It’s not just bad or offensive, it hurt. I don’t even want to go into details. It deals with very complicated trauma and handles it without any care at all.

That is what does this game in. It looks the part. It works like a charm. It’s not structurally bad: the puzzles might not be for everyone, but they were right up my alley. I really thought we were getting somewhere, TSP, I was mostly digging your vibe. Until it came to an abrupt end.

So where does that leave us?

Ratings and recommendations are odd, kind of useful and fascinating. The first makes the subjective quantifiable. The formula can be all kinds of complicated, but will basically come down to a (mostly harmless) rationalization. If a game has mediocre graphics, but amazing gameplay, or great puzzles, but juvenile humour, how do you weigh these things against each other? The second seems to assume egocentric intent. I work at a nursing home; would I recommend Melt Banana to a resident? How can you make that decision without any distinction of the recipient? Is it just adding and subtracting, ending up with a grade that determines the position of the thumb?

There is a lot about this game that is really good. If the letdown was just a flaw, the game would probably end up with a passing grade. That makes it hard. It’s easy to dismiss a bad game that is also problematic. But what if it could be good, save for that one thing? Is it fair to throw all of that under the bus, because of one thing you don’t agree with?

I don’t know how this should work. I appreciate the creative energy that went into this game. I don’t think the developer is a bad person, or had ill intent. In fact, I would recommend the follow-up project, Whispers of a Machine. To pretty much everyone. And I have done just that.

But I can’t recommend this, because it might be damaging. It’s just as simple as that.

Read the review »

Time Played: 5-10 hours
Difficulty: Hard

Enigmatis: The Mists of Ravenwood

Stars - 40

Rating by Vegetable Party posted on Jan 15, 2021 | edit | delete

tldr; it's pretty good

Playing a HOG is like watching a B-movie. You go in with particular expectations. If you haven’t played more than two HOGS in your life, you might just consider these expectations low, or uncomplicated. On the surface, that’s probably fair, but there is a bit more to it than that.

HOGS (used to) have a reputation of being.. samey. In the early days, it was schlock, serving rehashed plots and puzzles that were simplistic and convoluted at the same time. Even though production values have significantly increased, some of these elements seem to have solidified into genre tropes.

That isn’t as bad as it sounds. To be more precise: it is bad, but in a way that could be considered both harmless and entertaining. Emblematic, rather than problematic.

Which brings me to the question of expectations.

“..Just give your opinion on the game”, I hear you say. But please, fellow person, hear me out.

We play HOGS in this household because they are casual and fun to play together. They’re both weird and conventional and that is actually an interesting line to skate! It’s not just familiarity, or a comfort in repetition, with just enough variation to see you through. It’s not an off brand low aiming time killer. There’s a balance between puzzles and hidden object scenes, plots finding a place between cursory and convoluted. It’s a finer craft than you might imagine.

Like a good B-movie, a HOG should keep you engaged, there should be some kind of story that stays on track until the end. It should neither be vapid nor conceited. This is where B-movies and HOGS differ from media that is actually bad, or “so bad it’s good”. The experience is an amusement ride. It might brake and accelerate, but overal, it should run smoothly and it shouldn’t derail.

“Is this a review or a half-baked essay on HOGS?” Dear reader, it’s probably the latter, but apparently this was just something I really wanted to talk about. Thank you for being so accommodating. I will get to the game, right now.

The Enigmatis series as a whole is great. The Mists of Ravenwood stands out in the pack. The locations are beautiful, Ravenwood Park is quite an interesting place and for a HOG, there’s a lot to investigate! You get an evidence board, kind of a string of puzzles that tie directly into the plot. There are nice variations on the traditional Hidden Object Scene and they fit into the story and locations in rather creative ways. The characters are all distinct and just well defined enough to carry the plot. And the plot is.. amazing.

That might be a stretch, I admit. It’s not Wadjet Eye quality. But it shouldn’t be. It just hits all the right notes. There’s sleuthing, cool characters, action and emotions! There’s a haunted park, a mysterious figure and an incredible antagonist. You can see most of it coming a mile away, but that is part of the charm.

Enigmatis: The Mists of Ravenwood just does it right. It’s by the book, but the book is well written. And by that I don’t mean the dialogue, which is.. very HOG. The descriptions of items and environments are actually pretty good, though. But I digress.


Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, the book of HOG, that dictates style and structure of every Artifex Mundi and AM-adjacent enterprise. This game knows that book, but it also knows: The Spirit, Not the Letter. Getting that right can lead to an actually memorable game.

Just one warning: there are some low-key horror/thriller elements. I’m not sure if they warrant any trigger warnings, just a heads up to warn people who don’t mess with that stuff at all.

Read the review »

Time Played: 5-10 hours
Difficulty: Easy

Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within

Stars - 35

Rating by Vegetable Party posted on Jan 12, 2021 | edit | delete

curious, dated, classic.

The Beast Within is part of the Gabriel Knight series and the slew of FMV games that burgeoned in the 90s. If neither of those legacies evokes a preemptive groan, this might be an interesting experience for you.

A genuine fondness for adventure games is probably a precondition. Another would be a willingness to use a walkthrough. Or if you spurn the thought, infinite patience for obtuse puzzle design.

Now that these hurdles are out of the way, let’s talk about Gabriel Knight!

Yes, the character. Leading man of the series and staple of mysterious bad boy chauvinism. Gabe’s played by Dean Erickson in this installment, a casting decision of pure epiphany. Unlike his previous incarnation, a bore with seriously problematic tendencies towards women, this Gabriel is charming and engaged. He navigates on intuition and tends to downplay his intelligence to get people talking, a lost art in this day and age. Dean the actor tends to use pretty broad strokes in his craft, but it totally works. He’s not the most fascinating character on display (that would be Peter J. Lucas as Baron Friedrich Von Glower), but his performance carries the FMV.

The story is pretty good, overal. Historical facts and phenomena are mounted on an urban fantasy vehicle and you’re taken along for the ride. New Orleans/Benin are exchanged for Bavaria. Pro: less room for racist tropes. Con: another really white point & click adventure game. Like it’s predecessor, it does deliver the infotainment. The way themes and locality are woven into the story is actually amazing.

Moving around in the world of GK2 is pleasant and easy, but goals and directions are often vaguely communicated and occasionally vexing. Grace Nakimura (Joanne Takahashi) as a playable character is a nice addition. Gameplay is the same as with Gabriel, but she approaches the world in a different way, which is a nice touch.

But the puzzles.. GK3’s moustache puzzle is generally used as the key example of “moon logic” in adventure games. I wholeheartedly disagree. On the definition and irredeemable nature of moon logic in general, but in this case: on the absurdity of that puzzle, especially when compared to the unadulterated folly that is the con with the cuckoo clock in GK2.

I wouldn’t say it’s a reason to avoid this game. It’s kind of like watching music videos from the 80s. Something I recommend from time to time, so here’s my recommendation of The Beast Within: it’s kind of weird, very interesting, somewhat dysfunctional, there are a lot of moving parts, but it has campy charm and it does manage to keep it all together.

Read the review »

Time Played: 5-10 hours
Difficulty: Hard
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