Friday, November 30, 2012

Casual Corner

Welcome back to my rather late Casual Corner for this month! I have to admit I almost forgot about, due to a Delicious Team Challenge at Challengers. What will we have this month? The new MCF that restored a bit of faith in me, Island Tribe 4, and Building the Great Wall of China. Two TMs and one HOG.

Let’s start with our lone HOG game, Mystery Case Files: Shadow Lake, bought as a CE at BFG. It came out one day before US-Thanksgiving, so it would be available for everyone on Thanksgiving, as the TGT (Tomorrow’s Game Today) is only available to members. After the last two MCF games (13th Skull and Escape from Ravenhearst), Shadow Lake has restored some of my faith in the first HOG series I ever played. True story ‒ the first HOG I ever played was MCF: Ravenhearst. While BFG still hangs on to the life actors, despite the fact that people have been complaining about them since Dire Grove, the few they use this time, mostly in cut scenes, too, do a very good job. They’re much better than the ones in 13th Skull (although, as far as I am concerned, a class of first-year acting students would have done a better job than the cast of 13th Skull). The story of the new game is nice and spooky, the traditional HOG scenes are gone, you look through several normal scenes for the objects, the game play is nice, although the extra for the CE is a bit thin (e.g. thinner than usual). The game has a nice balance between puzzles, HOG scenes, and adventure-esque game play, the actors do a good job, the graphics are nice, and it’s more inspired overall than the last few of the series. On the whole it earns the verdict ‘approved.’

Island Tribe 4 by Realore is, as the title suggests, the fourth of the Island Tribe games and I found it less glitchy after release than its predecessors were. It’s a My-Kingdom-for-the-Princess type game (as is the last one of this post, further down) and done very well. In the latest instalment of the series, the tribes-people (women joined the tribe in part 2, if I remember it right) travel from their tropical island to Egypt, Norway, and China, each time with a nice switch in scenery and products to make. There are various obstacles to overcome in each area (such as mummies, Vikings, or karate monks), there are big missions in some levels, there is a lot to gather and build and produce. The game still works in part four and it’s still a lot of fun to play. So, if you like bright, detailed games with a good game play, if you like the MKFTP games overall, you will definitely like Island Tribe 4. The game also gets the verdict ‘approved.’

Building the Great Wall of China is the latest game on my list, it was released a few days ago and I have not finished it yet. It’s also the MKFTP variety, but instead of building a road, you build the Great Wall. Parts of it in every level, at least. The background story has a bit of love (like Roads of Rome, but the story is very background here), possibly to appeal more to the casual gamer crowd, which is dominated by women. (And no rant here about people who think everything for women has to be pink or include a romance. Another time, maybe.) Apart from that, it’s a very solid TM game, very beautiful to look at, very nice to play. It’s probably not going to win any awards for inventiveness, but that’s okay. Not every game needs to reinvent the wheel to be good. The game also gets an ‘approved’ verdict from me.

That’s it for this month (literally, given it’s the last day of November today), see you all again in December!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Did you ever watch, say, The Omen and think ‘I really would like to know what it’s like to create all these accidents?’ Then you get a chance now, because Shiver Games has created an adventure in which you do precisely that. You play Lucius, the only child of politician Charles Wagner and his wife Nancy. Well, officially. Because your real father is Lucifer himself.

Born on June 6th, 1966, Lucius has grown up mostly normal for six years before the game starts up. The only thing his parents worry about is the fact that Lucius doesn’t talk. Apart from that, he is a healthy, little boy who does what he is told and doesn’t cause problems. On his sixth birthday, however, things take a turn for the worst.
When alone in the kitchen with one of Dante Manor’s maids (Dante Manor being the home of the family) in the evening, the time slows down and Lucius sees a strange man who motions for him to lock the maid into the walk-in freezer. Once he has done so, secured the door with a padlock, and lowered the temperature, his life moves in a new direction. The strange man, who visits him in his dreams from now on, is no other than Lucifer, Lord of Hell. And Lucius is his son and supposed to work for the family business by bringing in souls. While doing so, he will gain powers that make things easier for him (especially as a six-year-old is not that powerful physically).

The game is an adventure with a few difficult parts (twice you are sneaking through the manor at night and have to make sure you are not seen, these passages are hard). You move through the manor like you would in most 3D games, controlling Lucius’ movements with WSAD, as usual. If you are a very good boy (do a lot of chores), you will even get a little tricycle. Two other items you get as rewards are a Ouija board (gives one basic hint per chapter) and a music box (helps you find important items). Besides gaining rewards, being a good boy also serves to make you less suspicious, so it’s a good idea to do your chores. Plus some chores, such as cleaning up your room or taking out the trash, give you a chance to practice your telekinesis skill.
Which brings us to the next part. As promised, Lucius gains new skills (and strengthens them) by killing people and sacrificing their souls. The first skill is telekinesis which allows him to manipulate stuff that is out of his reach. And in a manor filled with adults, a lot of stuff is kept out of a kid’s reach, normally. Mind control follows afterwards, giving him a chance to get someone to use something. Like this, Lucius can make some deaths look like suicide or terrible accidents. Advancing from mind control, Lucius gains the ability to manipulate people’s short-time memory. Like this, if he gets spotted by someone (which is a ‘game over’ before that point), he can make them forget and continue with his plans (what would I have given for that ability earlier, that is to say in the fifth chapter). Finally, he gains the ability to protect himself with a fireball. This ability, however, is usually locked and can only be accessed at some points of the game. Lucius is no flame-throwing demon (at least not outwardly), but a harmless kid. Skills evolve with time, which means they can be used longer or more effective.
The logical victims for Lucius crusade for souls are the people living and working on his father’s estate (including, of course, his family). The sequence in which they have to die is preset, Lucius finds his next victim by meeting them somewhere in the house. He has a vision in which the time slows down and he sees blood all around them. Additional help and occasional hints are provided by a present he gets from his ‘real’ father very early: a notebook with all necessary information. The notebook also records everything he hears and keeps track of his chores – practical stuff. The other present, though, is not really that useful. The flashlight can’t be used at night when sneaking, because it would draw attention, and is not useful during the day. The few times it might be used, diffuse ambient light still proved good enough for me.
Most of the time (with the exception of the first three chapters and his nightly escapades) Lucius can enter most rooms whenever he wants. This can be used to the player’s advantage (by gathering stuff long ahead of its use). For instance, picking up the glue in the classroom before chapter 10 is a very good idea, because it shortens sneaking time through the house at night. Instead of crossing the house once to get into the classroom, then going back and down through the utility room and the garage, Lucius just has to make his way down to the wine cellar and the secret chamber below it. Just employ the good, old ‘if it’s not nailed down, pick it up’ method of adventure gaming and you are good to go. The game allows the player free movement through a huge mansion most of the time and comes with a map that also shows the way to the next target, until it has been found. Means of disposal usually present themselves in some way. Something the characters say may include a tip, not necessarily only to their own demise.

As the house empties of staff, the story is told very well. Cutscenes show in gruesome detail how the victims die. Voiceovers from the detective investing the case, Mr. McGuffin, lead from one chapter to the next. The music is fitting, in some levels (chapter five, when you have to sneak around without being spotted first) it’s necessary to turn on the sounds, so you hear people passing you by or doors being opened and closed. The game relies on save-points instead of allowing you to save wherever you want. That means you can’t save every step until you are through with difficult passages. Save-points, however, are frequent enough and placed well, most of the time. (If you ask me, one between avoiding Lucius’ mother and distracting the detective in chapter five would have been nice.) The graphics are good, even though not really state-of-the-art. There is at least one spot you can get caught by (if you walk in the corner wall between the classroom and the door to the balcony over the library), which had me replaying a few levels, because I couldn’t get away. The whole game has a very good atmosphere and the movements of people during the house (during the day they don’t mind Lucius around, but some things should not be done with someone else in a room) adds a more realistic feeling. Setting up the ‘accidents’ for people requires thinking and taking advantage of the place.

If you mind gruesome games and blood, you should not play Lucius, that much is for sure. If you like exploring your dark side a little and play a game in which you can wreak havoc without grenade launcher and mini-gun, you definitely should have a closer look and give Lucius a good (really?) home.

Casual Corner

Welcome to another casual corner that will not be as casual as usual. Normally, I concentrate on games that are sold by casual game portals, such as Big Fish Games, Gamehouse, or Alawar. But this month, I mostly got IHOGs from there and they are not that interesting. So, instead, I will shed some light on games out from Steam and/or GOG (Good Old Games) that are not much more expensive than a casual game, yet fun to play. They will be Mark of the Ninja, A Game of Dwarves, and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. (I’ll also do a separate post for Lucius later on.)

Mark of the Ninja is an interesting stealth game. It’s all the more interesting, because it’s not in 3D. Games like the Thief series or Splinter Cell rely on you being able to make your way around the enemies. In 2D, however, around merely consists of above or below the enemy, which makes things a lot more difficult. You are a ninja who has just gotten a tattoo with magical ink and is resting when the home of his clan is attacked. A female colleague picks you up and will appear again every now and then within the 13 chapters. The game has a high PEGI rating (18), mostly due to the gruesome and rather bloody ways you can kill your enemies, but it has cartoon graphics, which makes it less realistic. You do, however, get more points if you manage to get through a level (and they are big) without being spotted or killing a guard. I, personally, guess this will mean getting a lot of updates first, so you have better equipment to work with. You move in a side-scrolling manner through the levels and will find several ways to get from point A to point B (usually intersecting at important points C, D, E, F, and G). The ninja can climb sheer walls, slip through air vents, hang from hooks, and hide behind doors or inside planting pots. He has several tools, such as the bamboo darts, smoke grenades, and firecrackers. The tattoo has given him stronger senses, so you can hear (or rather see) things like the movement behind doors (the footfalls of the guards) or sense things like the perimeter of a watch dog’s sense of smell. What it has not given him, though, is immortality. Apart from being bad for the score, getting spotted can also soon mean being dead. Good thing, therefore, that there are several autosave points in the levels. Mark of the Ninja is a difficult game, but one you can replay several times (levels you finished can be replayed whenever you want to).

A Game of Dwarves, on the other hand, is a builder game. You are a Dwarf Prince, but your father, the king, is not happy with your conduct so far. Therefore, he kicks you out and tells you to bring your own clan to greatness to prove you can do more than just eat and sleep all day. The game has both a campaign and a casual game mode. The latter on is a sandbox mode, in which you choose a map type (maps are randomized) and just dig, build, explore, and research at your own pace. You have a level goal, but are in no hurry to meet it. In the campaign, you make your way through the world to fight the Dark Mages and prove you are worthy of being King of the Dwarves one day. The structures you can build underground are amazing, though, as you can have a huge cavern filled with bridges leading to a low tunnel which opens in a nice room with a dais for a throne. Or something completely different. Your dwarves can be trained for one of five different professions: digger, crafter, worker, soldier, or researcher. Diggers dig out new structures and mine all the useful thing underground (gold, silver, iron, gems, and loads of other stuff). Crafters make things, such as beds, tables, chests, decorations, and so on. Workers take care of the underground gardens and harvest food, ale, and wood. Soldiers are guards and warriors, for whenever a goblin or troll shows up in your settlement. Researchers work on advancing technology in all areas. I like the builder part of the game much more than the fighting part (and in the casual game you can turn fights off) and am enjoying myself a lot. The game is fun and the campaign at last serves as a great tutorial, if nothing else.

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is the remake of a game that Nintendo didn’t like the first time around (because the sisters were too much like Mario and his brother), then added to their Game Boy Color library. After one of the sisters is kidnapped by a strange warp, the other one follows into a strange dream world. Two dream worlds, actually, one in candy colours with fluffy enemies, one scary and full of monsters. When changing between the worlds, the main character changes as well (blond girl in the monster world, red-head in the candy world). She has different abilities in both world and where one offers no way out, it usually can be found in the other. You collect crystals in the levels which allow you to unlock graphics and other stuff in the main menu. You get rated, due to how many times you have died in the level. On the whole, the game is refreshingly old-fashioned in many ways. It’s pretty straight ahead, you can easily see where to go, even though the ‘how to get there’ isn’t always as obvious. The levels themselves are the difficulty of the game. It needs both quick fingers and a quick mind. Due to a few technical difficulties at the beginning, I haven’t gotten far in this game yet, but it still is a great one and something for every lover of platform games.

So, those are the three not-quite-casual games for this month. I recommend all three of those games, personally!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A strange post from me

If you have read more than this post here in my blog, you will probably realize I never wrote about ‘women’s products’ (not meaning sanitary towels or tampons here) before. I’m not what you would call vain and I have no problem at all going out without makeup of any kind. However, I have a certain obsession: Nail Polish.

It all started during my teens, when I started doing my own nails (first with my mum’s nail polish, later with some I bought myself). At that time I experimented with a lot of makeup, though. And yes, sometimes (make that often, from today’s POV) I looked like a clown had run amok in the bathroom while I was in it. I’ve never really mastered the art of doing a good makeup, may it be foundation, eye shadow, lipstick, blush, mascara, or anything else you can name. And, if you are female, chances are high you can name more makeup products than I can. Nail polish was the only thing that stayed. I do have a collection of makeup products in my bathroom, but most of it stems from my teens. I have a couple of lip glosses I wear whenever the weather is terrible in winter and I remember them in time (i.e. before I leave my flat). I have a concealing pencil, but I rarely remember using that, either. And I have a big and varied collection of nail polish.

Why the nails? Well, first of all, I had a bad habit of chewing on my nails as a kid. Sometimes, when I’m immersed in reading a story or watching a movie, it might still happen today (usually with my left thumb nail). I don’t chew when my nails are lacquered. So a regular nail polish was enough to put me off chewing, much less expensive than that specialized polish with the very bad taste. However, I have mostly conquered my habit (except for a high dose of suspense), so why do I still have that much nail polish these days?

Well, I love the texture of lacquered nails. I even like that slightly chemical smell they have. I like the way my fingers look, especially with a dark polish. I don’t really mind whether it’s glossy or creamy polish and I usually don’t do anything too special with my nails, such as French Manicure. I just like my nails covered by nail polish. During my late teens and early twenties, I experimented with a lot of colours, from regular red, rose, pink, or white to (then) less regular colours like deep velvet, blue, or green. Some weeks, I like a pale nail polish, just a sheen on my nails. Other weeks, I’m in the mood for a strong red. Then there are weeks when I pull out my old blue polish, because I’m in mood for something more unusual.

Length usually isn’t a problem, though. My nails aren’t as tough as my mum’s (I pity the fool who wants to attack her, they’re in for a painful surprise), but I type a lot and that makes them grow more quickly than normal. I love keeping my thumb nails long, for reasons even I can’t explain. And I don’t like those overly square nails you see today … I want the edges a bit more rounded, so I do my own unprofessional manicure. And even though the shape of my nails isn’t ideal, I still like having lacquered nails. They fascinate and amuse me for relatively little money.

I doubt there’s a nail polish user anonymous group out there and I’m not ashamed of my nails, either. Yet, this was a highly unusual post for me.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Three Agatha Christie Murder Movies

There are three movies based on Agatha Christie novels done by Guy Hamilton. Each of them features a host of stars and each does a great job at telling the story. The three movies are “Evil Under The Sun,” “Death On The Nile,” and “The Mirror Crack’d.” Two feature Sir Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and one features Angela Lansbury as Jane Maple. This post is about all three of them.

First I’d like to talk about “The Mirror Crack’d” (the novel it is based on is also known as “The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side”). I have to admit that, normally, Angela Lansbury is not among my favourite actresses, but in this movie she does a very good job as Miss Maple, picturing the woman from the novels rather well. While Margaret Rutherford will always be my favourite Miss Maple of all times, even I agree that she is far from the woman depicted in the books. She’s much more hands-on and much less ladylike than the spinster with the eye for human nature Agatha Christie created.
The story of the two divas, the murder, the murders that follow, and the true reason for the first murder is well told and nice to watch. The movie (made in the 1970s) does a good job in recreating a 1920s quaint English town (which Maple’s St. Mary Mead is). As in every Christie novel, the story develops slowly, showing us the calm and normal life that gets overshadowed by crime. There is a movie evening in town, the divas arrive, there is a party Miss Maple can’t take part in because of a twisted ankle. Then a woman dies and it looks as if she was a victim of chance, drinking the wrong drink. But Miss Maple doesn’t buy this theory, even though it all looks like the murderous intent was aimed at one of the divas – a woman coming back to the movies after a long pause, caused by a nervous breakdown years ago.
Who wants to kill her? Is it the producer, her secretary/assistant, her colleague (who wants to be the star of the movie), her own husband and director? Is it another source, not yet discovered? Miss Maple’s nephew is the inspector investigating and he talks things through with his aunt, only to find her seeing more, even from her comfortable chair in her drawing room (which, as she tells her maid at one point, is not a lounge).
As I have read the story a long time ago (and a good memory for plots), I knew from the beginning who did it and why, but it was interesting to see it all playing out in the movie. Overall, I can definitely vouch for it. If you like crime stories that are not about action, but about deduction, you will find it well worth your while.

Second on my list is “Death On The Nile,” a classic Hercule Poirot story, featuring Sir Peter Ustinov as the Belgian sleuth. The movie has a lot of stars in it, including Angela Lansbury as a writer/murder victim, Dame Maggie Smith as a nurse, and Jane Birkin as a maid. David Niven plays Poirot’s old friend who helps with the investigations.
The story has, again, been set in the 1920s/1930s and has been set there well. The deadly trip down the Nile that will cost five lives in the end, starts up long ago, where the basics for the plan were laid out, only to come to a tragic conclusion on board a steamer under the eyes of the surviving passengers.
While “Death On The Nile” is not the most well-known adventure of Hercule Poirot (that is, without any doubt, “Murder On The Orient Express”) and Sir Peter Ustinov isn’t that close to the physical description Agatha Christie gave of her Belgian detective, that does not stop the movie from being great. The first murder victim is far from being an innocent one. In the short time on the ship alone, she manages to make a lot of different enemies. Too bad, therefore, that the most promising, the woman she stole her husband from, has an iron-clad alibi. Too bad most of the other people have none, because they were sleeping at that time. Anyone could have picked up the gun after the husband (shot in the leg by his former girlfriend) has been taken to his rooms. Five minutes are more than enough to pick up a small gun and disappear from the salon again.
But why is the maid killed? And why is a piece of a money bill found in her hand? What about the rather theatrical writer who saw the murderer of the maid? How can she be killed only seconds after saying she saw the murderer? The movie (and the novel) plays with the time and the difference between ‘what you see’ and ‘what is there.’ I’m not spoiling the story here, read it or watch the movie, if you want to know the solution.
The movie does a great job in keeping the tension up and presenting a host of possible murderers, only to reveal the strange truth in the end. Again, if you don’t need oodles of gunfights in your crime story, it’s a great one to watch.

Finally, “Evil Under The Sun” which also happens to be one of my favourite novels. I also love this movie which, again, features Sir Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot. You will also find a couple of the same actors that feature in “Death On The Nile” here, albeit in other roles. Diana Rigg plays Arlena Marshall, the murder victim (yes, this one only has one victim, plus one from the past that matters).
Again, the movie is set in the 1920s/1930s and looks very nice. The setting has been changed slightly from the book, where the hotel on the island was situated in England, connected to the main land by a path passable during low tide. Yet, changing the location to the Mediterranean and removing the path (so the island can only be reached by boat), doesn’t change it much. There’s also a slight change in the motif, but that’s not grave.
Arlena Marshal, a former actress and femme fatale, is not the kind of woman incapable of making enemies. She makes them left and right, as it is, from the hostess of the hotel (who is an old friend of the Marshall family), to her step-daughter, to the wife of the man she openly flirts with, to her own husband. For someone like her, it’s not a matter of if they’re getting killed one day, it’s rather a matter of when.
Yet the actual deed leaves Poirot flustered for a little while. Everyone on the island has an alibi, nobody could have done it. Yet Arlena Marshall is dead, so someone must have killed her. People do not strangle themselves, normally.
Details pile up that show Poirot someone is playing with the times here. For the obvious time of the kill, from half past eleven to noon, everyone has an alibi. But was Arlena killed before noon? Why has someone taken a bath and denies it? Who threw a bottle into the sea? The plan is very complicated and has been played out over a long time. In the end it’s only the fact that the murderers copy themselves that leads Poirot to the solution. Which, again, I am not telling here. The movie is a lot of fun to watch, as Sir Peter Ustinov gives Hercule Poirot a funny side that is missing from the original. It’s also nice to watch because of the props, the other actors, and the story. A great way to spend some time on a rainy day or a boring evening.

All three movies described here are good and definitely approved of by me. You can find them on disk or, if you are lucky, maybe on TV every now and then. It pays to keep an eye out, rent them in an online store, or even old-fashioned and offline.