Monday, May 28, 2012

Casual Corner

Welcome to what might become a new series of posts, the Casual Corner. Here I will present a couple of games each month, usually games that will not get any coverage in gaming magazines for being casual and/or indie games.

For the first Casual corner, I have chosen three different types of games: Kingdom Chronicles, Nancy Drew: Tomb of the Lost Queen, and SkyDrift. A time management game, an adventure, and a racing/flying game.

I will start with the last one released, which is Kingdom Chronicles. It’s a game like My Kingdom for the Princess or Roads of Rome. You have to make your way through levels, usually repairing a road, and do other stuff on the side. The game has very nice and very funny graphics, a varied gameplay, and some nice, new ideas. On the down side, it is rather short with only 40 levels (plus 6 for the collector’s edition at Big Fish Games). 50 levels and more are standard by today. The game, however, makes up for it by the diversity of the levels, even though the basic principle is, of course, always the same. The game is forgiving for beginners (or people like me, who are not obsessed enough to replay every level again and again), you can continue even after the time runs out and so finish a level in your own time, if necessary. On the whole, the games gets good marks from me, even though the CE, as usually, is not really worth the extra price (but then, I got it in a sale for less than normally). The additional content of the CE is a Strategy Guide that is pretty useless, 6 more levels in which you play the other side, and some design graphics from the game.

April/May and October/November are Nancy Drew months, as they are the time in the year when HerInteractive releases a new game. This year it has been Nancy Drew: Tomb of the Lost Queen in May (in October/November it will be Nancy Drew: The Deadly Device, as the end credits of the game tell us). With this new game comes a new starting screen and a new HUD for the games, as they have revamped their looks. Nancy’s desk at home (which she can almost never use in the games, as all except Alibi in Ashes are not set in her hometown) is gone, replaced by a more conventional menu picture. On the whole, though, the Nancy Drew games seem to get easier. If you compare one of the last few (The Captive Curse, Alibi in Ashes, Tomb of the Lost Queen) to earlier ones, you realize the time for playing through has definitely been shortened. They have gotten easier, so you can figure puzzles out earlier and thus will finish them sooner. On the whole, however, that doesn’t hurt the fun and adventures are for replaying, anyway (at least for me). The game is nice, even though the Egypt setting has been used a bit too often recently, at least for my taste. The game also is more puzzle heavy than earlier games (which rely more on the adventure-type actions like talking and using objects from your inventory). Still a lot of talk and a true Nancy Drew game.

SkyDrift is quite a bit older than the other two games I have listed so far. I have included it in this month’s Casual Corner, because I bought it on sale from Steam in May. At first sight it reminded me of Slipstream 5000, a futuristic racing game with flying cars that I have played endlessly a long time ago (you can still get it at Good Old Games, though). It is a bit more difficult, because you fly planes in SkyDrift and thus have to keep an eye on your distance to the ground, too. Yet the racing tracks are very nice to look at and each has its own difficulties. You can unlock a lot of different planes (and different skins for each plane) and there’s achievements and trophies, too. The different plane types do, indeed, fly differently. Some are more manoeuvrable than others, some are faster, or more durable. There are three types of races, too. Power races are your usual race type. Come in first to win the race. Survivor races are more difficult, because you have to make sure you are not in last place when the countdown happens. The last one during a countdown is out of the race. In both types you can pick up power-ups on the race tracks. Four of them (rocket, cannon, electrical field, and mines) are offensive power-up with which you can thin out the competition a bit. The other two (repair kit and shield) are defensive and help you to stay alive when others shoot at you (the electrical field can defeat you against a rocket, though). The last type of race doesn’t offer power-ups. Instead, the speed race offers a lot of golden rings. Fly through them to speed up, so you can stay ahead of the other contestants. I’m not a genius at flying, but I find the game quite amusing and fun to play. It’s definitely worth a look, if you like that type of game, and it’s very nice to look at.

That’s it, that was the first Casual Corner. Come back towards the end of next month for another one!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I stumbled over the DVD of the movie “Tormented” (the one from 1960, not the one from 2009) and thought it would make for a nice movie evening (or afternoon) for a reasonable price, so I bought it. It turned out to be a wise decision, because I can certainly say I like the movie.

I’ve never had a problem with black and white movies – in fact, I find the black and white look more fitting for quite some movies. Old horror movies can be quite good, too, especially as they had to be far more story-driven than the modern ones. Today, quite some movies seem to rely more on gore or special effects than on the story itself.

“Tormented” has a tacky movie poster, as it were (I assume so, as it’s the cover art of the DVD and also turns up on IMDB) and a pretty tacky German title, too (“Der Turm der Schreienden Frauen” / “The Tower of the Screaming Women,” which is wrong, anyway, as there’s only one ghost in the story, so it would be only one screaming woman). Yet I have to admit I really liked it. There is a nice balance of horror and thriller elements. If you really want to, you can almost ignore the horror, as apart from the church there is no scene in which the appearance of the ghost could not just be a hallucination. In the church, however, all guests are witnesses to the strange dying of the flowers and spluttering of the candle.

The movie has a very nice pacing, starting of slowly with the last meeting between Tom (the main character, though not really hero, of the tale) and Vi, a woman he had a relationship with, but broke it off to be with Meg, who is younger and wealthier than Vi. Whether or not Tom really loves Meg more, isn’t really of any interest, as far as the movie goes. Vi and Tom meet in an old, derelict lighthouse on the island on which Tom grew up and Meg and her family live. During a heated argument, as Vi doesn’t want to accept it’s over between them, she leans against a banister that is not sound and falls backwards. Still holding on to the banister, she screams for Tom to help her, but he decides not to do so. Vi falls to her death – and Tom’s torment starts.

Vi is not prepared to let him out of her grasp, so she comes to haunt him, follows him back to his house at the beach, appears again and again. And Tom spirals deeper into crime. After the guy whose boat Vi rented turns up and demands the second half of her fare, Tom pays him to get him out of his house, but the man realizes Tom is marrying another woman and he knows Vi did not leave the island, so he attempts blackmail. Egged on by the spirit of Vi in the lighthouse, Tom kills him – but Sandy, the younger sister of his bride-to-be Meg, witnesses everything. Then Vi crashes the wedding and Tom flees to the lighthouse to tell her he will be leaving – will not marry Meg and will leave the island behind. When Sandy appears at the lighthouse and he learns she has seen him kill the blackmailer, he even tries to kill the little (8- or 9-year-old) girl. It is then Vi intervenes and makes sure Tom shares her fate.

The movie is very good at building up suspense. Small steps make it more plausible for Vi’s ghost to be around. A gust of wind at the lighthouse, where she died, a bunch of seaweed that seemed to take her shape (or her body that dissolved into seaweed, as you want to see it). Footsteps in the wet sand. A record of her voice (seems Vi was a singer in life, which puts her in close vicinity to Jazz pianist Tom) that plays while Tom is practicing. Her smell, her voice, her ghost in a dream. Vi becomes more and more ‘solid’ to Tom as the movie goes on. The only other person who ever has contact to Vi is the blind real-estate agent Mrs. Ellis. She realizes soon enough what is happening, even though she doesn’t know why. And her almost-death at the lighthouse (where Vi’s voice lures her up to the platform and the still-damaged banister) is a vision of things to come. Vi will lure someone to a death like hers – and chances are high, of course, that it will be the man she still loves and wants to keep to herself.

Even though I, personally, had no doubt Sandy would survive (because in a 1960s horror movie a little, innocent girl would almost never be killed), I liked to see Vi intervene here. It gave the vengeful ghost something of a deeper personality, as Vi had before only furthered Tom’s decent into crime, by making him kill the blackmailer. Like this, Vi did protect the truly innocent, despite being her rival’s younger sister.

Vi’s body is discovered only after Tom fell to his death (about a week after she died), and even in death, as they are taken to the beach, her arm comes around him – sporting the ring that disappeared mysteriously before the wedding. Vi has been united with Tom in death, she has won out in the end. Justice has been served when Tom falls to his death, trying to kill innocent Sandy. Fate, however, has played out the moment Vi and Tom lie side by side on the beach, united in death, for all eternity.

The movie relies more on the setup, the pacing, and the story than on effects. The effects that are there, like a body-less hand that holds the ring, a body-less head that accuses Tom of murder (which, technically speaking, he had not committed at that time, as the blackmailer’s death comes later), the dying flowers and spluttering candles in the church, and the ghost of Vi, translucent and in flowing robes unlike the dress she wore when she died, are good for 1960, even though they could not really hold a candle to modern-day effects.

If you like psychological horror far more than blood and gore, “Tormented” definitely is a good movie to watch.