Saturday, July 25, 2015

A few thoughts on IHOGs

IHOGs (Interactive Hidden Objects Games) have taken over the market for hidden objects game a long time ago by now. Unlike the classic hidden object game, which is merely search scene after search scene, they tell a story. I originally started out with the good, old-fashioned games which are search scene after search scene. My first-ever HOG was the third “Mystery Case Files” game, Ravenhearst. These days, I usually prefer IHOGs, though, because they’re much closer to adventure games, which I always have loved and always will love.

I have taken a hiatus from IHOGs a while ago, because playing them became some sort of chore for me and I play games for amusement, not as a job. Recently, I went back to playing them, with the “Nightmares of the Deep” series and, the last two days, the two “9 Clues” games. I still have quite a backlog from when I wasn’t ready to admit I’d run out of energy for searching hidden objects and bought new games without playing them. I will get around to them all eventually, I guess, but not at the moment. Pacing myself a little seems like a good key to keep having fun.

So, what do I like and what do I hate about IHOGs? Here’s a few of my thoughts.

What I really hate about IHOGs is when they hand you a strong tool, like a crowbar, but insist you can’t use it to open doors or drawers, because those need a key. When I’m caught in some kind of old, creepy asylum which has been bereft of living inhabitants for years (and you’d be surprised at how often that happens in IHOGs), I don’t care for the damage of a door, I want to get through it ASAP. If I happen to have a crowbar in my bag, I will pull it out and just break down that annoying door. Only, the game doesn’t let me and I find that aggravating.
Another thing I really hate is when games come with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing - meaning you have to walk through half of the game’s world to pick up something and then back to where you started to use it. Some adventures do that as well and it’s no less annoying, but in IHOGs, it gets even worse if the game makes you go back through half of the game world to play an hidden object scene to get the object you need. It’s not ‘oops, I forgot picking up that crowbar by the gate I came in through, silly me,’ it’s ‘I’ve spent twenty minutes by that gate, doing a scene, using seven objects, playing a mini-game, and now I’m supposed to go traipsing back for another search scene, instead of doing one two screens from here.’ In recent years, most IHOGs come with a map, which makes things more bearable, if it serves for quick travel, but it’s still annoying. “MCF: Fate’s Carnival” was a recent game which played that ‘you have to go back again’ card for all it was worth and even more. Towards the end, you have to comb through all of the screens again for stuff, just to make the game longer.
Sometimes, there’s no logical connection between what you look for in search scenes and what you gain from them, which I also find quite annoying. That is never true, of course, for the FROGs, the Fragmented Objects Games, where you need to find pieces of an object in the search scenes. But there are far less FROGs around (even though the “Dark Parables” series is still going strong).
There are also certain mini-games I’m not very fond of, but those are easily taken care of by using the skip button, so I don’t mind it that much. And I will never, not in a thousand years, keep the solution for the 8-Queens-problem in mind. (In case you have avoided that one so far, it’s a classic where you need to put 8 queens on a chessboard so none of them can strike the others.)

Naturally, what I like about IHOGs outweighs what I hate about them, otherwise I would have stopped playing that kind of game a long time ago.
IHOGs have a story they tell, they’re no longer only about beating the search scenes (although I like a few pure HOGs from Playrix I replay every now and again). In many, the search scenes have become a mere nuisance, something you need to do, like a mini-game you don’t really like, but can beat before the skip button is charged up. Some games, like the new “9 Clues 2: The Ward,” even offer playing something else instead of a search scene (in this game or the “Nightmares of the Deep” series, you can play Match 3 scenes instead).
Good IHOGs are a lot like adventures - a genre which was supposed to die out a few years ago. At any rate, that was the reason Frogware gave for making the sequel to the adventure “Dracula: Origins” an IHOG (“Dracula: Love Kills”) instead. Adventures have recovered, as I knew they would, but good IHOGs are a lot like ‘light’ adventures. They deliver the story and the interactive part without as much item-gathering and puzzle-solving as a ‘true,’ full-fledged adventure. As a matter of fact, there are games which are often classified as IHOGs, but have no search scenes (like the “Witch’s Prison” series) or only have very few search scenes overall, which makes them feel more like adventures.
IHOGs are also the games most likely to come out as Collector’s Editions (which is a topic all by itself) and quite some of them come with achievements of some kind. Some companies do almost too many achievements for their games and you get a new achievement done every few minutes. I’m not a natural achievement hunter and usually simply take all the achievements I get without working on getting more, but some people I know will play a game several times, just to get all of the achievements down.
I also do like the search scenes, in moderation - even though I suspect they were the main reason why I did have to take that hiatus a while ago. I like quite some of the mini-games - although those are in quite some modern adventures as well. I like good graphics, preferring drawn art to photographs on the whole. I rarely leave the sound on, admittedly.

In moderation, I’m still a fan of IHOGs, although, given a choice, I will prefer playing a good adventure to playing an IHOG. They are more entertaining than the pure HOGs, but there are times for both of them.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Adventures of Prince Ivan

I really do enjoy playing visual novels and there are some I have played more than once not just for unlocking all pictures of a gallery. The lead of those is definitely taken by “The Adventures of Prince Ivan” which, apart from being a really fun game, is also for free. Also take a look at the other games on that side - Morgan Hawke makes good and fun games. Try “The Visitor” while you’re there.

The game is so high up my list because it doesn’t have the usual graphics of a VN, copying the Japanese anime style. Instead, Morgan managed to create characters (the first one which are not heavily photo-shopped photographs) which look fresh out of an illustrated Russian fairy tale. That’s only fair, since the story is basically motifs from several Russian fairy tales rolled into one and turned into a new story. The graphics are bright and the photo-shopped backgrounds blend in nicely enough with the drawn characters. It’s a highly enjoyable mixture.

The game itself tells the story of Prince Ivan, youngest of the three sons of a Tsar, and Princess Elena, oldest daughter of another Tsar and on a quest to find a suitable bridegroom. Elena, who insist on not being Elena the Beautiful, but Elena the Wise, is disguised as a man, so she can travel safely, making good use of a hat given to her by Baba Yaga, who happens to be Ivan’s great-grandmother on his mother’s side. Ivan is in possession of a feather which shows him the truth, also given to him by his great-grandmother. He starts plotting his ‘happily ever after’ the moment he first lays eyes upon Elena - proving his family wrong, since his father and his brothers see him as dumb and slow in the head.

When Elena and Ivan fail to capture the fire bird stealing golden apples from Ivan’s father, they manage to keep a feather. The lure of the brightly-glowing feather makes the Tsar send out his two older sons to find it, so Ivan sets out as well and Elena accompanies him, after learning from Baba Yaga that this quest will also lead her to what she desires. Everything seems to go well for the two until Ivan’s horse gets eaten by a wolf - who then offers to take the place of the delicious horse he’s had. That’s when things start to get very weird- and not just because the wolf can talk.

The game has four endings, one mini-game (a labyrinth, but with a map provided), a lot of fun dialogue, nice graphics, and a good story. Did I also mention it’s for free? What more motivation do you need to try it out?