Botanicula

Developer: Amanita Design | Released: 2012 | Genre: Adventure, Point & Click

I absolutely loved this one. Irresistibly cute and easy on both ears and eyes. Made by the creators of the Samorost series and Machinarium, I controlled a small team of five weird inhabitants of a tree culture, walking along branches to solve puzzles or collect items for a broader purpose. The game is filled to the brim with hilarious animals animated in an even more hilarious manner, and the sound effects performed by humans match perfectly.

Each of the half dozen of levels consists of a large number of flip screens to traverse. Some of the screens just have weird creatures to interact with for entertainment, others would eventually reward me with an important item or open up a new passage. Pointing and clicking is not the only thing, I also had to nudge floating or swaying items. Sometimes I even had to choose one of my team members for a specific task. Everything is shown with animations or signs, there is no language involved in the gameplay.

The game generally felt easier than Machinarium, but some of the later levels had quite a few screens or items to collect, such as 14 chickens from small huts all over. The penultimate level contains a staggering amount of screens, so many that the developers felt it necessary to put helpful icons on each exit. There was a leaf in my inventory that functioned as sort of a map, but I didn’t find it necessary to refer to it.

Without spoiling too much, I only controlled one of five in the last level of darkness. There was one section here that kind of simulated a shoot’em up by alternating clicks on a floating character versus incoming enemy icons, but it wasn’t difficult. Not a lot of dexterity was required to get through this game.

It took me about four hours to get complete it. I got 104 out of 123 cards and 42 out of 53 achievements. Fraps wouldn’t grab any screenshots as it was essentially a Flash game.

Version: Steam | Length: ~4 hours

Completed: The Witness

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

I finally managed to complete The Witness after six sessions. The last save game said I solved 359 puzzles, and according to Steam it took me 26 hours. It has a tendency to exaggerate, but somewhere in the early twenties is probably right. Only 7 out of 11 lasers needed to be switched on in order to enter the mountain and I decided to settle with that. I never had any intentions to be a completionist about this game.

Another good reason for not wanting to solve everything in this game is that I actually didn’t like many of the later puzzles. I never cheated or read any hints and I can honestly say I figured it all out on my own, but some of the puzzles were too difficult for me to find them fun. I really had to be on the nails of my toes with some of these. Especially inside the mountain the puzzles got really vicious, mixing existing rules with damaged or combined panels. Some where inventive, some very difficult to observe at all, and many were combined across smaller and bigger puzzles.

Screenshot

Without spoiling too much, I almost thought I found my final nemesis puzzle in the bottom of a big shaft inside the mountain. It was another one of those where several smaller puzzles were combined with a big one to make everything come together. I had such a hard time with that one that I actually had to draw the board and pieces on paper, cut them out, and spend hours puzzling them together at my dinner table. I imagine many other players would have given up here and found the solution on the internet, but I was very stubborn. I got this far and I wanted to complete the game without cheating. Eventually I did succeed in finding the correct combination of pieces, flipped the answer, and the door went up.

The Witness: First Impressions

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

After completing Pneuma, one of my friends gifted me this game on Steam – removing it from my wish list. He spoke of his endeavors in this game and it got me enticed. I installed and started it almost immediately and played it for more than 5 hours yesterday. Enough to dish out my first impressions about it.

I completed Jonathan Blow’s puzzle platformer Braid back in 2012 and have had an eye on his next game ever since. It seemed like quite a quantum leap from Braid – from a 2D platformer to a completely open world puzzle game in a pretty 3D engine. I didn’t care much for the pretentious story and ditto quotes in Braid, but the gameplay was truly awesome. It had so many time manipulating ideas that really surprised me by how ingenious they were. And just as I thought I had seen it all, Jonathan Blow managed to conjure up yet another fresh approach.

Suffice to say, I was very curious about The Witness.

Of course The Witness just had to be one of those modern games that starts immediately without a title screen, just like e.g. Limbo. You could say that as long as the spot is as secluded and safe as it is, but I don’t know. I’m probably old fashioned, but I actually like a title screen up front as the first thing.

Then again, ten years ago I didn’t care much for digital games and stubbornly wanted a disc in a box, and look at me now. Why waste shelf space on a box when you can have it on Steam?

So maybe in a few years, title screens will be the annoying thing.

The game started with very small baby steps indeed. Almost all puzzles seemed to be based on using the mouse to draw a line through a maze on a panel, and it started with the basic straight line, then an angled line, and so forth. Soon mazes appeared with dead ends, and the starter area made it clear how the panels turned on more panels through wires now lit up, meandering through the grass and over walls. So, lots of following wires and finding new panels with puzzles to solve.

Pneuma: Breath of Life

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Developer: Deco Digital | Released: 2015 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

I spent this Saturday morning playing through this charming first person puzzle adventure game. It took only about 2 hours to get through it, but I was fine with that. I’ve actually been yearning for shorter games lately. Of course, the length depends on the genre but especially platform, puzzle and adventure games can easily overstay their welcome in my book. (Maybe it’s because I’ve completed so many of them?)

One thing that puzzled me about this game was a warning I was shown when starting it up. Fraps has been known to crash D3D11. Okay. I’ve been using Fraps as my loyal companion for years on end, snapshotting screenshots for hundreds of games without trouble – but that message was probably pointed towards video recording (which I almost never do).

Warning

Either way, the message felt out of place. It almost looks like a personal vendetta against Fraps.

As a first person puzzle it used the recent fad of having an eloquent narrator comment on a lot of findings, sometimes philosophizing his existence as the god he clearly believes he is. He reminded me quite a lot of the narrator in The Stanley Parable. Sometimes entering a room triggered a long debate which went on a bit too far, but for the most part he was entertaining. Especially towards the end, where he became extremely paranoid. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was certainly interesting.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

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Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier | Released: 2014 | Genre: Adventure, World War I

This was a really charming adventure game with minor stealth and action elements. I’ve always been fond of European graphic novels and thus the comic book art style, the multiple parallax layers and the cute animation was right up my alley. Most of the time it was strictly side-scrolling with exits (like a doorway) to another plane closer or farther away, but there were also healing mini-games, minor QTE, and pursuits in a car driving towards the camera. The game was also educational. Sometimes a piece of history could be popped up with a paragraph about what really went on in the first world war.

While the game itself was charming and had relatively easy puzzles, the story and the depiction of the first world war was anything but. It followed the story of Emile and Karl (both drafted into the war on each side), Anna the nurse, and Freddie the American that joined voluntarily after his wife was killed. They met up and got separated repeatedly on several occasions, and sometimes they even got captured or wounded. There were many grim sequences with lots of blood and death. Bombs falling, explosions, shooting from afar, planes, tanks, armies – lots of pain and despair to be seen and felt all over the place.

The Cave

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Developer: Double Fine Productions | Released: 2013 | Genre: Platform, Adventure

This was much more of a platform game than I thought it would be. Descriptions of it led me to believe it was very much an adventure game with just a tiny bit of rare platform action required, kind of like some of the first polygon versions in the Broken Sword series. But platform action turned out to not only be quite prevalent, it also made the levels feel bigger than they really needed to be. The platform action was very light, as in definitely not difficult, but there was a lot of walking up and down ladders, jumping ropes, and pushing objects. It often felt a little overwhelming.

Three switchable characters had to be navigated independently, adding a lot of backtracking. Sometimes the two others automatically joined across certain level thresholds, but most of the time I was yearning for some kind of “recall party” or “follow me” function. The collaboration between them was quite good, though. There were lots of puzzles where two or three characters were required in different locations to make it work. Because of the big levels and the abundance of ladders and corridors, there was a long stretch between the few NPC that lined up what needed to be done in that particular area.

Broken Age

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Developer: Double Fine Productions | Released: 2014 | Genre: Adventure, Point & Click

I’m tweaking the format once again. Although I’ll keep it organized it in the same way as the last time, I’ll refrain from using headers to split up the review. I’ll also try to keep the smaller paragraphs in the minutia list only.

Here’s an adventure game that really succeeded in warming up and grabbing me in spite of a lackluster first impression. At first I thought it felt too much like a kids game. Bright colors, toys everywhere and a childish dialog. But as the first few hours passed by, not only did it manage to come up with a lot of great dialog, it also had that type of equivocal quality that Pixar animation movies also have – something of value for both kids and adults alike. The adventure game atmosphere became very solid across part 1 and 2, and the art style and animation was truly unique. In my mind there was no doubt about it – when compared to Broken Sword 5 or the Deponia trilogy, this was clearly the superior game. I didn’t even think I had it in me to like an adventure game this much anymore. I thought I had become irrevocably jaded.

As you can see in the screenshots, the art style truly was quite unique. It was also supported by a lot of excellent animations. Eyes blinking and gazing just like in Pixar movies (I love that stuff) and lots of extra details, such as only catching hold of a thing after fumbling around, almost dropping it. One thing I thought they overdid was the head scratching animation when choosing a dialog tree question.

Screenshot

The engine scrolled with detailed parallax and also zoomed very frequently, sometimes excessively when entering a new scene. The music was fully symphonic and of equally high quality. Orchestral music. Voices were delivered by a lot of top actors such as e.g. Elijah Wood, Jack Black, Wil Wheaton and Jennifer Hale. All in all, the presentation was top notch. If I had to put my finger on one thing, it would be the zoom level of characters in cutscenes. It was close up, as if it wanted to cater for the tablet people. On my big widescreen PC monitor, this was a bit much.

9.03m

Developer: Space Budgie | Released: 2013 | Genre: Adventure, Facile

I just spent the 13 minutes it took completing 9.03m. A blue and slightly blurry tint dominated everything and it was clearly aiming to be cute and artsy. It was also extremely simple. I just had to walk up to black silhouettes of people on a beach, wait for them to fade into a beacon of light on a thing, then rotate the thing to find a small butterfly symbol to click. It then dissolved into a white butterfly that flew away to show the next silhouette. So it was what gamers would normally call a walking simulator. I’m not entirely fond of this description, though. I’ve been using facile adventure instead on GameDeed.

Screenshot

I liked it though. It had a good pace, nice piano music – one of those games that can give you a silly face stare. And the ending, which I will not reveal here, was very touching. I doubt there’s any point in replaying it though – although I didn’t really try it, it didn’t seem to allow much else than find the butterflies. On one spiral stone I even bumped against invisible walls.

Version: Steam | Length: 13 minutes (HLTB: 15 minutes)

Screenshot

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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Developer: The Astronauts | Released: 2014 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

This sure was a pretty game. I ran it with everything set to high on my new monster PC and still it ran fluently. Lots of details, high resolution textures, wind in the leafs, although some stuff in the distance far away seemed to be affected by an LOD algorithm in a somewhat aggressive manner. I also had a little bit of mouse lag when turning the view. Still, I quickly acknowledged that this kind of modern adventure game was much more up my sleeve than the previous point-and-click adventure game with its 2D retro graphics and pixelated characters. I’ve been spoiled by modern technology, as was probably inevitable.

The game starts with no difficulty selector and no direct save option other than its own autosaves. And boy, is the autosaving indeed rare. Often I had to go through a lot of exploration and solve a multi-step puzzle before I saw it saving my progress. I sure understand the gamers that are miffed about this. However, you can’t die or be caught up in a way that can’t be escaped, so if your system is stable and you can play relatively uninterrupted, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Except perhaps the open and unrestricted nature of the gameplay. It’s possible to completely bypass a puzzle section and later have to backtrack a long way to solve it, as it turns out that it was actually mandatory to complete the game. This could have been improved with some clever gating. For example, there’s a stone bridge across a dam that could have had an iron gate or something. Solve the local puzzle and the iron gate is suddenly opened up for you. This have worked well in other games with puzzles, so why not here?

I Have No Mouth (Cover Art)

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

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Developer: The Dreamers Guild | Released: 1995 | Genre: Adventure, Point & Click

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a point-and-click adventure game based upon Harlan Ellison’s short story of the same title, developed by The Dreamers Guild, co-designed by Ellison and published by Cyberdreams in 1995. The game’s story is set in a world where an evil computer named AM has destroyed all of humanity except for five people, whom he has been keeping alive and torturing for the past 109 years. Each survivor has a fatal flaw in its character, and in an attempt to crush their spirits, AM has constructed a metaphorical adventure for each that preys upon their weaknesses. To succeed in the game, the player must make choices to prove that humans are better than machines, because they have the ability to redeem themselves. Woven into the fabric of the story are ethical dilemmas dealing with issues such as insanity, rape, paranoia and genocide.Wikipedia

I started this game after a recommendation on Extra Credits. I have completed my fair share of adventure games and are quite picky about them these days (I thought the new Broken Sword 5 was downright boring) but I must confess that this classic has some quite interesting adult themes to spice things up. The dialog is well written and it doesn’t hold back from putting you through dark and disturbing issues. There are lots of tasks that are optional or branch out into two or more solutions, and they are of course often based on a moral choice. But even though the game has wonderfully bizarre backgrounds and quite logical puzzles, it still bored me a little in the end. This is very much an adventure game of its time, in spite of the adult theme and the interesting dialog. It’s very possible to get into the dreaded trial-and-error loop where you try inventory items on everything and scrutinize the screen for overlooked hotspots.