Endless Ocean – Nintendo Wii Game First Impressions

Endless Ocean Title Screen

Endless Ocean Title Screen

Endless Ocean was developed by Arika and published by Nintendo for their Wii console in 2008. Many critics seem to consider it to be an adventure game. My current impression is that Endless Ocean is an exploration and collecting game, in many ways similar to Pokemon but without combat. The game is set in the fictional waters of the Manoa Lai sea.

Map of Manoa Lai sea.

Map of Manoa Lai sea.

The game begins with a tutorial where the player learns how to use their wiimote to swim underwater while wearing their scuba gear. Katherine Sunday, the player’s partner, instructs the player on what controls to use. The controls seem a little awkward and I’m not sure they were the best choice for underwater swimming. In order to swim, the player presses the B trigger button and then points with the wiimote in the direction they want to go. The wiimote must be pointed at the screen when the player does this since the player’s direction is based on the position of the infrared camera inside the wiimote. If the infrared camera is not detected by the Wii’s sensor bar, then the player halts movement. This was mildly aggravating when people would walk in front of the screen while I was playing.

I found a new fish!

I found a new fish!

Pressing A on the wiimote, the player can interact with various sea creatures. Using the D-pad, the player may pull out food to feed creatures encountered or select the option to return to the boat. When the player first returns to the boat, they are greeted by their partner Kat. She explains how the player’s job and her own are sponsored by the Marinas Foundation. Periodically missions will be sent to the player from the Marinas Foundation that provide direction to the game. Kat makes it very clear, however, that just because the Marinas Foundation writes the paychecks that doesn’t mean she nor the player have to do anything they say. I get the impression Kat would never make it in the corporate world. It is also discovered early on in the game that Kat cannot swim and is therefore not a licensed scuba diver.

I'm Katherine Sunday. I'm kind of a big deal.

I’m Katherine Sunday. I’m kind of a big deal.

While seemingly short on underwater ocean skills, Kat is supposedly an expert regarding all things wildlife. She has been compiling an encyclopedia of all ocean life around the Manoa Lai sea. The encyclopedia acts as a scrapbook of sorts. There are forty pages of wildlife that fill in when the player discovers them, and there are three types of study milestones that can be achieved with each creature.

Each discovered creature shows up in your encyclopedia.

Each discovered creature shows up in your encyclopedia.

The underwater scenes were somewhat breathtaking for the Wii at the time Endless Ocean was released. Given that the Wii’s graphical capabilities are limited to 480p, the graphical experience is somewhat underwhelming today. This might be a good title for Nintendo to release an HD version. The soundtrack is calm and soothing. It appears there are several tracks that can be unlocked as the game progresses which can be selected from the load screen as the player is diving from the boat into a mission underwater.

Some creatures come visit you on your boat.

Some creatures come visit you on your boat.

Endless Ocean appears to be a fantastic game for the gamer who loves to explore and collect on their way to completing all the tasks offered. The map and the encyclopedia are inviting, and the atmosphere is calming. This might be an excellent title for adolescents who are old enough to grasp the handling of a wiimote controller. Since I found no overtly frustrating gameplay in Endless Ocean, I would imagine this would be a good game for children who are easily frustrated by more unforgiving and challenging games. Endless Ocean won’t be for everyone, but it may surprise you how much fun this non-game like game is to play through.

Endless Ocean Game Disc

Endless Ocean Game Disc

Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy – Nintendo Wii Game First Impressions

Blast Works Title Screen

Blast Works Title Screen

Blast Works is a side-scrolling shooter game released in 2008 for the Nintendo Wii. It was developed by Budcat Creations and published by Majesco Entertainment. From the little research I have done on this game, it appears to be a port of Tumiki Fighters from the PC to the Wii.

Tumiki Fighters was developed by Kenta Cho and released as free software in 2004. Written in the D programming language, it uses OpenGL for graphics rendering. I would assume Kenta Cho had a good deal of creative license with Blast Works given that versions of his other games, rRootage, Gunroar, and Torus Trooper are included as unlockable bonus items in the game.

Come At Me

Come At Me

Blast Works has a unique game mechanic that I don’t believe I’ve seen in any other side-scrolling shooter I have played. When an enemy is shot down and is falling toward the bottom of the screen, the player may swoop in to catch the enemy or the enemy’s guns. Wherever the enemy makes contact with the player’s plane is where the two objects connect. Once connected, the enemy’s guns will fire from that position as the player’s own guns toward other enemies. The former enemy will also serve as a buffer from being hit directly and losing a plane. As a level progresses, downed enemies hook to downed enemies creating a massive structure of firepower the player has accumulated to take on the level’s final boss.

There's nothing quite like a good boss bullet hell.

There’s nothing quite like a good boss bullet hell.

When I first witnessed this game mechanic it surprised me. I had a great deal of fun connecting out enemy planes to the end of the screen and blasting anything in my path with my own bullet hell for once. I then got to thinking that due to this game mechanic the game might turn out to be too easy. Not so. The game makers did an excellent job balancing the game. Each boss I played outside of the first couple levels made me sweat. The player may choose three different levels of difficulty. The bullet hells are intense and Blast Works provides a similar experience to other classic side-scrolling shooters I have played in the past.

Come with me little girl on a magic carpet ride.

Come with me little girl on a magic carpet ride.

Another interesting feature provided in Blast Works is a full-fledged level editor. The player may create their own level, with their own enemies, and custom build their own planes to fly through those levels. Even new bullets can be created and customized. The game offers a CAD-like program to create and save new shapes and modify environments. The amount of detail to which a player can create their own levels is incredible. Blast Works feels like a PC game that still works incredibly well with the standard Wiimote/Nunchuck controllers.

Blast Works features three modes of gameplay for playing through the side-scrolling shooter levels. Campaign Mode allows one or two players to play through campaign levels in a sequential order. I assume extra game features are unlocked through this mode of play, but I have yet to unlock anything yet. Arcade Mode allows one to four players to play through levels sequentially for points. And as mentioned earlier, one to four players may play through a custom level created by a player in the User Levels mode.

Blast Works Game Disc

Blast Works Game Disc

The music in the Blast Works is good. It sounds like a typical Wii game soundtrack, but mixed with the heavy synthetic techno kind of themes I would expect from a classic side-scrolling shooter of the Super Nintendo era. While the graphics are a bit blocky and look quite dated for the time this title was released, Blast Works more than makes up for it in gameplay and replayability. I picked up my copy of Blast Works used for less than four dollars. From a quick Amazon search it appears buying a new copy might cost less than ten dollars. At that price it’s well worth it. I would especially recommend this title for children who enjoy playing with Legos. It’s certainly not Minecraft, but who knows? Maybe this will be a gateway game for getting my son to play with CAD software someday in the future.

Syberia – Compatibility

Syberia Title Screen

Syberia Title Screen

System Requirements

Operating System: Windows XP or later
Processor: Pentium compatible 1 GHz or greater
Memory: 512 MB
Video: DirectX compatible graphics card. 128 MB.
Sound: Direct X 9.0c compatibility required.
Hard Disk: 1.2 GB

Windows 10

The GOG.com version of Syberia is fully compatible with Windows 10.

Syberia – Windows XP Game First Impressions

Syberia Title Screen

Syberia Title Screen

Syberia is a visually stunning, point-and-click adventure game released in 2002, published and developed by Microids. In some cases it was also licensed to be published by DreamCatcher Interactive under The Adventure Company brand. Today (November 10, 2017), it is available on GOG.com for free. Because of the mysterious nature of the game, I am placing a spoiler alert disclaimer here. Although I will only be offering a synopsis of the beginning of the game in this first impressions article, the game developers of Syberia did a superb job at introducing background story throughout gameplay. They divulge plot points little bits at a time to reel the player in, and reward the player with more the deeper the player explores. It is for this reason that I will say this is a fantastic game and if you like adventures you owe it to yourself to download Syberia off of GOG.com and play it without reading any further.

There is so much woodgrain in Syberia.

There is so much wood in Syberia.

For those still here I’ll go over the game mechanics and plot. The beginning objective of Syberia is straight-forward enough. You play as Kate Walker, an American lawyer sent by her firm to secure a deal to purchase the famed Voralberg toy factory in Valadilene, France, known for their automatons. Syberia plays in the third person with a stationary or slow-moving camera, zoomed out on each screen. The default mouse pointer in the game is a circle. When the circle pointer glows, there is a door that may be investigated. Frustratingly, doors that don’t go anywhere will also glow. When you click on these, Kate will inform you, “No need to go down there!” Doubly frustrating is the fact that there are more fake doors than real ones.

No need to look behind this door the game draws attention to...

No need to look behind this door the game draws attention to…

When the pointer changes into a magnifying glass, it is indicating there is a character that may be interacted with. The pointer will change into a hand when hovering over something that may be taken into inventory, and a magnifying glass with a chunk taken out of it indicates the player can use the item underneath the mouse pointer. Inventory may be accessed by right-clicking the mouse. Kate also has a cell phone accessible from inventory that she uses to keep in contact with those in America. This added component really adds depth to Kate’s character.

Some of the screens in Syberia are very large and take a great deal of time for the player to move from one side to the other. This becomes annoying when backtracking across multiple large screens. In order to compensate for this, in most cases the player may double-click in the direction they wish to go and Kate will jog to that location. Sometimes this doesn’t work. I haven’t been able to determine if this is because of a programmatic bug in the game or whether the game developers did not create animations for running in every case required.

The Voralberg Automaton Factory

The Voralberg Automaton Factory

Visually, Syberia feels a lot like Myst, but with regard to story and character, it is so much deeper than the average adventure game. Syberia also scratches the itch of the mechanical gear turning clock punk niche. There is something satisfying about seeing all of the intricate mechanical art. Even though it boggles the mind to even think about how the automatons depicted in Syberia could even work in real life, their animations are inspiring in many ways. Playing this game makes me want to take up the study of mechanical engineering.

The objective of the game seems simple. Meet with Anna Voralberg and negotiate a buy out of her factory. However, Anna Voralberg died shortly before Kate arrives to Valadilene. Easy enough, Kate will simply negotiate the buy out with Anna’s executor. But unfortunately for Kate, Anna’s brother Hans who everyone believed to be long dead is the living heir of Anna’s properties.

Hi, Oscar!

Hi, Oscar!

As play continues Kate discovers that Anna had been in contact with Hans, and that most of the automatons coming out of Anna’s factory were based on Hans’ designs. Hans’ latest designs sent to Anna were for a train and a conductor to drive the train so that Anna might come visit after Anna had closed on the sale of the factory. The first section of the game involves exploring the tiny village of Valadilene, meeting Oscar the automaton conductor, and getting the train and Oscar ready for the journey to Siberia to find Hans to purchase the factory from him. Once this is accomplished, Kate boards the train and her journey begins.

Syberia Game Disc

Syberia Game Disc

Syberia is a game I often come back to when I’m feeling under the weather and need a good relaxing game with rich story to take my mind off of how sick I’m feeling. Sometimes the background music will hit a note that would indicate an impending jump scare in any other game. So far, I have found nothing of the sort in Syberia. It’s entirely mellow and intriguing. If you are a fan of adventure games, I would strongly advise adding this one to your collection.

Set – Card Game Review

Set Card Game

Set Card Game

Set is a card game developed by Marsha Falco and published by Set Enterprises, Inc. and Cannei, LLC. It was released in 1991 to understandable acclaim, as it is a clever, novel card game. Set may be played solitaire, or with any number of players provided there is enough space around the table for everyone to see what cards are in play.

There are 81 cards in the Set deck. On these cards are combinations of one, two, or three shapes in the form of a squiggle, diamond or oval. These shapes appear in one of three colors: purple, green, or red. Each card’s shape is solidly filled in, unfilled, or shaded. At the game’s start the deck is shuffled, and twelve cards are laid face-up in the center of the table in a 3×4 grid.

Set 3x4 grid arrangement

Set 3×4 grid arrangement

Once all of the cards are laid out, those who are playing examine the grid for potential sets. A set is defined as a group of three cards anywhere within the grid that all either share a similar or completely distinct characteristic for each classification of shape, shading, color, or number of items on the cards. Once a player is sure they see a set, they call out that they’ve found one to everyone else playing. They then pick out the three cards and all other players confirm whether a set has actually been found or not. If a set has indeed been found, the player who found the set keeps those cards and a point is added to their score. Three new cards are drawn from the deck and are used to fill in the places where the cards used to make the set were taken. If a valid set was not confirmed to be found, the player who claimed a set has their score decremented by one set. Play then continues with all players looking for the next set. Play ends and scores are tallied when the deck runs out of cards. Whoever found the most sets becomes the winner of the game.

It is important that all players understand exactly what a set is before play begins. I was mad as a hen when I was picking what I thought were sets and losing points the first time I played Set. Meanwhile my opponent was selecting out sets that I had disregarded because I thought they did not fit the description of a set.

An example of a set is shown where there are three solid green ovals, three solid green squiggles, and three solid green diamonds. These constitute a set because they are all green, there are three shapes on each card, the shapes on each card are all solid, and a distinctly different shape is displayed on each card.

This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

An example of a group of three cards that is not a set is also shown here. While all three cards are colored purple, each card has a distinct number of shapes, and all of the shapes shown are solid, two of the cards display diamond while the final card is oval. Because not all of the cards contain diamond nor does each card contain a distinct shape, these cards do not constitute a set.

This is not a valid set.

This is not a valid set.

One final example of a set is shown here. The color is different on each card: red, green, then purple. Each card contains diamonds, but each one has a different number of diamonds. The diamonds have distinct shading across all cards. The first is solid, the second shaded, and the third empty. This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

If at any point no set is found within the grid on the table, then three additional cards are pulled from the deck and placed into the grid for a total of 15 cards. Play then continues. When the next set is discovered, no further cards are drawn in order to get the grid back down to twelve cards. Therefore, as I understand it, there should never be more than 15 cards in play at a time. In solitaire play, a player is trying to find as many sets as they can to beat their previous score. When they are unable to find a set in the twelve card grid, they may add the additional three cards, but doing so creates a one set penalty to their score. Of course, who is going to know you’re cheating if you’re playing alone?

Set is a fun little card game that is easy to learn how to play. Given that any number of players may play it, it is an ideal card game for party situations. It has won several game awards including the MENSA Select award. I can vouch that this is a fantastic title that belongs in any serious card gamer’s collection.

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms – Compatibility

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms Title Screen

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms Title Screen

System Requirements – Windows 10

Operating System: Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, or later Windows.
Processor: Pentium compatible 2.33GHz or greater. Intel Atom 1.6GHz or greater.
Memory: 512 MB
Hard Disk: 120 MB

System Requirements – Mac OS 10.13

Operating System: Mac OS X 10.6 or later.
Processor: Intel Core Duo 1.83 GHz or faster.
Memory: 512 MB
Hard Disk: 120 MB

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms – Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms Title Screen

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms Title Screen

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms is a point and click, hack and slash, grind fest developed and published by Codename Entertainment. The game is a licensed Dungeons and Dragons title. It was released for Windows 10 and Mac OS 10.12 in 2017.

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms plays similar to a tower defense game. The player’s party inhabits the left most part of the screen while enemies advance from the right. As the enemies approach, the player may attack them by clicking on them. This deals a small amount of damage and slows the enemies down. Members of the player’s party will also attack when they are able and deal an amount of damage proportional to their current level and ability.

When Gnolls Attack...

When Gnolls Attack…

When an enemy is slaughtered, the enemy will drop gold pieces that will accumulate in the player’s purse. The player may use the gold to level up their characters, hire new characters, or level up the damage dealt by their click attack. The game is divided into stages. Each stage has its own objective that must be satisfied in order to progress. Most of these objectives deal with killing a certain number of creatures or collecting a certain number of items. There is a boss at the end of every fifth stage that must be defeated to move on to later stages.

I feel your pain, Dryad.

I feel your pain, Dryad.

It is challenging to describe what genre of game play Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms most closely resembles not because of any particular originality or creativity, but due instead to the fact that it doesn’t feel particularly like a game. There are certainly game mechanics here, as I said before there are hack and slash role-playing and tower defense elements, but the game is really one big needless grind. All a player does when playing this game is click a green button across the bottom of the screen, collect gold by hovering the mouse over said gold, or click on an enemy to deal it a small amount of damage.

Boss Making Way Through Party

Boss making her way through my party.

Outside of clicking to level up your characters, no other action is actually necessary to play the game. The gold automatically enters your party’s inventory when your party walks close enough to it. If the characters are sufficiently leveled up, they will take out any enemies before the player would ever need to click on them. In later stages, ranged units can become a pest if not eliminated quickly by the player’s click attack, but I haven’t noticed them provide enough damage to truly influence the outcome of a stage for the party at large. When a boss or an overwhelming number of units slaughter one of the party members, as long as the boss or enemies are defeated, that player will simply respawn with full health in the next stage. If for some reason the player’s party can’t successfully defeat a boss, the game sends the player and her party back to a previous stage to level up their characters until the boss can be defeated.

Kill the Rabbits

Kill the Rabbits

The only other place Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realm could redeem itself would be in having a rich story at the book ends of the long arduous grinds of sitting and watching your characters slowly make their way through the levels. The story is paper thin; it is not at all what I would come to expect from a Dungeons and Dragons title. The characters have zero depth. In the first 30 minutes I played Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realm, I played two stages where the whole point was to collect food for a village and the party. Those stages played like bonus rounds where rabbits and wolves that were easy pickings came slowly up to the adventurers to be easily slaughtered for quick gold. These stages left me scratching my head wondering what the point was.

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms seems to be bug free and plays moderately well for what it attempts to achieve on my Windows 10 system. That being said, it has felt like a complete waste of time for me that isn’t any real fun. This game is free for the next two days on Steam as a promotion to get people to play it. After 30 minutes of playing it myself I feel it’s a shame they can’t give me my 30 minutes back.

Peggle – Compatibility

Peggle Title Screen

Peggle Title Screen

System Requirements

Operating System: Windows 98 or later version of Windows.
Processor: Pentium Compatible 500MHz or greater.
Memory: 256 MB
Video: DirectX Compatible Graphics. DirectX 7.0 required.

Windows 10

Installs – Yes
Runs – Yes
Uninstalls – Yes

Peggle appears to run flawlessly in Windows 10.

Peggle – Windows Vista Game First Impressions

Peggle Title Screen

Peggle Title Screen

Peggle is an arcade puzzle game, released in 2007, that was developed and published by PopCap Games. Given the cartoony artwork on the cover of the game’s jewel case, it almost looks like one of those games that used to be sold as a gateway for getting a user to try America Online or to install a Yahoo! Toolbar. I was concerned when I installed it on my machine that I might have to uninstall some unsavory software. I am glad I did install Peggle as it not only seems like a safe stand-alone piece of software, but it is actually a very fun, addictive game.

Multiball!

Multiball!

The objective of the game is to eliminate all of the orange pieces prior to running out of balls. Once all of the orange pieces are eliminated, the player progresses to the next level. The player controls the direction in which a ball is launched. The ball then bounces off of every surface it hits in Plinko fashion until it falls down through the play field. At the base of the play field is a ball catcher that oscillates to and fro. If the ball is caught by the ball catcher, the player is awarded an extra ball to use in play. Otherwise, the ball is lost, and the player fires another ball to attempt to eliminate the orange pieces.

There are also blue, purple, and green pieces. Blue pieces are the standard default pieces. They award a set number of points when hit, but do not contain any special properties. Purple pieces award increased bonus points. Green pieces cause special actions to occur based on the host mascot of the particular stage of levels being played.

Kat Tut's Pyramid

Kat Tut’s Pyramid

There appear to be 50 levels divided into five level stages. Each five level stage is hosted by a particular animal mascot, or master. The first stage is hosted by Bjorn the Unicorn. When a green piece is hit in Bjorn’s levels, the player is awarded a “Super Glide” for the next three balls. Super Glide allows the player to target a piece and then target where the ball will ricochet into another piece. The second stage is hosted by Jimmy Lightning, who appears to be a hamster on a skateboard. Hitting a green piece in his levels spawns a second ball that bounces in the opposite direction of the ball that hit the green piece. If timed correctly, this can cause the player to catch both balls. The third stage is hosted by Kat Tut. When a green piece is hit, the ball catcher turns into a pyramid for five turns. When this happens the player’s ball has a better chance of bouncing away from falling into the abyss and instead making it into the ball catcher for a free ball. I’ll need to play further to explore the other level stages.

Extreme Fever

Extreme Fever

When the final orange ball is hit, the game enters “Extreme Fever” mode. Gameplay enters slow motion and rainbow sparks fly to the background music of “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s symphony number 9. The ball then bounces into one of five containers at the base of the play field for bonus points. The middle container is worth 100,000 points, those on either side of it are worth 50,000, and the final containers are worth 10,000 points.

Fireworks

Fireworks

Peggle hits all the right stimuli to keep you playing. Flashy graphics, encouraging cute fuzzy characters, and catchy sounds and music all combine to keep a player focused on shooting another ball onto the play field and getting to the next level. I had meant to review a different game tonight. When it didn’t work on Windows 10, Peggle was my fall back. Even though it was late, I couldn’t stop clicking and wanting to play that next level and watch my score go up and up. This game will eat your time. If you didn’t have anything too important going on, you’ll be glad it did.

Peggle Game Disc

Peggle Game Disc

I purchased my copy of Peggle second hand still in shrink wrap from either a thrift store or a yard sale. The price was right, so I grabbed it. However, Peggle also came out on the Steam platform. At the time this article was published, it could be purchased for $4.99. It’s not the the most challenging puzzle game out there. I would actually consider it more of an arcade game than a puzzle game, but it is a virtual dopamine factory with its visuals and sound. This would also be a good title for small children as it is easy and avoids frustrating the player at its lowest levels.

Decksplash – Compatibility

Decksplash Title Screen

Decksplash Title Screen

System Requirements

Operating System: Windows 10 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core i3 6th Gen or AMD FX-6200 or better
Memory: 4GB RAM
Video: Nvidia GTX 680 or AMD R9 280X or better
Sound: DirectX 10 compatible sound card
Hard Drive: 4 GB
Gamepad recommended for play.

Windows 10

This game was designed for Windows 10.