Dark Arcana: The Carnival Collector's Edition (2014 - PC)

An okay hidden object game that takes place in a nightmarishly creepy carnival setting and falls into the "too short and easy" category, and has a plot twist that's extremely difficult to swallow. I finished it twice in two nights, once on Normal and once on Expert difficulty for the achievements. Artifex Mundi has wonderful scenery art, but damn, their CG character models are as unholy as ever.

Rating: 2.5/5

The Flying Dutchman (2014 - PC)

Also known as "The Mystery of the Flying Dutchman", this is the worst hidden object game I've played on Steam yet. It only took me about an hour, but any more than that would've been too much. I'm all for HOG's being challenging and I was actually delighted to see this one was timed, but some objects are indiscernible against the background, or they're hidden partially off the top or bottom of the screen (good luck finding an umbrella when all that's visible is the handle sticking up from the bottom of the screen). I had to find these by clicking eveywhere. It only has a few scenes that repeat several times, some easy jigsaw puzzles, and then it's over...and the "mystery" makes no sense. The photos reveal pictures of a sailor and his wife and the last one shows the Flying Dutchman sinking, and your character is like, "So, that's how it sank!" Uh, come again?

Rating: 1/5


Illusion of Gaia (1994 - SNES)

I gave a full review to Illusion of Gaia years ago, back in a time when I didn't really know what to make of this game, particularly its story.

I now have a few new perspectives on it because of this replay and learning about the story changes and censorship between the original Japanese version and the English translation. I kind of think the story only really makes any sense if you think of it as a "video game story". It's hard to explain what I mean by that, but I think the developers just basically wanted to have a game where a group of kids go off exploring all the most famously-known ruins around the world, but it doesn't always make much sense, or it relies on pretty big coincidences.

Perhaps a good way of illustrating this point is Will's cousin Neil, who takes your party to all its destinations around the world. It doesn't make much sense how Neil knows about them and their exact locations, but since this is a game where you know you'll be exploring the world, somehow you have to get there, and thus your cousin Neil shows you the way, like any good signpost or NPC that mysteriously knows more than you do.

But eventually, the game pretty much drops all delusions of making sense. And if you really want to throw everything to the wind, I came up with a new interpretation of the ending: The kids were modern-day school children all along and the whole thing was a story they made up.

Uh, but what about the game itself? Well, it definitely has lots of dungeons, boss fights, and puzzles and whatnot, which you can probably read about in my old crappy review. I honestly think it's more fun to talk about the story because of how off-the-wall it is and if you want to read more of my ruminations on it, I have a whole topic of discussion here.

Rating: 3.5/5

Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove (2009 - PC)

I got this for free on Big Fish Games awhile ago. Pretty good hidden object game with some challenging and clever puzzles and a nice art style. I actually spent a good amount of time stuck in a few spots, whereas usually I feel like I make constant, unimpeded progress in these things.

One issue I had with Dire Grove is that I'm not real big on the use of real actors in video games. As you explore around, you find VHS tapes scattered here and there that you can play back, and they have FMV of actors that shows the backstory of what happened - it's basically like a "found footage" movie like The Blair Witch Project. I dunno, something about this just seems kind of weird and inconsistent with the hand-drawn backgrounds. It may not really be a valid criticism so much as a personal preference, but I always prefer it when these games have text and no speech.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sinister City (2010 - PC)

I bought this game for 9 cents and I got what I paid for: A ridiculously silly vampire parody hidden object game with nutty voice acting that only took a few hours to finish on both difficulty settings. The vampires aren't really evil in this game, they just want to be actors, or something. The worst part is that the game kept glitching on me. At one point, my character stopped interacting with the background objects, forcing an exit and restart to get the scene working. After that, hidden object scenes would routinely glitch, causing the entire background to vanish except the objects I needed to find on the list. Other times, clicking an object would force me out of the HO scene, and I'd have to keep re-entering it to clear it. Highly annoying.

And yet it's still better than The Flying Dutchman.

Rating: 2/5

Theatre of the Absurd Collector's Edition (2014 - PC)

Very similar to all the other hidden object games I'd been playing lately, but the plot twist near the end makes the set-up make no sense. Also a little on the short and easy side. Had some new ideas, such as gaining powers as you progress that let you go back and unlock things you could only see, but not interact with, earlier. Good artwork and creepy atmosphere, but it needed to be longer for me to offer a strong recommendation.

Rating: 2.5/5

Time Mysteries 3: The Final Enigma Collector's Edition (2014 - PC)

I felt that Time Mysteries 2 was better than this one, but thought that might just be my imagination because of how similar they are to each other, but then I looked at my completion time and saw that 2 took twice as long to finish. So it wasn't just me. Like Dark Arcana, it's not a terrible hidden object game by any stretch, but it's just rather short and easy. At least there's some beautiful scenery and music in the medieval portion of the game's world.

Rating: 2.5/5

The Wizard of Oz (1939 - DVD)

A timeless classic I've seen many times and probably everyone else has seen multiple times by now. I'm not sure I even have a unique perspective to offer as I rewatched this during a period of mourning over the loss of my beloved cat, Pepper, and I just felt like I needed to revisit something I knew for a fact that I enjoyed rather than risk another Nacho Libre.

Great songs, memorable characters, colorful settings - I may not necessarily agree with the movie's moral that you're better off staying at home than adventuring into the unknown world, but I tend not to think about it too critically. When I was a kid, I took the special effects in this movie for granted. Now, I'm especially impressed with things like the tornado (can you believe it was a cloth sock and not a real tornado?), the Scarecrow's prosthetics making it look like his head really is made out of a bag, and the flying monkey that seems almost more believable that they found a real monkey that looks like that than it being a human in makeup.

One complaint I've seen in recent times is that Dorothy is wussier than she was in the books, but I feel part of that is pop culture focusing a lot on her moments of weakness and yelling, "Auntie Em!" She definitely has her strengths in standing up to the Wizard and Cowardly Lion, and I don't seriously blame her for being terrified of the Wicked Witch. I think almost every kid who sees this movie is, and I still find her unsettling as an adult.

Also, I'm probably not the first one to make this observation, but does anyone else think that Glinda intentionally manipulated Dorothy into beating the Wicked Witch and that thing about not telling her about the shoes was because she wouldn't believe her was bull?

Rating: 5/5

ReBoot: The Definitive Mainframe Edition (1994 - DVD)

This show is one of the biggest "near-misses" I've ever experienced. It starts off a bit oddly and meanders for awhile, but once it gets its footing, it was one of the best rollercoaster rides of an animated program I'd ever been on, until... a misguided complete change of tone and style in the middle of Season 3 threw the rollercoaster off the tracks and landed with a resounding thud.

I know that I have a tendency to be biased in favor of cartoons being comedic rather than dark and serious, but I really do think ReBoot was at its best when it focused on comedy, and up until Season 3's big plot twist, it was pretty darn good at balancing comedy with "Holy Fuck!" moments. Somebody should have realized that changing the characters, setting, and tone almost entirely, and bashing morals like, "You shouldn't play video games. You should spend that time with your family instead" over people's heads was not the smartest idea in the world.

The show struggles to regain its footing from that moment on, and while it does improve again eventually, it's more like a bumpy ride up and down uneven hills than a rollercoaster and, despite a whimsically awesome Pirates of Penzance parody at the end of Season 3, it never quite reaches the level of its best Season 1 and 2 episodes ever again. And then the series ends on a cliffhanger because it was canceled before it was finished.

What about everything before the big change? Well, like I said, it's quite a thrill ride and possibly worth recommending not only for this being historically significant as the first computer animated television show, but for the great characters, writing, humor, surreal setting, and references that adults as well as kids will love. (This show parodied the William Shatner "Rocketman" thing, years before Family Guy did, and it's the only thing other than "the internet" that I've seen make fun of, "Let's try spinning! That's a good trick!")

Of particular note are episodes "Bad Bob", a Mad Max/Road Warrior parody that's best described as "pure unadulterated fun", and "Talent Night", a birthday episode that completely breaks out of the show's norms in ways that cartoons almost never do.

While ReBoot always carries an undertone of "video games are bad", there are ways even video game enthusiasts can deal with that. It can, for example, be interpreted as the games from the enemy characters' point of view.

Is the animation a little dated? Maybe. But it significantly improves over the series' run and has moments of awe. The big space battle at the end of Season 2 would've been prohibitively costly to do with hand-drawn animation. That's not to say that this show proves 3D should completely replace 2D animation, but that it earned its place in the world.

Unfortunately, it still left me with mixed feelings. I suppose any greatness at all is worth experiencing, but disappointment on this level reflects poorly on the whole product and can cloud a recommendation. Since this show had both 5-star and 1-star episodes, my score will land directly in the middle.

Rating: 3.5/5



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