Summer even more miscellaneous puzzle games

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Comments: 4 (plus live)   (latest 3 hours later)

Tagged: reviews, verne: the shape of fantasy, void stranger, chants of sennaar, obsidian, the case of the golden idol, the lemurian vampire

It's still summer and I'm still playing games.

(Pace xkcd, but New England meteorological seasons line up with the astronomical seasons. September is a summer month; December is a fall month.) (Sometimes it snows in the fall months, is all.)

  • Verne: The Shape of Fantasy
  • Void Stranger
  • Chants of Sennaar
  • The Case of the Golden Idol: The Lemurian Vampire
  • Obsidian

Verne: The Shape of Fantasy

A shortish pixel-art point-and-click in which the adventurer Jules Verne runs around a lot of locations familiar to fans of the writer Jules Verne.

This is heavier on the exploration and dialogue than it is on the puzzles, but the puzzles are pleasant and offer a nice variety of form and subject. There's a few fairly forgiving stealth scenes. Took me a few frustrating tries to get the timing right, but not awful. The art is excellent; lots of grand environments and ornately detailed spaces.

The plot is more of a mess. I don't mind an in-medias-res on a burning submarine, but the res it's in medias is a rather awkward mashup of other dramatic scenes from future and past. Some of which are on the submarine. There's a lot of submarine. It's not exactly confusing, but there's not much of a through-line to get hold of. You solve all the puzzles and then the heavenly light of the ending shines forth.

The real problem is the English translation, which is almost never anything that an English-speaker would say. It's just bad. And you spend a lot of time listening to dialogue -- this is a talky game. The voice actors (who speak perfectly good English) give it their darndest, but there's only so much they can do without changing the lines. (I think in a couple of places someone put their foot down in a "You can't say this, George" way, but only a couple.)

Not perfect but I had a good time.

Void Stranger

A grid puzzle game where you push blocks, swap blocks, and dodge turn-based monsters. Sort of midway between Sokoban, DROD, and some other game I'm not sure what the title is. No undo, but you can restart levels freely -- except that [spoiler omitted].

The [spoiler] (and some other stuff) hints pretty strongly that you're meant to play through the game, solve all the puzzles, discover the secrets, and then replay from the beginning to solve the real puzzles. The fairy-tale-ish frame story points the same way -- and not just because it's a stylistic Undertale homage complete with offbeat combats.

I haven't gotten that far myself. The puzzles are, as puzzles go, pretty intense. I've solved a whole lot of them but I'm getting worn down. (DROD-style monsters and step-by-step planning are not my favorite puzzle format.) So I may put this one aside. But if you're up for lots of thinky puzzles plus a whole lot of (implied) secret tricks, you should definitely take a look.

Chants of Sennaar

An alien-language puzzle game that really commits to the language puzzle aspect. You ascend the Tower of Not-Babel, translating five languages as you go.

The game plays out as a point-and-click. Talk to people; figure out what they want; sneak past a few guards; solve a few light environmental puzzles. "Figure out what people want" is the interesting part. That's where the language aspect comes in, and that part is pure evidence-based deduction. The game even borrows the Obra-Dinnish "verify three at a time".

The languages have some distinctive features but they're not outré as conlangs go. And the construction puzzles go easy on the fancy features; mostly you just have to pay attention to word order.

The upshot is that the game is intricate but not very difficult. Not only does the verifier let you brute-force guess (as in Obra Dinn, Golden Idol, etc), but it also gifts you the exact meaning of each verified word. So it's impossible to go any distance with subtle misinterpretations of what's going on. That made me a bit sad; subtle misinterpretations are the most entertaining part of language games. (Contrast Heaven's Vault, which lets you reach the end with completely wrong notions about various locations and characters, never twitching an eyelid.)

(Some people on the puzzle forums are playing without ever verifying a word, for exactly this reason and for extra challenge. Go you.)

Anyhow, it's all in the service of a smooth play-through, and there's plenty to tangle with even on not-very-hard mode. Big intricate world. Lots of social stuff in the background to figure out. Vivid geometric architectural style. Trippy ending. I really enjoyed it.

The Case of the Golden Idol: The Lemurian Vampire

Speaking of Golden Idol, the second DLC episode has launched.

Very much more-of-the-same except harder. The final scene works up to a full Holmesian "figure out the chain of events based on a few tiny specks". I fell back on hints for the first time in this game. (And the last, as the story is now complete.)

No need for recommendations; you already know whether you're a fan.

Obsidian

A repackaging of the 1997 adventure game. (One of the earliest reviews on this site!) Props to ScummVM for the modern engine support.

I'll tell you, I appreciate the nostalgia hit, but actually playing a 90s-era Myst-like is exhausting. I have no idea how I got through so many back then. The slideshow view of the world is cramped; the movement animations are like being stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

I'm delighted that this game is available again, but I may not bother to push through it.

On the up side, the voiceovers are great, aren't they? I said "amusingly written" in my original review, but let's give full credit. It's worth kicking each NPC a few extra times just to see how the game dodges repetition. "Here are your entry cards... again."


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