Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cafe Rouge: Chapter One

Author: Farway Studios
Availability: Free, Online/Browser
Format: Visual Novel, Cooking Game
Genre: Supernatural
Rating: Teen
My Scores: (Writing: 3, Art: 4, Gameplay: 1)

Found at:  http://www.newgrounds.com/ OR http://www.bestonlinerpggames.com/


In Cafe Rouge, you are Isis Black, an ordinary teenager with a rare condition that makes you pass out at the merest scent of blood.  You've been granted a job interview at a restaurant called the Rouge Cafe, but there's something not normal about this place.


The Writing:

This opening chapter was short, but set the stage well enough.  The writing overall was okay, though I felt it wasn't as strong as the art.  Also, I was a little confused by a segment in which Isis aims a kick below her (male) friend's belt, "accidentally" hits the only possible target that would be below the belt, and apologizes despite being really "only half sorry".  It's apparently not a case of playing a sociopathic character, since the boy himself also laughs it off.  Now, I don't know how much something like that would actually hurt, so it's possible that this is the more realistic reaction.  Still..."accidentally"?

The Art:

The art is beautiful, especially considering the limitations of most flash games.  The music is well chosen: during the introductory movie, it perfectly captures the sense of a French cafe full of spooky secrets and possible romance, and the background music during the game proper is soothing to listen to.  There are a couple of annoying sound-effects; mainly the sound when you run the cursor over the menu buttons, and that sharp, high-pitched screeching sound that plays when the game starts.  There's also an irritating alarm-clock, but, well, alarm-clocks are *supposed* to be irritating.  Aside from this, the game has lovely backgrounds, well-done characters, and generally creates a good audio-visual experience.

The Gameplay:

I waffled over whether it was right to give such a low score here, but ultimately, I gave it a 1 for committing the same sin as Fatal Hearts: If you fail the mini-games, you can't proceed.  What makes it a little worse is the fact that although the tea-making game is broken down into several levels, failing at the end takes you all the way back to square one.  I realize that the mini-games are meant to be part of the game-play, much like how they were in Outsmart, but I point out that in Outsmart, is was still possible to finish the game even if you couldn't do the mini-games; you might not have gotten the best ending, but you could still crawl to the finish line.  Then there's Festival Days, which also uses a cooking mini-game to put you in the shoes of a girl who, like Isis, is supposed to have some kitchen skills; but again, although there are benefits to succeeding, the games are not mandatory (and also, not *timed*).

My open plea to authors of these games is: Please give us the option to skip the puzzle.  Maybe there can be a standard ending that we'll get if we do everything right *but* the puzzles, so that we have incentive to try for the gold.  Or maybe, after the second or third try (and I really wouldn't go farther than three, personally), just give us the option to skip it and pretend our character won anyway.  This might seem like cheating, but for some of us, seeing the rest of the story is more important than how well we can drag a mouse along an invisible line in under ten seconds.  Some players are easily frustrated, and will completely lose interest in the story if they have to try the same challenge over and over and over again with no sign of being rescued from their doomed predicament.  I know.  I'm one of them.

Lastly, I find it interesting how the game tries to let you "walk" to the character's destinations, but I don't think it's pulled off very well, here.  It's not always terribly clear what the arrows are supposed to lead you toward, and there's a snag in one of the exits where going forward takes you to the school, and backing up from the school takes you home instead of back to where you were.  Of course, there's no penalty for getting completely lost, and it's a short enough map that you probably won't stay lost for long, anyway.  It's a neat little bit of immersion, but I felt that there should be more things to explore if we're going to be allowed to wander.


To sum it up, Cafe Rouge is a nice enough game if you have the patience and/or skill for timed mini-games.  The art and music are lovely, with only a couple of brief sound effects that are annoying to the ear and soon passed.  The writing is okay, and the story is pretty interesting.  Overall, it's worth checking out.

As usual, this is all just my opinion; feel free to serve up your own in the comments. :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Prince Maker 2: Braveness

Author:  Alpha Games
Availability: Free, Download 
Format: Raising Sims (with RPG elements)
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: Teen
My Scores: (Writing: 4, Art: 3, Gameplay: 3)

Found at: http://princemakerproject.wordpress.com/


Prince Maker Braveness is part two of a fan-made series based on Princess Maker, although it doesn't require playing part one in order to understand what's happening.  It's originally Chinese, but an English Translation is available (and is, in fact, what I'm basing this review on).  In this game, you are tasked with raising a young boy to become the next Emperor of the Three Kingdoms.  Will he succeed, or will he wind up pursuing other dreams instead?  Will he find love?  It's all up to you!


The Writing:

This is definitely one of the more story-intense raising sims, and even after several play-throughs and a bit of research, I still haven't uncovered everything. There are several distinct characters that your boy can meet as you progress through the game, and uncovering the secrets of his past unfolds a twisted and convoluted tale of love and politics.  Mind you, the English is imperfect, which can make reading the dialogue a bit of a chore in some places.

The Art:

The art in this game seems to divide evenly between "OMG That's so cute/hot/pretty!" and "Gah! Anatomy does not work that way!"  The main sprites for your boy are well done, at least, which is good, because you'll be spending a lot of time looking at him.  The music is nice, too.

The Gameplay:

There is a lot packed into this game.  There are several different locations you can visit, whether you're just shopping or explicitly sending your boy out for an adventure or a stroll, and a number of jobs and classes to unlock as you play.  There are also at least 6 different people the boy can meet and end up with, aside from you and your maid.  Be forewarned, though: this game is hard.  Some of the endings require triggering events that won't even happen unless you've set things up just right. If you don't have a guide, there will be a *lot* of guesswork over what to do, where to go, and what to say.

This is one of those games that ends up consuming all of your time, because by the time you've finished a several-hours-long playing session, you've come across details that you missed the first time around, or learned something that would have totally altered your strategy had you known, and so you have to go back and start over.  The high difficulty combined with the elusive plot-threads and the numerous endings you can get certainly makes for a lot of replay value.


Prince Maker 2: Braveness is both fun and frustrating.  It has it's flaws, but it also has a well-layered plot and some good fan-service...I mean art.  Art!  *Ahem*.  Anyway, as an English translation of a Chinese fan-game based on a Japanese series, it's easily the most cosmopolitan game on this blog so far, and certainly worth checking out.

Of course, this is all just my own opinion.  Feel free to state your own in the comments. :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Authors: Stellar (concept), Hipon (code), Clea Leshlick (Music/Sound), Lazcht and Kodoktua (Graphics)
Availability: Free, Online/Browser
Format: Management Sim
Genre: Humor
Rating: E
My Scores: (Writing: 3.5, Art: 5, Gameplay: 3)

Found at http://keygames.com/ or http://www.kongregate.com/


In Outsmart, you are Anneite.  You and your slacker fiance Robme have been given an ultimatum by his parents: the two of you have two months to raise $50,000 dollars and get married.  Otherwise, get out!



The first interesting thing that stands out to me is the fact that this is a relationship-based game that already has you in a relationship, and a stable one at that.  The story isn't about finding love or losing it.  Rather, it's about the two of you getting enough financial independence to be kicked out of the nest.  It's a very contemporary theme, since we live in an age where more and more adults (at least in the U.S) are still living with their parents, whether because of a lack of available jobs or because of a lack of work-related ambition.  In the case of Robme, it's the latter.

At first I thought that this was either going to be the story of a nice girl being saddled with a mooching loser in the name of "Twu Wuv", or the story of a girl becoming disillusioned and kicking her boyfriend out on his rear.  I was pleasantly surprised as the story of Anneite and Robme unfolded and showed that, no, this was not a lop-sided relationship.  Robme may be lazy, but he's not ungrateful; and Anneite may be more ambitious, but that doesn't necessarily translate to "female role model".

The English is off, here.  For a while, I thought maybe it was an intentional reference to poorly-dubbed anime, but I get the impression that English just isn't the writer's first language.  Still, it's a humorous game, and the story is pretty cute.


The art and graphics are professional quality.  The art suggests anime or something similar, although the characters are definitely more wonky than pretty, as in Castle Chase.  Also, I find it hilarious that Robme's mother is apparently a gun-toting robot.


They say that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and I find that to be remarkably true for this game.

On the one hand, it seems to be utterly dependent on mini-games:  your maximum stats are determined by each stat's level, which can only be raised by beating a mini-game.  You get most of your money from "special events", which are mini-games.  Furthermore, all of these are fast-paced timed games, which I usually loathe particularly.  To make matters worse, the game seems to have memory issues that cause it to run slower and slower as you play, so that moving the cursor feels like trying to move a large, flopping fish onto a target by pushing/pulling it across a greased floor.

Fortunately, the lag problem is solvable by saving the game and refreshing the screen, so it isn't impossible to play (Although I recommend trying this early in the game, just to make sure you won't lose your progress).  As for the mini-games...well...I had fun.  Much to my surprise and bewilderment, I actually had fun.  Granted, I still maintain my position that mini-games should not be required for success; If I wanted to play arcade-style games, I would not google sims.  But somehow, the pesky little things seemed to own the place here; they seemed almost part of the structure, as it were, and I found myself having more fun than I felt I should have been having.

More importantly, I was impressed by how the stats complemented each-other in this game.  Having high intelligence unlocks more efficient ways to boost your charm; having more charm enables you to better raise your love, and love is what enables you to force your boyfriend to work harder, thus earning more money.  It's downright beautiful how it all works.


Outsmart is a pretty unique sim that takes the idea of relationship-based games in a completely different direction than what one might expect.  The story is very contemporary in a way that's both sad and hilarious.  It's heavy on the mini-games and has lag issues, but despite this, it's actually very fun.

Of course, this is just what I think, and you may think I'm absolutely full of it.  Feel free to state your opinions in the comments. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kaleidoscope Dating Sim 2

Author: Bomee, Mayuiki and Kyo
Availability: Free, Online/Browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: Supernatural / Dream World
Rating: PG
My Scores: (Writing: 2.5, Art: 5, Gameplay: 2.5) out of 5

Found at http://nummyz.com/ OR http://www.newgrounds.com


In Kaleidoscope Dating Sim 2, a gender-flipped sequel to Kaleidoscope Dating Sim, you are Soffie.  Once fond of singing, you became mute at the age of five and thus started retreating into a dream-world in your head.  One day, a fortune-teller gave you a magic potion.  You drank it, and now you've found yourself in the dream world!  You have 30 days to find a soul-mate here. If you succeed, you'll return to reality with your voice back.  If you fail, you'll become a dream soul and be trapped here forever.



I wasn't too sure what score to give this at first.  On the one hand, I certainly can't accuse the writing of being too sparse on details.  Also, the characters are sufficiently different from each other in terms of personalities and "voice", which is important in a dating sim.  You'd be able to tell Gabe from Cero even if you couldn't see who was talking.  (Fun fact: Cero, winnable here, is also the protagonist of the prequel to this game).

The plot itself is a bit baroque, but whether this is a good thing or a bad thing may simply be a matter of taste.  There are a lot of different elements cobbled together, both in the intro and, to a lesser extent, in the love-interests' story-lines.  To someone like me, it can seem a bit overly much.  Unlike Winter Dance Sim Date, though, these odd bits aren't merely blurted and forgotten; they get brought up again in dialogue, and overall, it's hard to point out anything as completely irrelevant.  If anything, I'd say this game tries to cram a novel's worth of plot and characterization into something the size of a short story, and the result is that bits are sticking out every which way.  Of course, this style may have as many fans as it does detractors, and I've graded according to my own personal taste.


The art in this game is amazing!  There's something very life-like about the characters.  The expressions are subtle and nuanced, and there's a bit of animation that breathes further life into them with blinking and facial twitches.  Also, the backgrounds are nice, and the music is gentle and ambient.


Mini-games again.  Urgh.  At first, I though "Oh, good!  All the mini-games have been neatly swept into a corner so I don't have to bother with them."  Well, that is not true.  Unlike many dating sims with currency involved, there is no job mechanism in Kaleidoscope 2.  The closest you can get is picking mushrooms in the forest to sell, but you are only allowed to do so once per day.  This means that you will have to play the mini-games.

And you will have to play the mini-games, because this game puts a really high emphasis on buying presents. In order to get the best ending for a character, you have to buy ALL of the types of presents that they like.  Each character has, I think, five gifts that you'll need to purchase for them, and the shop has about eighteen items to choose from.  While a couple of items can be intuited (I was able to figure out who would have a need for spray-paint, and it's a fair assumption that the articles of women's clothing are for one character in particular), the rest are found by trial and error (or by looking up a useful walkthrough on DeviantArt).  As with Re: Allistair, it's a bit frustrating in that you need to buy certain items but are not given enough clues on what to buy.  It'd be nice if there were hints dropped in dialogue or something.

Also, I am not a fan of the soul doors.  In most dating sims that I've seen, you're given a choice of locations to visit, and generally, there's one person who is always at that location.  Usually, these locations are "dressed up" somehow: it's the person's home, or their workplace, or a place they visit often.  It's woven into the story.  In Kaleidoscope 2, however, the notion of "Go Here to Visit X" is completely reduced to just that.  "Okay," the game says, "Do you want the person behind Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3?"  For all the details that went into the intro, this whole bit with the doors just seems too bald.

So why did I not give the gameplay a 1?  Because for all its mini-gaming faults, this is actually a very well-balanced dating sim.  The 30 day time-limit is neither overly long nor overly short for all the things you have to do. This also seems to be the first dating sim I've played where the dialog, gifts and dating all matter.  You do need the gifts in order to get the best ending, but in order to reach any kind of ending with the characters at all, you have to build up the relationship enough to be able to choose them.  You can't just spam one interaction until the game ends.  Also, if you're fond of the mini-games, it's fairly easy to win enough money to try the spaghetti-at-the-wall method of gift-buying; so that balances out, too.  It's just a shame, then, that I really do not like having to play stupid mini-games.


This game is interesting.  It's very well-balanced, but could probably benefit from a job activity that isn't limited to one turn per day.  The story, in my opinion, tries to do too much at once, but some may actually find this a plus.  The art is definitely the best component of the whole game, and I give it a standing ovation.

So what do you think?  Is this game a sweet dream or a nightmare?  Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pytho’s Mask

Author: Emily Short
Availability: Free / Download
Format: Text Game (Interactive Fiction)
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Rating: Everyone
My Scores: (Writing: 4, Gameplay: 3) out of 5

Found at http://ifdb.tads.org/ or http://www.wurb.com/if/index


In Pytho’s Mask, you are Soteria, an agent of the secret Order of the Phoenix.  A mysterious masked man has invited you to the royal celebration of a comet that appears once every hundred years.  Your orders are to use this opportunity to investigate a possible threat to the king, which may have something to do with the comet...


Pytho’s Mask is a text game.  Although the more popular term for this genre is apparently “Interactive Fiction", I personally prefer to stick with “Text Games”:  arguably, most of these games are interactive works of fiction.  The main difference is that while most of these games have graphics and clickable items and whatnot, text/IF games deal primarily with, well, text.  The narrator gives you a description of where you are and what’s going on, and you type what you want to do in response.  True, some may have illustrations; but it’s like the difference between a book with pictures and a comic book.  Anyway, since Pytho’s Mask is all text with no pictures whatsoever, the Art score is absent for this review.

I like the writing in this game.  The plot is interesting, the mystery is well-clued without being too obvious, and the strange setting is beautifully detailed.  While some details can seem confusing at first, one quickly and easily gets a feel for this fantastic alternate-Earth.  Better still, the story and setting seem to “bleed off the page”, as it were;  hints of old stories and personal dramas creep in, giving the feeling that there’s more in the distance.  The characters are nicely distinct with strong personalities, requiring only a couple of sentences to establish just what sort of people they are.  And yet, there is more to each of them than meets the eye, for this game is all about hidden facets and dualities.  Also, I like that the main character is a bit like a Renaissance noble-woman version of Batman: Soteria doesn’t just idly solve mysteries as a way to pass the time between harpsichord lessons; she is a highly-trained agent whose job it is to kick butt.

The gameplay, on the other hand, I consider to be middling: not very good, not very bad.  One of the problems text games face is that they are highly vulnerable to “What Am I Supposed To Do Here?!” and its cousin, “What Am I Supposed To Type?!”.  Pytho’s Mask does a fairly good job of prodding you in the direction of the plot.  Admittedly, there are moments where you feel the game putting you on rails, but this is balanced out with times where you get to wander and explore at your leisure.  As for typing, there are blessedly few commands that you will actually need, although first figuring out how to phrase some things was a bit of a hiccup for me.

>Read Guide To Spotting Conspirators
What do you want to read that in?
> ???

Bear in mind, this is usually the fault of the tools used to make the game more than the author him/herself.  I currently recommend TADs, as it has a decent system for handling and creating actions, and it doesn’t ask me what I want to read things in.

One bug that’s more likely to be on the author’s shoulders, though, is the tendency to try to pick up a given book in the library only to later find yourself holding a completely different one.

On the shelves, you notice The King In Yellow.
>Read King In Yellow
(First taking The King In Yellow) It details how to roll out the dough, and what ingredients to use for sauce.
You are carrying a copy of How To Make Pizza.

Fortunately, things like that do not make up the majority of the game.  If anything, you spend most of the game talking to other characters.  The conversation system is introduced very early on, and it’s actually an NPC who initiates your first conversation.

Conversations are mostly handled in dialogue trees.  You first address a character by typing “Talk To (Character)", and then you’re given a choice of things to actually say.  You choose by simply selecting A, B, C, etc.  This helps make conversations easier to navigate, as it solves the “What Am I Supposed To Type?!” problem.  I discovered by accident, though, that you can also introduce different topics by typing “T (ThingYouWannaTalkAbout)”.  It took me a while to figure out what T was supposed to stand for (Talk About?  Tell About?); then I stumbled across a help section that said T was short for Topic.  “Topic Prince”?  Weird.

On that note, some of these characters have unusual names.  While that’s par for the course in fantasy, it brings up the problem of actually being able to remember said names.

>Ask Minister About Venetia
>The Hussy Hanging All Over The Prince

As it happens, though, the aforementioned Help section -- which I found so late in the game, that it’s embarrassing -- disclosed that, at any time, I could have typed “P” and been given a handy list of all the characters I’d met so far.  Why, oh why, did it not occur to me to type “HELP” sooner?  It could’ve saved me so much headache.

The last minor complaint I’ll bring up is that it’s a bit tricky to keep track of where the exits are.  Some text games have a built-in compass that tells you which directions you can go at any given time:

You are in a dungeon.  Exits are North, South, and Dennis.  
 Exits: North, South, Dennis
>Go North
You come to a room with an inadequately written description. 
 Exits: South, West

The version of Pytho’s Mask which I played (on Frotz) has no such function that I could detect.  Exits were only mentioned as the room was being described (“to the west is a door, and you see a...”), and room descriptions only appeared automatically when you first visit a room.  This means that if you go back to a room you’ve already been to before, you’ll have to explicitly type “Look” (or just “L”) to see where you can go from there.  (Or, of course, you can try going in a direction that doesn’t exist there, and thus be told “You can’t go that way.  You can only go North, South, or Dennis.”)  It’s a minor-to-moderate inconvenience, but it doesn’t make the game unplayable.

There are multiple endings to be had in this game, and at least two different men you can end up with.  Several of the endings fork from the same point.  Basically, toward the end of the game, you have to switch one item with another, and what you switch it with will determine the outcome (And let’s just say you really want to have a grip on who’s who at this point).  Of course, merely figuring out whodunnit isn’t enough to ensure everybody goes home safe and happy...

Pytho’s Mask is a fantastic intrigue flavored with romance and a little action.  It has its share of hiccups, but nothing so debilitating that you can’t finish the game.  “HELP” is your friend, and will save you from much woe.  On the whole, it’s worth checking out.

The Fortune Teller holds up a card.  On one side is an image of a reader agreeing with everything that the girl with the blog has just said.  On the obverse is an image of a reader shaking their head, tossing the blogger out of a convenient window, and going off to start their own blog, a better one, that will have blackjack and hookers.