I played this, part one: a handful of teeny tiny video games, reviewed.

I rather like video games, from big outrageous console shifting titles down to sprightly little indie numbers and most things inbetween. Here’s my last half-dozen or so – not all completed but played enough to get an idea of whether I’ll continue.

The Christmas hols saw me on a bit of an iOS/ iPhone game binge (but read on as many of these are ports or are ported to other platforms), with a bias towards mystery puzzle games.

I played Escape from Antrim, a locked room escape with two possible exits, and being a masochist I did both. That’s not to say I did both without help. Some of the puzzles are so obtuse I had to get some assistance and one in particular drove me a bit potty, simply because I had dislodged a vital item but not noticed.
One gripe is the complete lack of help (unless you count the many reviews of the game in the app store that are something like HOW DO I GET THE CAT TO THE SINK?, which I don’t.) Being, frankly, a harried and hurried mother of small people, a game will drive me potty if there is no hint system because more often than not I have had to put my phone/DS/controller down to answer the never ceasing holler ‘Mummy!’ and by the time I’ve come back I’ve forgotten what I was half way through. That aside, I am rather partial to a good room escape game (although none have yet bettered the interactive fiction award winner Violet) and many of the puzzles were ingenious. 3/5

Having played its predecessor I went on to play the sequel Escape from Antrim 2: Now Two Dozy Bastards Are Locked Up, or something of that ilk. The video game trope ‘Whiny helpless dumb blonde’ was in full effect in this sequel which led directly on from the first. In fact the heroic young man of the first game actually has to drop in to save aforementioned lobotomised cheerleader. What’s odd about this is that you, as her, have already cracked a fuckton of awkward puzzles before he shows up to tag team with you. A random observation: this game involves a lot of dropping of a bar of soap on the floor. This never stops being funny.
It has a few puzzles that use the iPhone accelerometer to hairtearing effect and one or two puzzles that seem very obtuse, cross over into a world of pain in their painstaking requirements for resolution and then lead only to more oddness once cracked. The tag teaming between characters should be a nice touch but, as I said, it mostly involves dropping soap or candy and once suggesting to one another that you poke an owl. Still, it was deftly clever in places and there is a storyline (slowly) building. There is no bonus extra exit yet, but I believe one will be out soon enough as a free upgrade. Actually the best bonus puzzles available now were spotting the cracking spelling mistakes and wondering who on Earth didn’t see them in development. 2.5/5

So the room escape mystery led me to look for other mystery games, and I pulled up two – vastly different, not least in quality.

First up James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club: Scarlet Something Or The Other Unmemorable. I’ve never read the books but I understand that they are good murder mysteries, with a group of female law enforcers and others solving the crime. There was a DS game and I believe this is the port.
There’s a pretty good yarn going about a murder on a boat of a Chinese descent newscaster, based in San Francisco with loose ties to Chinatown and the mafia. So far, so good. The opening scene has you do a bunch of hidden object seeking – find lots of little things hidden in a bigger scene, usually using pinch-zoom to investigate closer – and then some investigating the body to advance the story. The problem is that the controls are very finickity as to what you touch, especially in the investigation section, and the hidden object stuff is repetitive beyond belief. I did the same four locations over and over, until I practically knew where every object was without trying. Then I hit a showstopper of a bug which meant the game thought I had investigated everything on a corpse and jumped to that section but I didn’t have the right tools so I went round in a loop unable to continue. A quick look through some of the less-than-favourable views on the app store, of which there were many, suggested I wasn’t alone. Shame, as the story looked like it was going to be a good one. Maybe James Patterson did the coding as well as the story. I note an £11.95 version of this has appeared in the mac app store. Caveat emptor. 1/5

EA’s $.99 sale over Christmas prompted me to pick up Cause of Death, essentially a text adventure with pretty pictures attached revolving around an FBI agent and a San Francisco detective (games location researchers, get out more!) tracking down a serial killer. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was pleasantly suprised. The game is divided in volumes (currently two) and chapters, with new content available to buy or free with ads.
It is well written, well-paced and genuinely creepy. Some of the logic is a bit ‘text adventure’ – as in there is no particular clue as to which is the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ path but even with the wrong paths you are rewarded with some fairly grisly death throe descriptions. The characterization, especially of even the minor characters, is good and the crime and facts surrounding it are well fleshed out for you to solve alongside the detectives. The beautiful but aloof investigator with a history and the handsome, maverick but troubled detective are pretty box standard but I’m not going to argue with a female FBI agent kicking ass and taking names in a lead role.
The story continues after volume one with a related story and I am enjoying volume two just as much. Well worth the meagre price and then some. 5/5

Wondering whether the Murder Club had murdered the hidden object or whether it was a bad lot altogether, I picked up a few more from the App store, namely Treasure Seekers, Amazon: Hidden Expedition and Crystal Portal 1. While all better than our Women’s Murder Club offering I can’t say I was taken with any of them. They all seemed to be introducing a dramatic storyline where there was none and similar standard of pickings. Things picked up when I found a recommendation for Time Geeks, a much more pixelly, retro and roundly entertaining affair (the Island referencing the entirety of Lost was amusing, even though I have barely watched an episode, as it played up to all the most reported events). Unlike other hidden object games, here you are seeking for one thing retroactively inserted into the same scene so there is much less boredom when going back to scenes for repeat levels. There are also minigames ranging from fun, (shooting soccer penalties) to daft, (creating your own bizarre scenes with what seemed to be miniature level builders) to daftly fun (shooting aliens on a monorail was especially memorable) and achievement levels for beating time limits. I think I now have every item collected in under 4 secs, which says something for its replay value and another for my recent insomnia. It’s hairpulling in places but you are always frustrated with yourself and not the game, which is the best recipe for a good puzzle game I always think. 10 levels, with around 10 objects at a time, plus the minigames means there’s plenty of fun to be had, not least from exploring the miniature pixel art scenes from sports stadium to Mayan palace. 4/5