Tag Archives: Fish

The Eyes of Ara Review

This was the fourth review I wrote for Brash Games.  They have since removed my name and byline from the review.

Mystery is the name of the game in this charmingly intriguing indie title from 100 Stones Interactive. Well not literally… The name of the Game is literally The Eyes of Ara and its game, figuratively speaking, is mystery.  A quick search for this crowdfunded point-and-clicker will show you enchanting pictures of a huge castle with towers and bridges, lavish interiors in the traditional haunted mansion aesthetic, and bizarre electronic contraptions.  Anyone with even a slight familiarity with games in the adventure-puzzle genre would be able to make the obligatory comparison to the games in the Myst series, just based on these images. How will The Eyes of Ara turn out? Will it reel you in with its beautiful scenery and then leave you bored with fifty repetitive clue-fetching quests?  Is it going to be another mediocre Myst-like?  Or maybe, if you’re an optimist, The Eyes of Ara will be just as grand and impressive on the inside as it is on its surface.

The game begins with a gentle boat ride up to the castle’s side docks. You remove a note from your suitcase and read it, filling you in on the dire situation.  Apparently, there’s some strange signal being broadcast from deep within the castle, interfering with the neighboring village’s communication services. To put it in a simpler way, you’re just a tech sent out by the cell phone company to keep their customers happily paying. But hey, not many people get the chance to explore an ancient, abandoned castle on the job, so why not? Quickly, the world fills in around you as you notice pizza boxes and soda cans littered about the entrance area.  A popular place for teenagers to spend the night, it seems. This gives the feeling that there’s nothing to be afraid of in this place. It’s just an old building with some odd quirks. Nothing scary…

You head inside the massive structure, solving some incredibly simple puzzles on the way to the entrance hallway. The place is surprisingly well-kept. Maybe there’s a cleaning service or perhaps a caretaker.  The environment is furnished with a multitude of little flavorings, filling the castle with history and depth. It meshes excellently with the variety of written texts you’ll be discovering throughout. Notes, diary entries, purchase invoices, machine blueprints all feel intimately at home amongst dusty desks and cob-webbed cabinets.  These documents tell you the curious story of the house’s previous residents.  A spiritual mother who believed the house was haunted by ghosts, two excitable children who explore the rooms in search of adventure, and a wily old uncle who spends most of his time up in the tower conducting strange experiments.  This group of characters becomes the primary source of storytelling throughout the many rooms and hallways of the great castle.

These bits of story are peppered evenly throughout the many mental challenges that impede your progress through the rooms. At times, these puzzles feel so simple that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as I put the pieces in place. In these moments, I really had to wonder what good came of including such easy ‘challenges’ at all.  Fortunately, the puzzles slowly ramp up in complexity and difficulty as you roam deeper into the castle. For the most part, the puzzles remain straight-forward and logical, requiring some light inventory work, jigsawing, and hidden item searching. There are also clues scattered around, which you will need to remember, so it’s a smart thing to utilize your screenshot button or a notepad and pen. Beyond these puzzles, the game consists of a large array of hidden items and collectibles. If not for the few puzzles which appear to be designed for people under the age of 7, The Eyes of Ara would feel truly polished and filled out in terms of gameplay.

Much of the ‘complete’ feeling that I mention above comes from the excitement of exploring the dozens of rooms (along with many other hidden rooms!) within the estate.  Here, the frustrating fact of the genre is that the desire to explore these lush room is impeded by the statuesque position of the player.  There is always something curious that just begs to be clicked on, which is simply not clickable!  So, even after you’ve finished the game and received the congratulatory music and the satisfactory vision of the credits scrolling offscreen, you’re still not quite sure if there was some hidden puzzle that you just couldn’t get to.

This contributes to the other faux pas I noticed in The Eyes of Ara, and that’s the surprising level of linearity that the sprawling castle seems to be built upon.  There are three or four sections of the castle, and they’re each gated by the ‘main puzzle’ that must be solved before progressing.  The first several rooms are one-off puzzles that you never really need to revisit. The fourth puzzle I can remember consisted of pushing two buttons hidden within a room – using the term ‘hidden’ lightly here, because the buttons were sitting out in plain view with absolutely no understandable context.  Many of the puzzles and solutions have absolutely nothing to do with the wonderfully decorated rooms they’re a part of. Despite this, the game is gripping and entertaining more often than not.

The Eyes of Ara is cohesive. The story meshes perfectly with the ambiance, which is only interrupted by the seemingly arbitrary puzzles positioned all over the place in ways that you’d imagine would be extremely inconvenient for anyone actually living in the castle. The music is soothing yet mysterious, egging you on but keeping you off edge. The graphics – while nothing stellar – are solid and fit my idea of such an old and intriguing place as well as I could imagine. The puzzles vary in difficulty dramatically, but the majority are quite stimulating.  All-in-all, The Eyes of Ara is a relaxing game that would make most fans of the genre quite happy.  There’s a solid 15 hours of exploring and puzzling ahead, so it’s a good thing that it’s an easy game to pick up and put down, each time solving just a small slice more of the mystery of The Eyes of Ara.

N8

R8

6/8

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Ace of Seafood Review

This was the third review I wrote for Brash Games.  They have since removed my name and byline from the review.

ace-of-seafood1

Upon first reading the name of this strange indie game from developer Nussoft, you will likely fall into the trap of coming to inaccurate first conclusions.  If you’re at all like me, you might just fall into making the same assumption that anything called Ace of Seafood must be some sort of competitive chef simulator, or some strange spin-off of the usually terrible cooking or restaurant management game.

But no… In fact, Ace of Seafood is nothing of the sort. Instead, what you get with this weird little game is an action packed, laser blasting, hardcore underwater shooter. At the beginning of your first session, you’ll be given the choice of commanding one of three fully-armed sea creatures into chaotic battles of life or death against all the horrors of the deep, dark future-ocean. In these depths, you must begin your journey by choosing one of three backgrounds: the Sardines, the Salmon, or the Spiny Lobsters. On one hand, fish species allow complete freedom of movement in every direction, giving priority to dodging, strategic positioning, and flanking at the cost of some defense. On the other hand, crustaceans offer superior defense and abilities that lend to a cautious and protective style of play. Other species and play styles emerge as the game carries on and a skilled seafarer will quickly find that with each powerful weapon and ability comes a steep handicap.

So you make your initial decision and enter the choppy ocean waters. Immediately, you may wander in any direction you desire, the only restriction being your occasional need to feed. On your journeys, you will come in contact with dozens of other species, some passive and some extremely hostile. And when these myriad fishes do get violent, things get seriously difficult in no time.

In order to match the power of the many aggressive sea foods you’ll encounter, you’ll have to breed some strong species of your own, gathering new types as you go, each with different strengths and styles. As you explore the deep seas, you’ll discover dozens of reefs which serve as safety zones for you to heal up, regroup, and dig into breeding various fish, crabs, lobsters, and (strangely) war ships. The combat system is just the same as most airplane or submarine combat systems out there.  You have full horizontal and vertical control, and the aiming system is all particle-based and frustratingly accurate. It’s important to come to this underwater world with some first person shooter skills in hand. Beyond simple accuracy, you can also improve your chances by commanding your accompanying school of fish to take different strategic positions, blocking incoming shots or attacking from different angles.

As you stretch out the seemingly endless edges of your minimap, you’ll notice that this world is gigantic. Playing as different sea critters allows you to access different areas of the ocean, and though exploration is really secondary to the combat experience the game seems to focus on, there’s nothing quite as exciting as swimming and swimming into the distance, never quite positive if you’ll be able to make it back.  As a side note, the lovely music by artist Deku provides an amazing auditory backdrop as you delve ever deeper into the murky depths.

The only story elements in the game come during the loading screens, where you get cryptic messages about the end of humanity and the spirit of life being passed on to laser-shooting future fish.  These poorly translated moments add another layer of hilariousness to the already ridiculous notion of laser fish fighting rocket crabs fighting military war ships.

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And so Ace of Seafood goes. You’ll soon be speeding around the sea, hunting down new reefs with your posse of crustaceans, fish, and submarines tailing happily behind you; a fierce challenge for any monster sea creature that impedes your way. I found that an adaptive method of play worked best, using hard-shelled creatures to fight against attack-heavy opponents and speedier fish against slower, more deliberate enemies. Cleverly utilizing walls as a barrier to avoid the AI’s superior aim was also a winning strategy, alongside deploying decoys and using strong allies to bolster my chances as I attacked each new reef.  And since each new reef offers a safe place to recalculate your attacks, I never felt overly frustrated or annoyed when my horde of sardines was decimated by a pack of angry tuna.

In general, I was immensely surprised by the level of depth Ace of Seafood offered, especially considering my initial impressions of the game based on the title. More specifically, the open world (sea) is an impressive display of how huge an indie game can be, despite technical and logistic limitations. The combat system is also surprisingly well-tuned, minus a few annoying peaks and valleys in enemy difficulty. The aiming system in highly precise and maneuvering through each combat session feels as natural as any other shooter of this type, with only an occasional bout of directional confusion when trying to swim in circles or quickly turn around. The graphics leave plenty to be desired, but all-in-all there is a lot here for the price of a small studio game.

So, Ace of Seafood is a delightful little oddity with quite a bit going for it. There are a few annoying quirks and some strange design choices, like the option to turn on “online features” that seem to do nothing at all. But if you’re looking for a solid few hours of fishy entertainment, Ace of Seafood is not a bad catch.  To conclude, I’ll summarize my thoughts on Ace of Seafood with a comment from the developer: “So many dreams…and to think that playing as seafood would be the answer to all of them.”

N8

R8

6/8

follow n8 @UncleEggma

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