Category: Reviews

The various opinions I have of many different video games.

Slingo Mystery: Who’s Gold? – A casual classic meets the modern casual game.

In the many years I’ve been writing about oddball video gaming stuff, I thought I covered it all. The unofficial expansion packs, the weird cross-promotions, the mostly forgotten cheap games that came out during the 2000s. But it wasn’t until recently did I realize there was one genre I never talked much about: The hidden object game.

A genre I haven’t really covered on here, the hidden object game involves usually finding a bunch of items inside a room to make progress. For a good long while, the hidden object genre was the go-to game for super casual gamers everywhere. I assume it’s still modestly popular, but I figure most people have since moved on to Candy Crush Saga and similar easy-to-understand mobile game offerings.

Normally, I wouldn’t cover these, but then I found an interesting hidden object game. One mashed up with a classic online game I remember from my teen years. When I spotted this game at a thrift store, I had wondered how they decided to bring back a mostly dormant franchise and combine it with one of the most popular casual gamer genres out there. Turns out it’s quite a journey.

James Bond this ain’t.

Slingo Mystery: Who’s Gold? is a game developed and published by Funkitron Games – no relation to Toejam & Earl – that combines the popular hidden object game with Slingo, a game show-like game that mixes slot machines with bingo. Released around 2007 for PC platforms, this game seemed to slip through the cracks, as I didn’t realize this existed until I picked it up last year at a thrift store.

A screenshot of Slingo Deluxe, one of the earlier offline versions of the game. Sadly, there isn’t much footage of the original online game available, so this will have to do.

But before we get into the game itself, a small primer on what Slingo is. You have a bingo card and every spin of the reels gives you five numbers to fill the card with. Alongside the numbers are jokers – a wild card that can be used to mark any number on the column its on, gold coins – gives you extra score, and the devil, which cuts your score in half. You have up to 20 spins to fill the card, and the first to do so wins the game.

Slingo is a game I fondly remember from my days of playing it on America Online. For people of my generation, Slingo was one of those classic games people played in the early 2000s, web 1.0-era internet. That, Yahoo Games, You Don’t Know Jack: The NetShow and Acrophobia are many of these online games I fondly remember. Sadly, most of these are gone now, or live on through fanmade clones.

Totally forgot how jovial the Zynga Slingo joker was.

I’ve talked about Slingo once before: Way back in 2012, covering the time Zynga licensed the game for a Facebook mobile game that was fairly short-lived. It was perfectly fine, but filled with microtransactions and nagging your Facebook friends for help, which was pretty common at the time. Thank god we kinda moved past that.

But I’ve waxed enough nostalgia. Let’s get into the hybrid Slingo meets hidden object game that is Slingo Mystery: Who’s Gold?

Freddy doesn’t really seem happy to be there…

You play as Maggie Gold, a divorced, destitute woman who finds out from her friend Kyle Sparks that her ex-husband Freddy has passed, and decided to give his massive Las Vegas casino, “The Gold Casino,” to his current wife Gloria. Throughout the various areas of the casino, Maggie tries to find out the secrets of the casino, which involves a bunch of unusual item hunting and puzzle-solving.

This is the usual fare for hidden object games: Mostly licensed properties like Gameloft’s The Blacklist: Conspiracy.

Now, normally I wouldn’t talk too much about hidden object games. They always seemed to be the kind of genre that would flood the bargain bins of office supplies and department stores, sitting alongside a rack of cheap PC releases of games past like Braid or Far Cry 2. To me, these kind of games peaked when books like I Spy and Where’s Waldo came out. I couldn’t imagine these kind of games were anywhere near my wheelhouse.

Total Overdose: Mex Payne.

If there’s anything I kinda miss about gaming these days, is the sense of people copycatting ideas from other games because they became a breakout success. Sonic the Hedgehog was popular, so here’s a bunch of platformers of characters with some ‘tude. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater rejuvenated a fading extreme sports genre and had a few copycats throughout the 2000s.

But the biggest was around 2001, when two major franchises released that would shift the balance towards what games were for the first half of the decade: Grand Theft Auto III and Max Payne. GTAIII was a free-roaming open world game that was actually critically acclaimed. Its success suddenly had many games pivot to making GTA clones or even open worlds to drive around in an otherwise linear action game. Likewise with Max Payne‘s release, a fair share of games started taking the bullet time shooting mechanic as well, though not as big.

Now most of these copycats are perfectly fine, solid game, but they rarely stood out unless they had some kind of gimmick attached to them. One game in particular decided to copy both of those games together, with a pinch of Mexican cinema pastiche for flavor.

hey, watch where you point that, buddy

Total Overdose: A Gunslinger’s Tale in Mexico is a game definitely in that Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne mold, but with a little Latin flavor. Developed by Deadline Games, a Denmark development studio mostly known for adventure games, this game has them trying to make something previously unknown to them: the third-person shooter meets open-world sandbox.

Guess you gotta start things off action-packed somehow.

The game starts in 1989-era Mexico as DEA agent Ernesto Cruz tries to find Papa Muerte, a major drug kingpin. While shooting his way through a Mayan jungle, Ernesto makes his escape on a plane before forcibly being removed from it. The death was reported as a drug overdose.

Cut to a few years later, when Ernesto’s son Tommy, who’s also a DEA agent, tries to figure out the mystery of his father’s death, where he goes undercover working for some drug cartels. But an unfortunate incident at a gas station leads to him being stuck in a wheelchair and being strictly reconnaissance for the time being.

Real smooth there, dude.

Enter Ram Cruz: Tommy’s delinquent brother who helps him out by doing missions for the DEA in exchange for his freedom. While Tommy is kind and supportive, Ram is a massive dickhead at the start. This doesn’t last for long, though, as he eventually sheds a lot of that attitude for a more casual personality towards the end.

Dive, shoot, survive. Easy to learn, difficult to master.

Total Overdose starts like a conventional mid-2000s shooter for the time. WASD moves, left mouse button shoots. Since this is taking a page from the Max Payne playbook, hitting the shootdodge key – Spacebar by default – Ram can dodge and shoot enemies for bonus points. Holding right mouse button gives a more precision headshot that can be a one-hit KO if timed correctly. There’s other little tricks Ram can do, including climbing up walls and rappelling down wires while shooting, giving that sense of style that Max Payne refined just a couple years earlier.

perhaps they took inspiration from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater as well…

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit: Cutesy, yet gory.

(content warning: cartoony violence and blood within. there’s also an aside about a game designer’s transphobia, but not in the game itself.)

Ever had a moment where you’re scrolling through your library on Steam or some other digital storefront and spotted a game in your library that you have no memory of acquiring? Something that made you wonder “when the hell did I buy this?,” causing you to frantically search Humble Bundle and the 3-4 other discount key storefronts you have accounts on just to have the record of when you purchased that game? Well, the game I’m writing about this time was like that for me, a game that somehow was in my Steam library for literally years. I was confused on how it got there. Maybe I bought it from hell or something.

Or, as the game calls it, “Ugh yeah!!!”

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is a… rather bizarre action-adventure/metroidvania (ugh) game that was in my Steam library for a long time. Released in 2012 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Steam, it’s an unusual choice of game in my library mostly because of the game’s publisher: Sega.

“SEG-” *frantically mashes start to get to the main menu*

You know Sega, right? The company that puts out okay-to-great Sonic the Hedgehog games, the amazing Yakuza/Like a Dragon games, and occasionally dabbles in their back catalog once in a blue moon, right? In addition to its main headquarters in Tokyo, Japan and the oft memed USA branch, there’s another important division, an unsung hero of the company: Sega Europe, publishers of iconic PC gaming franchises like Total War, Company of Heroes, Endless Space and Football Manager. They dabble in other games as well, but Sega Europe’s is the reason Hell Yeah! was published by them and not like, 505 Games or something.

Pretty sure this is also the name of a my bloody valentine tribute album.

Hell Yeah! was offered as one of the free gift packages in “Make War Not Love,” a promotion Sega Europe was doing with its iconic strategy game franchises where playing either of those games – Company of Heroes 2, Total War: Attila and Warhammer: Dawn of War II – would result in unlocking content for those respective games. Hell Yeah! was packed in alongside other Sega games like Viking: Battle for Asgard, Renegade Ops and some of the games in the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Classics Collection. All of these were offerings for the third “Make War Not Love” event, which happened in February 2016, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

But let’s talk about Hell Yeah! itself. Developed by Arkedo Studio, a games studio based in Paris, France, was mostly known for relatively forgotten platformers in their “Arkedo Series” of games. Said games had fairly unremarkable titles like Jump!, SWAP!, and Pixel!. Hell Yeah! would be their last major game released while the studio was still active. Eventually one more game would be released not long after the studio shut down: Poöf vs the Cursed Kitty, released one year later and published by Neko Entertainment. Surprisingly this game doesn’t end with an exclamation point in its title.

Don’t try to go to that web address, it doesn’t exist. Though, watch as Google suddenly makes .kom a top level domain…

In Hell Yeah!, you play as Ash, a bunny rabbit who reigns supreme over the realms of hell. Through negligence on his part, pictures of him are taken by paparazzi and spread around the shores of hell, causing it to damage his reputation. With help from his servant Nestor, Ash opts to seek revenge by finding the culprit who leaked those photos in the first place, which requires defeating 100 monsters around the world.

Why does it feel like I’ve waltzed onto a bullet hell shooter?

Ash has a fairly modest arsenal to start. Not long after the beginning, Ash acquires a super-sawing jetpack that allows Ash to drill through certain materials and fly to certain areas. In addition, Ash can acquire a slew of weapons: Slow-firing missiles that can blast through rock and destroy enemies with ease. Eventually after the tutorial area, Nestor gifts Ash with a second weapon: A machine gun, one that looks similar to the famous M41A Pulse Rifle from the Aliens films.

I Am Alive: Ubisoft’s dollar store version of a survival action game.

I never really cared for post-apocalyptic stuff. That stereotypical dystopia of derelict cities fighting off some zombie horde or devastating dust storm while people living in squalor… It all felt a bit too played out to me. Considering what’s happened in the past few years with us living through a global pandemic, I can’t say I’m really interested in playing too many things that hit a bit too close to reality like that.

That doesn’t mean I never play those kind of games. I’ve played stuff like Fallout 3 and Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead which take place in dystopian worlds and yet still enjoyed them. But it’s definitely not something I actively seek out.

Yet, I decided to start 2023 by playing a game that took place in a post-apocalyptic world. One that was recommended to me as something interesting, but fairly clunky. And as you’re gonna learn, feels like the dollar store brand of something more notable.

I mean, it’s better than being dead, I suppose.

I Am Alive – a title that while grammatically correct, still sounds weird to my ears – is a survival action game published by Ubisoft and developed by Ubisoft’s Shanghai studio. Released in March 2012 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and later the PC through Steam and Uplay Ubisoft Connect; the game was one of those aforementioned post-apocalyptic games, coming out just as the survival action genre was starting to take off.

Originally announced as just Alive in 2008, I Am Alive was being developed at Darkworks, a French studio who had done other similar games, such as the interesting survival horror game Cold Fear and the mostly-forgotten Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare

After an initial trailer showing a player surviving a catastrophic event in Chicago, Illinois, the game went dark, with only occasional news reports of the game still being alive (no pun intended). After countless delays, the game was rumored to be canceled until Ubisoft moved the development in-house around 2010, while also shifting the game’s focus from a major retail title to a smaller digital-only title. Darkworks shuttered its doors not long after.

Unless some Darkworks developer held on to some unfinished development code, this particular version of I Am Alive is presumably lost, with only some proof of concept trailers still available online.

Even after moving development to Ubisoft Shanghai, they opted to take Darkworks’ concept and start completely fresh, basically making a new game under the same name. Let’s see if they revived this concept, or if it should’ve stayed dead.

It’s like I’m watching a found footage movie!

In I Am Alive, we’re introduced to the playable character, a boring, run-of-the-mill dude protagonist whose name is never mentioned at all during the game. For some reason, I thought his name was “Ethan,” but all the sources I checked have him unnamed, so he’ll be named Our Hero going forward. 

After The Event – the nebulous term the game uses for the apocalyptic event that ravaged the country – Our Hero returns to Haverton, a fictitious New York-like locale. He goes to find his wife and daughter – who do have names unlike Mr. Unknown here – but after finding that they’re not home, Our Hero then gets wrapped up in a journey that involves reuniting other families, getting supplies, and taking advice from various strangers around Haverton to eventually escape out of this hellhole.

Ezio Auditore he ain’t.

FOX n FORESTS: A retro-style platformer with a surprising twist.

About 10 years ago on another WordPress blog I had, I made a rather dumb wordy rant about how retro pixel-style games sucked and how I was getting sick of them appearing everywhere. This was before games like Undertale and Celeste came out, games that showed how you could make that style work perfectly. In essence, I was being a graphics snob, which is somewhat uncharacteristic of me these days.

I only mention this because this post is gonna be about a game that uses pixel art, and how surprisingly good it looks. Basically letting my past self have some crow. Though in this case we’re talking about a fox, not a bird.

Oh no the fox is kinda cool-looking

FOX n FORESTS is a retro-style 2D platformer developed by Bonus Level Entertainment and Independent Arts Software, two studios based out of Germany. Bonus Level is a modest indie studio founded by Rupert Ochsner, a former developer who worked on projects at Deep Silver including Saints Row The Third, though mostly in a business role. Independent Arts on the other hand, are known for a myriad of games, mostly ports of games like Tropico 6 to console platforms and the Moorhuhn series of games (known as Crazy Chicken outside Germany). So two developers with at least some amount of game history, just on the more “shovelware” side of things.

Originally pitched on Kickstarter in 2016, FOX n FORESTS was released in May 2018 on all the major platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and of course, PC via Steam. Outside of getting mentioned by James Stephanie Sterling in their “Greenlight Good Stuff” series, this game very much came and went when it came out. Yet I’m always curious about lesser-known games that aren’t talked about much, so I was willing to give it a try.

“Fifth season” sounds like a boy band from the ’90s. I guess it fits, considering what the game is referencing.

You play as Rick, a “foxtastic” – their words, not mine – hero who is persuaded from murdering a poor partridge to help the Season Tree, who’s lost their magic bark to various villains around the seasonal world. It’s up to Rick to recover the pieces of magic bark and give them back to the season tree to save the day, and get handsomely rewarded in the process.

Is the story a bit silly? Yeah, definitely. But I’m not expecting high-quality writing here, especially for a game trying to hearken back to the days of retro platformers from the SNES era.

Rick’s journey begins! …and already it’s a bit tougher than he was expecting.

Rick starts with a fairly simple arsenal of a sword and a bow. The sword is used to attack enemies while moving, crouching or jumping. The bow is used to attack enemies at a distance, but requires Rick to be completely stationary and on the ground. As Rick progresses, he gets arrows that can alternate between special fire modes that come in handy later on for damage, or to activate platforms he couldn’t get to previously.

Damn, I wish he could do that for real!

The sword has a very special ability: pressing on either left or right trigger changes the season, which varies from level to level. The first level lets Rick switch between the warm summery colors to a wintery cold, which freezes all the water and makes some platforms easier to see.

Another level switches between a spring dusk to a fall breeze, complete with growing fruit and falling leaves that double as platforms to make progress. This is a pretty neat mechanic. However, visiting the other seasonal area slowly drains your mana bar, so this requires a balance of switching between seasons at the most opportune times to make progress.

Damn, this badger ain’t even phased by those bees

At various points, another character named Retro the gaming badger appears to save the player’s progress mid-level, at the cost of some gold. Naturally he spouts off a bunch of retro video game references, as a wink and a nod to the games inspired by FOX n FORESTS.