Bundle Boggle: Groupees' Be Mine X (Part 2)

Man, it's been almost a week since I put out the first blog of this multi-part look at Groupees' new (well, old at this point) bundle Be Mine X: the tenth in their flagship series of Indie game/soundtrack collections. Last time, I covered four games that were available for anyone who paid at least the $1 minimum, and this time we check out the original four games given to consumers who spent five bucks or more. Might be a better idea if in the future I concentrate on the various "beat the average" games first, considering the higher potential cost-to-value ratio.

Anyway, because I've dithered so much, there's now an extra five games (not to mention a bunch of music LPs) that have been unlocked in the bundle: King's Bounty: Warriors of the North, Project Night, Little Gardens, Jazz: Trump's Journey ($5 or more) and Pid ($5 or more). I'll have to cover those in Part 3, should I manage to finish it before the bundle expires in three days.

The BMX Bundle: Part 2: Five Bucks Club (Still No Bikes)

Call of Juarez probably doesn't require much of an introduction. The first of what would become a hit-or-miss series of third-person shooters, Call of Juarez presents a good ol' Western full of revenge and redemption and resourcefulness and resentment and a lot of other words that begin with "re". Respiration; there's probably some of that. The game splits its focus between a former-gunslinger priest and his wayward but well-meaning half-Native American nephew, with the former having all sorts of slow-down bullet-time abilities at his disposal while the latter gets by on sneaking and running more often than not. It's sort of an elegant if inflexible solution to that Metal Gear Solid/Deus Ex stealth game quandary of choosing whether to go it full-bore or use a bit of subtlety: instead, the game has you alternate between both.

Call of Juarez both suffers and benefits from its age. It was made in a pre-Modern Warfare/pre-Gears (barely) era of FPS games back when they were all still trying to do their own thing, so while it's dragged down with some awkward mechanics (I don't know if I'll ever get used to that whip swinging, nor did I find the box moving too responsive), it still has its own personality. The bullet-time is goofy but still somewhat novel in its application (you need to put your guns away to activate it, which is a little cumbersome) and the story's not too bad from what little I saw of it, with one protagonist chasing down the other due to a case of mistaken identity. It's certainly rough around the edges, but it's not aged too poorly.

Face Noir is an earnest Indie adventure game that puts you in the (gum)shoes of a hardened 1930s New York private detective as he goes about solving crimes, getting drunk and pining for the dames what done him wrong. If there's a chief problem with Face Noir, and there's a few to choose from, its that the game is a little too attached to its genre: it puts all its cards on the table, reveling in the tropes of the very specific and well-trodden language of film noir without giving itself any means to set itself apart with a unique personality. To give you a better example of a noirish detective game: Discworld Noir, based on Terry Pratchett's novel series but not directly adapted from any one of them, takes all the recognizable elements of noir fiction and blends them with the fantasy universe of the Discworld novels. The result is a somewhat clever spoof on noir tropes in a universe where barely any of them would make sense; for instance, Ankh-Morpork is a city where you could theoretically solve a murder by waiting for the Disc's sardonic Grim Reaper to show up and asking him a few questions about the deceased. That game also demonstrably knew its Maltese Falcons and Double Indemnities back to front, but didn't simply ape the atmosphere and cadence of those movies and called it a day - rather, it took noir's recognizable elements and merged them with a fantasy world to create an amusingly incongruous juxtaposition.

Hey, buddy, Italian Colin Farrell only believes in whiskey, okay? So take a hike.

Anyway, I'm digressing a bit here because Face Noir doesn't have a whole lot going on: all its elements were either lifted from the fiction it venerates a little much (there's even a character based on Peter Lorre's slimy delivery, which is something even the Mega Man cartoon did) or, if we're talking about its mechanics, lifted from better adventure games. As well as the usual inventory puzzles, there are ones that can be solved by linking two facts together (like the LOOOGIC! of Ace Attorney Investigations) as well as a few other infrequent off-beat instances like that. I can't say I really enjoyed the time I spent with the game: it looks and feels a little too generic for its own good, the script isn't exactly sparkling with its one-liners and the character models are a bit too on the mannequin side of the uncanny valley. Still, though, if you're a fan of this specific sub-genre of crime fiction maybe there's more here for you to enjoy. It certainly doesn't skimp on the atmosphere at least.

Legends of Dawn is a game I wish I really could've figured out. Or maybe I don't, since from all reports it's not exactly the most well-crafted open-world experience ever put together. An RPG of the Elder Scrolls or Divine Divinity vein, where you're essentially dumped into a world and left to forge your own path with the many options available, Legends of Dawn hints at a hell of a lot of complexity early on - both in-game and externally with the many promises it made as a Kickstarter project that were apparently credible enough to allow it to reach its goal. A brief glance into the game's achievements shows how much there is to see and do in the game, with all its faction reputation management, combat styles, homestead improvements, item-crafting and so on. It was actually all a little intimidating, though in a good way.

But then I tried playing the game.

What does any of this stuff do? Why am I collecting it all? What is this?! It's like I'm finally reaping what I've sown for all my video game kleptomania.

I'm not sure if Legends of Dawn is incredibly slow or if it was just my PC struggling to get all its moving parts working. It certainly doesn't look like much, with graphics that resemble those of Neverwinter Nights 2 or Dungeon Siege, but I can't help but get that paranoid PC gaming feeling that either I'm letting it down or its letting me down without being fully cognizant of which is more accurate. Given the sheer number of weird little bugs, crashes (while saving, no less, which also resulted in a dozen identical save files once I jumped back in), strange chronological issues with the quests (a few asked me to return to places I'd never been) and systems that go completely unexplained, like an otherwise interesting-looking rune-based lockpicking system, I started to get the impression that this game was either woefully unfinished or created by a company who didn't quite know what they were doing. It's like the development team took on every open-world RPG element they thought looked neat and tried to jam them into an engine that couldn't hope to fully support them without a lot more work. I'm not the type to dismiss any game out of hand, and it's possible Legends of Dawn becomes far more stable further down the line, but it's not a good precedent to set if one intends to endear oneself to a prospective fanbase. It seems to be a very regrettable yet common trend with Indie games recently to release a broken-ass product and ask the poor saps who bought it new to "just hang on a moment while we fix this element, tweak this system and maybe put out all these fires".

Finding Teddy, thankfully and conversely, is actually kind of good. An adventure game that takes more than one page from the books of Superbrothers and Fez, your child protagonist is tasked with recovering their teddy from a fantastical world full of danger. As a tiny girl, the player doesn't have much in the way of offensive options; rather, the goal is to solve environmental puzzles by finding objects and placing them where they're needed. Much of the game is dialogue-free (at least initially) and plays out in a similar manner of dreamlike whimsy as its inspirations. With a little more detail, it merges old-school pixel art with modern particle effects and lighting, and emphasizes the calming effects of music with both an ambient chilled-out soundtrack and the discovery that this world's language is linked to musical notes. As the game progresses, you're called on more often to solve puzzles using the game's musical alphabet, which thankfully does not require you to do much more than experiment a little to figure out what's required. There's no memorizing musical notation, and the musical glyphs aren't exactly a million miles away from the letters they represent.

It can be a very pretty game, but it's clear it was made for a mobile device with a smaller screen.

It's a cute little adventure game all told, and not one that's going to take you more than a couple of hours. A few of the puzzles might stump you, but given how the game separates each area and removes access to earlier zones, there'll only ever be a very finite number of hotspots to interact with. As well as the aforementioned Indie darlings, I'd liken Finding Teddy to Amanita Design's output: mostly wordless point-and-click adventure games oozing with charm and adventure, with clever little narratives that operate as much on subtext than the game spelling it out for you. Except for the lyrical puzzles where you literally are spelling something out, of course.

It's Over!

That should do it for Part 2, then. I'll get Part 3 up as soon as humanly possible so that people have the full picture before the bundle ends. Currently, it's looking like you'd be best off missing out on the pricier tier - Finding Teddy is available on iPhone for considerably less than five dollars, and nothing else really stands out. Without even checking the unlocked games, though, I can easily recommend the basic package - the Be Mine bundles tend to pack so much in even before the unlockables show up. See you all in Part 3, I guess.

< Back to Part One.

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