Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Bed-knob and Broomstick (containing the books "The Magic Bed-knob," and "Bonfires and Broomsticks")
by Mary Norton

Three children, Carey, Charles, and Paul, are sent to the country to live with their aunt while their mother is doing something so important she can't look after them.

The children meet Miss Price, an elderly woman in town who has a secret. Charles, the eldest, has been watching Miss Price fly on a broom for weeks. One night she falls and hurts her ankle, and the children rush to help her. That's when Charles confronts her about witchcraft.

Miss Price is teaching herself the craft, and though she is a beginner, she can still do some impressive things. But she can't have the whole village knowing she's doing this, so she makes a pact with the children: she gives them a magical device that can transport them anywhere they want, at any time, in return for their silence. If they tell anyone Miss Price's secret, the spell will break and the object won't work.

Paul, the youngest, happens to have a knob from his bed frame with him. Miss Price enchants it, and now the children go off on wild adventures on their magic bed that can take them anywhere they want!

...or not.

What's the first place they go? Back to London to see their mother. She's away, and instead they are picked up by a police officer and have a couple chapters in a police station, followed by a one-paragraph dilemma of how to get back to the bed.

Then they travel with Miss Price to a Pacific island for a lovely evening on a tropical beach (since beaches in England are cold and dreary). The island is inhabited by stereotypical cannibals (bones through the nose, dancing around a fire, chanting, a witchdoctor--every Hollywood cliché you can think of), and they make their escape. The children return home, bed soaked with seawater and pajamas filthy. It's enough to make their aunt send the children home.

This begins the second book. The bed-knob and magic have been forgotten for 2 years, and then the children answer Miss Price's ad in the paper for lodgers. Miss Price has given up magic, but she now owns Paul's old bed, and the children ask to go on one last adventure.

Finally, at long last, the children go somewhere interesting: 1666 England! There they meet a man who is pretending to be a necromancer for money, and they are so taken by his story of a life of fraud in fortunetelling and casting fake charms that they take him to present day 1940's England to meet Miss Price.

But when they send him back home, they discover he is doomed to be burned at the stake for sorcery! Now it's up to Miss Price and the children to rescue him.

What a waste of a magical object! British children in the 1940's had no imagination! They're in possession of a magical device that can take them anywhere, any time, and they don't do anything with it! The first book is disappointing. Escaping from cannibals? That's the story? That's all they do with the magic bed, and then for two years they do nothing with the knob?

It's only in the second book that they go somewhere interesting and do something interesting for someone who you kinda feel for. The necromancer is built up to be a very sympathetic character, worth going back to the past to rescue. Afterwards, the adventures end with no possibility for a third book. Two whole books, and they barely do anything with the bed-knob, or witchcraft in general.

It's not a bad pair of books; they read very well and Miss Price and the children are active characters who drive the story forward instead of just getting lucky (I'm looking at you, Miss Bianca, Nils, Bernard!), but the entire story is so underwritten it borders on making me angry for all its unused potential.

As the spiritual successor to Mary Poppins, the 1971 movie adaptation is quite a followup. Aside from the concept, there's barely anything from the books in the movie. The movie is actually an improvement.

Miss Price and the children use the magic bed-knob to go on a quest to find the last spell Miss Price needs to learn, and then she uses this magic for a real purpose: stopping the Nazis from invading Great Britain! It's exactly what was missing from the books!

Perhaps my expectations are higher in 2015 and the books were written when adventure could be more understated, but that didn't stop Treasure Island from being full of action and danger in the 1880's! I think so much more could have been done with the idea, and the movie did everything the books did not. It has adventure, character development, danger, humor, and the magic is used for a purpose. Overall, it is the better story, and one of my favorite movies from my childhood. It's still a spectacle to this day.

Friday, October 16, 2015



The much-hyped spiritual-successor to The Neverhood. (Are we ignoring Skullmonkeys? Yes, the Neverhood did have a sequel!) Adventure games are tough to pull off, but I have to wonder if anyone on the team even played one before!

(Did you watch that intro video? I hope so, because that's all the backstory you're going to get on our main characters, Tommynaut and Beakbeak. After that, they crash land, are trapped in the fortress Armikrog., and now they must solve the puzzles contained therein to get out.)

The puzzles are indiscernible, and when they aren't, they're tedious. The story is nonexistent and even weaker than the Neverhood's was. No, I didn't have fun with it. The whole game is just a chore.

I couldn't deduce much of anything from my environment. The game throws so many meaningless symbols at you you're never sure which ones to make note of, so you have to backtrack to find them again when you learn you need one of those symbols for a puzzle!

The game breaks its own rules multiple times. Why does the octopus on the ceiling only talk to Beakbeak when he's on those little ledges and nowhere else? There is no clue that you're supposed to click on the elevator octopus while controlling Beakbeak at that particular moment, and why would you since you can't reach it?? The game only lets you interact with things within your reach EXCEPT for those parts!

Some puzzles are hidden. This one, for example, features a symbol on the wall with a button beneath. My first instinct was to try pressing the button, because buttons are interactive. Nothing happened, so I moved on. Turns out you have to click the symbol on the wall next to the button to activate the puzzle! Symbols are not interactive any other time, so why does that work here?!

So many levers to find... So many tile puzzles... So many SYMBOLS! That's pretty much all you do. Hunt for levers, slide tiles around, and hunt symbols. Many require taking detailed notes of every symbol you see, most of them are meaningless, but a few are important. If you didn't make a detailed drawing or take a good picture of that particular symbol, you may have to backtrack a looooooooong way to see it again. This happens over and over.

I am an adventure game player. I took notes of everything I saw, and I still missed a lot because so much of what you see is unused, and the stuff that is used is usually not what you expected! Every door has a symbol over it, symbols abound in every room, symbols are over every button, on the ceiling, on the walls--they're everywhere! There's only so much I'm willing to write down!

That robot puzzle! Why that pattern and none of the others?? Given that there's a space between two robot patterns, I thought the solution was to select the patterns on the dial that were between the two patterns on the wall. It seems logical, as there would be a robot etched there if not for the nest taking its place, but that's wrong. The solution is to choose the only patterns from the wall that are on the dials. Geeze, the solution is right in front of you, but good luck spotting the differences between the robot pieces, as they all look alike, which makes them almost impossible to draw for reference (not unlike the prayer bell puzzle in Schizm)! Why make a logical puzzle when you can make it tedious and arbitrary. I felt like I was being punished for thinking things through.

And the lullaby puzzles. They are so long, and you can't speed up the song, or stop the shrill crying of that damn baby, so if you mess up, you just have to listen to the whole song again and again with the crying baby in the background until you get it right. Getting it right is trial and error. No skill, no deduction.

Every puzzle is a freakin' chore, and there's no lightning mode, so backtracking is a painful trek! Eureka moments are accompanied by thoughts of "crap, now I have to go all the way back and find that symbol again!"

I played the fully-patched version, and even then it failed to save my game several times, and Beakbeak glitched out while flying, forcing me to replay large chunks of the game! Whatever happened to releasing a bug-free product the first time? Don't need to now--why bother getting something right the first time when we have the internet and can just keep patching it.

$900k dollars on Kickstarter for this? It's pretty, and the animation is gorgeous for the rare moments it happens, but that's it. We barely know who the villain is, and why he's doing all this. He's introduced and then defeated within two breaths! The Neverhood got away with these problems because the style and humor rose above its weak story and arbitrary puzzles. Skullmonkeys got away with a weak story because the platforming gameplay was otherwise good. Armikrog is so unintuitive, so tedious, and so unfunny its style can't make up for its shortcomings.

And what happened to the sound quality on the voice acting? Everyone speaks with an echo for half the game, and there's no reason for their voices to echo. It detracted from otherwise good performances. They got THE Michael J. Nelson to voice the main character, but he has maybe a page's-worth of dialogue! He's the main character, and he barely has a role. Mike is totally wasted!

Kudos to Terry S. Taylor for another great soundtrack, even if it is subdued and underused compared to the 3 games he scored for the team in the 90's; and to the artists and animators and voice actors who brought all of this to life, but the game is downright unpleasant to play. They had a lot of talented artists and animators, but apparently nobody knew how to make an adventure game or tell a story.

The backstory is poorly delivered--there's actually more background on the characters in the scrapped versions of the theme song than the theme actually used in the game! That intro song is the only identity our playable characters ever have, so if you missed any of the lyrics, you will be lost by the time the game ends! I'm still not entirely sure what happened, and I don't really care. The game is so tedious and aggravating it made me want to hurry up and get it over with.

Adventure games are supposed to be about exploration, discovering the story, and figuring out the puzzles in relation to the environment. They should be part of the story and discernible within that context. It's a hard task to pull off--just look at the sheer number of bad adventure games out there!--but wow, I haven't played an adventure game that pissed me off since Jurassic Park on Sega CD. Even Darkstar didn't make me angry!

Sorry, but I didn't enjoy Armikrog. They could have done so much more with this idea, but instead we have a lifeless, tedious game with a weak story and a distinct lack of humor and fun. There are a lot of creative people behind it, and the game took a lot of work to bring to life, but it doesn't add up to anything enjoyable.