Not Secretive, but Weirdly Addictive- The Secret Society: Hidden Mystery

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This free “The Secret Society: Hidden Mystery” is an I-spy type find the object game with a twist.   It’s not just another game in which you find stuff; there’s a whole storyline to it (I can’t tell you what the storyline really is because I’m still playing the game- I guess revealing a little bit each time you play keeps you addicted, no?), which concerns your uncle Richard, who has disappeared. You have a fixed amount of maximum energy for each level you attain, but depleted energy replenishes with time.  I kind of like this mechanism, because it keeps me from playing them too much : P  You’ll get different photos to search in, and each will cost your different amounts of energy.  You won’t get all the photos at the start; you’ll have to complete quests to get them, so the game gradually expands.

If you pay with real money, though, you can get all sorts of items which you’ll need for completing goals.  But then again, as I have mentioned before, I don’t really find that fun.  I enjoy accumulating my own items without using money.image

The graphics are wonderfully made, and very pleasing to the eye.  One major problem for me is the background music.  Although there is supposedly a button for you to turn off the music, it doesn’t.  So basically every time I play the game I have to pretty much mute my phone first.  I wonder if it does the same weird thing to other players.image

This is one of the photos you can search through.  As you progress in the game, it gets harder, and the searching mode is different too each time.  Sometimes you get words, sometimes shadows, sometimes you have to search in darkness (of course, you can purchase a torch).  Just bear in mind though, several things:

1. You can zoom in.  If you don’t, you will likely never find everything in the photo.  I used a Samsung Galaxy Note LTE and I usually zoom the photos to the max and scroll through it.  If you use a smaller phone you’ll unlikely have enough time to do so.

2. You can pause the game.  I love, love, LOVE this feature, which many free games don’t seem to provide.  Especially with these games which takes up a lot of concentration, it sucks when you see the clock ticking and you suddenly have to do something else (for me, it’s usually when my bus arrives, because I tend to play games while waiting for my bus).  So, pause if you need it.  Otherwise you’ll have wasted your energy, and if you don’t complete the mission, you don’t get any objects.

3. Don’t click repeatedly for no reason.  It’s tempting because you can probably find stuff that way (like how you press “tab” in room escape games).  But don’t, because you will get time deducted as a punishment.  image

And the wonderful thing about this game is that it’s not just about finding items.  There are other puzzle games involved too, like the one above, which is a Rush Hour-type puzzle game (with incredibly rendered wooden blocks), and the one below, which is a “Pipes” puzzle.  image

All in all, it’s a great game to pass some time, if you like casual puzzle games.  Since there are so many puzzles of different sorts, it will take a long time before you complete everything.  Just bear in mind that you’ll probably need at least a phablet-sized phone to play it, or else it will frustrate you to no end.

Create monsters to kill monsters- Fort Conquer

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I’d like to share with you a free smarphone game I’m kind of addicted to recently: Fort Conquer.  It’s a tower defense game, but not just any tower defense game.  With two game modes and the option to evolve monsters (good monsters, to help defend your fort/ castle/ whatever that is), this game provides hours and hours of entertainment and endless possibilities.

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First, the gameplay.  There are two modes: Local and Arena.  For Local mode (the mode you get first), you get to buy monsters (which are really just animals: mammoths, roosters, unicorns that sort of thing), and then you produce them with an aim of attacking the opponent’s monsters, like this:image

You can upgrade the production speed of your monsters using “crystals”, which you gain when you win a level.  They’re surprisingly easy to earn, although you can also buy them with real money.  When you win, you also win gold, which you can use to buy more monster cards (you can choose which ones to use for every level of the game.  You can also sell your cards but of course they rip you off and lose a lot of gold.).image

For the arena mode, you compete against other players.  You choose your cards, and instead of actual fighting, the cards “fight” against each other automatically.  You also get gold and crystals when you win, but there’s no harm in losing because you don’t lose gold nor crystals when you lose.  In fact, you still get some gold, just less than when you win.  I love it that when you lose, you still win!

Massive genre review: Room Escape Games

My reviews here are usually about single products/ items, but today I would like to share with you one of my passions in life (ok, maybe that’s too strong a word; but it’s definitely one of my interests): room escape games! 

What it is

Escape games, which came from a genre of “point-and-click” games, is a type of browser games (usually made by Flash) which requires the player to escape from an environment (when the environment is a room then it becomes a “room escape game”) using the clues and tools hidden in the scene (or scenes).  The games may or may not come with a storyline, but usually involves the protagonist (“me”) trapped in an environment due to whatever reason.  The aim of the game is simple: to get out.  Some of the games come with elaborate introductions, cut-scenes and endings (like the wonderfully complex “Trapped”), but this doesn’t really change the gameplay.  What you have to do is simple in theory: find items, use them (or combine them for using), find clues, get out. 

A very short history

In room escape games, your aim is to exit the room.  In some other escape games, you have to escape more than that, so it’s like many room escape games combined into one (think “The Doors”).  The first escape game ever invented is probably MOTAS (which stands for “Mystery of Time and Space”), released in 2001.  It may be the first of its kind, but it’s not the easiest.  It also has an interesting storyline which captivates the player, and which sadly many of its descendants lack.  The game which popularised the genre, however, is definitely the Japanese game “Crimson Room”, created by Fasco-CS in 2004 in the US (the Japanese version was probably around earlier though). 

Developments

In the past, when the games were not written on Flash (sorry for my lack of computer knowledge), you could press the TAB button to find out all the suspicious bits in the room.  This was considered cheating but it was very helpful for players who could not escape the room.  Nowadays, much more sophisticated programming means that TAB buttons no longer work, and players will have to resort to user-generated walkthroughs for cheating purposes.  However, these walkthroughs may not always work perfectly, as some games have randomly-generated content which changes in every game (usually safe codes, lock combinations or places where certain items are hidden).  The most user-friendly addition to many games though, in my opinion, is the “save” button, which proves extremely helpful in many of those elaborate games (completing 20 levels of MOTAS in one go is a luxury not everybody can afford). 

Elements

Elements in room escape games usually include (but are not limited to): alpha/numeric codes (which are either hidden somewhere, found on the back of photos/ paintings or deciphered from other codes), colour codes (which may be deciphered by observing colour combinations in the room, or words in books or random notes), rubbish bins (lots of goodies to be found under and inside the bins), keys (usually hidden in corners of carpets or paintings, or behind sofas and cabinets), screwdrivers (on many occasions found when “using”- opening up an umbrella/ walking stick once you collect it), and many other items which can be combined to form things you would never imagine in real life.  The games are called point-and-click games for a reason- you can click crazily at the screen and get items you never thought would appear there, then click some more to see how they can be used.

Recommendations

I have been an earnest follower of the genre ever since the MOTAS days.  Here are some of my favourites (not in any particular order, I suggest you to check them all out!):

 MOTAS

Mystery of Time and Space http://www.albartus.com/motas/

Where the genre began.  Worth playing if only for a pilgrimage purpose.  Besides, it is humorous and not too difficult, so it will give you plenty of encouragement to continue with the genre.

Crimson

Crimson Room, Viridian Room http://www.fasco-cs.com

The father of all room escape games, although the site is down at the time of writing.  Simple graphics, but sometimes that’s easier for gameplay. 

Neutral

Escape games by Neutral http://neutralxe.net/esc/

Pretty and soft graphics, pleasant gameplay.  I like how they have different difficulty levels for your to choose.  The games are rather puzzle/ code focused, which is good for those who enjoy IQ puzzles.

 Gotmail

Gotmail games http://www.gotmail.jp/

Dozens for very fun escape games (many with a storyline).  The site is in Japanese but you can choose English for most of the games.  My favourite is probably “JOBPICO”, which is basically a job interview/ escape and “The Daydream”, which happens in a child’s playroom.  Graphics are beautiful too.  Most of them are rendered in 3D.

Bear

Escape games by Robamimi http://robamimi.fuyu.gs/index.php

Absolutely beautiful escape games with touching storylines.  Like Neutral, their games have difficulty levels indicated, so you can choose it depending on how challenging you’re feeling up to.  I especially loved “Bear’s Life”, which has 2 endings depending on how you play the game.  The storyline brought tears to my eyes (and so do others like “Smile for me”).  Games of medium length but an awful lot of depth.

Trapped

Trapped series http://www.rabbittell.com/games/trapped_classic/part_1_white_rabbit.php

Technically speaking, this is not merely an escape game.  It’s an animated story which you walk through by escaping.  Gameplay is very different from other games, but the storyline is compelling and philosophical.  You move through a large amount of rooms and do an awful lot of things.  What can I say, it’s an amazing game.  And by the way, it’s got three parts.  Three very wonderful parts which come together to form a massive story.  So you have to start from the beginning.  How you play can possibly change your ending as well.

2keys

Escape games from 2keysgames http://www.2keysgames.com/

Fun but very annoying games.  Lots of them.  For some of the games you have to collect something like 100 pieces of jigsaw, then piece them together.  It’s fun if you have the patience, but I don’t think it has a save button.

Loom

Akarino-Arika escape games http://akarika.net/index.htm

Fun and beautiful, the games make a bit of logical sense.  The graphics are somewhere between the Neutral and Gotmail ones.  A lot of their rooms are called “Loom __”, which is odd, and which I suppose comes from the Japanese pronunciation of the letter “R”.

Night Before

The Morning After/ The Night Before http://www.mousebreaker.com/games/themorningafter/playgame#bad

You’re in a student dorm, there has been a party and you meet different people, complete different tasks while collecting things to leave the house.  Feels like you’re walking in an animated movie, lots of fun!  (But there’s some adult content involved)

… and that concludes this wordy genre review.  Hope you’re had a nice time trying out the games I recommended, and tell me which other ones you like!

Delicious beauty- Beautylish

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The internet has always been a wonderful source of information for beauty junkies, but to be honest who has that kind of time to sit around all day watching makeup tutorials on YouTube?  This is why I love on-the-go beauty apps, and Beautylish is my latest try.  It is an app for the website of the same name, although I have never come across the site previously.  It’s basically a beauty magazine, photo album and forum all in one.  The interface is easy to get used to, and the app loads quickly.  You can read beauty-related articles, product reviews, post on the forum and browse through videos and photos uploaded by users.   image

I love the pages with videos!  There are tutorials on everything beauty-related, from makeup looks to hairstyles to how to create different patterns on your nails.  And I love how the video pages are not just videos- they are more like blog posts with textual imformation as well as additional links you can click onto should you enjoy the poster’s video.  image

I also love the photos available on here.  You can see one of the photo galleries above, on the theme of nails.  I love how the thumbnails are big enough to see even without clicking on the photo, so you can scroll through the pictures very quickly.  I also looks a lot like a Pinterest-type online scrapbook to me, divided into different categories, which is great because I can find what I want easier- no use scrolling through pages of hairdos when all I want is a photo of leopard-print nails!

For an app which gives you updated information on beauty products and news, lots of tips and tricks from other users and an eye-fest on all sorts of beautiful things, Beautylish is an app well done.  Easy to use and updated often, it beats carrying a heavy magazine in your handbag.  Oh, and by the way, the app is free on Android and iOS.

Happy Street- an animal fiesta with hearts and bird poop

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Happy Street is a Sim City-type of game (more of a Sim Town, actually), where you build your own street, earn money, craft stuff, complete tasks and level up.  Unlike the Sim series, though, the game is in 2D (think The Simpsons), and therefore the navigation is more simple compared with a lot of other simulation games, so it’s great for playing on smartphones.  The game is free on Android and iOS platforms, although there are options to purchase “flooz”, one of the currencies in the game which can be used to buy buildings or speed up crafting.  The other currency is coins, which can be earned simply by building stores (and therefore selling things) or selling raw materials you gather.  I personally have not paid for anything in the game, as there are also other ways to earn “flooz” besides buying them.  For example, the little blue fox guy Pepin regularly requests items from you in exchange for “flooz” and coins.  There are other mini-games which can also earn you “flooz”, some of which depends entirely on luck.  Sure, it takes longer for you to save up and get “collector items”, but isn’t that part of the fun in playing games?imageWith its bright colours and graphics which are on the childish side, some people (my guess: men) may be hesitant to download it.  They may also be worried that you’ll need to keep checking back every hour or so, or else your characters will all die.  Not so for Happy Street, which is a big plus for me.  On busy days I check it only once a day for a few minutes and it’s still ok.  Your characters get sad if the shops are not restocked and they can’t get stuff, but once you restock them they’re fine. 

While the main character (“you”) is Billy the brown fox who loves to skateboard, the characters you get depend on the houses you build.  For example, building a Fort House gives you Viking-like animals (I’m not sure what animals those are), and building the luxurious 1001-Nights Palace gives you monkeys draped in jewels.  However, there are other main characters which exist in every game because they need to give you quests to complete.  You get a quest whenever you level up, which includes crafting and collecting things.  The quests themselves are really straightforward and require no brainwork whatsoever, but it is a lot of fun reading the “conversations” of different characters- some of them are completely out of their minds!  (Hint: my favourite character is prankster Zoe, the white cat with a funny turquoise sock thing around her head.)imageAlthough the game goes on an on (I’ve been playing it for 5 months already…), it’s never boring because on Happy Street they have fiestas and festivals!  Fiestas are parties you get to throw when you reach a full “heart” metre, and all your characters will have hearts in their eyes, dance around and spend lots of money.  Festivals are thoughtful add-ons by game producers to celebrate real-life festivals (the one you see above is for Chinese New Year), with time-limited shops, houses and decorations and even costumes for the main characters.  It’s a lot of fun, especially when you see the funky animals enjoying themselves. 

I’m not going to post more screenshots here because I don’t want to spoil the surprise- try building your own street and discover the combos, secret areas and special characters you can get!  (If you want more hints and game info you can go to the unofficial Happy Street Wiki.)

Interactive flash cards on mobile- Babbel

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Remember the flash cards you had when you were a kid, the ones with the red apple on top and the word “Apple” on the bottom?  This is what Babbel is- albeit on a much more sophisticated level.  The one I now have is a German course, and about a dozen other languages are also available.  The courses can be downloaded for free at Google Play, and comes with a few basic lessons initially.  The rest you will have to download in-app separately (still free).  What I love about the app is that it has a simple interface, no complicated buttons or tabs, and keeps track of your learning process.  You will have to register for it with your email, and they do send you advertisements sometimes, but that is to be expected for free apps I think, and it’s really not that bad.imageOnce you log in, you get a list of categories in which the vocabulary is sorted.  According to the app, there are about 3,000 words available on the app, so I guess if you can learn them all by heart you’ll get a pretty good command of the basics. 

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In every mini-course, there are about a dozen words to learn, but they’re presented to you 4 at a time.  You can see the bar next to the Babbel icon on the top left- this indicates how far along you are in that mini-course.  When you’re done with a part, it turns green and it’s also recorded in your account so the next time you can try something new.  Basically, for each part, the word would first be spoken, during which you could repeat it or move on to the next word, then after the 4 words are presented, there is a short exercise which requires you to match the word (both written out in the bottom and spoken) with its correct English equivalent.  You can cheat by just remembering the photo which comes with the word, but those pictures usually don’t mean anything 😛

What I love about the app is how user-friendly it is, and also how you can tailor the length of each lesson to your own needs (a mini-course only takes a few minutes to complete).  Also, you can pick the topics that interest you and do those first, and there is no specific flow for the lessons.  Actually, there are many other games in the “Review Manager” section which will improve your writing and speaking on those vocabs, but I have yet to try them.  Maybe I will write another review when I have toyed around with those.

Who’s the cutest of them all? Battle Cats

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It’s a tower defense game with loads of cats (cute, slightly scary or plain odd ones) attacking politcally-incorrect animal enemies. It’s Battle Cats- an addictive game that is worth playing, if only for the graphics alone.

The objective of the game is simple: you produce cats to attack the enemy’s tower as well as the enemy’s animals (which are not cats) on the way. When you win, you receive XP to purchase additional cats or upgrade your cats, tower or efficiency. When you fail a level, you can replay it as many times as you like, until you run of energy. Energy replenishes over time, although you can pay for “cat food” to immediately continue.

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The gameplay is straightforward, and if you’ve played any tower defense game before you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. You can see the different cats available on the bottom, and you have a cannon on the right which charges up- rather slowly at first, but you can upgrade its power, range and recharge rate. The early stages are easy to get through, and I don’t think it matters much how you use your XP to upgrade. However, there are some tough opponents (“bosses” for you fellow tower defense people) in later stages, and from experience it is much better to focus your upgrades on a few frequently-used cats. The cats can be upgraded to level 10, when they’ll transform into something even weirder (but stronger). There’s a button which helps you change it back to the original look though, so you won’t lose the original cat. This one below, “A pack of cats”, is one of my favourites. In level 10 it became much powerful but loses its cuteness (I’ll wait for you to discover for yourself what the innocent cats turn into), so somtimes I go back to the cat selection screeen and press the button to see their original selves and go “awwwwwwwww”.

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What really makes the game for me, though, besides the very squee cats, is the list of politically-incorrect enemies.  There is a “dictionary”, or “enemy picture book” which allows you to check out the enemy (its entry will only show up after you have encountered it in a stage).  Most of the time, the information has nothing to do with the game strategy, but is funny to read, like this one for the bi-sexual hippo:

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For a free app, I think Battle Cats is all-rounded goodness.  I’ve read that there are 100 stages to beat (although I’m still stuck on the level with a destructive rhinoceros), there are dozens of cute comical cats to choose from and upgrade, and the addictive app provides endless hours of free gameplay even without purchasing additional “cat food”.  It’s available on both Android and iOS platforms, and I definitely recommend you to try it out- and you may just never look at tower defense games in the same way again. 

What’s your take on Battle Cats?  Are you going to give it a go?