The Haunted Island: A Frog Detective Game Review


“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

-Willy Wonka


The Haunted Island: A Frog Detective Game is an indie title by Grace Bruxner released at the tail-end of 2018. The first entry in a planned series, this point-and-click adventure is something of a parody of the genre in which the hero is a frog detective simply named…Detective.

Detective is assigned a case on a small island owned by a sloth named Martin, who claims the island is haunted by a ghost. Strange noises have been heard on the island for about two weeks, and Martin hired a group of ‘ghosts scientists’ to try to find the apparition, with no luck. So Detective is here to find the source of the mysterious noises by investigating the island.

The game more or less revolves around a single puzzle. The mysterious noises are emanating from a cave, but the entrance was caved in. So in order to find a means to investigate, the frog detective has to blow open the entrance to the cave, which one of the ghost scientists conveniently can do for you, but he requires the proper ingredients to make the dynamite to do so (toothpaste, wool, pasta and gold, naturally). So Detective has to talk to the other scientists on the island, as well as Martin, to figure out ways to get those ingredients.

That’s really all there is to The Haunted Island. You simply have to talk to the island’s inhabitants and figure out who can help you solve one of the other inhabitants problems and reward you with the ingredients. And usually, the characters make the answers to their problems completely obvious. It’s a single puzzle game in which the puzzle requires almost no thinking. It’s as bare bones of a point-and-click game as you can get, and is more of an interactive short story, than anything else.

Normally, I might hate a game for being so empty on the gameplay side of things (especially in the case of indie games, which seem to get a free pass for “not being games”). And yet, I’m going to be a hypocrite and give this game a pass for the simple reason that the dialogue won me over with its innocence and stupidity.

“This character is protective of their collection of tiny shells, which are so tiny you can’t see them. Once you give them a normal sized shell, they will reward you with a magnifying glass, since they no longer need it to stare at tiny shells.”

The Haunted Island: A Frog Detective Game is funny. It makes up for its lack of depth by being downright silly. The characters each have their own weird quirks, and they all talk about their own brand of nonsense. It has a silly sense of cartoon banter that reminds me of Adventure Time, and the dilemmas the characters find themselves in are so stupid it can’t help but put a smile on your face. The koala character is slow, and requests that you bring them a magnet so that they can latch onto a boat and move fast, for example. Meanwhile, Martin first became suspicious of a ghost after reading (some of) a book that stated you can’t see ghosts, and since he hasn’t seen a ghost, surely there must be a ghost.

As you might expect, the game is incredibly short, and it even advertises itself at being only about an hour long (in fact, after I watched the epilogue my Steam account claims that I spent exactly 60 minutes with the game). But it’s also incredibly cheap on Steam so you don’t exactly feel shortchanged.

“My favorite running gag in the game is that Frog Detective is constantly reminded by his boss that he’s only on the case because their best agent – Lobster Cop – is already on duty elsewhere. Rather than object, Frog Detective vehemently agrees that Lobster Cop is his better.”

Look, The Haunted Island: A Frog Detective Game is not what I’d traditionally call a ‘good’ game. But it is a good slice of some harmless stupidity that is worth an hour of your time if you just want some giggles. I guess maybe after being exposed to a number of indie games that feel like having a pretentious, artsy attitude makes up for a lack of gameplay (it doesn’t), I just find it a little refreshing to find one that uses that same lack of gameplay to be the basis of a joke.




Portal Review

In 2007, Valve released The Orange Box, a unique compilation of five different games: re-releases of Half-Life 2 and the subsequent Half-Life 2: Episode 1, as well as the then-new Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. It was the fifth game included in the bundle that perhaps stole the show. This title was called Portal, which was one of the most brilliantly realized pieces of creativity gaming saw in both that decade and console generation. Combining an innovative take on the puzzle and first-person shooter genres, Portal remains a highlight of its era due to its innovation, humor and all-around fun factor.

The premise of Portal is simple; Players take control of silent protagonist Chell, who awakens in one of the many chambers of Aperture Science, and soon realizes she is a test subject being held against her will by the diabolical-yet-hilarious AI named GLaDOS, who promises Chell a delicious cake if she can overcome the test chambers.

Chell is to test out Aperture Science’s greatest innovation: the Portal Gun! As its name implies, the Portal Gun fires portals (initially only a blue portal, which connects to orange portals found in the various test chambers. But soon enough the Portal Gun is upgraded to shoot orange portals of its own). It’s up to players to solve every test chamber’s puzzles by means of navigating through portals. Fire two portals. Go in one portal, come out the other.

It all sounds simple enough, but Portal’s execution really is something to behold. The game is constantly finding new ways to add twists to the puzzles, such as energy projectiles that need to be guided to their stations via portals, or walls that will erase your portals when you walk through them. The game even uses its portal setup to tamper with physics in some incredible ways (fall into a portal fast enough and you can fly through another if you’ve placed them properly).

Portal is played through a first-person perspective, like any of the countless shooters that ran rampant at the time (and still do so today), but here you’re not out to kill hordes of enemies by riddling them with bullets (Your only foes are a few bumbling, robotic turrets and a quasi-final boss against GLaDOS herself). Your goal is simply to survive by means of being creative. It’s as fresh of a twist on genres (and indeed, the video game medium itself) today as it was in 2007.

“It’s a pleasure to meet me!”

Visually speaking, Portal has held up pretty well. Its graphics may not wow players today like they did a decade ago, but the sheer splendor of seeing your environment (and Chell herself) in different perspectives through the portals remains one of gaming’s greatest visual delights. The music, though minimal, is similarly off-beat and charming.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Portal comes in the form of its writing. Though Chell never speaks, GLaDOS is one of gaming’s great sources of comedy. GLaDOS reveals her more psychotic behavior as the game goes on, but she frequently tries to cover it up with some lightheartedness and the aforementioned promises of cake, making for some delightfully dark humor.

If there’s any caveat to be had with Portal, it’s that the entire experience is done within a few short hours. While the content that is here is almost flawlessly realized, it all ends all too soon. This has only been magnified since its sequel was released in 2011, and turned the concept into a much heftier experience, while also improving on basically everything the original started and introducing some great tricks of its own. While Portal remains a stellar game in its own right, compared to Portal 2, it now feels like a demo for what was to come.

A short run time and being overshadowed by an exceptional sequel are hardly unforgivable sins, however, especially when considering just how creative and fun Portal still is. It’s objectives may be a simple case of getting from point A to point B, but such a simple premise has seldom been so innovative as it was – and is – here in Portal.



Strikey Sisters Review

Strikey Sisters is a modern day brick breaker by DYA Games. Though this genre has largely been left behind to gaming’s yesteryear, Strikey Sisters does a great job at reminding players why such a simple genre can be so appealing, not to mention addictive.

The goal of each stage in Strikey Sisters is to eliminate every block and enemy on a stage, with the blocks needing to be destroyed first, as their presence allows the enemies to respawn. Once the blocks are dealt with, knock out all the enemies and you’re ready to move on. It’s simple enough in concept, but Strikey Sisters throws enough curveballs to make for quite a challenging experience.

As is often the case with games like this, the players can only move left and right at the bottom of the screen, with one or two players being able to control either of the titular sisters. In order to break the blocks and defeat enemies, the sisters have to repeatedly strike magic balls, which then bounce around the stage dealing damage to enemies and chipping away at the blocks. Each sister has three hit points to start with, which are depleted if they are either hit by an enemy attack, or if they miss their ball and it falls off the stage. Things get all the more hectic with two players, because if both players strike the same ball (something that will be inevitable), then it belongs to both players, meaning if it goes off course, both characters lose a heart.

The pinball-meets-Kirby’s Block Ball set up is a lot of fun, especially with two players, and it’s made all the better by the inclusions of power-ups that mix up the gameplay. You can get bombs that target all on-screen foes, or lasers that will destroy any block or enemy in its path. You can even get an item that slows the balls down so they’re easier to hit and keep track of. The best such power-up, however, is the iron ball which – as its name implies – turns the magic balls into iron, allowing them to plow through enemies and blocks with a single hit for a limited time. Strikey Sisters also features some pretty tough boss battles, who bombard players with repeated attacks, making their stages all the more difficult to complete.

Should you get stuck on a particularly difficult stage, multiple levels usually unlock at once, so you can always move on to something else and come back to a tough stage later. Additional replay value is added to the stages by the inclusions of gems and character cards. A level isn’t fully complete until you grab a gem that will appear from one of the bricks, and manage to collect a card of every enemy type that appears on the stage. To collect a card, just grab the card power-up and throw it at an enemy. These are simple additions, but they do add that little something extra for completionists.

The game is also an aesthetic treat, with graphics that are reminiscent of Saturn Bomberman, music that sounds like a cross between Kirby and Nights Into Dreams, and sound effects that echo Mega Man Legends. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the visuals and audio really make Strikey Sisters feel like a love letter to the Sega Saturn and PSOne.

Indeed, fans of 2D gaming’s final run in the early years of the 32-bit era (before they saw a resurgence this last decade) are probably who Strikey Sisters is geared most for. Though any fan of simple gameplay, steep challenge and replay value can have a good time, especially if they bring a friend along.



Killing Floor Review

Killing Floor

Killing Floor began its life as an Unreal Tournament mod in 2005, before getting an official release in 2009. Killing Floor is a first-person zombie shooter, and a pretty decent one. It may not bring the same kind of depth to the genre that made the Left 4 Dead games so great, but it does provide some solid fun and suspense.

Killing Floor has two primary modes of play, one of which bares the same name as the game itself, and sees players fighting to survive hordes of zombies, with short breaks in between waves allowing the survivors to purchase weapons and upgrades. The other mode is Objective Mode, which sees players race to meet certain objectives all while fighting off zombies.

It’s simple stuff, with the usual first-person control scheme, but it works. And Killing Floor finds some fun little details that add to the experience, like being able to weld doors shut in order to slow the zombies down, as well as a short list of selectable classes which you can level up by continuously playing as them, which unlocks more features for said classes.

As simple as it is, it can be really fun and suspenseful, with the game being at its best when playing multiplayer, as the team-based setup makes fighting hordes of zombies more manageable. Plus, having different players as different classes playing together means that you each player brings something different to the table. Not to mention some of the boss zombies are just ridiculously difficult when going solo.

The maps featured in the game also add to the game’s creepy, suspenseful atmosphere, with broken down amusement parks and abandoned freight yards serving as good backdrops for the action. There’s even a recreation of Aperture Science from the Portal series as one of the stages, which gets extra points because Portal 2 is one of my favorite games of all time.

Unfortunately, Killing Floor does have some annoying features that can hamper the experience a little. While the visuals of the game look nice, there are some special visual effects that take place at certain times that are intended to give things some cinematic flair, but become a little distracting. For example, the closer you get to death, the darker and blurrier your vision becomes. I suppose that actually makes some sense, and I get what they were going for, but after a certain point you can barely see what’s in front of you, which just makes the situation more difficult. At other times, when you’re taking out several zombies, the game may go into slow-motion, and when some zombies get too close, the camera brings your gun to the front and center of the screen. These aren’t big complaints, but and you can appreciate the effort that went into trying to make it a more cinematic experience, but these visual effects can make things more difficult than they need to be.

You might also find yourself questioning the game’s longevity. Again, if you have multiple people to play with, you might have some good fun, but the gameplay can get pretty repetitious pretty quickly, so if you’re playing solo there’s only so much to see. And even if you are playing with others, I do have to point out that there are better options in this same genre (Killing Floor was released the same year as Left 4 Dead 2, which is a more complete experience). So while Killing Floor may be fun, it doesn’t have a whole lot of replay value.

All in all, Killing Floor is a solid, capable game, if an unspectacular one.  It does have a good balance of fun gameplay and horror elements, but what it has to offer is pretty short-lived, with single player in particular probably only holding your attention for a couple of sessions. Still, fighting zombies with some friends in Aperture labs? Sounds good to me!



Dead Sky Review

Dead Sky

Dead Sky is a top-down zombie shooter game released on Steam by Shoreline Studios in 2013. Though the game shows some polish, its more frustrating elements can prevent it from feeling like anything more than just another zombie shooter.

On the surface, there’s nothing really bad about Dead Sky. It’s a decently fun top-down shooter that provides players with the satisfaction of destroying hordes of zombies with a variety of weapons. The game is probably most notable for its multiplayer modes, which can actually be pretty fun with their mindless simplicity, but the game also features a single-player campaign.

The campaign itself is pretty short, and can probably be completed in a little over an hour, but the game tries to squeeze in some nice variety while it lasts. While most levels see players fighting their way through zombies as they progress through them, other levels work as an endurance test, and have you fighting off waves of zombies for an allotted time, while others work as driving stages. One level even sees you using the chain gun aboard a helicopter, and defeating a set number of zombies (as well as a giant sandworm) from the skies.

It’s a decent campaign, but there are some annoying drawbacks to it. For one, the cinematics are unskippable, and every time you die you have to start a level all over again with no checkpoints (this includes watching the cinematics again).

Other big drawback is that you can only carry one gun at a time. You have a pistol which has unlimited ammo, but once you pick up a shotgun or machine gun, you have to use it or lose it, you can’t even switch back to the pistol. And most of the other weapons don’t have that much ammo, so it almost feels best to just keep the pistol, even if it is a weaker weapon.

Another small quibble is that you don’t automatically reload when you use up a whole clip of a gun. It may seem like a small complaint, but these days it seems like every shooter has your character automatically reload when a clip runs out, so it just feels kind of annoying when you’re being surrounded and run out of ammo, as you often forget you have to manually reload. It may be a small complaint, but combine it with the aforementioned one gun at a time setup, and it gets a little tedious.

All these complaints may sound minor, and in a lot of ways they are. But the sad truth is that Dead Sky, as a whole, just isn’t that spectacular of a game. It provides some good fun (especially multiplayer), but it doesn’t really stand out from any other zombie shooter available on Steam. It’s not bad, it’s just nothing special.

Still, if you just want to see some zombie heads explode, you could do a lot worse.