Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Heart of China - Final Rating

Before I begin with the rating work, I'd like to say that my investigative work has proven that.. well, there wasn't actually a lot more to Heart of China. What they managed to put together at Dynamix was, pun not intended, a dynamic interactive movie. Reading the manual the first time, I more or less thought that they were trying to put together a game that had so many gameplay elements it might as well have shot for the stars.. and included some intergalactic travel while they were there. And sure enough, they did. What happened as a result of this is they put together something far too grandiose and couldn't follow through properly, so the only real 'gameplay changes' are of the 'go back and try again' variety, for the most part. Taking one path over another makes no particular difference, though it does seem as though the path I took was the only one that gave the 'best ending', with the rest all taking too long to have Eugene Lomax be willing to pay the full amount and as such not giving the 'Chi survived actually!' end. They clearly put heaps and heaps of work in, though, and this is shown nowhere better than the auxiliary supplements that come with the game.

They also give a clue as to what Almira, the 'crazy plant lady', is actually up to

Starting off with the 'travel guide', they reuse quite a little bit of the game's art assets and the like, including plenty of images that I've seen already by playing the game (like a shot of the insides of the Orient Express which later has either Lucky or Kate superimposed onto one of its seats for the game's climax). There's also a couple of misdirections, including a huge piece about hats and what they mean socially speaking in Turkey, along with quite a bit of chatter about Parisian luxury spots which doesn't really come out through the game, so they did at least put a little effort into giving the impression there was more to come of the game. Oh, and it was a person named Bojon, so it was good to finally get that sorted. The hint book? Well, it comes with a couple of really quite cool pages that essentially equate to a 'making of', letting us know that the game took the better part of a year and a half for all of the actors etc. they had to cast. A funny little tidbit – the actress who played Kate Lomax, Kimberly Greenwood, was cast just before learning that she was three months pregnant mid-shoot. Oops! (This does give a fair idea of why Kate's section of the game felt fairly linear, short and didn't involve any other actors interplaying with her save the 'escaping prison' sequence, which I imagine was shot early on in the piece.) The clues are pretty ho-hum, though, and don't really give out much in the way of fun fake clues, though one did at least make me look up the meaning of 'sphygmomanometer'. (Blood pressure testing bag thing, if you were wondering.) The most important thing I took from it, though, was that the 'other paths' would indeed have been largely 'red herrings', with only two things I missed. I could have given the kid in Kathmandu a makeshift toy created with a cigar box I missed to give him a 'toy' which would have gotten the petrol siphoning hose instead of just rushing through to not lose a day due to his mother's rage.. and if I'd not found the keys for the tank, the knife in the cook's den would have let me hotwire the tank. So, without further adieu (and the foreknowledge I'll be referencing previous Dynamix titles)...

If I were to have bought the hint book, I definitely would have picked it up for the 'behind the scenes' stuff – not so much the actual game hints

Puzzles and Solvability
This one is probably the easiest category to look at for this game. Were there puzzles? Sure, there were! The majority of them were even fair, really. There are a few 'dead ends', admittedly, but they're all ones which pretty immediately hit home. It's obvious that you're not going to do well if you go back to bug Eugene Lomax a dozen times, for instance, and if that's what you lose on after Lucky literally gets told off for it twice, you're kinda the one at fault. I don't mind that the puzzles were fairly 'easy'. In truth, this is as much the fault of the length of the game as anything. Every other game that has given multiple puzzle solutions in the history of this blog has scored well, and while I would have enjoyed perhaps having another option in Kathmandu (I legitimately felt just a little uneasy leaving a gun with Sardar, the over exuberant Kathmandu local, but I did like that they gave me plenty of ways of getting to that point) everything made sense. Except perhaps getting a flower from an orange salesperson for.. knocking over his oranges? It wasn't a difficulty in any way, though, so I can forgive that. As there wasn't more of an 'ah ha!' vibe at any point where I really felt I'd solved something, I hesitate to be too nice to it here – but the fact that there was the additional little play around of having multiple characters to interact with people in different ways to make for a little more complexity, it's probably a little better than Rise of the Dragon in this much.

Rating: 5

It gets this because there were a few red herrings that felt obvious, like feeding chickens to the dog or this passport which was a trap all along

Interface and Inventory
What can really be said about the Dynamix system? Rise of the Dragon and Willy Beamish have already explored this pretty well in the past, I think, though it's definitely more of a positive side than a negative. Admittedly, I am being a little forgiving here as the game simply never had any real point at which I felt at all limited by what I had in front of me – there aren't a great deal of inventory puzzles to deal with, though each time I had to deal with them it was simple enough as I had a fair idea of what I was doing. The times that items needed to be used on one another, it was necessary to pull up a full screen image of them by first interacting with and then dragging them together in inventory. It was fairly simple to interact amongst the different characters, which I have to give credit for as I imagine it would have been easy to mess up. All of the minigames were winnable, even if they were annoying to a small degree, and using the 'gun' required a special action just as in Rise of the Dragon. However, as this didn't involve a keystroke and instead holding right click, it was easy enough to stumble upon even if you didn't read the manual.

I can definitely say that interacting items with characters felt consistently annoying, though, with you needing to click on the inventory menu, right click on the item, which then shows a picture of your character. So to have Lucky equip his gun (or Chi wear his ninja hood), it required a click that was completely unintuitive. The fact that I only have one real gripe with the interface means it's on the better side of things, so I'll follow Joe's thoughts of it as being much like Willy Beamish in ease of use, in spite of not exactly being elegant.

Rating: 6

One somewhat annoying thing is not enough to call this interface 'bad'. And the game literally lets you dress up like a ninja, so there's that.

Story and Setting
If I'm looking at this game as in any way historically accurate, I could probably get really flummoxed and angry with it. Truth is? It's not. And I don't think they were ever really trying tor it to be. This game is very much what it sets out to be – a light hearted romp with the feel of an action movie straight out of the 1980s. The only thing that would have made it moreso would have been if Sylvester Stallone or Kurt Russell had somehow played a bit part. Thankfully, they managed to avoid this temptation. The actors are for the most part well dressed for the '20s' era vibe that they were going for, and the story, while it is quite clich├ęd as the 'save the girl and run to safety from the evil villain', it is effective. There's one thing I do feel was a missed opportunity in better characterising Li Deng, the evil warlord – he felt less involved than Tong, his henchman, with just a couple of cutscenes showing him off.

The henchman on the far right also looks just a little like Daniel Pesina, a.k.a. the original Johnny Cage from the Mortal Kombat games – looking at the credits, not so however

So, the real issue is that while it's a compact story, it's a simple one. The setting has a few historical inaccuracies, but this game is not a game that is attempting to be historically accurate – they're just trying to seem 'close' to correct. As that's all they're really down to do, they do that admirably – all of the places feel individually unique in their own way, which I think speaks well for the setting. The story.. eh. You've heard it before, it's hackneyed.. but I enjoyed all of the Indiana Jones movies, and the same could be said of those movies too in spite of being classics.

Rating: 6

Boy meets girl, girl meets ninja, boy, girl and ninja run away in a tank. It's pretty much Hamlet.

Sounds and Graphics:
I will preface this by saying I normally completely abhor the 'people interposed onto drawn backgrounds' style that this game goes for. I thought it looked tacky when I first saw it in the early 90s as a youth, and still feel that it doesn't work. It's a personal thing.. but it's just not true here. It actually fits quite well. All of the cutscenes are drawn well, and while there are a few points at which the clearly untrained majority of the actors (as I mentioned in the opening post, Dynamix employees press ganged many of their family into roles due to budget restraints) do look a little silly, it again fits the style. Really no complaints! The music and sound effects were never impressive, but nor were they ever bad. I don't remember them, honestly, which speaks well, as I made certain to play the entire game with headphones on and listened to it the whole way through. None of the sound effects failed the game, so I'll have to be generous as I think this is likely to be the only game of this graphical style that I have ever seen to play to its strengths outside of Jones in the Fast Lane.

Rating: 7

The consistent use of cutscenes fits this graphical style fantastically. You can feel free to say it doesn't look great, but it's clear what's happening and fits as a whole

Environment and Atmosphere
There is no point in this game in which I feel there is a notable disconnect, but there are a few obvious limitations which did hurt them a little. Having so many of these huge, sweeping areas take place over only a couple of screens really made them feel underpopulated, which is fine for a fortress in the middle of China.. but not quite so fantastic as it comes to the sprawling suburbia of Hong Kong. Again, this is the technical limitations of the game at fault. What is the fault of the developers is the fact that while I can forgive an awful lot of things for the feel they were going for, there was simply too much in the way of stereotypes. I could very easily put this in the 'well, they were going for that feel' category too, but while it's fine for Lucky to want to be Indiana Jones, I may not want to be. As we are playing as all three of these characters, I don't like that we're sometimes forced to have them fight over bigotries and the like (Kate and Lucky fighting at the end of the game, for instance). Lucky has his past as a bit of a womaniser and we get to redeem him through the game, but having him only really dreading time with the Nabob's daughter because she's put on some weight? Not so happy with that. Sir Mix-A-Lot and he are going to have some words, if nothing else. He had a few moments of humanity, but this definitely impacts negatively here and in several other places. The game managed to find its way past a lot of potential racist overtones, though, and I can at least give it props for that. It fit, but I can't gush over it in any way – it was good, but it definitely had points which made me feel uncomfortable.

Rating: 5

I do legitimately enjoy a couple of the characters in it, though – Ama in Kathmandu definitely stands out

Dialogue and Acting:
There's another issue here. The dialogue.. well, I don't want to say it's terrible? But it's certainly not fantastic, either. You all probably noticed my repeated complaints over Lucky's dialogue choices never really giving me the options I wanted – but throughout the entire game, it's again the art of the stereotype that really hurts the game. I'm okay by the characters speaking broken English given that the majority of them would not use it as a primary language, but again.. it was never inspiring. I got a couple of chuckles here and there – some of the bickering between Lucky and Kate was actually down-right entertaining, even some of what was between Lucky and Chi – but really, I was never happy with the dialogue. 'Acting' is where I plan to talk over what the game really shone in, however – cutscenes! The repeated cutscenes really stood out to me, and where in another place they may have actually felt overbearing, though it was used heavily. Other games have managed to use in-game animations, but as this game works largely with static images which just change steadily, the game would work, for instance, by showing a face, a punch, then the same face thrown back (which is a literal example of the 'bar fight' scene right at the start). It's strikingly effective, and is hard not to give some real props to for its narrative power. But in the end, for a game that has a narrative which is driven in its vast majority by dialogue, it's pretty hard to forgive the fact that the dialogue goes between 'decent' and 'painful' so frequently, not to mention the minor spelling errors and the like. To sum up – cutscenes, good. Dialogue.. not so good.

Rating: 5

I don't even like the majority of Lucky's dialogue, but you're sure kidding me if you think that there is a site of sore eyes around here.

Final Rating
So, adding up (5+6+6+7+5+5)/0.6= 56.6 recurring, or 57. The real question I ask myself when looking at this score isn't so much what similar games have received, but a more simple query – 'is it fun?' The truth is? It was very, very short, but the game never stopped being enjoyable at any time. I could easily add a point on for how much I enjoyed myself whilst playing.. or just as easily retract one for the extremely short playtime caused due to the relative ease of the game. Instead, I think I'll leave the score as is – it's a fun little game and if I didn't have to write and take a billion screenshots of it, I think I could have beaten it even faster. I'd even recommend it to anyone who hasn't played. That means that Joseph Curwen has guessed correctly, and gets to eat up 10 delicious CAPs for his trouble. Speaking of CAPs...

CAP Distribution

Aperama - 100 CAPs
  • Blogger award - 100 CAPs for blogging his way through this game for our enjoyment
Laukku - 30 CAPs
  • True Companion award - 25 CAPs - for both playing along and sharing some extra info from his playthrough
  • Administrative Assistant award - 5 CAPs - for keeping us in check
Joseph Curwen - 10 CAPs
  • Psychic Prediction award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the correct score
Rowan Lipkovits - 10 CAPs
  • Editorial Discretion award - 5 CAPs - for pointing out that Aperama writes too often whilst tired and not paying attention to things
  • The Cold, Black Heart of China award - 5 CAPs - for sharing his corrupted disk tale
Fry - 5 CAPs
  • Jack Burton award - 5 CAPs - for pointing out the similarities to this and Big Trouble in Little China
TBD - 5 CAPs
  • Chewbacca award - 5 CAPs - wrrrrrr rooaar wrraaarrr
Raifield - 5 CAPs
  • Come on, 90s adventure games! award - 5 CAPs - for pointing out the obvious poorness of the 'fat princess' ending


  1. This is our 7th best game in 1991. As we're in the home stretch, here's the update for our "Full House" game:

    1. Corey Cole and I are tied for the "Top 5" leaderboard, but both of us are betting on a high score for EcoQuest and could get shot down the rankings if it turns out to not be an excellent game.
    2. Charles has the lock on the "Bottom 5", but he's gambling that Sherlock Holmes will be one of the worst games of the year. Will it be?
    3. Ilmari has control of the overall board with Reiko and Aperama not far behind. He's betting that EcoQuest and Sherlock Holmes will be middling games (neither tremendously good nor bad) and so a solid or poor showing from either game could take him off the running.

    It's very exciting! If you are me!

    1. So, just some random musings, but... I really enjoy this game as we're coming to the end but it's hard to get excited about it earlier because the number of unplayed games makes the scores meaningless until you are about 80% of the way through the year.

      There MAY be a way that we can do math around that (ranking your guesses only on the games played instead of all games, for example), but that may be tricky to do with spreadsheets.

      Just musing here, but how would you change the Full House game if you could?

      I might suggest breaking up the games into groups of 5 and have you guess the relative ranks of each five games. That would mean that we'd be able to complete a mini-Full House contest every few months or so.

      I'd say break games up by theme for ranking (like all of the licensed properties, or the sci-fi games, etc), but that will still mean you don't get to the end until the end of the year.

    2. I'm still disappointed I didn't get a guess in last time. :(

      With most of our guessing games lasting at most a single game, I quite like a long-run one.

      But I'm all for adding something between the 1-2 month / 1.5 year range! And your idea of adding smaller groups looks good to me.

    3. I don't want to think too much on this because we already have a "short term" contest (the score guessing) and a "long term" one (the full house game). Do we need one in the middle? I don't know.

      But I think it could be a lot of fun to try to rank smaller groups of games.

    4. Like TBD, I like the length of Full House. There's the same kind of fascination as following and betting on a sports cup, where the next game can just swing the whole thing completely around.

      That said, I don't have anything against "middle term" contests - I just think we should somehow distinguish it better from Full House. The theme method sounds good, but there are problems: a) there might be games we cannot classify, because we don't know enough about them or because they are too cross-genre, and b) some themes might not have enough games for any reasonable contest.

    5. I like the length of Full House also, but it doesn't really fall into place until you have most of the games played. Right now it's great fun.

      I'm just musing on what types of games we could play that would have months of scope instead of 1.5 years. We have (or I hope we have!) lots of readers new since 1.5 years ago that can't play the current Full House game.

      The themes idea doesn't work as well when you think about it because those games could be played a year apart also. But maybe we can play a little mini-full house with the big ones. If you pick your list, you could get some points every five games or so if you get THOSE FIVE ranked in the right order.

      Anyway, lots to think about as we are SO CLOSE to 1992. I'm very excited!

    6. That mini-full house (or using another poker term, straight) would be quite easy to implement, I think, since we wouldn't have to collect anything apart from the Full House answers. I like the idea!

  2. We've had a few small changes in the leaderboard over the past two Final Ratings.

    Aperama has overtaken both Laukku and Canageek.

    Joe Pranevich has overtaken former CAP leader and generous sponsor Lars-Erik

    and Deimar overtook Alex by playing Elvira II!