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Review: Ghost of Thornton Hall

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Fire so red, night so black. Dear sweet Charlotte, please come back…

If you like point-and-click adventure games and/or enjoyed reading the Nancy Drew books growing up, you owe it to yourself to check out Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series. All of the games are playable on Windows, and everything from Trail of the Twister onwards can be played on Macs as well. There are even step-by-step guides on Her Interactive’s website about how to play the older games on updated Windows systems and how to play them on your Mac with the Wineskin emulator- a nice gesture on their part.

Each game follows more or less the same route: Nancy arrives at a new location, gets the initial scoop on the mystery, and starts questioning the suspects (usually 3-5 people). Sometimes everything starts out calm, and then after completing a task or two, the theft/murder/kidnapping/whatever takes place. After that, you follow the trail of clues, continue questioning suspects, and solve lots and lots of puzzles to crack the case.

The game that I recently finished, Ghost of Thornton Hall, begins with Nancy receiving a phone call from a paranormal investigator in the middle of the night. A woman named Jessalyn Thornton disappeared during her bachelorette party. It appears to be a kidnapping, but some believe that the culprit is a family ghost, Charlotte.

Charlotte died in a fire under mysterious circumstances, so Nancy finds herself solving two cases: who kidnapped Jessalyn, and what’s the story behind Charlotte? Was her death truly an accident? Is her ghost really haunting the family mansion? And what does this past tragedy have to do with Jessalyn?

Growing up, I loved playing the Nancy Drew series, but as I got older, I began to lose interest. I’m not sure if there was an actual drop in quality or a change in tastes, but Ghost of Thornton Hall felt like a return to form. In fact, it was even better than some of the classics that I’d loved to play.

Other games in the series would have a great premise, but then wouldn’t completely follow through with it. For example, as much as I loved Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, you only encounter the ghost dogs once at the beginning of the game. When you venture out into the woods at night and hear the howling, it’s terrifying- at first. But after a while, you realize that the ghost dogs aren’t going to pop up, and that takes out a chunk of the tension.

In Thornton Hall, Charlotte’s ghost does pop up throughout the game, and you never know when she’ll show herself. Other times, you’ll hear eerie singing, or something will scuttle across the floor, or a statue will turn its head. The whole game takes place at night and the music is beautiful, but grim. Combine all of these elements, and you get a genuinely creepy game.

The suspects all have intriguing backstories and memorable personalities. I was constantly guessing who might be the culprit. Sometimes it felt like all of them could have done it, and other times it didn’t feel like any of them could have done it. I found the reveal satisfying. And while the culprit is always the same, this Nancy Drew is unique in that it has three possible endings.

It’s hard to gauge the fun and difficulty of the puzzles, as that’s going to depend on the person playing. The longer I game, the more I’ve come to realize that everyone’s brain works differently, and what seems so easy for one person is next to impossible to solve for another. I did find the final puzzle very frustrating, due to the fact that it was just a more challenging version of one that I’d already completed. But if you need help figuring out what to do, you can consult the Task List that Nancy keeps with her. In Amateur Detective mode, you can also select hints that tell you how to complete the puzzles.

I’m so glad that I played Ghost of Thornton Hall. It had the same magic as the classic Nancy Drew titles and then some. Now I want to check out some of the other recent titles that I missed!

Thimbleweed Park: A Review

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Hey, do you like point and click adventures? Twin Peaks? Maniac Mansion? If you said yes to one of these, then this is a game for you! If not, try it anyway! Why? Well, let me tell you in this review.

CUE THE THEME SONG!

…Okay, I don’t have one since this is a written blog, but that would be cool…

Thimbleweed Park is a great point-and-click adventure. What is point-and-click? You use actions and mix it with people and objects on screen. For example, you click “use” and then click on a computer, then the character will say something like, “I don’t feel like using the computer today. It’s just gonna tell me more about the world ending. I have Fox News for that.” And it can lead to some vary funny dialogue and interactions.

Story
In 1987, there is a mysterious murder in a small town. FBI agents are there to solve the murder, and along the way, encounter a greater mystery, along with strange citizens and a lot of secrets. Granted, that premise is not original, but the way it is done makes it so good. The characters help to make this game wonderful. Also, it is confirmed that this is, in a way, a sequel to Maniac Mansion, complete with returning characters, settings, and plenty of Easter eggs. You don’t have to play Maniac Mansion to get all of the references, but if you have played it, (or watch a playthrough) you will get a lot more humor out of Thimbleweed Park.

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Characters
You end up controlling five characters throughout the game, and, wow, are they something. You have two FBI agents… or are they? They certainly have another reason to be on this case. There is a clown, a vulgar insult comic who once had a claim to fame but is now washed up. You have a game developer, who wants nothing more than to make games, to her family’s dismay. Finally, you have a ghost, a father who only wants to talk to his daughter one last time. Alongside these mains are a list of side characters, such as a sketchy sheriff/coroner/hotel clerk, “The Pigeon Brothers” which are two sisters dressed up as pigeons, ghosts, a town drunk, a guy in a pizza costume, and more!

Gameplay
It plays pretty well. This is a multi-platform game and it works well on the PC, but I ended up playing the Xbox One version. With that, it is weird at first for a point-and-click. However, when you figure out all the buttons and hints, you can easily adapt to it. Since it is a point-and-click game, it has a lot of puzzles. Fear not, for they have a in-game hint hotline that you can call. There is also 3000 numbers that you can call in the phonebook, which is weird for a game that only has 80 people living in the town. There is even a puzzle that makes you watch the Kickstarter video in order to solve a puzzle.

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Faults
The version I had seemed to have a lot of cut content from earlier games. Now, I am unsure if this was due to me playing on casual mode (don’t judge, it was my first time playing this type of game). However, when I looked at trailers and some let’s plays, there is something missing. There are parts to puzzles that are cut out and missing characters that I have seen in earlier gameplays. There is a whole location at a radio station that’s just completely gone, and you can see this in-game with items and locations what were meant for bigger puzzles. To me, that takes a lot of the fun out of this. The ending (spoilers at the end), though interesting, is a bit of a let down, depending how you look at it.

Overall
Thimbleweed Park is a solid game with tons of humor and 4th-wall-breaking jokes, nods and Easter eggs to prior point-and-click adventures, and solid characters. The music is really good for this type of game as well. It runs about 4-6 hours long, give or take the time for longer interactions. Overall, I give this a good 4/5 pixelated dead bodies. New or not to this genre of gaming, I say give this one a shot.

SPOILERS

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Indie Game Spotlight: This is No Time for Games

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Written by: Not Quite Black & White
Our game is a modern 2D point-and-click adventure called This is No Time for Games. It’s a sci-fi fairytale where you play as Florence Holloway, a data verification technician in a future crime lab, where high-profile murders are solved by artificial intelligence. Through some amateur investigating, Flo bumbles her way into a bizarre and dangerous digital world of creatures called “Apps” who all have a story to tell.

The gameplay of the genre will be updated in This is No Time for Games to heighten the excitement and increase the player’s immersion in the puzzles and dialogue – but we haven’t released any info about that yet.

Our inspiration to make the game was undoubtedly to create a story of our own. We were in the TV/media industries (sound post-production, and graphic design) and kinda bored of polishing other people’s projects. We’ve been writing together for over ten years and we started writing stories for games about six(ish) years ago. We’re also big point-and-click adventure fans frustrated with how few of them actually get made, so we want to make one in our own style that will give adventure game fans something familiar, but something new at the same time.
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The game itself has many sources of inspiration. We want the game to have a great protagonist like Guybrush Threepwood or Manny Calavera – we don’t think there’s a female character as funny or as charismatic as these characters in adventure games. The closest are possibly Laverne from Day of The Tentacle or more recently GLaDOS from Portal. We want Florence Holloway to be comical and loveable in the way that characters of the old Lucas Arts classics were.
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We also love surprises in games. Sword and Sworcery had some really innovative ways of solving puzzles and Monument Valley did some really clever things. The best puzzles are the ones where you want to rip your hair out and the answer turns out to be right in front of you. We want all of these things in This is No Time for Games.
It’s not out yet. Release is all dependent on money, unfortunately. We’ve been looking into crowdfunding with an exciting new platform called gamekicker.org, so, depending on how successful that is, we could see the game released as early as next year. We were at the global game jam at the end of January and we made a game in a similar style to This is No Time for Games called Don’t Stop Bereavin. The response from the other jammers was amazing. They really seemed into the artwork and the mystery surrounding the puzzles. We plan to polish it up and try and release it in the next couple of months.