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Review of Mystery House

SubjectMystery House
Mystery House
ByVote: 5.5atavar on 2022-01-13
ReviewI can't really believe this counts as a VN, but it absolutely does; when I played it, yeah, it was mind-blowing. For a kid who loved literature, adventure games were something else. So how does it hold up today, well...

For all my reviews, I like to leave reasons why a game might or might not be a fit for you. Context below the tilde, second tilde hides bullet points for your consideration.

~

Roberta and Ken were ahead of their time when it came to games; during the move to make every game a shooter with realistic (i.e. generally drab; this doesn't mean bad, but does mean there are two eras in recent gaming history where you can practically feel gamers panicking at anything that diidn't have HUD) graphics, there was kind of a loss in interest in this hyper-early style of text based game. Though far form the only experimenters in the field, they did some incredibly cool work - and you can see the gestation of that work, here.

Which is what it is; a test puzzle. Later released for free, it feels more like an experiment or toy than a finished product.

There are elements here that influence more traditional games - game which straddle the line between VN and adventure game, your Colonel's Bequest or Phantasmagoria.

But, on the flipside...

For those VN readers who enjoy gameplay, the game is also a good, maybe even great example of a 'pure gameplay' VN? There is no real impetus for anything; you have to make up the story and meaning largely on your own. I think there might have been extra content/feelies included that could've provided context, but my memory ain't great, anymore.

There are characters, with traits; and you use traits to solve a mystery (or, fail at that). It's pretty simple, fiendish in that unforgiving old game way, and a game that challenges you without remorse. It's pretty satisfying to beat it 'right' the first time, without help.

But is it a good game? A good VN..?

Even forgiving the graphics - which are actually pretty amazing, given the era and medium - yes, and no. I can't think of too many 'timed murder mystery battle royale mini-games' out there, so that's a pretty interesting niche, filled. Most mystery VN are either long, and focused on the writing, or shorter, and focused on themes.

It's simple, though, and that means you'd have to appreciate simple games to enjoy it. I can imagine some retrogamers would still enjoy playing it by themselves, but the appeal is pretty limited outside of that grouping.

As a museum piece, and memory, I still rate it highly; to others, I think 5.5 places it where it ought to be. A foundation, something that's important in the history of visual novels, and one that you might find interesting to look into - if only for a while.

~
'Objective' pros/cons;

Cons:

* You're going to have to make up your own story/plot. The scraps present barely count.
* In every sense, this is an old and simple game. Can also be a pro, but you have to approach it as such.
* Brutal, and often requires you to bash your head against the wall until something clicks. See above; may also be a plus.

Pros:

* Historically important; you can see the influence on a lot of later works, both in and out of the world of VN.
* If you like harsh games, and grin when you fail but know why, there's a rhythm to it that's pretty fun. Short enough when you know what you're doing that the harshness isn't overly punishing.
* Elaborating on the story adds a kind of charm to it, same as the simple medium and story.

~

'Subjective' score;

55/100.


I want to go back and go through the oldest VN I've played, first; I was pretty shocked to see this one, here. It does count, though, and if pushed I might rank it higher because I /still/ had fun with it. It was amazing how much I remembered. That said, I think even 55/100 might be generous for a lot of players who don't have time or interest in retrogames? Approach with caution.

Do you get frustrated easily? Don't trouble yourself, but read up on it, or watch a playthrough.
Do you like tinkering with games? You might like it, a lot; there's still some pretty neat stuff under the hood, here.
Do you love retrogames, games history, or the weird - almost moody? - feeling simple games provide? Yeah, you'll be right at home, here.

Take care out there. I hear there are Mystery Houses afoot.

Comments

#1 by enmagao
2022-01-13 at 12:41
< report >Great write-up. Rare to see in old advs. For me, could never figure out "go door". Also the loop in the mini forest maze was tricky to map which made me dislike it more. Thankfully the maze got removed in their two later games. First graphical adv I know though so it has merit despite it being less fun than other text advs at the time and before.
#2 by atavar
2022-01-14 at 06:06
< report >@enmagao

Wow, thank you very kindly. I've lurked here for a long time, but never really participated; I don't really fit into the culture of the place, way I see it, and that removed the impetus to make an account, let alone comment.

Then, I was going through old boxes and I realized - it wouldn't hurt to write this down, even if it can't be appreciated by anyone else. And then, hey, someone /did./ Thank you.

In general, I'll downgrade all mazes, especially in early gfx interface games. I vaguely remember a review I read asking why games even /have/ mazes if they're all gonna be a chore, heh. Anyway...

Anything you think I should comment more/less on? I weighed going into the history a bit more, but this is a review, not a lecture.

Either way, thanks. Hope you stumble upon some good new - or old - treasures out there.
#3 by enmagao
2022-01-14 at 11:06
< report >@atavar

Thank you as well for posting. I was just surprised to find a detailed review of an old adv on this site -- normally have to refer to blogs for that.

For mazes, it seems like another puzzle mechanic in early advs that I dislike since wizardry/ultima spoiled me before playing this game. I feel like it helps if the game rewards in mazes to want to map it, such as wizardry's rpg character progression and megami tensei's monster fusion, since it gives the mazes a purpose/life. Still trying to find a adv/vn that utilizes them well without turning into a hardcore rpg like megaten.

About the review, I found it well constructed. For anything to comment besides the mazes, I find thoughts on text parser valuable for old advs. Flexibility of words and navigation of inventory for instance.

Thank you. I am currently looking through old and indie games in hope that I find a few for me. Hopefully you find or replay others as you go through the games you played and new ones.