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The 7th Guest

"If I had to pick an audience who would appreciate this port of The 7th Guest, I'd choose people who like the puzzles from Professor Layton and the movies from Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Note: for this review, I played version 7.1 of The 7th Guest on a 3rd generation iPod Touch with OS 4.2.

I've always liked The 7th Guest and its sequel, The 11th Hour. In fact, I still have copies of both games on CD, as well as a guide book that I purchased out of sheer nostalgia years after beating them. Thus, when The 7th Guest was released on iOS, the purchase was a no-brainer for me. Sadly, playing it made me realize that nostalgia alone isn't enough to carry a game.

In The 7th Guest, players control a nameless protagonist trapped in a mansion full of puzzles and apparitions. The mansion once belonged to a toymaker named Stauf, who built it after some of his customers' children died from a mysterious virus. This occurrence sounds a lot less like a sad coincidence once you know that he began his career when he had a vision of a doll after he murdered someone. At some point after he retired to his mansion (perhaps after his own death), Stauf invited six people to join him there, with a promise that he would grant their greatest desire if they could solve his puzzles. In addition to these six adults, a young boy stumbled onto the gathering, thus becoming the titular "seventh guest."

As players progress through the game, they learn about what happened to those people through cutscenes showing their ghosts. The events aren't shown in order and are clearly restricted to the evening's highlights, which can lead to some confusion. It is hard to care about being confused, though, as the game features the barest illusion of a story, with characters that only just make it to "one-dimensional." This is very much a game that is driven by its puzzles, seeming to possess a story only because one is expected.

The mansion is divided into a number of rooms, each of which contains a puzzle. These are varied in both style and difficulty, including word puzzles, mazes, line-drawing, and a trio of chess themed brain-melters among others. Those who have played previous versions of this game are sure to remember the microscope "puzzle," which pitted them against a brutal AI in a game similar to Othello or Go. They are equally sure to be happy that this version of the game does not include that slice of torture pie. The developers say that they simply couldn't make the controls work reliably on the small screen of an iPhone or iPod Touch. The knife and piano puzzles are absent for the same reason, but their absence is not particularly notable, as they were neither high nor low points in the original game. At the game's beginning, very few rooms are open, but as players solve puzzles and view the resulting cutscenes, additional rooms open up until the entire mansion is available for exploration.

Players can save their progress any time they're not solving a puzzle, but the iOS port has a pair of save-related bugs – always a bad place for problems to show up. One is minor: saves can be named, but the names don't stick. The other is bigger: the game appears to allow players to overwrite a previous save, but the old save actually stays intact. Games are saved in one of 10 slots, so this issue means that the game can only be saved 10 times in total. And players need to save when they switch their iOS device to another app, because the game doesn't support multitasking very well.

Visually, The 7th Guest is a game that really shows its age in this port. At its release in 1993, it was the first PC game available only on CD. This format was required because of the space taken up by its cutscenes: FMV layered over the top of CG backgrounds. Surprisingly, the iOS version of the game clocks in at an enormous 623 Mb – twice the space required for Infinity Blade, and nearly three times what's needed for Aralon: Sword and Shadow HD, both of which are universal apps. Given the space commitment, it is disappointing to see the low quality of the FMV, which is extremely poor in many scenes even after giving leeway for the current age of the technology used to create it. The CG looks good though, and shouldn't leave players straining their eyes to see either the puzzles or the background details.

The sound has its problems as well, although like the visuals, it's not all bad. The game's cast appears to have been brought in from a local community theater, and their performances range from "not terrible" to "there's that terrible the other guy was missing." (Note: I've done quite a bit of community theater, so I know whereof I speak. I would arrogantly put myself in the "not terrible" category of actors. All of my terrible went into dancing, so I didn't have any left over for acting.) To make matters worse, the voices in cutscenes are frequently several seconds out of sync with the video, robbing even those who delight in bad acting of their chance at schadenfreude.

Stauf rarely makes an appearance in person, but he does heckle players on a frequent basis, and the game stops everything when he does so. The player's character chimes in from time to time, mostly to give general hints during puzzles, and his lines stop gameplay too. These interruptions aren't unforgiveable on the first attempt at a puzzle, but they become extremely frustrating by the fourth or fifth try, as both Stauf and the player's character make exactly the same comments each time. The worst bit of audio, however, comes when players exit the game through the menu, prompting Stauf to scream "Come baaaack!" at the top of his lungs. It was merely annoying coming out of my PC speakers 17 years ago, but it's excruciating coming out of my iPod's headset now. As I said, though, the audio is not all bad. The good comes in the form of the music, which provides an appropriate, slightly creepy background to the game from start to finish.

In terms of control, iOS is a great fit for games like The 7th Guest. It is a point & click adventure game with no inventory. Players tap on the screen to move or interact with the world, and it all works according to design. Placing a finger on the screen and holding it down displays a context-sensitive cursor, which helps identify the objects that can be used as well as whether those objects initiate a puzzle or a cutscene. Double-tapping the screen activates a sort of magnifying glass until the player's finger is lifted again, granting a greater degree of precision. I didn't ever find that level of finesse to be required, but I appreciated knowing it was there in case I needed it.

If I had to pick an audience who would appreciate this port of The 7th Guest, I'd choose people who like the puzzles from Professor Layton and the movies from Mystery Science Theater 3000. As a fan of the original version, I appreciated the chance to pit my brain against Stauf once again, and I was saddened by the port's technical issues. If you've got a few bucks to put into a classic game on iOS and can live with its problems, this is a game that's worth revisiting. But I'm telling you right now: when you get to the chess puzzle with the knights, find a walkthrough online. It'll take you fifteen minutes to beat even if you already know the solution.


© 2010 Trilobyte Games, LLC. All rights reserved.




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