Nearly ten years ago, a friend and I decided to play Mansion of Hidden Souls on the Sega CD. We didn’t know anything about it, and at that point neither of us had much experience with similar first-person adventure games like Myst. The plodding movement and crude 3D pre-rendered visuals did little to entice us, but we enjoyed the emphasis on puzzle solving. If anything, it was informative to play through a style of game that was no longer in vogue, and one that showcased an early example of full-motion video. We followed it up with playthroughs of a couple similar games and have dabbled with the genre since then, albeit infrequently. One game in particular has been at the top of our to-do list for years, yet we always passed over it for one reason or another. Well the stars aligned last week, and we finally played D. Continue reading D [Sega Saturn] – Review→
Silicon Knights has come to be known for many things, mostly negative. One of the reasons they became so notorious though, was due to their former success. Without question, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was one of the studio’s highest highs. A survival horror game, published by Nintendo for the GameCube, the game met high praises upon its release in 2002, and is still fondly recalled. I recently played through the game, and while enjoyable, I didn’t become a rabid fan. For all of its uniqueness, the game feels pretty dated twelve years after its release.
The game’s primary protagonist is Alex Roivas. Her grandfather was just murdered and she’s now the last of the family. Edward dealt heavily in the occult and as Alex searches for answers to his murder, she becomes embroiled in a struggle between good and evil that dates back at least two-thousand years. Center to her quest is the Tome of Eternal Darkness. As Alex discovers pages to the Tome, scattered about Edward’s mansion, she is taken back in time and relives the struggles of her ancestors as they work to prevent the revival of evil ancients. This facilitates an interesting storytelling mechanic and a wide cast of characters.
I don’t care who you are, time travel is always interesting. Personally, I think of it in context of futuristic science-fiction, so its usage in the game was something different. Alex’s reading of the Tome was translated into individual sections of the game, where I controlled characters as diverse as a Roman centurion, a Cambodian slave, and a World War I soldier. Those characters, as well as many more filled out the game. The environments were as varied as the characters themselves. This is an astonishing fact as there were only a handful of settings. The locales were revisited through the ages, and while they were mostly identical, they remained fresh by virtue of the aging process and the period pieces I’d obtain and use in them; unlike say, Devil May Cry 4.
As the game dealt with many time periods and characters, the items and weapons I’d come across naturally fit the setting. Generally, each character gained access to multiple weapons, with the majority of them being swords. These highlighted the inventive combat system well. I had the ability to target different portions of an enemy’s body – head, torso, or upper appendages. I almost always went for the head as it was the quickest way to deal with an enemy or cope with a crowd, although striking appendages was helpful in many circumstances too. Besides swords, I came across many guns and long range weapons. In my experience with the game, these were useful against only one enemy and one boss. Don’t get me wrong, I could use them on anything, I just didn’t find them effective. Ammunition wasn’t an issue, unlike other survival horror games of this period.
Another aspect that differentiated this game from its peers was its distinct lack of tank controls. No matter the character, I was able to freely move them about. Coupling this with what I perceive as an enhanced focus on combat because of the targeting system and lack of inventory/ammo management, and this game skews more towards the action spectrum of action-adventure. However, like games of this ilk, there are plenty of items to find and puzzles to solve. Or…, association puzzles, as I’ll call them. These are what I found in the Mansiongames and Juggernaut. Through exploration, I’d stumble across something I could interact with, generally nonworking; for instance, a telescope missing a handle. Eventually, I’d find the handle, and putting them together, I’d be able to advance the story.
These types of “puzzles” were never too difficult, although this game stumped me more than once. Or, it stumped my friend and me, as we played cooperatively. Yes, more than once we flat out got stuck and had to source GameFAQs. In these few instances, the solutions were obvious, but for whatever reason, we didn’t crack the game’s logic. An example: playing an archaeologist in Cambodia circa the 1980s, we roamed the entirety of an ancient ruin not knowing what to do. We had examined a handful of spider webs earlier, which spurred the archaeologist to think they might be obscuring something, but we believed that a nonstarter. We thought this because it was clear there was nothing behind them when they were examined. WRONG. In his inventory, he had a brush that we used earlier to clear away dirt. When used on the spider webs, an important item was discovered, allowing us to progress. There were a few other instances of this, and it was extremely demoralizing.
My time with Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem started strong. An impressive narrative wrapped around an inventive storytelling mechanic and large cast of characters served well to draw me in. The unique combat system and strong playability were nothing to scoff at, especially considering its peers. However, the weak puzzles and sometimes confusing internal logic required to progress grew tepid. AND, there are sanity effects that I didn’t even mention! Honestly, I was a little underwhelmed by them because I always kept my sanity meter high. By the end of it, I was more jazzed than ever to see how the story culminated, but I was ready to finish playing the game. It’s still a very impressive game. But, it was more impressive twelve years ago, just like Silicon Knights.
The Room is a puzzle game in the strictest sense. Players need not worry themselves with anything but solving puzzles. In each of the four stages, players are plopped down in front of a box composed of many mechanical locks. It is usually these, and other mechanical objects on the boxes that represent puzzles. Figuring out how they operated was the main brain drain.
Unlike Mansion of Hidden Souls and Juggernaut, I felt like The Room did a better job of implementing puzzles. The former games were puzzle games yes, but they placed more emphasis on exploring an environment, finding items, and making a connection as to where they needed to be used. This game’s puzzles are more self-contained in part because there’s no environment exploration. The boxes need to be scoured for clues, I mean scoured, but there’s no other exploration. The puzzles in the game were serious thinkers though.
With four brief stages, it only took me a few bedtime sessions to complete, most of the time though, I was staring at my tablet deep in thought trying to work a puzzle out. If not that scenario, then I was inspecting every inch of the larger box trying to figure out what to work on next. There’s a faint amount of narrative in the form of notes from a researcher friend, but it’s supplementary. They enhanced the mystery surrounding why the player is doing what they’re doing, but the puzzles were the motivation, at least for me.
This was the first output of Fireproof Games, a British studio made up of seasoned designers and I thought it was a mature experience among the cartoonish chaff that populates mobile platforms. The Room is available on Android and iOS devices for $1.99.
In remembrance of 2011, I thought I’d compile a list of what I thought were the ten best games I played this year. Considering that I don’t play a ton of recent releases, a lot of this list will be older games. As anyone who reads this blog will note, that’s in line with what I actually play. Rather than ranking these games, I’ll simply alphabetize the list.
Animal Crossing: City Folk – This game is up there with Skyrim in the amount of time I devote to it. It’s awfully familiar to previous games in the series but I still find it as addictive as ever. I also had fun getting my friend into it and playing with him.
Batman: Arkham City– What a game! I loved Arkham Asylum and this game upped the ante in so many ways. Such a large environment with so much to do!
Mass Effect 2 – I had so much fun discussing this game with others, more importantly though, I had so much fun playing this. The gameplay was much improved over the first game and even though there were a lot of things taken out, the options I had were still astounding.
Mansion of Hidden Souls – An unusual pick for sure but this game turned my friend and I onto an unfamiliar genre and we’ve had a lot of fun solving puzzles in similar games since playing this.
Vanquish– Platinum Games took the usually slow moving military third-person shooter and blended it with Japanese quirks. A fantastical futuristic setting, a story with some ridiculous moments, a lot of great set pieces, and super fun and fast-paced gameplay.
You Don’t Know Jack – A stellar mulitplayer game that received a ton of rotation at my house. A great value.
A: Juggernaut is a first-person adventure game where the primary mechanic is solving puzzles. A great shorthand reference would be the popular game Myst, a less ideal one would be either Mansion of Hidden Souls or The Mansion of Hidden Souls, two similar games that I wrote about earlier in the year. Juggernaut was released on the Playstation in 1999, many years after any of these games.
Q: What is Juggernaut about?
A: The protagonist’s girlfriend has become possessed by an evil spirit (presumably the devil) and a priest has notified the protagonist that the exorcism he performed was ineffective. Telling the protagonist that his love for her is the greatest chance of removing the evil, he sends him into her body to rid her of the evil.
Q: Wait, what!?
A: Yes, that’s only the beginning to the surreal adventure that plays out in Juggernaut. Inside the girlfriend’s body my friend and I did not find organs and blood but instead a mansion; perhaps a nod to the Mansion games?
Q: Okay, but why a mansion?
A: Well I suppose it could be a metaphor for something. Maybe it symbolizes her soul with the rooms inside representing specific chapters of her life, maybe not though. Functionally it provides a great backdrop for a single environment that requires a lot of exploration and houses many puzzles.
Q: You’ve mentioned puzzles, but what’s gameplay like besides them, what do you do?
A: My friend and I controlled the protagonist and explored the mansion and other environments. We’d explore until we couldn’t progress any farther, usually because of puzzles, although I use that term lightly. Most puzzles seemed to revolve around finding an item and making the connection as to what it’s used for. There were puzzles that required my friend and me to get scratch paper out and think something through, but for the most part making connections was the name of the game.
Q: So it’s a puzzle game and the puzzles aren’t that great, why should I even care about Juggernaut?
A: That’s a great point actually. My friend and I felt the same way until we encountered an evil microcosm, what we were attempting to rid the girlfriend’s body of. The evil microcosms were one-off stories that featured unique plots, characters, and environments. The stories and dialogue in the microcosms were absurd! Definitely some of the weirdest stuff I’ve encountered in a video game.
There were eight microcosms in all. Two of them took place in the future, entirely on the internet via virtual reality. Two of them took place in an isolated prison. One of these featured a spy who yelled out karate moves before he attacked people, like “karate correspondence manual page 12, flying kangaroo”. It ended in a goofy/creepy five minute conversation with another character that had my friend and me laughing, and confused. Two took place on tropical islands and they also resulted in confusion. The last two took place in woods and they dealt with a ghost shaman from Africa and a killer who slashed out eyes. I’m only scratching the surface of what makes these storylines strange by the way, just know the plots develop strangely and the dialogue is detailed
Q: After everything you did was the ending satisfying?
A: Yes, actually. What was more satisfying was the epilogue though. It added another puzzle and a lot of exposition from the girlfriend’s perspective, plus, a twist.
Q: Who made Juggernaut?
A: I’m unclear on that. There are two Japanese companies attached to Juggernaut, Will and TonkinHouse. From what I’ve gathered Will developed it and Tonkin House published it in Japan. Jaleco published it in America. Remember, it came out on the PlayStation in 1999.
Q: So should I play it?
A: Nah. The gameplay was slow and it takes a long place to get somewhere. There was an interesting mechanic in the mansion of having to switch bodies to access specific rooms but this was time consuming. Juggernaut is a pretty ugly game even considering how old it is but I liked the soundtrack, it wasn’t overbearing, it was moody, and set the tone well. It was fun solving puzzles and experiencing the oddities with a friend and the microcosms were surreal, but you can probably YouTube that stuff.
When I was bored at work earlier today I realized my only obligation on Halloween this year is school, and that’s only until noon. Seeing how I live in a rural area and I don’t get trick-or-treaters, I’ll have the rest of the evening to myself, and probably some friends. Naturally, I began concocting a list of Halloween related games I could potentially play.
The first on my list, and one I will definitely play is Batman: Arkham City. Primarily because Calender Man hinted that I should visit him on Halloween, but also because dressing up as a superhero is commonplace on Halloween.
Castlevania. I’ll probably have nothing better to do on Halloween so I might as well play a game in this great series and slay Dracula.
Condemned: Criminal Origins. A really good game.
Costume Quest. I actually don’t have this, but it’s onlya download away. This role-playing game came out last October and features a group of children trick-or treating. A solid title from the well-regarded studio Double Fine Productions.
Dracula Unleashed. Or perhaps any other “spooky” game on the Sega CD like Night Trap, Mansion of the Hidden Souls, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. I’ve always wanted to play this game and this is the perfect excuse to pick it up.
Fester’s Quest. This NES game has players controlling Uncle Fester from the TV show The Addams Family. Scary indeed.
Geist. This poor GameCube first-person shooter might just be at the right place at the right time this Halloween.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies. More ghosts?
Illbleed. This Dreamcast game seems really strange.
Juggernaut. Speaking of strange, this PlayStation adventure game is off the charts.
Left 4 Dead. What list of Halloween related video games would be complete without Left 4 Dead, or any other game featuring zombies.
Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Playing the full-motion video Sega CD game would remind of my youth in the 1990s, and it’d be the perfect excuse to write about one of my favorite Sega CD games.
Overblood. This Resident Evil clone has a soft spot in my heart, just like another spooky PlayStation video game: Space Griffon VF-9.
Resident Evil. Any game from this survival-horror series would be right at home on Halloween.
Shadowgate. A spooky point-and-click adventure game perhaps?
The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror. I received this poor Game Boy Color platformer for my birthday one year and never progressed far in it.
Mansion of Hidden Souls is a peculiar game. Everything about the game was creepy. The poorly rendered graphics added an odd vibe, while the plot and setting were downright strange. I was pleasantly surprised by the game however. A friend and I played through the game together and enjoyed solving the puzzles and unraveling the game.
Developed by System Sacom and published by Vic Tokai, Mansion of Hidden Souls was released for the Sega CD in 1994. My friend and I took on the role of a young boy looking for his sister who has run away to a creepy mansion in the woods. He soon discovers that people who stumble upon this mansion are turned into butterflies, and that his sister finds this appealing. He then sets out to find her and get out of there.
There were plenty of obstacles standing in his way though. The game is played from the first-person perspective, meaning my friend and I took on the role of the young boy directly. We chose where to go in the mansion and explored it in its entirety. The game uses pre-rendered backgrounds so it has a distinct look to it and is quite detailed, but due to the Sega CD, the game appears very grainy. Rather than sprites which were predominately used in games of that era, pre-rendered graphics looked like “realistic” interpretations of items.
We chose which direction we wanted to go and the young boy would walk where we told him. We stumbled upon objects or areas that could be interacted with and, at the right time in the game, something important would happen. Everything in the game is there for a reason, there isn’t anything extra. By the end of the game, we had utilized everything that we could interact with, which led to a lot of backtracking.
Mansion of Hidden Souls takes place entirely in the mansion and it is a fairly large environment to explore. Each room has a theme and they are all quite varied. The majority of the rooms also contain a butterfly, who was once a human. The butterflies retain their ability to communicate with the boy and some are helpful while others are spiteful. The great thing about being on a compact disc is the ample storage space allowed for voice acting. The unfortunate thing about the voice acting is how poor it is or what I should say is the voice acting is comedic; each butterfly had a unique accent that was butchered by the voice actors.
Early on we had limited access to the mansion as we lacked keys, but in one of the rooms is a black painting that gives a glimpse of what we need to interact with next. This was very helpful. A lot of the puzzles my friend and I figured out before checking the black painting, but with so many intricate objects to interact with, and some uses being less obvious than others, it was great to have something to turn to.
For the first half of the game, we explored each room, learning where objects were and received input from the butterflies. Once we retrieved the main character’s sister (early on in the stages of human to butterfly transformation) we had to escape from the mansion’s owner. At this point we received a clock and had one hour (in-game time) to complete the game. Time didn’t pass when we stood still which meant we could think about what to do, and it seemed as if we had ample time to check the black painting. This time limit added an interesting dynamic that we didn’t find annoying thanks to the ability to save in case we did make a mistake (which happened a few times) and died because of it.
I took a gamble with Mansion of Hidden Souls. I saw it for sale and having never seen a copy of it before, purchased it. I didn’t have any intention of playing it as soon as I did, but I found a peculiar, yet halfway compelling adventure that was short enough for my friend and I to complete in one sitting. We made a lot of the connections about the use of objects ourselves but the ability to seek out the black painting for what to do next was helpful. Mansion of Hidden Souls was a creepy game that I had more fun playing through than I expected I would.