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iPhone Game Review: The 7th Guest

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Ah, memories.  There are moments in my life which I remember quite clearly, things which can instantly be recalled – I know the first Star Trek episode I ever saw, the first James Bond movie I watched, where I was the first time I ever played Super Mario Bros.,  the moment I was first ever eaten by a grue, and calling the computer software store repeatedly to find out when The 11th Hour would finally hit store shelves.

The 11th Hour, developed by Trilobyte, was a game I was hugely excited for, having finally forced myself to get through its predecessor, The 7th Guest.  The first game in the series about sinister toymaker Henry Stauf and his haunted house, The 7th Guest is one of those titles which made an immediate impact on me the first time I played it.

Never being a fan of scary games, books, movies, television shows, etc., I was somehow still compelled by the box to play the game (score one for marketing)  and made the mistake of doing so alone, at night, in an empty house.   The extended opening sequence gives players the background story on the sick and twisted Henry Stauf, a ne’er-do-well turned murderer turned rich toymaker.  Featuring real actors hamming it up and drawn backgrounds, the opening is both intriguing and vaguely disturbing.  Once it ends, you find yourself in the mansion of Stauf years after a fateful, and deadly, party.  You are not so much an actual person as an entity without form known simply as Ego.  You travel through the house often, but not always, as a person would, but without a defined body. 

Your job is to go from room to room, solving a wide array of puzzles and piecing together what happened that fateful night.  These puzzles include things like moving pieces on a chessboard, solving word puzzles, and going through a maze or two.  As you enter new rooms and solve the puzzles, you are rewarded with the unlocking of new locations to visit and more ghostly visions of what happened.  It is played somewhat for laughs and yet, at times, quite spooky. 

In short, it is not the sort of thing that an easily frightened me ought to have been playing at home… alone… at night… in the dark.  Quickly figuring that out, I quit the game and stood up from my computer only to jump no fewer than three feet in the air as, once my back was turned, Stauf issued a plaintive and angry “Come back!” from my computer speakers.  Very little sleeping was done that night.

Despite scaring me horrifically, I felt compelled to return to the game, to finish the puzzles, to beat Stauf, and to learn the mystery of the seventh guest (I just made sure to turn off my speakers before quitting). 

The game, which taxed my poor computer so heavily back in the mid-’90s, is now available as an iPhone app and it retains everything that made that first visit to Stauf’s mansion so wonderful.  The game is built around small, puzzles in each room, and as such works perfectly for the iPhone where it seems that folks often find that they have five or 10 minutes to play, but not more.  You can open the game, try to work out a puzzle, and then close it again without really losing the flow of what’s happening.  There is a save function included – which I recommend using – but unless you’ve updated or turned off your phone, you do generally start from where you closed the game and an autosave exists as well.

The port here is a faithful one,  the original game was all point-and-click which translates beautifully to the touchscreen interface of the iPhone.  Additionally, Trilobyte has included the ability to click on “Farewell” in the menu screen to quit the game and cause Stauf to scare the bejesus out of me (which he still does) with his “Come back!”  despite the fact that clicking to quit only resets the menu screen as opposed to actually exiting the title.

There are some issues with the translation, including the fact that the opening cinematic is long enough where many an iPhone will have their screen first go slightly dark and then completely black, locking the phone.  Touching the screen to keep the phone unlocked and alive also causes the rest of the opening to be skipped.  Additionally, there are some areas of the Stauf mansion which are exceedingly dark if the brightness is not turned up (which can’t be done within the title).  The video clips don’t look particularly good here, but then again, they were never great-looking in the original either.  Lastly, when the actors speak or voiceover is provided, there is, at times, the background hiss accompanying the vocals is far too evident.  While it seems unlikely that this last problem can be fixed, Trilobyte has already addressed other issues with the game, delivering an update this week which fixed a problem with background music stopping.  

In its latest incarnation, The 7th Guest remains as spooky, funny, and puzzling as it has ever been.  The puzzles range from easy to exceedingly difficult (help is provided in-game should it be needed), and while I won’t say that it’s enjoyable for all ages, it is an exceptional example of a story-driven puzzle game.  The new

Trilobyte has already announced that The 11th Hour will be coming to the iPhone in 2011.  Hopefully the wait this time around between the original and the sequel will be shorter than last time.

The 7th Guest is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Realistic Violence. This game can also be found on: iPad, PC, and Mac.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
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