By Mike Riley on Sat, 04/02/2011
Big Fish Games is rapidly becoming the Infocom of the object hunting puzzle adventure iOS gaming arena. Their latest interactive story, Haunted Manor HD, places gamers in a typical Victorian-style haunted house scenario, learning clues about the ghosts occupying the house as the various hunt and peck puzzles are solved. How does Haunted Manor compare to other Big Fish titles? Read on to find out.
Haunted Manor HD follows the simple story of Stan Riddle who is inexplicably trapped in an elegant, spooky mansion filled with a cornucopia of objects. Consisting of over 90 tasks spanning 18 different locations throughout the mansion, players eventually re-assemble pieces of a broken mirror to reach the story's resolution.
Coming from the same company that released PuppetShow, a game that failed to keep my interests high, I had reservations about Haunted Manor. After all, isn't it basically the same game with different characters and graphics? Well, yes and no. There have been some iterative improvements, like the variety of intermediary puzzles and the enhanced visual effects. But mostly, its use of the classic haunted house motif is so well done that players can't help but be pulled into the game's fictitious environments.
Graphically, Haunted Manor is beautiful to look at. Each location is rendered in exquisite detail, especially important in the darker settings of a vacated home coupled with the nuances of the easter egg-style object hunting that require sharp eyes to find. Sound is adequate, though I did, eventually turn off the sound since it was mostly a repeating track of eerie footsteps wind and macabre effects. And like previous Big Fish games, none of the lines of dialog are spoken in an effort to not only reduce the size of the game download but also allows for easier internationalization of the game's text.
The story on the other hand is typical ghost story faire. Interactions with these ethereal characters are nothing more than one or two sentences explaining the basic plot that point players toward the next puzzle room or key object. Still, for what its worth, these exchanges do give a purpose behind replaying the same type of treasure hunt game with a different set of imagery. And there is occasionally a new puzzle (though most are kid-friendly simplistic) that breaks up the usual object matching tasks. And like Puppetshow, gamers are penalized for rapid finger taps on non-related objects to prevent the mad-dash finger drumming over the screen in an attempt to clear the playfield as quickly as possible. If too many erroneous taps in quick succession are detected, the screen cracks in a startling and almost convincing way. The first time I encountered this effect, my finger literally jumped off the screen.
Also like Puppetshow, Haunted Manor HD also uses the market approach of download and play the first few screens for free, then unlock the rest of the game via an in-app purchase. While I still am not a fan of in-app purchases and probably never will be, it seems that more and more games are moving toward that model as a way to minimize having to build and support separate demo and full versions of the game in Apple's App Store. There's also the marketing folks who are interested in collecting metrics on how many downloaded the game versus how many actually converted to buying the game. With Amazon's release of their Android Appstore and the ability to try any app on a simulated Android device for 30 minutes, perhaps Apple will consider a similar approach for their App Store. Until then, companies like Big Fish are likely to continue to employ the in-app purchase model.
Even with my dislike for the in-app purchase approach and the bland story, I have to admit that I sincerely enjoyed playing Haunted Manor. There's just something about exploring sparkling objects in an old house that appeals to my adventurous curiosity. And the graphic design of the game does a fantastic job of capturing the standard motifs that you would expect in an old creepy mansion. Sure, the puzzles themselves are simplistic and contrived, but these games are designed to be light on brain teasing, heavy on fun. And after a long day of having my brain worked out on knotty problems and energy-expending strategies, it's nice to be able to relax after a long work day on a game that is there to primarily entertain in the most appealing and non-threatening way possible. Haunted Manor HD succeeds as an entertaining game for all ages.
Title: Haunted Manor HD
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Cost: $9.99 (in-app purchase)
Rating: 4/5 stars