The 11th Hour review

Well, it’s Halloween! So, ghosts, goblins and other things that go bump in the night, today we’re going to take a look at the sequel of my very first horror-themed review, The 7th Guest. I’m talking about The 11th Hour.

The 11th Hour is an adventure game developed by Trilobyte and published by Virgin. It was originally released in 1995 for DOS. It was ported to Macintosh in 1997 and re-released by Night Dive Studios in 2013 for Macintosh and Windows.

Graeme Devine, the main designer and programmer, created a new video compression  program called Wavelet and updated the Groovie engine used in The 7th Guest specifically for this game (which would later be used in subsequent Trilobyte titles).

But, as always, before we take a look at the game, let’s first look at the covers:

17406-the-11th-hour-dos-front-coverThis is the US cover and apart from the title, which looks cool, it’s a bit of a mess with several clocks, wires and remains of a baby doll. I see where Trilobyte was going for with this, but I find it very confusing.

Luckily, the European version is a bit better:

93203-the-11th-hour-dos-front-coverNow, this one I like better. Yes, I understand if some people find it too simplistic, but the use of the baby doll’s head along with the strings and the colour red in a black background, makes it look more ominous, fitting for a horror-themed game.

And now, as always, let’s boot this child of the night:

The game starts with a long intro cutscene introducing our main characters: Carl Denning, the host of the TV show “Cases Unsolved” and its producer; Robin Morales. The intro starts with Carl watching the news about Robin’s disappearance and the series of unsolved murders she was investigating before disappearing. Carl then receives the GameBook (a PDA-like laptop) by mail with a video in it of Robin asking for help and an image of Stauf’s mansion. Carl then goes to Harley-on-the-Hudson, where Robin was last seen while remembering their last interaction. Carl arrives at Stauf’s mansion and after solving a riddle via the GameBook to open the mansion’s door, the game properly starts.

The 11th Hour, just like its predecessor, uses logical puzzles to advance the story, but with an added element to the gameplay: first you receive a riddle by Stauf in the GameBook referring to any object in the mansion, then you have to find and interact with said object to solve the riddle, but every time you enter a new room, you can’t interact with any object whatsoever until you solve the puzzle located in said room in order to “unlock” the objects and the rest of the room. And there’s also a lot of “red herring” objects you can interact with.

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The beginning of the intro featuring our hero, Carl Denning, played by Douglas O’Keeffe.

And every time you solve a riddle, you’re awarded a short cutscene, usually depicting Robin’s investigation before her disappearance (later in the game, they also show Carl’s adventure in the mansion). The game’s story is divided in acts (represented by each passing hour), in which at the end of each act, a longer cutscene plays (including the smaller cutscenes you’ve “collected”) that advances the story along.

To help you, you have the aforementioned GameBook, which substitutes the Ouija board from the last game as the in-game menu. In it, you can save and load and you’ll also have access to a map (and although the mansion’s layout is still the same, it’s good to know which rooms are accessible and which puzzles remain unsolved or not) and a help button that substitutes the library book from the last game. The first two times you click in it, it gives you hints to the puzzle or riddle you’re solving and the third time, it solves the puzzle or riddle for you (although you still have to search for and interact with the objects to solve the riddles). But this time, however, there’s no penalty whatsoever in using the help feature to solve the puzzles and riddles. But you can’t use it to solve the last puzzle (which we’ll talk about later on).

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Looks familiar?

The riddles usually use anagrams and if you’re bad with anagrams (like I am) then it’s a good thing there’s the GameBook. And the new puzzles are even harder than in the previous game. Remember the dreaded microscope puzzle in The 7th Guest? Guess what. It’s back with a vengeance! AND IT’S NOT EVEN THE HARDEST PUZZLE IN THE GAME NOW! Maybe that’s why there’s no penalty in using the help feature to bypass the puzzles. And, as always, Stauf taunts you throughout the game, especially if you fail a puzzle or riddle. And again as always, his taunts get old fast due to repetition.

The cutscenes are now longer (sometimes a bit too long) and of a much better quality than The 7th Guest. Robert Hirshboeck (Henry Stauf), Julia Tucker (Julia Heine), Larry Roher (Ed Knox) and the late Debra Ritz Mason (Martine Burden) are back to reprise their roles and Hirshboeck again turns the ham all the up to eleven while playing Stauf, whether it’s live-action or just voiceover. The new actors, however, aren’t as memorable. Although some of them are renowned TV actors, their performance ranges from bad to acceptable, with some good moments here and there.

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The GameBook with one of the riddles displayed.

The story is now darker with some gore and one or two adult scenes here and there; and for the most part; it isn’t that bad. But halfway through, Trilobyte throws at us some poorly plot points added only for shock value. And the production value, although better than in The 7th Guest, is equal to a 90s suspense TV series. Honestly, I had more fun with the puzzles than I had watching the cutscenes. And also, all the dark zany humour present in the previous game is now mostly gone, with a few moments here and there with Stauf.

The new 16-bit graphics are definitely an improvement, with much better detail. But since the game now occurs in the 90s, the mansion is rundown and debilitated, which means that although the graphical quality is better, the game isn’t prettier which ruins the atmosphere in my opinion. If the intent was to make the game more visually scary, then it failed that purpose, even if you play it in “spooky mode” (just the game in faded black and white). And also, there’s a lot of visual references to The 7th Guest (in case we forget we’re playing a sequel to it) and even one small reference to another famous FMV adventure game of the time.

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One of the several puzzles for you to solve.

Which leads us to the animation. The animation, again, is better in terms of graphical quality but now with some top-quality special effects (well, top quality for the time, that is). There’s no longer weird auras around the actors (which prompted The 7th Guest becoming a ghost-story in the first place), but there’s still some pretty obvious green screen effects (it was kind of new at the time). I have to say that the animation is actually one of the best parts in the game.

Now in terms of music, George “The Fatman” Sanger is back as the main composer and not only does he brings remixes of the previous game’s musical score but also some new themes, which in their majority aren’t as good. With the exception of “Mr. Death”, the main menu theme, which is quite catchy. Also, instead of taking advantage of the new technologies to improve the music quality to CD audio, Trilobyte released the music in MIDI format, which was kind of outdated by 1995’s CD-ROM standards.

Which brings us, finally,  to the end of the game and before discussing it, here’s your spoiler alert:

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Without revealing too much, the game now has three endings to choose from, ranging from good, to bad, to worst. However, there’s a small detail: you can only save the game right before the final riddle and the final puzzle. And after choosing one of the endings, if you reload your save file in order to see the other endings, you obviously need to solve the final puzzle again. But here’s the catch: the final puzzle gets harder the more endings you unlock and the previous solution to it no longer works. So you might want to get the best ending first.

Ok, spoilers over!

So, in conclusion, The 11th Hour is technically bigger and better in comparison with its predecessor, but it fails to provide a proper scary atmosphere and therefore, it lacks  the previous game’s charm. And due to the order of the riddles and fact that the game is divided in acts, it’s also a bit more linear than the previous game. If you’re a The 7th Guest fan or simply enjoy logic puzzles and riddles, then you might want to give it a shot. But for traditional adventure games fans, I can’t really recommend it. If you want to play it though, you can buy it here on Steam.

50234-the-11th-hour-dos-screenshot-the-library-in-spooky-mode

The library in spooky mode.

Before wrapping up the review, here’s a few curious tidbits: The 11th Hour is definitely a mature game, but did you know it was supposed to be even more adult? R-rated sex scenes were planned, which prompt the rumour of an uncut and uncensored version of the game, but said scenes were never filmed. However, the script for the R-rated version can be found on the official strategy guide (and in the digital versions).

And like its predecessor, The 11th Hour had a great commercial success, selling around 300,000 copies in the US alone, despite the mixed reviews it received. Trilobyte would later make a compilation of some of the puzzles found in both games (along with some from another title, Clandestiny) in Uncle Henry’s Playhouse.

Also, there have been several attempts to crowdfund either a third game in the series or a remake of The 7th Guest, but all have failed until now. There’s a successful Kickstarter project called The 13th Doll, which is planned for release between late 2018 and early 2019. And from what I gathered, it’s more of a reboot/remake of The 7th Guest than an actual sequel, so who knows if it’ll even reference The 11th Hour.

Ufff! I thought that would never end! So, ghosts, goblins and other things that go bump in the night, I hope you all enjoyed the review. And wish you all a happy and scary Halloween, WHATEVER YOU ARE! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

God of Thunder review

With the Thor: Ragnarok movie in theaters now around the world, I decided to review a game with Norse gods in it. And although there several games featuring Norse mythology and vikings, we’re going to take a look at one of the very few where you can actually play as Thor himself: God of Thunder.

God of Thunder is an action game (with several puzzle elements) developed by Adept Software and published by Software Creations. It was originally released for DOS (as shareware) in 1993 and re-released a year later in CD-ROM format. Ron Davis, its main designer, has since released it as freeware.

And no, this isn’t the same Software Creations who developed Silver Surfer for the NES.

But before we take a look at the game itself, let’s look at the CD-ROM cover, shall we?

105549-god-of-thunder-dos-front-cover

It needs a “THWAAK” sound effect.

As we can see, this cover features Thor himself throwing his famed hammer, Mjölnir, at a giant serpent wearing a crown. And before you say anything, Thor here is a redhead because that’s how he is originally depicted in the old Norse myths. He’s only blonde in Marvel media. The cover also has a comedy element to it, foreshadowing the game’s humor. It’s not a bad cover, as it conveys everything you need to know about the game.

And now it’s time to boot this sucker:

As you can see, the main title screen is just a reproduction of the CD-ROM cover and then we get to the main menu. The story is that Loki, the god of mischief, has conquered part of Midgard (Earth) with the help of Jorganmund, the Midgard serpent and Nognir, the prince of the Underworld. Odin, who is under the Odinsleep, telepathically recruits his son Thor to fight these menaces along with his famous hammer Mjölnir.

The game is divided in three parts, with the first part distributed freely with the option of buying the other two parts (as per traditional shareware practices). In the first part, you have to look for and defeat Jorganmund; in the second, Nognir and in the third, Loki himself.

As one can see in the video above, the graphics and the gameplay look very reminiscing of Legend of Zelda, with an overworld map with several locations and caves to explore, but unlike Legend of Zelda, God of Thunder is more linear and has several environmental puzzles to solve in order to progress.

4871-god-of-thunder-dos-screenshot-speaking-in-game

Receiving instructions from Odin.

Your main weapon, as I said before, is Mjölnir, Thor’s famous hammer and just like in the comics and myths, it can be thrown and it immediately comes back to you. It can be used to defeat enemies and to solve puzzles. But you also can use other magical objects and spells that can be found in the overworld maps, certain caves or bought from vendors, but these empty your magic meter, which can only be replenished by finding potions. You can also find golden apples to replenish your health meter or more rarely, angels that can fully replenish your health and magic meters.

You can also find jewels that serve not only as points, but also as currency in the shops and vendors, enabling you to buy several items. In some of the screens with puzzles, you can also collect keys to open doors.

568015-god-of-thunder-dos-screenshot-the-village

Visiting a village.

The enemies are varied and depending on the difficulty level selected, they can be easy or hard to defeat (including the bosses). But regardless of the difficulty levels, the puzzles have always the same difficulty, meaning they’re always hard. And I mean it! The hardest ones are when there one or more worms on screen (that can insta-kill you the moment you’re in a straight line with them) and you need to push logs and rocks to block them. But it’s easier said than done. You’ll spend a lot of time figuring these ones out. But in all the worlds, you’ll find villages that have shops and vendors to buy items and its inhabitants will offer you hints to surpass some of the puzzles.

The graphics are simple and colorful, with all the characters portrayed using small pixels that serve their purpose well. The music is okay with some nice themes, but they tend to be a bit repetitive (I won’t blame you if you prefer to play it while listening Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song) . The sound effects are a bit weird in some cases, like when collecting items, it sounds like Thor is eating them. The animation is also quite simple and I recommend turning off the turbo mode in main menu in case you’re playing in an fast computer (or on Dosbox).

568016-god-of-thunder-dos-screenshot-inside-a-house-note-roaming

Inside one of the houses where you can talk to its inhabitants and grab every treasure not nailed to the floor.

The controls are responsive, although I recommend the use of a gamepad or joystick over the keyboard.

God of Thunder is a simple game without any upstanding features that’s good for quick playthrough (as long you don’t get frustrated with the harder puzzles). The humor is quite refreshing and tongue-in-cheek without being obnoxious with lot of references to the comics. If you enjoy fast action games with hard puzzles, then you might want to give it a shot.

You can play directly in your browser here, or you can go to the Adept Software page here and download it for free along with the manual and hintbook (which I highly recommend). I also recommend you go to a theater near you and check out Thor Ragnarok. It’s probably the best Thor movie ever made.

So, did you enjoy the review? Comment below or on Facebook or Twitter and let me know. Next time, we’re going to take a look at the first title of a series that still exists to nowadays, but whose latest recent release has met some incomprehensible controversy. Till then, keep on gaming.

Pipe Mania/Pipe Dream review

No, I’m not reviewing another game with two different versions or two different games, it’s the same game with two different titles, that’s all! And it’s one of the most ported and influential games of all times. Even if you don’t recognize the title, I assure you that at least you’ll find the gameplay familiar. I’m talking about Pipe Mania aka Pipe Dream.

Pipe Mania is a puzzle game developed by The Assembly Line and published by Empire Software. It was originally released in 1989 for the Amiga, Atari ST and DOS (US version, distributed by Lucasfilm Games under the title Pipe Dream). It was re-released the following year for DOS (EU version), Acorn 32-bit, Amstrad CPC, Apple II and IIgs, Arcade (Japan only), BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Electron, Game Boy, NES, Sam Coupé and ZX Spectrum. In 1991, it was ported to the PC-88, PC-98 and Windows 3.x (as part of the Windows Entertainment Pack). And in 1992, it was ported to the Sharp X68000 and Super Famicom.

But first let’s take a look at the covers, shall we?

183624-pipe-dream-commodore-64-front-cover

“AAAAAHHHH! A tiny plumber fixing pipes!”

This is the European cover and probably the most famous one. While I do enjoy the cartoony plumber at the bottom with a huge wrench trying to fix a pipe, I, still to this day, don’t understand the huge screaming face that covers almost all of the cover. Is that supposed to be one of the developers? Or just a frustrated player? Am I going to fell frustrated and scream by playing this game? But at least the back cover is a bit better:

183625-pipe-dream-commodore-64-back-cover

Yes, you better run. I’ve seen what that stuff did to 4 little turtles and a rat in New York.

Not to mention the US cover:

110732-pipe-dream-dos-front-cover

See? He works much better without a giant face screaming behind him.

Just get rid of that hideous face, focus on the plumber, make a nice title and fill the rest with pipes and voilá! An instant classic cover. Because this game was heavily ported, some console versions have their own covers:

218685-pipe-dream-game-boy-front-cover

Oh! The pipes form a “P”. But what does it stands for?

This is the Game Boy cover and while I do appreciate minimalistic covers, this one feels lazy compared with the previous ones.

193945-pipe-dream-snes-front-cover

“Damn it, Harold! How many times do I have to tell you? Righty tighty lefty loosy.”

This is the Super Famicom cover and while it’s a bit more cartoony, it’s also quite good and invokes a sense of fun. Because whoever made the EU cover has to explain to me what fun am I to expect with that face! Sorry, I’m still traumatized since childhood by that…. thing!

But it’s time to boot this sucker:

The title screen is very similar to the cover and the music theme (while being on the PC Speaker) isn’t bad. The gameplay is also quite simple to learn: just put on pipes to let the flooz (fancy name for basically sewage waste) flow through them a certain distance, rack up the points and move on the next level. And you can blow up any pipe that’s wrong and substitute it with another one. This gameplay takes inspiration after Konami’s Loco-Motion, which was released in the arcades back in 1982.

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You can choose between three different modes from the menu screen: a single-player mode, a competitive two-player (through hotseat) and an expert single-player. You’ll also have access to a training option, which causes the flooz to flow slower at the cost of not gaining points. You play through thirty-six levels which get increasingly harder with the flooz running faster and the distance required getting bigger. But luckily you’ll find special pipes that will reduce the speed of the flooz, giving you extra time. The level ends when you run out of places to put pipes, the flooz catches up to you or it reaches the end pipe, which will appear more or less around level fifteen.

pipe_001

The flooz must flow!

Every five levels, more or less, you’ll have access to a bonus levels, where blocks with pipes start to circulate at the top of the screen and you have to make them fall in order to construct a way for the flooz to flow. The more it flows, the more points you get. At the end of the bonus level, you’ll also get a password to record your progress.

After winning the final level, you return to the first level with all your points intact. That’s right! Another arcade-style game in which the main objective is basically to rack up points. I recommend trying it out first with the training option ON to get a good understating of the mechanics of the game and then turn it OFF to get points. And if you want a real challenge, then try the expert mode or get a friend to play against with.

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I like the color in this one.

Pipe Mania/Dream is one of those games that’s easy to learn but hard to master and it’s quite addictive and fun. The graphics and sound are simple but adequate for a puzzle game. Great for short periods of time and for younger players. Click here to play in your own browser.

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The bonus level.

I haven’t played any of the other ports, but the original Amiga version is considered the best one. There have been almost countless clones afterwards but only two official remakes: Pipe Mania 3D/Pipe Dreams 3D in 2000 for the Playstation and Pipe Mania in 2008 for Macintosh, Nintendo DS, Playstation 2, Windows, PSP and iOS. I have the Pipe Mania remake for iOS and it’s OK. It’s basically the same gameplay but with new graphics and new options. It’s geared towards younger players and it’s adequate, I suppose.

But Pipe Mania did have a great influence and it’s not uncommon to find some puzzle based on it in modern games. It kind of felt out of the public memory but the core gameplay still remains in our collective memory. It might not have the accolade of Tetris nowadays but it’s still one of top puzzle games out there.

So, what’s your favorite version of this game? Tell me by commenting below. I know that this week’s review was a bit short, but I promise next time we’ll take a look at a bigger and more complex game. Till then line up those pipes and keep on playing.