Adventure Gamers Awards
Note: Although reviewed together, The Mystery of Haunted Hollow has been posted separately with its own scoring criteria.
Point & Click’s casual puzzler series The Mystery of Haunted Hollow will have you swimming in ghosts, mysteries, and creaky old houses, though they aren’t horror games. Consisting of two parts (so far), the series starts off with a compelling story that will keep you guessing, surrounded by a variety of straightforward puzzles. The second game picks up from the surprise ending of the first, delivering more of the same simple puzzling but with a storyline that’s diluted somewhat from having an entire town to roam.
In The Mystery of Haunted Hollow, the ghostly E gives you a letter, warning you away, never to come back to this place filled with sorrow and grief. Being the intrepid adventurer that you are, of course you ignore her caution. The female spirit and many others follow you intermittently in your travels as you explore the environs around the imposing Hollow Manor, visiting broken down homes and abandoned locations, reading through various diary entries and notes that previous inhabitants left for you. The story these notes tell start to coalesce around some great tragedy, which you must progress further to fully understand.
The game concludes with a transformative event that leaves you a bit rootless. Somehow, though, for the sequel you find yourself in Nightfall Village, which seems like a normal enough town. Except for the deserted buildings. And the spooky asylum. And maybe the strange messages addressed to you that randomly appear, seemingly from the beyond. The Mystery of Haunted Hollow 2 drops you off after the twist ending of the first game in this mysterious small town to determine your destiny – or something like that. Though the town seemingly holds the secrets to discovering what’s next in store for you, with barely a ghostly wisp of a story, only a nice rhythm of puzzles across a variety of eerie settings kept me exploring this ultimately forgettable locale.
Most of what you learn as you make your initial forays through Nightfall comes from another series of notes that mystically appear. These notes come from various villagers, often telling you a little bit about their lives. Playing through the game twice, I still don’t know why random townsfolk were leaving their stories there for me to find. And you’ll never meet anyone in the flesh: many times, the creepy town spirits will just suddenly appear after you finish reading a note or exploring a scene, like when a crackly movie reel ends and an old man in dungaree overalls suddenly materializes into view.
You navigate both games in first-person perspective through a series of photorealistic 2D screens. Of course, progress isn’t straightforward and a variety of locked gates, some elaborately so, will block you from moving ahead in both games. You’ll have to solve logic puzzles or gather up inventory to help you get into restricted places. Created primarily for mobile devices (though I played on my Mac laptop), there’s no indication of hotspots on screen, whether an exit, an object you can pick up, or scenery you can comment on (though in the sequel the scene composition does make it a bit easier to see where you might need to click to find an exit). Items you can pick up look slightly different from the background, however, almost always because they really don’t belong where they are.
There are usually only one or two things to collect or interact with per scene, and these are often quite easy to determine, though not always. If a necessary object doesn’t immediately jump out at you, you could spend a fair bit of time searching for whatever is eluding you, especially later in both games when there are multiple open puzzles waiting to be solved at the same time. There may not be very much interactivity within each location, but there are quite a lot of them, with nearly 80 individual screens to explore in each. While there is a handy map (with helpfully numbered locations in the second game marking a small change from the first) that greys out the scenes you haven’t visited yet, you can’t use it to quick travel, which would have been a nice addition.
Hollow Manor is surrounded by abandoned mines with still-working machinery, creepy graveyards with yawning pits, and rundown cars and train cabins. The look of the sequel doesn’t change much from its predecessor, with buildings falling apart everywhere you look. Though the environments are fairly static, there are some rudimentary animations like small smatterings of rain, mechanically rotating fog, or lightning strikes in the background. A fire appears superimposed on an abandoned mansion floating just in front of it with no real damage occurring. The audio steps up here to provide a richer atmosphere, with the sounds of breaking glass and roaring flames helping to add somewhat to the backdrop. Though there is no voice acting in either game, music works nicely in both, usually with strings and a somber piano. Occasionally it would build up a scary mood when appropriate, but I found the score to be quite calming overall, with the creepy off-key factor turned up a bit toward the end.
Nightfall Village isn’t characterized solely by decay and stormy despair. More bucolic episodes intersperse your travels, like an umber wooden step way hugging a ledge covered in yellowing leaves, and trees filtering golden sunlight beside a beautiful mini-waterfall. But such happy areas are few and far between, overcrowded by an abandoned cottage; a sad, decrepit hotel leaning more on the seedy motel side; and an old barn, which just happens to have a large stained glass mosaic panel seemingly for the sole purpose of providing you with a puzzle. You’ll also visit a deserted downtown with a boarded-up cinema and an old antique store brimming with artwork hung askew, old china in disarray, and hulking mahogany-colored furniture.
But wait, there’s more. There’s a haunted manor (hmm.., quite similar to the first game), with a creepy garage door, locked up though attempting to swing open, with small animations of ghostly blue hands trying to reach through. The village becomes stranger the further you progress, like an old fort with an entrance to the public library, which is bizarrely well-appointed in Victorian splendor. And then a path to a creepy sanitarium, backlit by a lightning storm. Though some of the artwork is rough around the edges, there are some nice uses of color, like indigo-shadowed stone walls opening to a dusty amber stone hole that looks out to a sunset landscape view.Continued on the next page...