The House of Da Vinci review

The House of Da Vinci review
The House of Da Vinci review
The Good:
  • Beautiful sets, animations and immersive sound work plunge you into the intricate inner world of the ultimate Renaissance man
  • Wide variety of fun and often challenging puzzles keep you engaged
The Bad:
  • Tricky controls can lead to bouts of pure frustration
  • Unskippable slider and tile puzzles can suck the wind out of a gameplay session
  • Plot has obvious holes and is really nothing but a flimsy narrative framework
Our Verdict:

Although The House of Da Vinci is slightly marred by persnickety mechanics and the occasionally frustrating puzzle, exploring the mind of a genius by reverse engineering his inventions will pull you into a gorgeous Renaissance world and keep you challenged throughout.

Elaborate creations. Secret societies. Dark corridors and hidden doorways. In a game full to bursting with mysterious nooks and crannies, Blue Brain Games’ The House of Da Vinci will have you twisting, turning, and unlocking a slew of inventions as you attempt to aid your friend and mentor Leonardo, who has found himself in a bit of a pickle. Based solely in and around the renowned Master’s workshop, this gorgeous puzzler has a rather silly storyline, but its Rube Goldberg-esque conundrums will pose a serious challenge, starting out as simple fun before ramping up in intensity (and a bit of tediousness) toward the end.

The setting: Florence, 1506. It’s the height of the Renaissance in Europe, and you can feel the genius and humanist thinking in the air. The deep moan of cellos and other strings float around you, a bit ominous sounding, as you first meet up with a guard under the inky indigo night sky. Warm and wavering firelight flickers in the foreground. It’d feel cozy, if not for the tinge of tension as wind whistles down the streets and a horse whinnies in the distance.

But you’ve got no time to ponder foreshadowing. You’ve been invited by Leonardo da Vinci to check out an amazing new invention. Alarmingly, however, he’s not around to show it to you. The machine promises to change history, and da Vinci has concealed it from those who would steal it for nefarious purposes. Knowing that you have a keen intellect, to help you discover the way into his workshop and eventually the ultimate hiding place, Leonardo has hidden another ingenious invention within an intricate contraption that you must decipher to open.

The initial puzzle isn’t that tricky, but once you find the secret inside, the Oculi Infinitum, you will need it to solve more puzzles throughout the game. This particular device allows you to see things with X-ray vision. Many locked contraptions have a secret code embedded within or must be aligned in a particular way to be unlocked. Rather than just randomly turning knobs and dials when you encounter such a problem, the lens allows you to see through to its inner workings once manually activated.

I played this game on an iPad mini, so to turn those knobs and dials I used my finger to swipe and swirl. You can also swipe the screen to look around, tap to take any collectible objects, and double-tap to examine certain areas closer up. Unfortunately, some of the tap and swipe interactions can be very, very finicky. Sometimes an object would rotate when I wanted it to slide forward, or slide forward when I wanted it to rotate. Because so many obstacles require physical interaction, the frustrating controls decreased my enjoyment a bit. I knew that I could push some lever or twist some screw, but I had to perform the operation just so to get it to work. Also, don’t forget to swipe from multiple directions, as that was the source of some of my frustrations in trying to manipulate objects.

On PC the controls are similar, with clicking and dragging the mouse standing in for swipes and swirls. It’s functional, but doesn’t feel particularly intuitive, and can also be quite fussy. What’s worse is that the default camera panning option may feel inverted for some. There’s an option to change this in the settings, but it doesn’t apply to close-ups, meaning you’ll have to constantly adjust to two different methods. Hotspots aren’t indicated in either version, requiring some guesswork as to what elements might be interactive.

Sticky controls aside, just as you’ve collected da Vinci’s ocular aid, an explosion rocks the scene and a winged contraption swoops high overhead, a dark silhouette soaring past the phosphorescent green blast. The cinematics in this game are quite beautiful and serve to frame each chapter, providing a rickety narrative structure. In addition to these chapter bookends, many of the objects, doors, astrolabes, furniture, suits of armor, and what have you show off dramatic animations as hinges swing open, hidden caches slide forward, and more. And the sound work vividly complements the animations. Metallic gears crunch and grind as you swivel a steering wheel, a brass thunk rings out as a clapper slaps the side of a bell, and the whisper of wood sliding on wood greets you as you pull open a drawer.

Progress though The House of Da Vinci has an overall linear structure, but gives you some flexibility within a given chapter. You must complete one room before moving on to the next, but you can sometimes choose which puzzles within that room to complete, though some puzzles will hold the key or answer to others. You’ll have to find all manner of keys in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sometimes you’ll discover only pieces of these keys and have to seek out more, and sometimes the keys aren’t fully realized when you locate them. After selecting them from your inventory, you’ll have to tap, prod and rotate these objects, sometimes even finding hidden prongs or compartments, to get them into their final usable shape. When you can do this isn’t always clear, so if you're not sure how to proceed, it may be that you're holding onto an item that can be used somewhere but not in its current form.

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