31 Days of Gaming Terror – Day 22: Uninvited

Uninvited
Publisher: Mindscape
Developer: ICOM Simulations
Systems Released On: Amiga, Commodore 64, Macintosh, Nintendo Entertainment System, PC.
Release Date 9/29/1987

Alexander Lucard: Wow. Hard to believe Uninvited is almost twenty years old. And it still manages to be as great a game as it was when it first came out.

Uninvited is the second of three games created by ICOM in the 1980’s using the Shadowgate Engine. The game is a very old school point and click game involving your character solving puzzles and using various items to proceed further through the locations in the game in order to achieve the end goal. Although the genre was on life support for a while, the plethora of quality PC and DS games released over the past few years have breathed new life into it.

Uninvited was one of the first Horror/Terror games that contained graphics. Sure we had Zork and the insidious Grue and a ton of text only Cthulhu Mythos games, but Uninvited actually gave you visual representation of what you were encountering. Its release on the Nintendo Entertainment System was a big deal considering it was the first true horror/terror game for the console. Friday the 13th wouldn’t be released until 1989. This meant that for the first time, American gamers could encounter monsters without whipping them to shreds or jumping on their heads. (Japan had Megami Tensei, which was released a week earlier than the US recieved Uninvited.)

By today’s standards, Uninvited isn’t scary. However, there are moments of the story that are very well done and hold up when compared to today’s horror/terror releases. It makes one wonder how a remake of this game would fare. Hopefully better then the god awful Shadowgate 64. That game’s scary for completely different reasons.

The plot of Uninvited is a classic ghost story with some occasional comic relief thrown in. The main character (you) and his sister are driving along a road when a strange ethereal figure jumps out in front of them, which causes you to swerve your car into a tree, knocking yourself out and doing massive damage to your vehicle. You pass out and when you awaken, your sister is gone. Some of you may recognize that the opening to the first Silent Hill is eithera blatant rip off, or a nice tribute to Uninvited, but from that point on the plots differ greatly.

The main character finds himself standing in front of an old spooky mansion that radiates evil. However, as it’s the only place for miles around, it’s the only place your sister could have gone. Steadying your resolve, you enter the Mansion where you encounter strange apparitions, spooky ghosts, and deadly traps.

There are several things that make Uninvited a true classic. The first is the fact the game’s controls and play setup is amazingly easy to learn. Although several of the puzzles can be quite tough, it’s quite simple to master the controls. This makes Uninivited a great “first point n click” for gamers. Hell, it served that same purpose two decades ago, why not keep using it today?

Nearly every object in Uninvited can be used in some way within the game. This is impressive when you realize even most modern point N’ click games don’t allow you to have that much control over your environment. There are also a set of ten commands you can try with each object to see how they will react with yourself and your current environment.

Uninvitedplays in a first person perspective. This wasn’t very common back in the 1980’s, especially compared to today. Even the other truly great point n click games from this era, like Monkey Island or Maniac Mansion relied on third person perspective. This really helped Uninvited stand out, and made the game scary in its heyday. After all when that mysterious woman turns around, it’s not generic character #86 that gets a good look at her fleshless self, but instead you get a face full of spooky skeleton. In fact, this very character is remembered as one of the spookiest (and most memorable) moments on the NES. I know several parents who took the game away from my friends when we were 9-10 because that scene scared the crap out of them. Of course, I grew up to hang out in the Amityville house & Castle Bran, so I partially blame this game for drawing me into things that go bump in the night.

The music on Uninvited still holds up today as well. Although most games have orchestral scores or actual tracks from famous bands today, back in the era of 8 bit gaming we had MIDI’s, and we liked it god dammit! The music helped to set the spine chilling atmosphere of the game. Okay, chilling for the 80’s. The further along you got in the game, the creepier the music got. Considering there was little animation to the graphics back then, the story and music really needed to set the stage and mood of the game, and both succeeded marvelously.

The puzzles in Uninvited are very memorable as well. They can be pretty tricky to solve, and some are definitely not logical. But what place does logic have when you’re trapped in a mansion of the undead? The maze in particular managed to drive many gamers to the point of madness. Because I’m such a nice guy, here’re the directions through the maze.

N,W,W,N,N,W,W,N,N,E,E,N,N,E,E,E,E,S,S

Of course, I won’t tell you how to deal with the zombies or what to do once you are through the maze, but at least you received some help from me, right?

The last thing worth discussing in Uninvited is the fact there are 25 ways to get killed in the game. Heck, even today, most games released in 2008 don’t give you 25 different death scenes. Remember how I said you can even use objects on yourself? Watch the hilarity when you foolishly choose to use an axe or a knife on yourself. My personal favorite deaths in Uninvited involve being burned alive if you dick around at the beginning of the game, or being eaten by angry dogs. This was a big deal back in the days of when games just had your body collapse and didn’t go into descriptive detail about your body being ripped apart or being feasted on by zombies.

One thing of importance. If you decide to seek out Uninvited, I strongly suggest you look for the PC version of the game. The NES version is quite good, but it’s also edited with some of the spookier content and graphics edited out or dumbed down, due to NoA’s policy of “all ages” entertainment. However, if all you can find or access is the NES version, you’re still in for a treat.

Like most middle children, Uninvited did not get the same attention from the gaming audience at the time as Shadowgate or Deja Vu. Those other two games received sequels, but considering how they turned how, maybe it’s a good thing Uninvited didn’t receive one.

Uninvited allows us to see how far the genre of horror/terror gaming has progressed graphically in the past 20 years. Of course, it also shows us how little the stories or plots of these games have progressed as well, considering it outshines most of what is currently available in this aspect. If you’re looking for a nice short game you can beat in 2-5 hours, with an interesting plot, some clever brain teasers, and a plot that has influenced many horror/terror games since its original release, than Uninvited is strongly worth tracking down and devoting an afternoon to. Just remember, don’t punch monsters. It’s not a good idea.

Mark B: So, you wake up from a car wreck, disoriented, wondering what happened, and the only thing on your mind is “I wonder what happened to my sister?”, when suddenly, after poking around for a moment, the car you’re in blows up and you die.

This is probably the first experience most people had with Uninvited.

Uninvited was one of those games that would take you hundreds of hours to figure out, both because most kids probably weren’t really capable of puzzling their way through the game, and because the game was so utterly obtuse that figuring it out was akin to trying to solve a Rubick’s Cube with a tack hammer. As noted previously, I didn’t play the game until years after it came out, but even then, after poking through each and every thing, writing down everything I needed to know, making little paper maps to get through the labyrinth and so on, it took me the better part of a few days to get through a game that was honestly about two hours long.

And I still loved it.

Sure, it was obtuse as hell, but so was every adventure game made by Roberta Williams and people loved those all the same. The reason it was such a lovable game was because it was probably the closest thing you were going to see to a horror game on the NES that actually had some horrific elements to it. You’d walk up to a pretty southern bell, only to have her turn and face you… and reveal she has a skeleton face. You’d die something like a million times from falling off of something or bumbling into something deadly or what have you, and all of your various demises were generally completely unexpected and horrific. The music was fitting, the presentation was great for an NES game, and the game was so incredibly mind-breaking that it actually somehow made the experience BETTER for it. If a game like this came out tomorrow, mind you, most people would hate it for the sheer punishment involved in figuring out the puzzles, but really, sometimes the classics are better left to the time they came from. Uninvited isn’t a game that holds up particularly well now, but playing it in the dark, even a few years after the fact, was still a pretty satisfying experience, and sometimes, that’s all that really matters.

Bryan Berg: Oh man. What a game this was.

I’ll be honest and admit that I barely remember the game itself, aside from its place in the Shadowgate/Deja Vu/Uninvited trilogy. It was the one of the first games I ever reserved at Electronics Boutique. And it didn’t disappoint. Why they never re-released this for GBA/DS is unfathomable.

Chris Bowen: I mentioned in my write-up of Shadowgate that neither of the later two Mindscape/Kemco Seika games – Uninvited and Deja Vu – really measured up compared to it.

I wonder if I was looking through the rose-coloured glasses of my youth. Having dusted off the NES cartridge (it still bloody works! It still bloody saves! It had my old save!), it’s still a hard game, and though the gameplay itself isn’t quite as memorable as Shadowgate’s, the story itself is actually told much better than it was in Shadowgate (for the NES, at least). A lot more descriptors, a lot more colour to the text, and a generally better experience to read.

It’s never going to be AS good as Shadowgate to me, but the difference is closer than it initially appeared, and someone coming in with no prior experience might think differently.

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