Victorian Mysteries: The Yellow Room
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Freeze Tag Games
Genre: Hidden Object/Adventure
Release Date: 04/17/2012
The Victorian Mysteries series seems to be all about taking old tales and turning them into hidden object games. Most of these stories are hardly household names, but many are classics. The Yellow Room is based on a novel by Gaston Leroux. You may not recognize that name, but I do. He’s the French author behind the much adapted classic, The Phantom of the Opera. I’ve read Phantom, but not Yellow Room. Thankfully, you can read the thing for free online.
Anyway, whether or not the game is a proper retelling of the story isn’t really the debate here. Cats of Ulthar was a decent game, but a terrible version of the Lovecraft story. I’ve played more than my fair share of adventure games in the past few months. I’m getting more than a good idea of what makes a good one.
So, is The Yellow Room a good one?
The Yellow Room is a classic “locked room” mystery. A woman is assaulted in her room, but when help rushes to her aid, the assailant has mysteriously vanished. The door was locked, the window barred, and there is no way he could have escaped. You play as a photographer, whose job is to take pictures for Joseph Rouletabille. He’s a hot shot journalist out to crack the case before a famous detective. The race is on!
The story would seemingly lend itself well to a hidden object game, but there are several factors that limit its appeal. For starters, you don’t get to investigate the room in question until about halfway through. Also, there are a number of plot threads that don’t go anywhere or get dropped quickly. Finally, Joseph is the star, and thus gets all of the lines and even hogs the big reveal. The point of the story is to figure out how the assailant escaped, but Joseph spills the beans without you have ever been given a chance. It just isn’t fun.
I will say that the game does a fairly decent job with characterization. There’s the greedy innkeeper who will gladly help you if you grease his palms, the amicable judge who just wants to relax in the countryside, and the overly eager Joseph himself. You can take pictures of characters to add a biography to your journal, and thus gain some background knowledge on the proceedings.
My biggest concern is the ending. A character makes a decision that is downright disgusting. It follows the book to a degree, but fails to deliver any reason for the action. The book gave such a reason, even if it was based on a sensibility of a bygone age. The game doesn’t even try to justify it. It left a bitter taste in my mouth to be sure.
Overall, there are plenty of positive points to be made about the story. Most of them are because the story is pulled from a classic novel. The negatives are almost entirely the fault of the interpretation present here in the game. Even still, it was enjoyable until that disturbing ending.
The character models were surprisingly solid. Designs were heavily detailed and looked like a well done illustration brought to life. While not every character is so interesting to look at, the ones you see most are. However, the facial animations are awkward at best. I’m beginning to think that hoping for decent expressions is a fool’s dream. It can be unnerving.
The rest of the graphical package is on the high scale for hidden object games. The art is strong, and fits the period to a tee. Attention to detail is the key, and there wasn’t a single screen where things didn’t look right. There isn’t all that much variety, but Victorian charm is in full effect. Yellow Room forgoes a lot of the sparkles and dazzling lights you usually see in these types of games, which helps it keep itself firmly rooted in reality.
The game simply has a nice look about it.
Musically speaking, Yellow Room is kind of an oddball. The orchestral tunes are nice and all, but they can feel out of place. Dramatic music usually reserved for tense scenes plays constantly while you travel around the chateau. When you switch to a hidden object section, the music gets very relaxing, almost leisurely. It put me in mind for some Mozart. I don’t usually listen to classical music, so that was a bit of a shock there. The dramatic shift in tone is a constant problem, and one that I never got used to.
Voice acting for this game was always going to be tricky. As this game takes place in France, the entire cast is French. That means a lot of accents. I can count the number of games I’ve played with decent French accents on one hand. This game does not make that list. One or two of them are OK, but the rest are an affront to the ears. French people do not sound like that. It almost feels offensive, and it possibly could be to someone for whom French is a primary language.
Beyond that, the effects are what you’d expect. Everything makes the appropriate sound at the appropriate time. From the grumble of a an old car to the clicking of a key turning in a lock, everything works. It’s a very average aural experience, all things considered.
At first, I thought this game might be a tad different. It turns out I was mostly wrong. Indeed, you spend a lot of time running around various locations in search of clues and puzzle pieces. The rest is spent solving said puzzles and/or picking out objects from a gaggle of random items.
There are some minor changes that may throw off the usual crowd. For one, there is no hint button for the adventure sections. You can still get help for hidden object sections and skip puzzles, but there is no help button should you get stuck.
Instead, you have a map to consult. The map is pretty comprehensive. It shows you what rooms still have items of interest, and lets you know what tasks you have to complete. You’ll be consulting the map early and often. Still, you may know you need to grab a piece of evidence from a room, but still be at a loss as to how. This means you’re likely to fall back on the old “click everything until something happens” trick. That’s kind of a bummer.
The controls are as simple and intuitive as you’d expect. Click an item or person, and something is bound to happen. For an instance where a rope bridge is out, you’ll need to gather some boards and lay them down in the holes. Easy stuff. All you gotta do is find a crowbar to steal a plank from that dock you passed by earlier. It’s that kind of stuff. Some of the puzzles are bit more involved though. You may solve that tricky little puzzle, but there may still be a key you need to complete the task. That’s definitely out of the ordinary for this kind of game, at least from what I’ve played.
For vets, this game plays pretty much like you’d expect. There are a few tweaks to the status quo, but the core mechanics are the same.
Alas, this is one area where all of these games seem to fail.
Once the story is done, you’ve seen it all. There are no bonus chapters and there is no extra content. If you try to press play after the credits roll, the game will simply remind you that you’ve done everything. You can start the game anew, but there is no point. The plot, puzzles, and mechanics will be exactly the same.
This is good for one playthrough. It offers no incentive to solve the mystery (Or rather, watch Joe solve the mystery) again.
Without the use of a hint button, you’d think the difficulty for this title would skyrocket. In reality, it does not. The map system doesn’t let you get too stuck, and you can still hint and skip your way through the toughest parts of the game. As long as you click everything, you’ll be fine.
If anything, I’m a bit shocked the game isn’t a bit tougher. The mystery of the Yellow Room is famous because the player/reader is supposed to figure out how the criminal escaped. There’s none of that here. You need merely collect animal shaped keys to move forward. All of the tough work is done by Joseph. That’s a huge disappointment. A logic puzzle or two would have gone a long way.
Despite eschewing a few accepted staples of the genre, this game does nothing really unique. The story is ripped straight from a classic novel, and the mechanics are exactly what a genre vet would expect to find.
The barebones offerings is the bigger story here. Most of the games I’ve played have offered something, even if that something was only a few pieces of concept art. For this game to fail to even do that is kind of a problem. So, it may stick out, but not for any good reason.
I actually had a hard time getting into this one.
For starters, the story takes far too long to get going. A good portion of the game is spent meandering about until someone lets you visit the crime scene. Then, when you actually get there, you look at a couple of things before being sent off to meander about again. It was boring at times.
The end section, where things should have gotten exciting, was the most tedious from the point of gameplay. At one point you’re just running back and forth from one point off the map to another. Who thought that was a good idea?
The gameplay itself still has that natural addictive nature that adventure games possess. Solving puzzles is fun, and there are plenty of them here. However, with a running time of maybe a few hours, the game doesn’t really satisfy that urge. It’s a letdown to be honest.
I think hardcore fans are going to be turned off by this game. Sure, it’s almost refreshing to have to play without the crutch of a hint button, but the game doesn’t offer anything of note to replace that missing component.
The story, though ripped from a classic, fails because of how it was applied to the game. Being the photographer who merely gathers evidence is no fun. Joseph is the star, and it is him you should be playing as. Sure, the book is not told from the prospective of Joseph, but that shouldn’t have stopped Freeze Tag from making that decision here.
The biggest affront is the complete lack of extras. This is a skeleton of a game compared to others I’ve reviewed. Even casual players expect more for their money.
Well I’ve already mentioned the lack of extras. That’s what would usually fill the space for a miscellaneous section. I suppose my enthusiasm got the best of me and I spent my venom in earlier sections. Oh well.
This game had every chance to be a stand out in its genre. A classic mystery novel is ripe with possibilities for an adventure game. Unfortunately, this game didn’t take the right steps to ensure a fun experience. It gets bogged down with busy work and less interesting thanks to some key decisions. I don’t recall being as disgusted by a main character in quite some time. Always nice to be surprised I guess.
Perhaps the day will come when Gaston Leroux’s tale will find a proper home, but this is not it.
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Very Poor
Final Score: Poor Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Victorian Mysteries: The Yellow Room had every chance of being something great. It had a classic novel to work with, strong art, and a time tested style of gameplay. However, the failings of the story interpretation become the failings of the game. It doesn’t offer what it promises, and the pacing is abysmal at times. There are no extras of any sort to be found, so there is no solace to be found in that department either. To be fair, I’ve played worse hidden object games, but this is surely one of the most disappointing titles in the genre I’ve played yet.