Review: The Curse of Shadow House (iOS)

The Curse of Shadow House
Developer: Hidden Treasure Games
Publisher: Hidden Treasure Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 08/12/2013

The Curse of Shadow House is a first person point and click adventure game from new developer Eric Shofe. I was one of 241 Kickstarter backers for this project, and it’s the only iOS game to date that I’ve backed. With an original release date of Nov 2012, Eric learned firsthand why so many release dates are pushed back. It’s now available for the iPhone and iPad, with a price tag of only 99 cents. For fans of games like Shadowgate and The 7th Guest, The Curse of Shadow House looked to be an incredible deal for anyone who loved first person point and click titles. After playing through the game three times, with two of the playthroughs being met by game braking bugs that forced me to restart, I have to say the while the game is atmospheric, fun and a worthy addition to any point and click fan’s collection, it did need a bit more work before being released to the public. Here’s hoping for that patch to come soon!

You play as a nameless female protagonist who has been abducted into Shadow House because you bear more than a passing resemblance to the late wife of the man who lives there. Of course, when I say man, I mean vampire, and when I say abducted, I mean bitten and infected with vampirism. Now, you have to not only find your way out of the house, but also find a way to transform back before fully becoming one of the undead. Along the way you’ll discover a lot of Alexander (the name of the vampire who bit you)’s back story via journal pages. These pages will also help you solve some of the many puzzles you’ll encounter in the game.

There aren’t a lot of characters to interact with in Shadow House, as you will mainly be moving back and forth between locations and solving puzzles. Most of the dialogue in the game is internal monologue, so most of the story comes from those journal pages or by seeing what your character thinks when she looks at things or tries to use objects. The story of Shadow House isn’t going to blow you away with its narrative, but it’s very atmospheric, and it’s a nice homage back to the golden era of point and click adventure games. If you’re looking for a well told horror adventure game to while away a few hours or so of your time on your iOS device, then The Curse of Shadow House is definitely worth looking into, especially with the low price tag.

Visually Shadow House looks like an adventure game from the mid 1990s. Almost all of the visuals are static, meaning animation is rare. This isn’t uncommon for adventure games, but know that going in or you may be disappointed. Background models look quite nice, and there’s a lot of detail to the static images. Character models are a bit odd, with the heads being pictures of actual people slapped on the heads of digital bodies. It’s an odd juxtaposition, and while it works, it is a bit primitive to be sure. I was happy with what I saw on my iPhone and the visuals are on par with most games you can get for an iOS system, but compared to a PC or console game, the visuals are a bit dated. Again though, it’s a ninety-nine cent game made by a single person. If you go in looking for top notch AAA visuals, you’re not very smart.

The aural aspects of Shadow House are where the game really shines. It boasts a terrific piano based soundtrack that is one haunting melody after another. I just loved each of the tracks, and you can listen to most of them in the “Music” section of the game. It’s too bad one of the Kickstarter backer rewards wasn’t an MP3 collection of these tracks. The sound effects are equally good, as they sound quite realistic, and they range from the digging up of wet earth with a shovel to the crack of lighting or the howl of a wolf. For an extremely cheap budget game, I was constantly impressed by the audio quality here, and it alone may be reason for some of you to pick this game up.

Now for the gameplay. Like most point and click games, you’ll be touching the screen as if your finger was a mouse to interact with things. Click on an object to see if your character says anything about it or to add it to your inventory. Click on a door or opening to move that way, click on a puzzle to activate it, click on a person to talk to them and so on. It’s fairly straightforward. If you’ve ever played an adventure game, then you know the drill here. Unfortunately, the game is chock full of bugs that can kill your playthrough. In two of my three playthroughs I had items disappear from my inventory that were needed to advance in the game. Once it was a cap with the word SON on it, for example, and another time it was a shovel. I’ve heard reports of other disappearing objects, but this is a bug that will drive many to frustration if they don’t realize what has happened. My advice is wait for a patch to come out. Hopefully it will be available by the time this review goes live, but as of yet, it’s not been approved by Apple. Another bug is that sometimes your achievements will not show up in the game proper, but will show up on iOS’ game center. This happened with the “Being Brett Bozeman” achievement. So while the game is quite fun, it really did need to be put through the wringer a while longer before being made available to the public. The end result is a game that will suck you in, but then drive you nuts when you have to restart from the beginning through no fault of your own.

Replaywise, The Curse of Shadow House is very much a “one and done” affair. By this I mean, you play through it once and you know exactly what will happen each time you play the game from then on. There is no deviation and it’s very linear, so while this might disappoint some gamers, this is standard for the adventure game genre, and you should go in expecting this. There are reasons to come back to the game however. There are two hidden collectibles – one for Shadowgate and one for Tex Murphy in the game. They do nothing except give you achievement points, but it’s something to keep your eye out for. As well, you can access four other features besides the core game. There is “Piano,” which lets you play a piano (Shocking, I know!), “Mini Games,” which lets you play other games like rolling a ball through a labyrinth or using the Crystal Ball for fun faux fortune telling, “Music,” which lets you listen to eight tracks from the game, and “Special,” where you can see the credits and a list of the Kickstarter backers. So while Shadow House is a bit lacking in the replay value, there are reasons to come back to it above and beyond the usual adventure game.

Basically, for ninety-nine cents, you’re getting an homage to classic adventure games. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel and it’s a fairly straightforward experience, but it’s very atmospheric and a lot of fun to play through. The visuals, gameplay and especially the music are well above what you would expect from the price tag, and although the game does have some bugs that can ruin your playthrough, an update should fix these quite easily. When that happens, The Curse of Shadow House should be a definite purchase for any fan of the genre with an iOS device. The puzzles are pretty cut and dry, but no less fun for it. When the game gets patched, it will easily be one of the better adventure games available for iOS devices. I had a hard time putting it down until the bugs hit, and I’d happily play through it again once it’s patched to see how much smoother the affair is. Again, getting The Curse of Shadow House for under a dollar is an amazing deal and one well worth owning. I’m proud to have backed this game, and I can’t wait to see what else emerges from Hidden Treasure games.

Short Attention Span Summary
The Curse of Shadow House is a wonderful homage to the classic first person point and click adventure games of the 80s and 90s. If you liked Shadowgate or Dracula: Resurrection, you will more than likely love this game. With a price tag of only ninety-nine cents, Shadow House is an amazing, albeit linear, deal that should make any adventure game fan happy. A warning though – the game is exceptionally buggy and you may have to restart from the beginning due to this. The good news is that the patch is scheduled to go live shortly (perhaps even by the time this review goes live), so you should have a much smoother experience with Shadow House than I did.



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