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The 7th Guest Review: Spooky Classic

Old Man Stauf built a house, and filled it with his toys
Six guests were invited one night, their screams the only noise

Blood inside the library, blood right up the hall
Dripping down the attic stairs, hey guests, try not to fall

Nobody came out that night, not one was ever seen
But Old Man Stauf is waiting there, crazy, sick, AND MEAN!

When I first got a CD-ROM capable PC back in 1993, one of the first games I ever bought was Trilobyte’s The 7th Guest. It was, at the time, one of the top selling CD-ROM games on the market, and it is still viewed as one of the classics of computer gaming. So when I found out that a newly reinvigorated Trilobyte Games was going to release the game on iOS, I could hardly contain myself.

Trilobyte states in the game notes that their goal for this port was to change as little as possible. They wanted to bring the game to iOS exactly as it was. And they have succeeded beautifully.

For those unfamiliar with game, the basics are this: you begin the game as a nameless stranger with no memory, in a mansion haunted by ghosts and filled with devious puzzles. As you move through the mansion (you can’t get out) you must solve the puzzles to help you figure out who you are, why you’re here, and what happened in the mansion many years ago. Meanwhile, you watch the gristly events of the past play out in phantom form, and you are haunted yourself by the taunting voice of Stauf, the mansion’s demonic owner.

For those who have played it: it’s all as great as it was in 1993. Everything I loved back then is still here: the spectacular story, playing out in disjointed, ghostly bits; the puzzles, still some of the best I’ve ever played in a computer game, still with their devilish lack of true instructions to start you out; the taunting from Stauf, better still today than any voiceover in a Gameloft game; and even the awesome soundtrack from the Fat Man, so good that it’s made its way all the way to my iPod so many years later (it’s great Halloween music). The only things missing are three non-essential puzzles that apparently couldn’t be ported as-is to the iOS, though versions of them may appear in a future update.

The rendered environments and puzzles still look great, by the way. The green-screened full-motion video capture holds up less well, and the spoken audio – recorded for tinny two-channel computer speakers circa 1993 – is almost tragic, accompanied by pops and cracks every time. But complaining about these things is sort of like complaining about a Ray Harryhausen movie because the the Cyclops looks like a hand-animated maquette.   This is an extremely faithful port of the CD-ROM game to iOS, and I’m going to enjoy it for its period craftsmanship. I’m glad they didn’t go all George Lucas on it.

The port is so faithful, in fact, that it’s almost faithful to a fault—an issue that comes up in the the game’s interface. It more or less mimics the point-and-click mouse play of the original instead of optimizing things for touch play. You slide your finger around the screen, mouse-like, and watch the cursor to figure out what to tap. All the puzzles are “click”-based, so that, for example, you can’t slide your finger to select multiple segments of the cake puzzle (one of the first you’ll encounter, in the dining room); you have to tap them one at a time, as if you were clicking a mouse.

There’s also a little annoyance with some of the background audio during puzzles. Whenever they kick in, you lose the ability to interface with the puzzle until it’s over. Usually it’s just a few seconds of dialogue, but it is enough to disrupt the flow of play. Why can’t these play in the background, while I’m tapping and solving? Maybe an old PC couldn’t allow audio clips to play in the background while the player continues to play, but iOS can certainly do it.

While I appreciate fully the idea of preserving the original game play, the interface should have been retooled a bit to better serve the iOS format. A finger is not a mouse, and a tiny screen is not a 13″ monitor. To continue the movie analogy: there’s a difference between re-editing a movie and just cleaning up the print so it looks better on Blu-Ray.

Really, though, you’ll get used to the slightly archaic moments, and I’m willing to bet some of the bumps will be smoothed out in future updates. The 7th guest is an awesome classic of computer gaming and I’m ecstatic to see it again. While it’s certainly not going to break the same ground on iOS as it did on PC, it’s great to see that, nearly 20 years later, it still holds up as solid experience — the nature of true classics.

NOTE: There is a separate version available for the iPad, called simply 7th Guest for iPad. This is virtually identical to the iPhone version, with the added benefit of being on a larger screen, though the rendered graphics pixellate some. This makes it more reminiscent of playing on the 13″ monitors of old, and also means you can play more of the puzzles without needing the magnifying feature. Highly recommended.

Our Score: 5 Out of 5

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