Saturday, 31 October 2015

Not Quite Review Corner: Til Morning's Light (iOS, Android)

As it's Halloween, and I have a busy day ahead, I'm just going to pop in for a moment or two and tell you about this moderately spooky title: Til Morning's Light, a puzzle adventure game by WayForward, distributed by Amazon's game section, available for iOS and Android.

It's the perennial problem. You want to go all Silent Hill, but you've got young spawn in the house, and you're not convinced that the sexual subtext of Pyramid Head and the Nurses will really go down well either with the sproglets, or your disapproving in-laws. How to best introduce them to the genre? Well, you could do a lot worse than try out this $2.99 title.

You play as Erica, a teen bullied into spending the night in a spooky old house. Now you can't get out, and monsters are crawling out of the woodwork to eat you alive. Maybe, just maybe, there's a way out around here somewhere. If you don't die trying to find it.

Expect to think your way through a lot of puzzles, find a bunch of keys, and beat up some nasty bosses along the way. There's plenty of folks in the house determined to add you to their ghost collection, and none of them are pushovers.

Let's talk about challenges. The puzzles are pretty standard stuff; find quest objects, use them in a certain way - make a stew, repair a phonograph, fix a clock, hold down a pressure pad - and you unlock keys, items or other things that will make your life easier. None of them are brain breakers, some of them are moderately challenging. Usually the clues needed to decypher the puzzle are near the puzzle bits, and, if you get frustrated, you can use the coins you've been picking up along the way to solve the puzzle for you.

Which is a good thing, because otherwise there really isn't all that much use for the gold and silver Erica snaffles up like a currency-mad truffle pig. Sure, there's an in-game shop you can use, but I didn't find the items in it that important. I ended up with about 7,000 in my pocket by the end, and no idea what to spend it on.

Combat is fairly straightforward. Poke or swipe the screen at just the right time, and you hit. Miss, and the enemy takes a swing at you. Very few of the combat moments were that challenging, but then I've been doing this for a while. Younger gamers may need help getting past the bigger fights.

You start the game with just a flashlight, but later on you can pick up more deadly weapons, like crowbars, hammers, axes and so on. They can only be found in certain places, and you can only carry one at a time. This is important, because some of those weapons are also used to force through locked doors, dig up items, or otherwise get to areas you don't immediately have access to. At the start, the item and the important weapon are usually close to each other, so there's no real problem. Later, after you've been swapping out weapons time and again, you'll start to ask yourself the important questions. 'OK, this is a hammer door. Now, where did I drop that hammer? O GOD! Over there? Really???' Off you trot, through room after cleared room to get the tool you need.

I get the impression the developer might have wanted the game to be more challenging, but cut elements out. For instance, there's a game mechanic that allows you to turn clues over, take a look at the back, or zoom in and out, the inference being that there might be hidden information that will help the player solve the puzzle. Except not really, since it almost never becomes relevant to play, and after a while you forget about the mechanic altogether.  You can also turn the flashlight on and off, implying that there might be significant differences in gameplay depending on whether or not you have light, but that never really developed.

The story's entertaining. The boss characters are just well drawn enough to be interesting, making each defeat a satisfying victory. The atmosphere's spooky, without going into The Shining territory. Erica's a lot of fun to spend time with. She starts out scared for her life - who wouldn't be, really? - but develops into someone determined to see this thing through, even if it kills her. Not the most original of plotlines, but voice actor Stephanie Sheh lends Erica a lot of personality the character badly needs. There's a downbeat coda to the ending that I found really satisfactory, and it has the impact it does because of Stephanie's portrayal. But that verges on spoiler territory ...

Speaking of death, yes, you might go down in a blaze of glory, but it doesn't make a great deal of difference to your game. You lose no items, or progress. Most importantly, for a game with its eye on the younger market, there's no gore to speak of.

The boss fights are fun, without being frustrating. My personal favorite is the second one in, Constance, whose special attack forces Erica to attend her tea party and chat with the ghostly guests. Spend too long in that chat, and you join them forever ...

At a price tag of just under three bucks, you'll probably get about four to six hours of fun if you play it yourself. Someone not as used to gaming may take longer to get through all the challenges. As an introductory title, it has a lot to recommend it. It has all the elements of horror - the spooky house, the ghosts - without actually being horrifying.

On the whole, two thumbs up!

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