Developer: Trilobyte Games
Played Before: Yes (PC)
Time played for review: 5 hours
Missing children, invitations to a party and a strange out-of-towner suffering from visions. What can it all mean? Dare you enter Stauf’s mansion, discover his puzzles and solve the biggest mystery of all: the identity of the 7th guest?
Originally released in 1993, like so many titles at the time, The 7th Guest took advantage of the big buzzword in personal computing: multimedia. As CD-ROM drives were gaining significant momentum in the PC gaming market and video RAM suddenly became a specification you had to pay attention to, discs containing games packed with grainy, badly-acted, full motion video began appearing at an alarming rate. Most of these games followed the same formula; puzzles based on, or stealing wholesale, classic ideas, buffered either side by exploration around pre-rendered environments with green-screened acted clips playing the part of both reward and story driver. As I later discovered by making an image of the PC game and running it in a virtual environment on a modern computer, there is a stunning amount of detail in the video on the disc, with a colour depth and frame rate far in advance of what was available to me on a 486 SX25 at the time. This is great news for the iOS conversion as there’s no need to recreate any of the data.
The 7th Guest’s main problem is that its story gradually becomes utter nonsense. It starts off as a strange and slightly morbid mystery that must be solved, with old man Stauf the toy maker apparently abducting all of a village’s children for some reason known only to him, and the invitation of adults to his mansion to compete in a puzzle solving game. There is potential for commentary on mental illness and the evils of a troubled mind, but it feels like there are huge expository gaps in this story, particularly at the end, and I was left wondering (but not particularly caring) what it was all about. With the FMV taking on a ghostly appearance and the fact that you only ever see six other guests, it’s quite clear early on that the player must be the titular seventh. Some implied, sound-only sexual content and a few killings shown in cut scenes push this towards the adult end of the gaming market. The bizarre story, thrown in with a high proportion of generic, seen-this-before puzzles and a couple that make very little sense without a starting hint from a FAQ, make for an experience that is as underwhelming now as it was in 1993.
There are two puzzles missing from the iOS version, the microscope and piano puzzles. The microscope puzzle has presumably been excluded because of the griping that accompanied its original release. It’s an amoeba-based take on Reversi and it would appear that a lot of players struggled to defeat the AI player at the time. Its completion was optional in the PC version, so it’s strange that it was excluded entirely from the iOS version as it could have added some replayability. It was actually released as a standalone app for iPad and is free, which only adds to the mystery. The piano puzzle’s exclusion makes for a very strange music room where not a lot happens except an automatic video reward and a shortcut to another part of the mansion. In the PC version, it’s a game of Simon that stretches to 18 notes. Solving this puzzle is nothing difficult in itself but perhaps Trilobyte felt that remembering 18 notes in a portable environment was too much for your average iOS gamer. I was also able to finish the game without completing the penultimate puzzle, the knives in the hallway, which never appeared in my playthrough.
With these two puzzles missing, that leaves only 20 puzzles in the iOS version and many of them are near duplicates of others. The fun logic of the cake and blood flow puzzles are outweighed by repetitive and generic card and coin flip puzzles, three others based on chess moves and a couple which entail moving around a board full of letters in the correct pattern to spell out a phrase. It’s difficult to criticise the quality of the puzzles as this is largely a direct translation, but their presentation could have been improved. While it is often fairly obvious how to go about solving the puzzles, some, such as the picture flip puzzle in the toy room and the chapel floor path puzzle, have an odd logic such that an explanatory help screen to go with each would have been a useful addition. The player character’s voice does give hints, in contrast to Stauf’s vocal taunting, but these are often doled out after the player has already made a few correct moves and has presumably already worked out what to do.
Due to a lack of accessibility considerations by the developer, The 7th Guest also does no favours for anyone with hearing problems or who prefers to play phone games with the sound muted, as it offers no subtitles for the narrative and video scenes. The cursor in the menu screen is finicky, doesn’t line up with where your finger is and the whole front end should have been completely redesigned for more effective use on a small touch screen. The touch responsive areas are too small and don’t respond well, and how to save the game is also never explained to the player (you have to tap at the top of the screen to access the save menu and progress is not automatically saved). There is also a bug in the game which I believe remains from the original. Accessing the map screen when on the upper floor of the mansion puts you back to the top of the stairs when you exit, leading to needless walking back to where you were before continuing. It would have also been helpful to place a marker on the map screen to show the player where they are. This apparent lack of interest in bug squashing and modernising the interface doesn’t bode well for Trilobyte’s next CD-ROM game revival, Tender Loving Care, which looks like nothing more than a set of video clips strung together with menu choices. As well as its PC release, it was also available on DVD in 1997, which gives a big clue as to its level of interactivity. That Trilobyte are demanding £9.99 for the iOS version is quite the eyebrow raiser.
The 7th Guest’s combination of bugs and other niggles, puzzles that were already stale in 1993 and a baffling story that leaves more questions than answers all add up to a game that is best left in the past as a relic of its time that most people played but not many finished.
“Back for more…?” No, Stauf, as our hero in the game says many a time: “That’s not it…”