Night Cafe

Developer/Publisher:  E.M.M.E Interactive
Year Released:  1997

Review by Steve Ramsey (August, 2002)
Self described as "An entertaining cultural adventure in the world of Impressionism", this is a rather light, very pretty glimpse into the lives and the art of Impressionist artists.

By visiting various locations around Paris in the 1900s you will hear about the artists that frequented them, and who perhaps has become synonymous with that location. Visit the Moulin Rouge to discover who else but Toulouse Lautrec; step on to the dance floor of the Moulin de la Galette and into the world of Renoir.

Some of the locations still exist, many do not. All are really just a backdrop to what this CD is all about, namely the works of the artists themselves.

Van Gogh
Any visual treatment of impressionist art is going to be pretty, and this is no exception. Numerous works are featured, most extremely well known. So too are the artists, although I confess I had never heard of Berthe Morisot. Now I have.

From a main menu you can enter any one of seven locations, an eighth becoming available once you have found three missing objects (there are more to be found). In each location, small puzzles will usually have to be solved to gain access to other areas, a final puzzle giving access to an artists' gallery. The gallery contains about ten works, each with a menu giving more information about the work itself, the artist or related events. There are eight galleries in all.

The puzzles are not at all hard but are varied in nature, most involving one or more works of art. Assemble a jigsaw, manipulate a montage, place figures in their right location on a canvass, and match artistic works with their French location. Take a twirl around the dance floor until eight separate characters appear, find eight period photographs in a room, and (the hardest of the lot) assemble a piece of classical sheet music from a jumbled score.

You point and click your way around, accompanied occasionally by a voice over giving you snippets of information about where you are, and what went on there. You can choose to play in French or English.

The locations are faithfully recreated, and are fairly colourful if a little flat. In the Cafe Nouvelle Athenes patrons will pop into view at the tables, and their short conversations can be heard, as they will elsewhere. There is some use of old film footage in a couple of places, you will read some letters, reviews and other such material, and the whole lot is accompanied by a rather pleasant classical ensemble soundtrack. There are very few other sound effects.

The main menu also contains a help button, which will give you a clue on a particular puzzle, and a dictionary containing information on fifty or so artistic topics.

There are no subtitles and the game will automatically save for you upon exit (it won't tell you that is what it is doing and there is no save menu but don't worry). It will then pick up where you left off when you return, or you can start a new game. This means that you are free to browse opened galleries at your leisure.

I have avoided using the term edutainment until now because it frightens some people, but that is really what this is, though it's fair to say that the information only scratches the surface.

However it is all very pleasant, fairly lightweight (if you stay out of the dictionary) and it all sort of washed over me. I like Impressionist art so that helped, and though less game-like than the recent Monet, I thought it left it for dead as far as a dip into the art world was concerned, as well as being a far more pleasurable expenditure of time.

It also came with a thirteen track music CD, featuring the pieces used in the game, and was contained in some of the nicest packaging to grace my shelves. As a collector I appreciated the latter, and the former added value to the whole thing.

I spent a relaxed and casual two hours, and if you like Impressionist art and pitch your expectations at the right level, you might enjoy it as well. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95 or higher, 486 DX 2 66 (Pentium preferred) 8 Mb RAM (16 recommended) CD ROM, 640 x 480 resolution, high colour, 16 bit soundblaster compatible card.

Mac 68040 or higher, System 7.1 or higher, 8 Mb RAM, CD ROM