Hauntings of Mystery Manor

Developer/Publisher:  Cindy Pondillo
Year Released:  2005

Review by Rosemary Young (June, 2005)
You might know Cindy Pondillo, the creator of this game. Maybe you know her as Ghostlady, because that's her ethereal alter-ego that haunts the adventure game communities of the Web. Along with a collection of friendly helpers, she also keeps all the assorted ghosts and waifs and spirits grounded over at the adventure game site: Mystery Manor.

So Hauntings is a fitting name for a game to be conjured up by a Ghostlady. It's a great first effort, made with the Adventure Game Studio, a freely available game design tool for independent developers. Hauntings of Mystery Manor isn't a long game, and it lacks the sophistication of big commercial offerings, but it definitely has its charm and I've had a good bit of fun playing it through to the end.

Your journey starts at the gates of Mystery Manor and you will recognise it if you've visited the site and opened the doors to the Library, the Nursery, the Conservatory, etc., where there are lots of adventuring goodies. Only this time, instead of reviews and walkthroughs and save games, on opening the doors in the game you'll meet up with the resident ghost (or ghosts). It's your job to free them all of their earthly shackles and send them on their way.

The gameworld
Mystery Manor has two floors each with 6 rooms opening off a central passageway. Some of the rooms lead further into the mansion, increasing the number of locations to around 20, including the gardens and the cemetery, of course. Couldn't have a game about ghosts without a cemetery.

Each location in Hauntings of Mystery Manor is a still screen. There may be no animations but for an independent game the locations are fascinating, they are very well drawn with lots of care taken with the detail. There are plush, ornate furnishings, fancy carpets, and all sorts of intricate knickknacks decorating the walls, floors and other surfaces.

Mystery Manor is certainly a palatial abode, somewhere to aspire to live, but once you start exploring you'll begin to think that there is definitely something to the saying 'Money isn't everything'. Because almost every room has a resident ghost (or two) who will tell you their terrible tale of woe when you click on them. Tales about lost loves and jealousy and marital infidelity. As Hauntings has no voices, these little stories are told in a text pop-up. Just read it for clues to determine what might placate that particular ghost. Then continue exploring to find the right item. Sometimes it will be there for the taking in another room, sometimes a little inventory manipulation is necessary to modify objects, sometimes a ghost might want more than one thing and they might also have something useful for you in return. They can be very helpful as they will even refuse to depart this world if you haven't collected everything you need from that particular room.

As well as a beautiful mansion to explore and a number of items to find and use appropriately, Hauntings of Mystery Manor also has one abstract type puzzle which is very easy, and there's an anagram puzzle too, which is again easy once you have made the connection. Remember to explore everywhere and search out all the hot spots if something seems a little tricky.

The basics
If you have played another game made with the Adventure Game Studio tool kit then you'll know that the interface is simple and serviceable, even if it's not very pretty. The pixellated cursor seemed to stand out more than usual against the ethereal interiors of the plush mansion, although I stopped noticing it after a short while. Also some of the hotspots are a little tricky to pick up, so you do have to be persistent. If something looks relevant then be sure you don't pass over it too soon. Of course everything is point and click and moving the cursor to the top of screen opens up a menu for inventory access, saving and loading and quitting.

Many of the locations have some gentle and well chosen background music to heighten the mood, and you can click on some of the portraits for an eerie response. There are appropriate sound effects too: fires crackle, water trickles, you can hear the sound of the sea outside, and there's a couple of auditory surprises in the nursery, as well as some maniacal laughter in one location.

A nice touch, too, is that the various locations suddenly go quiet after the resident ghost (or ghosts) depart, and the room brightens a little as if a if a cloud has been lifted.

A pleasant trip
The puzzles in Hauntings are not too difficult so you will probably move through it fairly quickly. It took me almost 3 hours to complete including some extra time when I replayed a couple of 'rooms'. As well as the clues from the resident ghosts to point you in the right direction, there is also some helpful feedback from some of the hotspots. This is always important in an adventure game and helps to put you in the 'picture' so you can follow what you 'experience'.

So it was a short journey, but short and sweet. There is a simplicity to Hauntings of Mystery Manor that really appeals, my main complaint being its brevity. My advice, have a look for two or three hours of entertainment, but don't expect all the trappings of a big commercial game - just relax and have fun. At the end there is a hint of a return of Hauntings and I hope that some of those ghosts do come back to haunt us.

You can purchase Hauntings of Mystery Manor online, direct from Mystery Manor. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2005. All rights reserved.