With school coming back into session, it’s only right that I pick an appropriate game that reflects the many nostalgic feelings that school has for people… but I’m not doing that this week. Oh no, this week kiddies it’s time for a little despair and fear (which, sadly is how many of us feel about school at times–though that’s beside the point) with two classic pint-sized), adventure games that will make you feel like crawling under your covers out of fear instead of laziness.
Our main entrée today is the 2005 classic, The Marionette by Team Effigey. In it, you play as Martin, a poor sculptor who receives an envelope that contains an ominous photo of a room filled with empty nooses. Before he can try to figure out anything, he is whisked away to house in the middle of the country that has a few puzzles to solve and a strange artist named Giuseppe who warns him that he wronged a girl named Alice and now she wants to punish Martin. Until he goes through trials set up by Alice and faces her judgement, Martin will not be able to leave. Now Martin must go through the past to discover what he did to Alice and try to survive her wrath. With three possible endings and a host of puzzles, Martin isn’t going to have an easy time.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I love the plot of this game. A haunted house scenario is always good for a scare but the developers took it a bit further, forcing you through Alice’s mind to see several key events and settings from her past. What’s brilliant about this is that you get to see the setting from Alice’s perspective (from rifling through her memories), Martin’s and your own. Why I consider this clever despite it being fairly common in adventure games, is the fact that Alice and Martin aren’t very reliable when it comes to telling the truth. Alice wants you to know her pain, to weep for her and accept whatever punishment she delivers as just, she isn’t interested in revealing the whole truth because she has solidified her world view to a point where she can’t even accept contradicting clues you find. At the same time, Martin, despite seeing all the clues in front of him keeps denying his involvement with Alice and only tries to find a way out, not putting together clues that you as a player are already doing. However, this doesn’t break the immersion in a bad way. You as the player need to be able to see things from an outsider’s perspective to really garner what is happening; and to understand how all the characters, brought this situation to pass by not trying to see things from another person’s perspective.
The distance the player has from the characters also makes the big reveal of what Martin did all the more surprising, not from how shocking and horrifying it is but rather how mundane it is. Without spoiling things, I’ll just say that what Martin did is something that a lot of people would have done in his situation and honestly, it could even be seen as the right thing to do depending on how you see things. However, since we’ve been following Alice’s perspective by sifting through her memories and you understand why Martin’s act was so crushing, why it led her to swear revenge upon him. That’s what I really like about the plot; these characters are pretty believable in their action; there aren’t any white knights to compare Martin to or evil parents to blame Alice’s behaviors on, everyone was just trying to get by and fell into vices that a lot of people do.
Of course, the distance the game puts between you and Martin might have broken the immersion too much if it wasn’t for the game’s excellent presentation. The visuals and settings in the game were all done by hand and fit well with a setting that involves the art world and gives a nice storybook feel to the narrative. The music, while a bit mixed in quality, is never bad and has several piano pieces that are excellent and worth listening to all on their own. There is also one vocal track, Cue the Music, by Justin King that is a solid track but is used at just the right moment to force a few tears to well up when it plays. Overall, It’s a very impressive job for a small studio.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is where The Marionette starts to stumble. The game was made using the Adventure Game Studio software, which is a solid program and very easy to play with, especially for Sierra veterans (point-n-click with an inventory where you can examine and combine items) and, while it works, there are two major problems: 1. The cursor actually only clicks on whatever the VERY small red dot is hovering over, which makes the third to last puzzle on the game extremely difficult due to how precise you need to place items for it. 2. This is one of those games where you can reach the end and not have the pieces you need to solve the last puzzle (which requires almost every single item to solve). While the game is relatively short (it took me about three hours without a guide, including two failed attempts), you’ll have no idea what you are missing if you don’t re-explore every inch of a setting. For example, in the first area, if you don’t backtrack, you’ll completely miss a vital item that is needed for a later area and the game will never tell you that you missed an item. This is further complicated due to the fact that, while there is a point system, Team Effigy failed to include a total number of points, so you have no idea how close you are to completing the game.
Still, despite these flaws, the game is great. In addition to the previously mentioned strengths, the puzzles are logical and often add to the creepy factor. This is definetly a game you should try if you love adventure games.