Big life changes always make me a bit nostalgic, and as I’m getting dangerously close to finishing grad school and being chucked into the cold harsh real world, I’ve started revisiting old childhood loves, like listening to David Bowie mix CDs, painting my nails black, and watching episodes of Buffy on Netflix.
That nostalgia is influencing my gaming habits as well, with mixed results. While blasting Ziggy Stardust will bring me joy no matter if I’m playing it off of a cassette tape or my iPhone, games, it would seem, aren’t quite so eternal.
Case in point: The 7th Guest. I adored this game when I was 11 years old or so. It’s one of those games I’ve always regretted not being clever enough to beat, so I was thrilled when I found out they were releasing a version for the iPhone. Finally, I could figure out that damned carpet puzzle that plagued me in that age before internet-walkthroughs!
Unfortunately, the implementation is too nostalgic. In fact, the game is absolutely unplayable on the iPhone, because rather than redesign the game for a touchscreen device, Trilobyte appears to have just taken the game as it was originally programmed and uploaded it straight to the App Store, hoping to make money off of suckers like me.
After tapping around the main menu for a little while (and it took a lot of random tapping just to figure out how to get to the main menu), I stumbled across some unmarked icon that loaded the help guide and this intro:
“This is an authentic return of the famous game created in 1992 with enhancements and modifications for the touch interface. We’ve changed as little as possible to preserve the original game experience.”
It goes on to say that “[p]art of the game is finding out how the game is played.” I assume this is referring to how to solve the puzzles, but in reality it means you’re on your own figuring out how to navigate this unwieldy travesty of mobile gaming.
Here’s how my experience went: The game loaded. I did a little excited jig as I watched the opening movie I remembered so well (the acting and narration don’t hold up, but that I can forgive). Then I accidentally tapped the screen and was flung into the mansion. “Wait, wasn’t there more to the opening? Something about toys and kids dying?” So I tapped around the screen, trying to figure out how to load the menu. I ended up swerving over to the front door, which kicked off another accidental cut scene. Somehow I fast-forwarded the cut scene, also by accident, and finally I pressed some part of the screen that got me to the menu. “Phew!” I thought. “I must have done something horribly wrong and missed the instructions. Let’s try that again.” It took a couple attempts to navigate the Ouija Board pointer to the right spot, since the icon awkwardly appears somewhere halfway between where you’re actually pressing and the area above your finger, but soon I was watching the whole opening movie again, patiently not touching anything so I could see the whole thing.
Eventually, I got through all the opening cinematics and headed into the dining room to try out the cake puzzle. On a computer, getting those itty bitty pieces of cake at the far end of the table are no problem. You just click on them. The mouse is precise enough to register a click on those little pixels. Not so on the iPhone, though, even with my dainty little lady fingers. And especially not so when the pointer appears in such an awkward place. I can see how, logically, a developer would think this would be a good idea. “People can’t see what’s under their finger, so lets put the pointer somewhere where the player can see it.” When I touch my screen though, I expect what I touch to react. When I make a phone call, I don’t put my finger on the “9” expecting it to dial a “6”.
The 7th Guest is a game originally designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard, and although it could absolutely have been adapted to a mobile device, Trilobyte’s claim that the game has been modified for a touchscreen is a lie.
On a computer, there’s no issue with waving my pointer around the screen, seeing whether it turns into a wagging finger or a puzzle prompt based on where it’s placed. Dear Trilobyte: THIS DOES NOT WORK ON A TOUCHSCREEN. I don’t keep my finger on the screen the whole time, unless my thumb is on a d-pad. That is not how touchscreen games work.
On a touchscreen, you also need some indication of how to load the menu. Often this means icons constantly viewable on the screen, or the ability to tap the screen to pause and load a menu. I’m sorry if this would make The 7th Guest not look the same as it did on my 1992 VGA monitor, but I don’t care. I would much rather have a game that I can play then one that tries to exactly recreate the computer experience. An iPhone is not a computer. It can’t recreate a computer experience, nor should it have to. BECAUSE IT’S A PHONE.
Back in the day, I only played the original Monkey Island, so I can’t say exactly what changes LucasArts made to adapt the point-and-click interface for mobile. All I know is that this game kicks some serious ass on the iPhone. It offers everything that The 7th Guest doesn’t in terms of functionality.
It starts out, as every game should, with instructions. You learn how to walk. How to pick up and use objects. How to access your inventory. There’s even an option to press the screen and see all of the objects you can interact with in the area, which is fantastically helpful. Also, if you shake the iPhone you’ll get a hint of what to do next (because, you know, some developers like to take advantage of neat stuff like the accelerometer and gyroscope).
MI2:SE gives you some ability to customize the controls too. You can either tap to move Guybrush directly, or you can turn on the trackpad, which gives you a sort of always-visible mouse cursor that you can move around the screen before you tap to execute the movement or other command.
LucasArts also put a lot of effort into the relaunch. I mean a lot. The game has brand spankin’ new graphics, voice over, a new score. To be fair, it was released on a bunch of different platforms, not just the iPhone, but it’s clear they put a whole lot of thought into how the mechanics should be changed to make it playable on a touchscreen, and players like me give them big kudos for not wasting our money.
Not only is MI2:SE a functional game with a fresh coat of paint, but for those who are truly nostalgic, all you have to do is swipe two fingers up the screen to play with the original graphics and score. Neat!!
At the same time, the iOS version has retained some of that good ol’ nostalgia, and made it work with this snazzy new console. The oldschool command-based functionality that bridged the gaming gap from text games to graphical games is retained. You still have to click “Open” “Close” “Use” etc to interact with the game, but it’s all laid out in a way that’s fun and functional and makes me remember the great things about early-90s games rather than everything that was frustrating about them.
Monkey Island 2: SE has it’s flaws, but they’re all forgivable. The main menu was a little confusing to access, and not quite as responsive as it could be (you turn the phone vertically to open it, but it sometimes takes a few tries). But hey, at least the menu looks like a menu, not a crazy Ouija board with tiny numbers for save slots.
Overall, LucasArts did it right. They kept what worked in the original, tossed what didn’t, and ended up with a much improved game that appeals to both new players and fans of the original.
The 7th Guest and Monkey Island 2: Special Edition are both available for the iPhone for $2.99 in the App Store.
Barb doesn’t know how much time she logged trying to figure out T7G, since the game doesn’t offer that info. She’s logged 01:06:22 and has finished 18% of MI2:SE, which is very helpful information indeed.