Anyone who entered into a software store around 1993 has probably heard of, or vaguely remembers, The 7th Guest. Its hype and sales roughly equal those of Myst, and probably would have remained just as legendary, if it hadn’t turned into something of a one-hit-wonder. Otherwise, 7th (I refuse to call it by its cutesy-ass marketing name T7G – “heeeey guys, lets go play some teee-seven-geee!”) and Myst stand together as the leaders of 1990s Nu-adventure – each of the two setting up a unique gameplay mechanic to replace aging text-based systems and take advantage of new graphical capabilities.
Myst did the whole point and click through static pre-rendered images deal.
7th did the “you’re blocked by a puzzle -> solve puzzle -> go to new screen -> solve new puzzle” genre.
If you hate either of these games, you now know directly who to thank for their popularity.
7th has you invited to a mysterious party at the mansion of wacky and reclusive toymaker Mr Stauf. There’s some backstory, but it doesn’t matter – he’s a toymaker to explain why he has a mansion full of clockwork puzzles – and he’s bat-shit loony to explain why he subjects you to them. Sixth other guests have arrived and “departed” ahead of you, and their ghostly visages will materialize between puzzles to clue you in on what to do, or further the mystery of why you are there.
Solving this mystery is your secondary goal, and exploring the mansion is more of a means-to-an-end, so the real purpose of playing through 7th is to beat all the brainteasers. If you hate being jerked around, which is essentially the entirety of the game, then you can purge all considerations of playing this right now. If you do enjoy some puzzle solving, well, hold on there Cochise. You’ve seen every single one of these before, they’ve simply been included in interactive game form with a “spooky” theme. There’s the grid of coffins that you have to close, but closing one opens three others. There’s the shelf of labeled cans that you reassemble to solve a scrambled word puzzle. There’s the gridded cake you have to cut, but removing one piece removes those around it, and if you hit a piece with skull frosting, you are fucked. My point is, if you’ve solved a brainteaser or two, or been in elementary school at any point in your life, you’ve seen these before. Oh, and you’re toast if you try to play this game and you don’t know the rules of chess.
I dug the puzzle solving in the beginning, even went through the first few on my own, and it was alright. However, both myself and 7th were kidding ourselves. Be it because I’m busy, which I am, or because I have an endless stack of other games to play and things to do in my spare time, which I do, the truth is that I do not have the willpower or patience to put up with a lot of bullshit. Especially not from a video game.
This is where I discovered why 7th likely did so well. It’s a lot of fun playing with others. I can envision families crowding around the monitor offering suggestions, or players calling upon the varied expertise of coworkers for specific puzzles. I enlisted the help of a college roommate, which turned into him doing almost all the work, and me tacking his weird-ass Rorschach scribblings onto the wall like a modern art gallery. I guarantee that not even the game designers could decipher what drawings solved what puzzle.
7th’s trump card was, of course, its graphics. All of the screens making up the mansion are 3-D computer rendered, spat out in 640×480, 256 color. For 1993, especially in DOS, it looked like the future. And though exploration of the mansion or items in the rooms really was limited – you basically looked for the item that would start the next puzzle – there were still some impressive scenes. The art direction was great as well, so not only did things look realistic, they were lavishly decorated and creepy as well.
Puzzles were also 3-D rendered, though limited to single static screens with a few movable pieces. Still, you could always look at something and easily understand what it was supposed to be through shape and detail, like identifying the different chess pieces for example. There’s no text or other descriptions aside from your visual cues, so the game wouldn’t have worked at all if these puzzle pieces were too blurry. The creepy CG mansion theme would appear again of course, most notably in Mansion of the Hidden Souls, but 7th nailed it first, and for the game it was, nailed it right.
Controls are basic enough, as they are all point and click without an inventory. Your default cursor is a skeleton hand wagging its finger, as if to say “you ponce, why are you spending eight hours on this one puzzle?” or “you should have paid attention to how the pieces move in chess back when you said ‘when am I ever going to need to know chess?'” The hand will turn into a sort of googly eyeball when you can interact with items – one color when you can examine them, another color when you can move them. That’s pretty much it. No instruction manual required.
Sound is relegated to some inoffensive background mystery music, occasional “clink” and “clack” effects for when you move puzzle items around, and the speech. The ghosts’ various monologues aren’t quite as important, and many are often needlessly scratchy and difficult to understand, but Stauf’s introductions to every puzzle is vital and somewhat welcome. “Somewhat” because they offer the only clues about the goal of the puzzle, but that these clues are always in the form of obscure riddles. So before you even get to solve the puzzle, you have to solve a puzzle to tell you what you’re supposed to be doing in the other puzzle.
As mentioned before, the ghosts serve to break up the area between puzzles by providing the only real story the game has. These are actors in period costumes shot in front of a greenscreen, with a little transparency thrown on. They flicker and pixelate of course, but they do a good job of interacting with the rendered environment, perform their purpose well enough, and manage to fit in with the impressive graphics and house decor.
The history of Trilobyte – the developers who were on the express train to Moneyville until they couldn’t follow up this game properly – offers some amusing stories about these actors. I bring it up because I know I have mentioned in more than a few reviews for games I’m hating on that “the fucking secretary could come in and” blah blah blah. Well, the white ghost in 7th who taunts you through the maze – I did mention there was an annoying first-person maze, right? – is none other than Trilobyte’s receptionist at the time.
I would hesitate to call 7th an adventure game. I would consider an adventure game to be one whose primary purpose is unraveling a story. 7th is really a collection of mini-games loosely tied together by a rapier-thin plot and not-so-captivating mystery. The developers could just as easily have included a “quick mode” where solving one puzzle immediately takes you to the next, and you would have missed nothing but some attractive rooms and a couple of ghosts. I say this to warn you against picking up 7th and expecting a typical adventure. Think of it more as a well-made and reasonably entertaining CG interactive riddle book and decide accordingly.
Beautiful 3-D mansion for 1993 with some of the best graphics DOS can buy, nice integration of interactive puzzles.
All puzzles are rehashed “classics,” not much story or adventure besides solving them.