Haunting At Cliffhouse by Cindy Pondillo, 2012
I have not examined many independent produced games. This one by the Ms. Pondillo, proprietor of a popular Adventure Game website Mystery Manor. It was because of her very helpful website that I decided to buy this game. Many of you gamers are aware you can find helpful hints and game saves on her site. They bailed me out more than once. I will say up front I am not very fond of this type of game. By type I mean the look and style. It is similar to the Carol Reed series that uses still pictures, presents little or no animation and it is presented in first person. Quite frequently this format provides limited character interactions. With that said I will wear my hat of objectivity.
This game centers around a rather isolated location named Cliffhouse. The game’s graphics feature still pictures exceptionally detailed and well drawn. True, you never see your character. She is a recent widow named Sarah who visited the Inn or B&B after receiving a brochure in the mail. More on that leaflet later. I will begin with the mechanics. The game is played against a 2D back ground and is entirely mouse driven point and click. You access the menu by pressing the space bar while a right click brings up your inventory. The game ships on a CD in a DVD case with a single sheet manual. The sheet warns when instructing the execute command to install there may be a long wait time for the response and start of installation. It did take a few minutes but nothing to cause any frustration. Once installed put the game in case and throw it on the shelf because you do not the need the disc in the drive to play the game. The game installed to Program files X86 in Windows 7. The saved games folder is always a hunt with Win7. You never know exactly where they get hidden. For this game the path is, Documents and settings\User name\Saved Games\Cliffhouse, a much shorter path than what you usually find. I found no glitches or crashes as the game ran smoothly in Win7.
The instruction sheet offers a few suggestions, one perhaps will be very welcome to some puzzle adverse players. That welcome message is, “You can have the game complete a puzzle for you by hitting the Tab key.” I did that a couple of times. The second message also very helpful is, “You can quit the puzzle and come back to it at a later time by hitting the Home key.” That is important information because when you are in puzzle closeup mode there is no “exit” button giving you the impression there is no quit. The game is window key friendly for walk through users another definite plus, though I am not aware of any walk throughs at this time. Pixel or hot spot hunting is not an issue, however, the trigger to change your icon shape signaling the hot spot sometimes affords a narrow field. You will do some searching to be sure you found everything. The inventory box does a good job of identifying the items. A sweep of your mouse produces a text naming the item. Yes, sometimes combining items is required. As you might expect you use these things with people and objects to advance your search. Exits are identified when your cursor turns into a red arrow.
My complaint with this type of game and Nancy Drew comes to mind is the distractions thrown at you with multiple mini games. With Nancy, it is all to common to forget what is going on. Cliffhouse avoids this problem entirely, thank you Ms. Pondillo for keeping the story or quest on track. I entered this Bed and Breakfast with no idea of what this quest is about. Other than the title I read no information or story promo. I just went with it and followed one step at a time letting the tale unfold. This is not a linear game you can resolve it in random order. Yes there are triggers to get an event to occur. Borrowing saves may require you doing multiple tasks over again. I read a concern somewhere people worried this is a hidden objects game. That is not true, however, you think so at the outset. Sarah is given a scavenger hunt list of items she must find. That sets you looking through numerous rooms for vases, and bottles and so on. You may run into another hidden objects favorite close to the beginning as well. One puzzle consists of two nearly identical paintings side by side where you have to find the differences. Yes I hated that one. Even worse I completed it before reading the info about auto completing puzzles. Then there is the obligatory pain in the neck maze near the end of the game. So there are a couple issues I did not like. They were minor when viewing the overall experience.
The story is driven by searching the manor and the grounds. There are numerous locations including a garden, sea shore, chapel, island, and lots of rooms. You will have visions of ghosts and conversations with other characters. Near the end you have a conversation with a ghost. Conversation is another story builder. There is not a lot of it but enough to impart information and move the story along. The game differs from others in its lack of a conversation tree. You click on a character and they do not move. You are looking at a still picture with zero animation. The voice acting is very good much better than I anticipated. The dialogue is written in a box at the bottom of the screen. Where this differs from other games is when someone completes a statement nothing happens. You must click on the screen to generate the next statement in the conversation. You do not need to make any selections, the conversation moves along one click at time. I do not recall seeing this done quite this way before. Yes, you can click through the conversation cutting it short but its not a good idea. You might need some of that information.
You will find there is considerable reading in various books and journals you encounter. My normal method is to just rapidly click through it not wasting my time. I encourage you to read this stuff. Why, you say. I will go back to that brochure. In the opening scene Sarah finds the pamphlet on her desk. You click on it to view it per rules of Adventure gaming. Well I did that to discover our game creator listed at the bottom of the brochure the address of Cliffhouse. 1 Sea Coast Road, Ilwaco, WA 98624. That caught my attention because Ilwaco is a real place. Typing the address into Mapquest led me to the corner of Willow and Elizabeth Streets four blocks from the Outer Harbor. I was in that town this spring so Cindy caught my attention. That is why I suggest reading the material included in books and journals. The creative writing department did an outstanding job of research. A rather in depth description of Native American culture indigenous to the north west is provided to raise interest and generate further discovery. Here are a couple links to real places she visits in the game. Images of Ilwaco Cape Disappointment
The lighthouse in the above Cape Disappointment photos link looks quite a bit like the one you see in the game.
All in all Haunting at Cliffhouse is a first class accomplishment. A very enjoyable game with some creative puzzles which are slightly different from the run of the mill you find elsewhere. I thought the ending a bit brief something that is not uncommon these days. To me during my solving this mystery the ending came as a surprise. I am plodding along with the assumption my task is to help the ghosts resolve whatever issues keep them bound to this place. When you reach the conclusion if you are as dull as me the ending will surprise you as well. I am not going to reveal what it is. The author did well to keep the total story under wraps. I spent about seven hours playing this game without any walk through aids. That suggest your time will vary but lends an idea it is of medium length. I may have cut a bit of time off with my use of the auto complete button. On two puzzles it was employed because I hate puzzles and my impatience.
You can find the game here. Mystery Manor