Snowflakes spill down upon the spiky turrets of the
gloomy Castle Warg in Draxsylvania, as banshee shaped clouds dance across
a full moon in the year 1895. Inside is Mona de Lafitte, a statuesque
wasp-waisted wannabe opera singer, who has been captured and made a
vampire by the villainous Baron Shrowdy. Despite the gentle reminders
given her by her only friend, a wisecracking bat named Froderick, she is
still in denial about being a vampire. Even the Baron doesn’t quite have
the courage to tell her the truth and goes along with her delusion,
agreeing that he’s providing her wine for her sustenance. He journeys out
in search of the perfect O positive or negative vintage, and finds himself
at the wrong end of an encounter with a stake-wielding vampire hunter.
Mona is now free to journey back to Paris to pursue her singing
aspirations, but she first must find a way out of the enchanted castle.
After this rather lengthy animated prologue, the gamer
has control of Mona in this third person perspective adventure game. It’s
entirely mouse controlled, although there are some keyboard actions to
make the game easier if you choose. It’s clear our initial objective is to
obtain the key to the warded door from the angry looking gargoyle on the
castle bridge, but naturally this is not as easy as it sounds.
Movement through the game, however, is simple and
enjoyable. Clicking with the left mouse button moves Mona to most any
point on the screen. If you click on an object or character, holding down
the left mouse button calls up a menu with four available actions –
examine, use, talk or fly to the object. The “use” option may change
according to the object with which you are interacting, such as touching,
taking, or pushing the object. The “fly to the object” involves Mona
changing into a bat and flying to the object for a closer view, handy when
the object is in a high place or otherwise inaccessible by ordinary
walking. It’s worthwhile to try the “talk” icon, as many strange things
can talk in this magical world.
Talking to characters and doing many actions will result
in an animated scene. Outside of this, the game can be saved at any point
by using the escape key, and the save slots are ample. Saving the game is
effortless with a click from the main menu, and the newest save is placed
at the beginning of the save slots. When you look at your saves, they
appear in black and white, but when you put your cursor over them they
spring to life in full color. When the game is loading, blood rises to the
top of a vial in a demon’s mouth. I really like these little touches in a
If the cursor changes to an arrow, this indicates that
there is an exit to another area or a different part of the same area to
be seen. If you left click on the arrow, Mona will sashay through the
entire scene, and you can’t double click, for Mona won’t run. However, to
move quickly for playing purposes you can right click on the arrow, which
makes the screen fade and then resume in the new area.
According to the game manual, “ Mona is as much a
lady as she is an upcoming opera star, so you will hardly be able to make
her run across the screen like a record athlete, and usually, she prefers
to let people speak full sentences before answering or asking new
questions. So, if you ever feel like you want to travel to a certain point
faster or skip a dialog or a certain animation, try pressing the space
bar…with the space bar, you can skip almost everything, except maybe your
Kudos to the publisher and developer for making an
excellent paper manual that accompanies the game. From how the controls
work to a short biography of the main characters, from hints and tips to a
walkthrough of the first few scenes of the game to get you started, the
manual is useful, colorful and adds that extra touch to make the game
special. And special is what we’ve come to expect from Bill Tiller and
other former LucasArts employees who have banded together to make this
whimsical game. The game development experience of each of these people is
staggering, and would take pages to credit.
Gamers who long to have lots of objects with which to
interact in a game will be in bliss with the cornucopia of visual
abundance. Designed in a cartoon style, the game is a feast for those who
like to take their time in a game, touching, talking and enjoying the
ambience. There are many objects not necessary for game play but that will
still elicit a quip or two when clicked upon. The extra visual touches are
very appealing, from the spiteful expression on the stone gargoyle to a
little face on a tree in the forest. I found so much enjoyable to look at
that I was rather surprised that Froderick is not as endearing in
appearance as I would like. When Mona changes into a bat, she is as cute
as a button.
The items that will actually be needed go into the
inventory (Mona’s coffin), and are accessible with a right click.
Answering the old lament of how the character can carry all the unwieldy
items, some items that Mona comes across she doesn’t pick up – rather she
thinks about needing them later, and that thought goes into her inventory.
Regarding the latter, when she finds a use for one of these objects, you
left click on it and click where it should interact, the same as you would
with a solid inventory item. At that point Mona will transform into a bat,
and you have an animated sequence where she flies to the object, and
brings it to your current location. In addition, Mona’s pal Froderick the
bat is also an inventory item. On occasion an item can be combined in
inventory with him, and he can be used to accomplish the desired action.
The puzzles are inventory based, and most (but probably
not all) will be easily figured out by the seasoned adventure player. I
enjoyed putting together the necessary formulas in the secret laboratory,
even if one of the ingredients was the rather icky demon snot. Easy or
not, it feels all in good fun, and is never a hair pulling experience.
After escaping the castle, Mona will have to learn to come to terms with
being a vampire, and learn to use her newfound abilities to continue on
her way towards Paris.
A tip from the manual: “Sometimes you will get so
enchanted by the magical sights and sounds of Draxsylvania, that you might
miss some of the hotspots you can interact with…Pressing TAB shows all the
hotspots you can interact with in the current scene.”
Along the way you’ll meet interesting characters.
There’s Barb, who is not only a torture device but also the chatty torture
chamber stenographer. There’s the rat pack, made up of rats that go by the
names of Frankie, Sammy, Joey and Dean. There’s Ozzy, a rather confused
fountain gargoyle. References to cultural icons abound in the game.
The characters are all well voiced and consistent with
the cartoony atmosphere.
As pretty as the graphics are, the accompanying musical
score is just as lovely. Eerie or carnival jolly as the scene requires, it
heightens the mood. The opening score, featuring a soprano singer, is
especially good. Likewise, the ambient sound is immersing, from the
roaring wind to water lapping on rocks lining the shore.
Odds and Ends:
The game’s main menu has the usual selections, with the
addition that you can opt to use anti-aliasing at middle or high strength
or not at all, and choose lower or higher quality lighting for more
powerful video cards. Subtitles are an option.
There are no mazes, sliders, or actiony bits in the
game. There are no “game over” standstills. There are no puzzles where
color shade differentiation or hearing tones to solve a puzzle come into
Although it appears you’ve stepped into a Saturday
morning cartoon, there is occasional salty language along with some
suggestive themes. Except for the language, I would think the humor is
geared toward the younger set. At least, I can say I found the humor
curiously flat. I see no humor in loosening up the bowels of a constipated
bird, nor does using someone’s ashes as fertilizer strike me as humorous.
But maybe it’s just me, and you will have a knee slapping good time. I
played through the game finding it a pleasant experience for the most part
-- but wondering why, time and again, that it wasn’t funny.
The last concern that I want to mention is a big one.
There is no ending, and you are left on the road with Mona and Froderick,
not knowing if they make it to Paris or not. You discover that this is
episode one of a trilogy. Although I am told that interviews on the
internet disclosed that this game was merely a chapter, there is nothing
on the box to indicate it as such, although it is quite possible that the
developers had no input on the box art and the blame lies with the
publisher. There is always the fear that the second chapter in a game will
not surface, although recent episodic games like Sam and Max have laid
some fears to rest. I’ve waited since 2005 for this game, and I’m hoping
that reports that the developers are well into production on the second
episode are accurate, and that it won’t be another four year wait.