Genre: Mystery/Fantasy/Episodic Independent Developer
Release Date 2010 (Bundle)
The Blackwell Trilogy
The Blackwell Trilogy is comprised of the first – at the time of this writing – three games in an episodic adventure series. The series was recently made available as a collection at a discounted price, and as part of the promotion I was offered a complimentary press copy. The games follow spirit guide Joey Malone and his medium, Rosa Blackwell, while they try to help lost souls cross over to whatever is next.
The Blackwell Legacy
The Blackwell Legacy is the first game in the trilogy. It is a remake of Bestowers of Eternity, a freeware game. At the start of the game, Rosa is dumping the ashes of her aunt off the Brooklyn Bridge. On her way home, she discovers that she is locked out of her apartment because the fill-in doorman won’t let her in and doesn’t know her. She has to go find a neighbor she hasn't met before to vouch for her as a resident. In standard adventure game style, this involves a puzzle.
Once she is in the apartment, the game continues on. You’ll get an assignment from the newspaper you write for and go visit the doctor of your aunt. She lived most of her life in an asylum. Turns out she had the same symptoms as your grandmother. The doctor is worried something similar may happen to you. Rosa has been getting odd headaches.
Before Rosa goes to bed, Joey appears. He explains that Rosa is a medium and Joey is her spirit guide. It is their job to find lost spirits and help them cross over to the other side. They do this using Joey’s tie. One end is held by the ghost and then Rosa pulls it to enter into her infinity doorway. Joey suggests they start looking for ghosts, so off they go into the night. It turns out that the park Rosa visited earlier is haunted by a ghost which somehow relates to the characters in the story she wrote for her newspaper. You’ll pop back and forth between multiple real locations looking for answers on how to bring this ghost to rest. The first ghost’s story leads right into the second ghost of the game, leaving you with a satisfying ending.
Blackwell Unbound sets you back in time 30 years or so. You play Lauren’s aunt who is already in league with Joey and going around rescuing ghosts from themselves. This game follows much the same path as the first game and acts as a nice backstory to the whole series. This also introduces the game’s main protagonist, the Countess.
The Countess is someone who must be reckoned with, and finding out about her is the game’s most interesting plotline, cleverly woven among the puzzles related to ghost-saving. This game also offers a different treat in that you get to control Joey the ghost. Joey can’t do much to the environment but he can walk through walls and talk to other ghosts, things that are useful at times.
I haven’t mentioned the notebook interface, something present in all three games. As you get hints from talking to people, they will show up in Rosa’s, or in this game Lauren’s, notebook. You can use these items as talking points when talking to other people. At certain times you have to examine your notebook, and then combine two items to create another one. This is a very creative interface element, using information as if it were an inventory item.
The Blackwell Convergence
The Blackwell Convergence is the latest game in this series. We leave Lauren in the past and Rosa is once again the lead heroine. This game ties into the backstory of the previous one, and you start out with a tutorial that allows you to discover and save a ghost. Beyond that, we get into the meat of the story: going around and saving ghosts. Slowly, part of the history from the Unbound game comes into play and items from the past revisit Joey and Rosa as they find themselves dealing with a artist, an actor, some corporate investors, and a return of the Countess. A new spirit, I believe her name was Madeline, is also introduced, with little explanation. I’m sure she’ll show up in future titles. This entry in the series is more of the same in terms of puzzles, but the continuing story is a thrill to experience. The creator has a great knack for mixing puzzles with the game play.
Obviously, Rosa doesn’t know everything. Sometimes you have to search for other information. In the first game you can search, using the computer, for items in your notebook. The second game predates computers, but lets you use a phone book. The phone book interface forces you to type in things, so be sure you take notes as you go. Convergence has a computer again, but forces you to search for items explicitly, meaning you have to type in your search terms instead of referencing them from the notebook. This is a great way to prevent the game from forcing you into a point-and-click-until-something-works situation common in the genre.
One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen done in a game is to include a commentary track about the game’s creation, and other bonus features. With commentary on, at certain points the game’s creator, Dave Gilbert will pop up and talk about certain aspects of the game’s locations, the puzzles, the voice acting, and other aspects of creating a game. It is a unique way to offer replay value, similar to the commentary track of DVD.
None of the games took me more than four hours to get through, and I only got help on the first one. In Blackwell Unbound, you learn bits and pieces of a bunch of dreams that Lauren has. Some of those are directly related to events in The Blackwell Legacy and The Blackwell Convergence. Could these events, or more details, show up a future game? There is also some hinted at, unknown issue that affected both Aunt Lauren and Rosa’s grandmother. What is it? Will this affect Rosa? These are great fun if you love adventure games. Blackwell Convergence alludes to the fact that Joey may be less innocent than he appears. Will a future episode delve into Joey’s backstory? I’m left wanting more.
Final Grades(From individual reviews):
The Blackwell Legacy- A-/B+
Blackwell Unbound- A
Blackwell Convergence- A