Somewhere there's a graveyard tended by a certain man who is very picky about who he lets inside. Perhaps because, as he'll tell you, everything from the headstones to the flowers is put there to be just right. Or maybe it's because the dead don't always lie quietly in the new point-and-click hidden-object series Deadtime Stories. This first installment tells the story of Miss Jesse Bodeen, a voodoo priestess in New Orleans decades ago. Her talents are frequently called upon to heal the sick and protect the weak... that is, until haughty socialite Delphine LaLaurie sends for her. Follow Jessie's tale from the dark Cajun swamp to the rich French Quarter, concocting spells to remove obstacles, but be warned; the spirits of the Loa don't take requests lightly. Nor do they appreciate being used for ill.
The hidden-object/point-and-click hybrid is becoming more and more popular these days, and developers are getting better and better and combining the two. Deadtime Stories is played mostly like a standard point-and-click adventure, with you searching your environment for items to solve puzzles and occasionally playing hidden-object scenes to find what you need. Most of your time is spent tracking down components for spells that you'll have to create in Jessie's home to advance; early on you'll gain access to her spellbook, which will help you appease the spirits and find out more about what happened so long ago. Of course, not every spirit wants to see you succeed. If you get stuck, the hint timer in the bottom right corner will either show you the location of an object, or offer you several options so you can pick what you need help with.
Be warned that Jessie Bodeen's tale takes place back in Louisiana at a time when servants were sold. While it's not a focal point of the story, it is mentioned several times. If you find this grim chapter of history too upsetting, this may not be the game for you.
Analysis: By far one of my favourite shows remains the old Tales From the Crypt series. This is because not only is the Cryptkeeper the raddest undead demonic dude ever, but because it had a gleeful cheek to its stories, which were frequently as much cautionary tales as they were creeping you out. Deadtime Stories, therefore, with its rich, ghoulish presentation and grim story about revenge and greed, was right up my alley. Granted, series host Edward Blackgate looks like Willy Wonka by way of Tim Burton and a Hot Topic outlet, but I forgave him the minute he told me we were headed to "Naw'leens". Which was awesome, because I was totally out of chicken's feet after dinner last night. The game had me hooked from beginning to end to the point that I was genuinely dismayed both to see the demo run out, and then the credits roll hours later.
So is Deadtime Stories scary? Not really, nor is it trying to be. While its steeped in creepy atmosphere from its appropriate soundtrack to its haunted locales, you can take the pillow away from your face; nothing is going to leap out at you here. You'll solve a wide variety of puzzles ranging from figuring out how to trap a dove to using a series of skulls that only talk in short syllables to figure out passwords. Not all of the puzzles are winners; some, like the well seal in the French Quarter simply take too long, and a few, like the boat sail in the swamp, are mildly annoying. Of course, you can simply skip them if you wait for the bar at the top of the screen to refill, but you shouldn't have to.
Hidden-object scenes can be fairly challenging, using plays on words to trick you in your search. "Jack" for example could refer to a playing card... or to a carved pumpkin. The downside is that Deadtime Stories also suffers from occasional nebulous item names (such as "ornament"), or making you hunt down small objects like pills or pearls in a large scene. The hint timer takes a long while to refill compared to most other hidden-object titles, so if you're stuck on several items, you can spend a frustrating amount of time staring at the screen waiting for it to refill. Just make sure you're ready when you click for a hint, because the glimmer can be there and gone in a flash if you aren't paying attention.
Most players will probably spend between three and four hours finishing the game, and wind up having enjoyed themselves thoroughly but hungry for more. It really does feel like the story was meant to be longer, with greater development perhaps given to the villain. Deadtime Stories combines an interesting story with creepy-cool production values to make an engrossing experience that should leave you eagerly awaiting the next chapter. We can expect even greater things in the future from this series, and I, for one, am dying to play it.
... no?... how about... "This is one adventure no boil or ghoul should miss"?
... forget you guys, I'm funny darn it!