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Message in a Haunted Mansion: My 2016+ Reviews

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  • Message in a Haunted Mansion: My 2016+ Reviews

    Message in a Haunted Mansion: My 2016+ Reviews

    Hello! I'm disneygirl12 and welcome to my third 2016+ review! As of now I've covered the first two games in the series, so let's continue with the third installment, Message in a Haunted Mansion. I'll discuss different components of the game by breaking them up into categories, and the first several categories will receive one of the following star ratings (or something in between):

    « = Not So Great
    «« = Okay
    ««« = Good!
    «««« = Great!
    ««««« = Excellent!

    The last few categories won't require star ratings; I'll simply discuss them. :D Each category will be considered when determining the game's final score, so let's get started!

    Plot: «««
    Rose Green, a friend of Nancy's housekeeper, asks Nancy if she would be willing to help her with some renovation work on her Victorian mansion. Rose and the co-owner, Abby Sideris, hope to turn the place into a bed and breakfast. Unfortunately, the project has been delayed by various accidents, and no one knows for sure what's causing them. Is it just bad luck, or is someone -- or something -- trying to put an end to the project? You step into Nancy's shoes to put some finishing touches on the renovations and figure out what's going on at the mansion.

    "Suspicious accidents" isn't anything new to the mystery genre, but having a relatively simple plot is actually one of this game's strengths. It allows for a more elaborate, but still easy-to-follow story. And really, that's about all I can say for the plot. It's an interesting premise and isn't overly complicated, and this combination lends its way to a great story, so let's talk more about that.

    Story: ««««
    There are actually multiple storylines to this game, and I think Message in a Haunted Mansion is the first game in the series to do this (and to do it well!). The main storyline focuses mostly on the characters, exploring the mansion, and the accidents. I consider this the "main" storyline because it's most relevant to answering the big question of what's going on at the mansion and why. Throughout the game we uncover clues via our interactions with the characters and the setting that lead to some very well-paced events. There are a couple of scenes in particular that really help move the story along, and one of them actually spotlights the second storyline.

    This second storyline is more related to the ghostly encounters that occur throughout the mansion and the subplot of figuring out who the original owner was. There are a few clues that you need to piece together to figure this out, and what makes it better is how this second storyline comes into play a couple of times throughout the game. Ultimately, the game does a great job of showing how the two connect by the clues and discoveries we come across over the course of the mystery.

    Overall, the story for this game is great. It takes the simpler premise and tells a more complex story that's still easy to follow along with. What's more, the game takes time to show how the two storylines are connected, and I think it does this pretty masterfully. The only reason this category didn't receive five stars is because I like to reserve the 5-star rating for the games that really go above and beyond.

    Setting: ««««
    This setting category does not just consider where the game is geographically located, but also the places we can visit in the game, how elaborate they are, how relevant they are to the story, and the game's overall atmosphere. :)

    The game takes place in San Francisco, and this has more of an effect on the game's story than you might expect. It also allows for some education, which is always a plus. The 1906 earthquake is talked about a few times throughout the game, and it's used to explain why some aspects of the second storyline are the way they are. You also learn a little bit about the traditions and lifestyles of San Francisco prior to and after the earthquake, and these again help you make some connections with the story. On replay, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of an effect the city setting had on the game!

    Of course, the main "setting" of the game is the mansion itself. You can't go outside, but there is a lot to see and do inside. There are a number of rooms and hallways you can explore, and as you play, you might find more rooms to explore. And there are plenty of things to look at and search through in each of these rooms, which makes every room feel meaningful.

    Let's also talk about the atmosphere, because I believe Message in a Haunted Mansion is the first of the "scarier" games in the series. The ghostly encounters and the soundtrack work masterfully to give this game a creepy kind of feel to it. I found it really difficult to play this game as a kid because I was easily frightened, but now, they don't affect me as much. They're still creepy, sure, but instead of making me too scared to play, they make me want to play the game even more. It's easy to fall in love with the overall feel of the mansion and it really helps this game to stand out among others in the series.

    All in all, the setting is great. There are many rooms and halls to explore throughout the mansion (with more being discovered as you progress in the game), and the creepier atmosphere and city setting do a wonderful job of not only making the mansion more fun to explore, but also for moving the story along.

    Characters: «««
    Before going any further, let's quickly go over each of the characters and their roles in the game.
    Rose Green is co-owner of the mansion and the one who invited Nancy to help with renovation work. She's invested a lot of money into the house and is determined to see that the renovation work is completed in time, although the accidents have made her wary.

    Abby Sideris is the other co-owner of the mansion, and she seems convinced that the house is haunted. She is kind and fun to talk to, but her believing that ghosts could be behind the accidents makes it difficult to tell if she's taking the accidents seriously.

    Charlie Murphy is helping out with the renovations. His rates are affordable and he's very polite, but others think that he might be too inexperienced for the kind of work needed on the mansion.

    Louis Chandler is an antique dealer and knowledgeable on Victorian mansions. He's currently studying in the mansion's library, as well as advising Rose on some of the renovations. He's relatively nice but doesn't seem to know quite as much about the mansion as one might expect.

    Each of the characters has a specific tie to the mansion, and this really helps to explain why they act or behave a certain way and why they may be suspects. Although I wouldn't say that on the whole they're anything super special, there are some likable characters here, with at least one of them being considered one of the more memorable characters of the older games.

    What could have made this cast of characters stronger is if we got more interaction with them. There are some characters who you'll need to talk to just a few times, and afterwards, conversation with them is very limited. We also don't get to know too much about what they think of each other. We know some basic things, like "Oh, I didn't know Abby believes in ghosts" or "Oh, Charlie might be inexperienced for this work," but that's about the extent of it. We're never really shown how the characters interact with each other or really what they think of one another. Their relations aren't very clear to us, so they all seem kind of isolated in some way.

    Puzzles: «««
    The way I see it, puzzles should move the story along and add a special layer of character to the game. The strongest puzzles relate to the setting and the story, and there are some ND games that master this. There doesn't need to be a LOT of puzzles, nor do they need to be super complicated, in order for this to happen. There just needs to be a balance.

    These first few games don't have too many puzzles compared to the newer ones, but MHM does have a few more than its predecessors. Some of these are probably the first "chore" puzzles we've seen in the series, and they're all relatively simple. However, the beauty to them is how they're clearly related to the plot. Nancy was more than willing to help with renovation work, so it obviously makes sense that there would be a few renovation-like puzzles in the game.

    Some other puzzles are more related to the second storyline and just exploring the mansion in general. You always have the information necessary to solve the puzzles, and they aren't terribly challenging. On the whole they're relatively easy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. They still make sense for the setting and do their part to move the story along.

    The renovation puzzles are probably the ones that contribute most to the game's overall character, and they all tie in to the setting and story very well. But there is one that I must commend for being a great example of a solid, "long-term" puzzle, and if you've played the game you probably know which one I'm talking about. This puzzle involves picking up on specific pieces of information throughout the mansion, and it has an obvious tie-in to the story. It also helps you to make sense why one of the rooms in the mansion is themed the way it is. It's subtle and very clever.

    On the whole, I'd say the puzzles in this game are pretty good. They relate to the story and the setting very well (as all great puzzles do) and help pace the story. Though not super challenging (for the most part), they definitely contribute to the overall feeling of the game, and that's what matters most.

    Graphics: «««
    The graphics here are pretty good. As with many of the older games, I definitely feel that the setting graphics are superior. The mansion itself is absolutely gorgeous. Each room has a very particular style, and the contrast just shines. The parlor is lovely with the sofas and other furnishings, but then you enter the library and it (almost literally) glows. The design of the mansion is just spectacular.

    The character designs are okay. The lighting seems off, though. Some characters look oddly shiny, and they still have a kind of a clay-like appearance. Their motions seem a bit jerky as well, like as soon as they start talking they wave their arms around. This overall makes them look kind of outdated in terms of the technology. Their actual designs are just fine though, like their hairstyles and apparel. I think these fit with the characters very well. It's just the lighting and the jerky motions that bring this category down for me.

    Soundtrack: ««««
    Some of you might not think the background music is super important to a game, but just like puzzles, they add a certain layer of character to the game. Their most important function is to help convey the tone that a certain place or scene should have, whether it be happy, dangerous, or mysterious. It also helps if the music fits the location and/or theme of the game. In fact, the soundtrack is pretty much every component of the game's setting I mentioned earlier, summarized in musical form. How cool is that?

    Message in a Haunted Mansion is home to what I consider one of the series' best soundtracks. The songs all have a classic-ND vibe to them and do a terrific job of setting the mood of the game. Some tracks only play in a particular part of the mansion, and these really help the different rooms and halls come alive by adding some character to them.

    The songs themselves fit very well with the rooms they play in, and are downright pleasant to listen to. Some of them just make me want to hum along, even though they all carry a mysterious vibe. Even the more uplifting ones feel mysterious, which I find pretty impressive. What makes the soundtrack so strong is how these songs both fit the locations (rooms of the mansion) and help shape the atmosphere and mood. No matter what room you're in, the music always makes it clear that there's a mystery to solve.

    Ending: ««
    This category considers not only the actual climax, but also the build-up to that climax, the choice of culprit, and the game's resolution (which is usually conveyed through a closing letter). And don't worry, this section is spoiler-free.

    There are some aspects of the ending that are really well done. Let's start with the build-up to the climax, which is probably the strength here. You have to complete something specific, and once you do, you need to make sense of the thing you receive from completing it. It leads to a short but still beautiful animation sequence, which segways perfectly into the climax.

    The climax itself isn't bad. Although it's a short scene, there is quite a bit of pressure because you need to think quickly. It also helps if you picked up on something while exploring the mansion because that helps you out considerably here, so it's very nice that the climax requires you to call back on knowledge you should have gained from the investigation.

    The resolution is also well done. It's the kind of ending you'd probably expect, but it nonetheless wraps up the story well. My only real gripe with the ending is the choice of culprit. Not that it's a bad choice; it's just a little obvious who it is. This might not be a huge problem if the culprit was at least an interesting culprit, but nothing about this choice really stands out to me. Their motive is pretty typical, and they overall just feel bland compared to the great build-up and climax scene itself.

    Most aspects of the ending I find to be at least good, but the culprit choice brings this rating down for me.

    The Sense of Mystery: Very Good
    This is something that is lightly talked about in the plot and story categories, but for some games it just needs to be explicitly stated how much it feels like there's a mystery. Do you just know there's a mystery because the game's music, plot and setting suggest it, or are you forced into believing there's a mystery? Are there common qualities of a mystery present, like snooping or exploring? If not, what other qualities add to the game and make it feel like something's up?

    Many aspects of MHM help to illustrate the sense of mystery. Talking to characters, exploring the mansion, and particular scenes throughout the game all come into play and make you intrigued to find out more. Speaking of which, there is a fair amount of snooping throughout the game. Some is optional, which only enhances the replay value. The soundtrack also does a marvelous job of conveying a persistent mysterious feel, and the ghostly encounters throughout the game also contribute a lot to the sense of mystery.

    The Game's Overall Persona: A Definite Classic & Always Something New
    This category is admittedly more subjective, but it's something I never talked about in my old reviews, nor do I see it explicitly talked about very often in other reviews. Here's where I talk about what this game feels like to me and what it feels like compared to other games in the series.

    With the excellent setting and storyline(s), Message in a Haunted Mansion definitely feels like a classic Nancy Drew game. What makes this game stand out, though, are how many optional scenes and sequences there are. This is one of those games that you might think you know like the back of your hand, but chances are there's something new for you to discover. You might not come across some of the ghost scenes the first time you play, or you might not notice an object in a room that you can interact with. In fact, there was a whole room in the mansion that I never knew I could enter until more recent years! This game has such a great replay value, and with the high-quality story, setting and feel of mystery, MHM is one of those games that I and several other ND fans often come back to.

    Overall Score
    This is where I use the above categories to determine the game's final score out of five stars. I take the average of the star categories from before, and then use the last two non-star categories to adjust that score to what I feel is fair. :)

    Let's see what MHM's final score is:
    Final Score: ««« ½ = 3.5 out of 5 = Very Good!

    Message in a Haunted Mansion is without a doubt a classic Nancy Drew game. Although some aspects of the game could be stronger, the things that are done well are done very well. It has additional charm being one of the earlier games and for its high replay value. This game is highly recommended for Nancy Drew fans and mystery adventure fans in general, and is a great way to be introduced to both the series and genre.

    Thanks so much for reading the review! Feel free to comment, as comments are always welcome.

    Previous Review: Stay Tuned for Danger
    ......Next Review: Treasure in the Royal Tower
    Last edited by disneygirl12; April 24, 2016, 03:43 PM. Reason: Linked to next review :D
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    Hope everyone's having a great summer!

  • #2
    Hello again!

    You've written another fabulous review! It's been a loong time since I've played MHM, but reading your review helped ignite some of those memories. First off, I completely agree with you about the Mansion: it is simply beautiful. Even though this is an older game, this is probably one of my favorite architectural settings. And I completely agree with what you said about the puzzles: they all have a purpose. And for me that is a big deal, so I'm very happy you pointed that out. The soundtrack for this game was beautiful as well, but as I said before, it's been a while so I don't remember all of the music.

    I feel like you know exactly what to say (about the games) and how to say it, so job well done! I can't wait to read your next review!