Night Café

Review by Jen

Earlier in my life, I studied art and art history for a time, and I still retain an interest in those subjects today. When I first heard about Night Café, the concept intrigued me—a game built around a history of the impressionists in turn-of-the-century Paris. However, Night Café is a somewhat hard game to come by, and I was unable to get my hands on a copy until a kind person that I met on a bulletin board loaned it to me.

As it turns out, Night Café is more of a documentary on the lives and works of the impressionists than a game. You are presented with an opening menu with six locations to choose from. Each location offers you more information about one or two of the eight members of the impressionist movement featured in the game, and you have to solve a little puzzle to gain a key to the gallery for each impressionist. The history is presented using period photographs and films, combined with computer graphic art to flesh out the locations and the actual paintings. It's an "edutainment" title, in this case heavier on the "edu" than the "tainment."

Some examples of the puzzles: a jigsaw puzzle, placing characters missing from a painting in their proper places, and moving around a location until several scenes/dialogues are triggered, thus filling in an array to complete the puzzle. There were some other types of visual manipulation puzzles and one dreaded put-the-music-score-in-order puzzle, but all of the puzzles were very light fare intended only to remove the stigma of the title's being labeled purely educational.

I have no problem with being educated by a game, especially since art history is a topic I'm already interested in, but the educational aspects were pretty light on content, too. I came away with a couple of tidbits, but they were so trivial that if you were to ask me tomorrow what they were, I would have to say "huh?"

The strength of Night Café lies in the reproduction of the paintings of these impressionists. Each time you solve a puzzle, you earn a key to the gallery of one of the painters; you access the gallery by clicking on a stamp on the left side of the screen. From there you can view about eight or ten paintings by each, and in some cases, the text of letters written by the painters. In addition, some of the actual locations frequented by the impressionists have been photorealistically recreated based on paintings and/or photos.

The narrations are very professionally done, even though the game was produced in French and translated to English. It sounded just like something you'd see on PBS. There was musical accompaniment throughout a good deal of the game, and the music was not too repetitive and sometimes even quite pretty. There was not much in the way of sound effects, mainly feet going up or down stairs, and the footsteps lag behind the visuals so that you don't start hearing them until you are already upstairs.

I completed Night Café in about two and a half hours, and I don't think I missed anything it had to offer. It is way too short and too easy for most gamers; even a complete novice would not have trouble with these puzzles. It is too light on content to be a serious history of impressionism; its value lies in the opportunity to view the paintings onscreen.

Night Café is not much of a game but it is a visual treat—it is truly pleasing to look at. As a matter of fact, I made myself a swell new Water Lilies desktop for my computer from one of my screenshots. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Pantheon Productions
Publisher: EMME Interactive
Release Date: 1997

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

486/66 (Pentium recommended)
Windows 95
8 MB RAM (16 MB recommended)
Graphics card (640x480, thousands of colors)
16-bit SoundBlaster sound card or compatible

68040 or higher
8 MB of RAM (available)
System 7.1 or higher

Where to Find It

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No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.