Intrigue at Oakhaven Plantation

Review by Enigma
November 2006

Here's an indie puzzler produced by friends of adventure games. It's a cute and fun little effort that has the potential to while away a few hours of time in pleasant fashion. Its story features voodoo, forbidden love and mystery. The artwork, while limited, is nicely done. The game engine is primitive enough to place it back in the dawn of graphic gaming, but that doesn't matter if the story and puzzles are involving enough to keep players engaged.

The story begins as you, Daphne, arrive outside an old plantation manor house in Louisiana with an invitation from your Grand-mère to come for a visit. She has something important to tell you. Enter, and you'll learn that you and your adopted cousin Dominic will be competing at solving puzzles to determine who will inherit the entire estate when Grand-mère dies, an event expected in the not too distant future. Daphne and Dominic are the only possible heirs, as Daphne's mom disappeared years ago under shocking circumstances. You will play both characters, alternating between the two at your discretion as you tackle those puzzles and try to ferret out the events of the past.

Why puzzles? Because Grand-mère likes 'em and wants to find out who's the cleverest. It's a straightforward enough excuse for a puzzle game. You'll spend the majority of your time solving those puzzles as either Daphne or Dominic. When you've solved 11 for Daphne and 10 for Dominic (his 11th takes place just a bit later), off you'll go into the Louisiana swamps to hunt down that mystery: what happened to Daphne's mother way back in the murky and distant past, the 1970s?

Back to the Old Days

This game has a primitive presentation—no bells and whistles, just a collection of rooms, gardens and swamp. It pleasantly reminded me of the first adventure I ever played, the ancient Uninvited. Slideshow-style doesn't really describe it, as you get only one view of each room. At the lower left corner rests a little doorknob icon, and that's what you use to back out of a room, or you can enter other rooms through visible doors. Despite that limitation, it features pleasant artwork: the rooms are quite pretty, very nicely detailed and decorated, although characters you meet are portrayed by static, unmoving cartoons. By painting the screen you'll find objects to take or use, with large enough hot spots that the painting isn't at all a tedious process.

There is no voice acting, for which I thank the Gaming Gods after recent experiences. You click through all dialogue and read it on the screen. You'll find books to read, as usual, and you can return to those. You cannot, however, revisit the dialogue.

A plot does build and gets interesting too, although nine-tenths of it is delivered in a journal and in a long, long, long "dialogue" sequence near the end of the game. Players are allowed to solve the mystery; however, the plot continues long after gameplay is finished. I should add, however, that the writing style is pretty good. The writer is actively literate, always an appreciated and unexpected feature in gaming.

The inventory is primitive—usable, but really, really primitive. Navigation is a lead-pipe cinch. You won't be getting lost in this game, not even in the maze.

Puzzles and Plot

Like Uninvited, Oakhaven Plantation really does get interesting. I couldn't care less whether a game has a primitive look. Okay, I enjoy eye candy, and actually this game has those picturesque rooms to gaze upon as well as some fairly well done night-scene effects, but I'm mostly interested in being interested.

The game has pretty good sound effects and music. Each room has its own theme, and these range from classical to blues, with the themes changing for Daphne and Dominic. Sound effects include fires crackling, stairs creaking, and waves lapping.

More interesting than most of the puzzles actually is finding them, which involves seeking items, sometimes combined items, and clicking these on various hot spots, thereby producing the puzzle. It's necessary to switch between the two characters to get to all of the puzzles, which adds a little bit of complexity to the game. Also, you get to have your tarot cards read, and you can keep doing that as long as you like. You can ask questions of an Ouija board as long as you like and satisfy any superstitious impulses you may have. References to voodoo have been well-researched. Players familiar with Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers may become nostalgic.

A few of the puzzles were truly well-done, especially an excellent logic puzzle that involves arranging some colored stones. The first puzzle I found is a sentence anagram made of double letters that also took a bit of thoughtful arranging. Nifty.

There are two music puzzles, both of which easily can be solved visually if necessary, and one has a lovely tune, "Men of Harlech," the Welsh national anthem. Several memory puzzles at least require focusing the mind a little bit (one is the other music puzzle, with drums). There's a literature puzzle—yes! You match titles of classics to cryptic "illustrations" from the books. Bookworms will enjoy it even though it's a cinch to solve. Another matching puzzle has all of the necessary clues but not in one place. Easy to find, but you still have to put it all together. There is a multiple-choice quiz on local history, also requiring a bit of thought. A little catch-the-mouse game is too easy but cute.

However, one whack-a-mole puzzle involving chasing voodoo dolls around the screen requires some dexterity with your mouse. If you are movement-challenged, be warned, because you can't skip any puzzles.

Keep it Simple

In Oakhaven Plantation, the puzzles, while numerous, are mostly so simple that they'd barely challenge a child. They're so simple, in fact, that I considered the possibility that the game was aimed at children, but no, the plot clearly targets adults. I can't imagine anyone needing a walkthrough for this game. Few puzzles are integrated with the plot—most are there merely because Grand-mère likes 'em.

A torn-up postcard is such a cinch to reassemble that it takes far less than a minute to do it. A "light-the-candles" puzzle actually took me about 10 seconds to solve. There's a slider puzzle with only nine panels. There's a maze, but you really can't get lost if you remember that first anagram puzzle. I deliberately made one wrong turn just to see what would happen. I simply went around in a circle and emerged at the screen where I'd made the wrong turn. Not much of a maze if you can't get lost, although the artwork and lighting effects are good in this area.

That's the only real problem. These puzzles could have been much more complex. Still, it was kinda satisfying to solve this stuff in a zoomy manner.

A Fun Little Diversion

I enjoyed it. There's enough to keep players busy for a few hours, along with a fairly intriguing plot. Had more puzzles been up to the level of the plot and better integrated with it, Oakhaven Plantation would have been better, but it's still entertaining.

Hey, it's a little indie game, made for fun. I know some folks argue that a game's a game for a' that, and all should achieve an equally high mark no matter what. I disagree. As long as you know you aren't dealing with folks who have budgets and serious bottom lines, I say cut 'em some slack. It's just for a little bit of fun.

It's cute. It's pretty. It does some things well. It keeps you playing, and is enjoyable throughout. That's okay by me. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Cindy Pondillo
Publisher: Cindy Pondillo
Release Date: November 2, 2006

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Pentium 500 MHz
32 MB RAM
Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP
DirectX 5 or above
Supports all DirectX-compatible sound and video cards

Where to Find It

Mystery Manor $14.95 (plus shipping)



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