Haunted Houdini 

Born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Ehrich Weisz was to become one of the more charismatic characters of his generation before he died of a ruptured appendix on October 24, 1926 at the age of 52. Perhaps if I mention that Ehrich was better known by his stage name of Harry Houdini then everything will become clearer.

AVANQUEST Midnight Mysteries Haunted Houdini
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As well as his interest in magic and escapology, Harry Houdini became interested in the occult.  Using the skills he had learned through his stage and circus work, Houdini was able to expose the tricks used by so-called mediums.  His end came about when he was unable to resist a challenge to perform one of his signature tricks by allowing a student, named J. Gordon Whitehead, to punch him in the stomach.  Houdini died shortly afterwards from a ruptured appendix. This introduction brings us on to a game recently available from Avanquest’s GSP label.

Based on Houdini’s interest in magic and the occult is a Hidden Object Adventure game entitled Midnight Mysteries Haunted Houdini.  Originally published by Mumbo Jumbo, this game comes with a few additional bonus items that bestow a “Collector’s Edition” designation on its title.  These extras include wallpapers, music, screen savers, spine-tingling moments and a Strategy Guide which are available immediately plus an “Escape Artist” Hunt which becomes available when 40 clover leavers have been found and a bonus chapter that is accessible once the main game has been completed.

Generally games of this type offer the user two levels of game difficulty.  However, in this case, you have three choices.  With Casual mode tool objects will sparkle while Hint and Skip options recharge at a steady rate.  Selecting Advance mode does away with the tool object sparkles while the Hint and Skip options take longer to charge or appear.  The hardest mode, entitled Expert, has no sparkles for tool objects, removes helpful messages and the presence of ravens that can be used to speed up the Hint feature.

Setting the scene, an opening introductory sequence combines one of Houdini’s world famous escape feats with a hell hound, séance and a raven before you end up meeting Houdini’s wife Bess.  She explains that she had an agreement with her husband that they would try to communicate using a secret code in the event of the death of one of them.  As yet this has not happened you are asked to investigate how Houdini died and why no contact has been established. 

Like the other characters you encounter in this game, Bess is in spirit form.  These characters will provide you with assistance when they have been given a suitable object.  With some of the characters, including Arthur Conan Doyle, you will be given a list of questions that you can ask in order to receive a text-based answer.

Bess hangs around to provide some initial assistance regarding some of the game’s features.  A skeleton grasping hand will indicate when objects can be picked up while an eyeball will appear when the mouse cursor hovers over an area of interest.  Running across the bottom of the screen will be your inventory which holds the various objects you collect and will store them until they are needed. 

When more than seven objects have been collected, chevrons will appear at each end of the inventory so that you can scroll through the items in either direction.  An attachment at the right end of the inventory consists of two compartments linked by a plus sign.  By placing an item in each of these compartments, you can join them together to create a new item which will be required to complete a specific task.

A journal, which automatically records your important discoveries and the game’s Strategy Guide is located to the left of the inventory along with a count of the number of clover leaves that you have located during your searches of the various scenes, The Hunt feature is located to the right of the inventory.  This Hint feature can recharge itself after each use and can hold a stockpile of Hints in the form of ravens which appear in many scenes.

When tackling a Hidden Object scene, the inventory will be replaced by a list of the items you need to find.  While most of the items will be in plain view, some will be concealed within interactive areas such as a drawer or box.  By clicking on an item in the list, its silhouette will be displayed in the Hint’s jar.  Once all the items in the list have been located, you will be required to look for an additional item which will be added to your inventory when it has been found.

From time to time you will need to solve puzzles in order to make progress in the game.  These puzzles are varied and often challenging.  After a period of time, a Skip option will become available allowing you to avoid completing the puzzle if it proves too difficult.

How closely the storyline follows actual historical facts, I am unable to comment on but you do get an interesting game.  There are well drawn graphics and animations, challenging puzzles and Hidden Object scenes with a story ending that does not feel like a cop-out.  Priced at £10.20, the game requires a 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM (1GB for Vista and later) and 930MB of hard disk space running Windows XP (SP3) and later.

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