"The original PC version utilised a point and click interface to navigate Narracott's investigation, and the Wii takes that same approach sans mouse. Instead, the Wiimote is employed to use the on-screen pointer, which you aim at objects of interest to have your avatar interact with. "
It's not been a great day for all involved. What started off as a group of strangers gathering together and taking a trip across an increasingly stormy lake to a hulking mansion housed on an island in the middle of nowhere didn't sound suspicious. At all. Teen slasher flick vibe aside, it does all start rather innocently; each invitee holds an invite to a dinner party being held there, each with their own individual reasoning behind their sought participation, be it an impromptu interview for a secretary’s job, bodyguard duties or the wish to exchange wisdom. Ten people took the little powerboat to the great mansion. Someone had plans for them all.
The Agatha Christie book of old chronicles the fate of the ten and was decreed a solid enough foundation to build a PC adventure game upon. AWE Games took the novel and graphicalised it; they added in a new character to play protagonist, Patrick Narracott, the driver of the boat who finds himself stranded on the island quite outside the machinations of them who scheme their guest's fate from the shadows. This leaves him, and only him, free to investigate the island while those around him are slowly exterminated one-by-one until there is no one else.
But Narracott isn’t simply thrown in to be an innocent, faceless bystander. Instead, he is seamlessly written into the pre-existing plot and falls victim to malicious ties with one of the existing cast, leading to his boat being scuttled, stranding him on the island alongside everyone else. When a list of the guests names are broadcast over the gramophone, they each have a checklist of crimes connected to them, be it the abandoning a hunting party to starve to death, a doctor’s malpractice or a questionable call from a retired judge that sent an innocent man to the noose. These ten people are strangers to each other, aside from their vague accusations of guilt being read from a record, there is no links between them. Someone has decided to be his or her judge, jury and executioner.
And each responds to Narracott’s questioning in their own individualistic ways. The butler and maid, though they fail to treat him as well as the invited guests, do view him with a sense of detached professionalism. The private eye in the group resents an amateur sleuth doing what should be his duty, while the retired judge puts his faith in the boatman's investigation for reasons entirely based on his own logic.
But he is still an outsider. This is made all the clearer when, little by little, the guests start to be periodically knocked off and Narracott remains untouched. Some see this as further proof of his hand in the ordeal; others believe it shows him as nothing but an unplanned occupant of a psychotic plan.
The original PC version utilised a point and click interface to navigate Narracott's investigation, and the Wii takes that same approach sans mouse. Instead, the Wiimote is employed to use the on-screen pointer, which you aim at objects of interest to have your avatar interact with. You can have him snatch up items, borrow documents to read and jot down in his notebook or have him move to hotspots that allow him access to new rooms and areas. This works haphazardly at times, not giving you the steadiness pixel hunters of old are used to getting from their PC mice which allows you to miss the odd hotspot at points. For instance, once the mansion is yours to explore, you will find a staggering number of bathrooms. Each of these contains the typical toiletry settings, many of which can be looted for random goods you’ll need to use in an abstract way at some point to advance.
But, because of the cursor’s habit of speeding past hot-spots, I completely missed the prompt that would allow me to examine draws until deep into the third chapter. By then, three people were dead, the rest scattered around the island searching for the killer or debating theories. I, however, was grumbling to myself and raiding the half a dozen toilets I’d back-track to in case I found half a toothbrush or a razor that would be vital in constructing a makeshift hovercraft or some such later.
But that's not to discount the point and click’s natural relationship with the Wii; indeed, there's much to laud. If you know where you want to point, it's now literally as simple as pointing there. It also allows for the use of several gimmicks, like twisting the wiimote to replicate the opening of doors, or making scooping motions to, well, scoop stuff. The door opening wanes pretty quickly, but its inclusion is certainly appreciated.
Technicalities aside, And Then There Where None is a pretty odd game to be arriving on Nintendo's little white box, a console less famed for its kid-friendly approach, but one that's bet the house on it. Mature themes of someone getting offed every chapter is one thing, but the item-based puzzles contained within are certainly not easily solved. While this title may not find the majority audience (and that audience are too busy playing Wii Bowling to bother with other games, anyway) it's one that will certainly find a niche. It might shock Nintendo, but there are Wii owners out there who want a little more from the console than playing baseball with no arms or Mario Party 39, and it's great to see them catered for with titles like this.
But it's the actual game that will both draw and repel gamers alike. And Then There Were None plays out like a super-polite slasher set in early 19th century England, but due to the nature of of the genre, things start to get formulaic at times. For example, the person who is set to die always reveals the true nature of their accused crimes just before they croak, but wanting to know what's behind every character is an extremely refreshing and driving motivation. Did the childminder leave her young charge to die in the ocean so, as a newspaper clipping you discover suggests, the family's fortune would transfer to the deceased’s older half-sibling who she was sweet on? Who are the twins the motorcar racing American is accused of murdering? Not even he knows their identities, so how did the ambiguous host? Every character in the scene is a mystery you need to unravel. Even Narracott has a few skeletons in the closet to explore.
So you'll wait until the dead of night to sneak around the house and discover clues. You'll find a needed flashlight with ease, but without batteries. Unexplainably, you'll find these in a sack of flour.
And then you'll forget the great plot for a jarring moment and wonder who the hell put batteries in a sack of flour? That's if you're lucky enough to randomly collect not one but two scoops of flour from the bag in the first place. If you've not, you'll be stumbling around in the dark for a long, long time.
But these stumbling blocks are rare. Most puzzles require some form of logic to bust through while the others can be completed on a drip-feed, allowing you time to dwell on the explanation while the game progresses around you. The third chapter offers you the chance to discover a lot; you can unearth a secret room in the mansion if you look hard enough, or even stumble upon an abandoned village after gaining access to the rest of the island. You can start work on a rudimentary escape vehicle, devise an ingenious way to lift fingerprints using kitchen products (one that will be familiar to those who have played AWE's Murder on the Midnight Express) or do none of the above and advance the plot around you by conversing with the remaining cast members. Sure, sooner or later these things will need to be accomplished, but that they're not only open to you the second you need them, forcing you into a wall should you find yourself stuck, is a great way of allowing natural progression through the game.
But walls you will hit and some more severe than hidden electrical equipment in random food goods. The time will come when you can’t move the plot on around the puzzle and you will be right back to standing at the bottom of the stairwell in the dead of night unable to advance because someone buried the bloody batteries deep in the flour!
And then There Were None is not a perfect Wii game. It’s frustrating at points, it looks like a three-year-old PC port (mainly because that’s pretty much what it is), but it’s an important title none the less. It will hopefully show there’s more to the machine than cutesy mascots and tech-demo sport sims, that it can cater to an older audience. It is also a solid platform to build upon – here is undeniable proof (as if Zak & Wiki was not enough) that the old Adventure template can work on this console. When it’s all said and done, people will not mention AWE’s wheezing port as a notable title for the Wii. But it might just be yet.
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