Speak of the Devil.
Developer: Anamik Majumdar
Publisher: Anamik Majumdar
Released: 11 May, 2018
Copy provided by publisher free of charge
A while ago I reviewed a game called Keatz: The Lonely Bird, a story driven action platformer that fell far short of its ambitions. The latest 2D action platfomer from developer Anamik Majumdar, The Mystery of Devil’s House, addresses some of the issues I had with Keatz, but still leaves a lot to be desired.
Devil’s House has one of the most baffling narratives I’ve ever come across. This game is supposedly inspired by Zak Bagan’s Ghost Adventures, though the connections are suspiciously flimsy. With ideas lifted directly from the show and a main cast of four called the “Ghostbusters Crew: International”, I can’t help but feel that these names are being exploited. This is only the beginning however, things get far more bizarre once the story kicks in.
The very first thing you see when you hit new game is a wall of text explaining, in detail, the entire plot of the game, start to finish. Then it’s onto a relatively lengthy cutscene that introduces, then reintroduces the characters, while repeating most of the text wall. It’s all over the place, I was lost before the game properly began. I can’t say I wasn’t entertained though, it was so ridiculous I couldn’t help but laugh at it. It’s a storytelling technique I’m going to call “entertaining bamboozlement”.
It devolves further as two characters are immediately tossed aside while the others set up in the house. They spend an obnoxious amount of time talking about all the cameras they’ve set up because Ghost Adventures references, then the protagonist goes off to explore the house. Despite the entire point being to collect evidence, not one of them thinks its a good idea for the protagonist to film anything. They should’ve just strapped a GoPro to him, at least then he would have some contribution to the story.
I don’t know how anything you do resolves the story, the “mystery” is solved entirely off screen with what seems like a quick Google search, and the whole evidence gathering thing only serves as an obtuse Ghost Adventures recreation. Stitched together with semi-coherent, semi-broken English, the story is one of the most entertaining aspects of Devil’s House, for all the wrong reasons.
Devil’s House looks better than its predecessor. The violent chaos in Keatz was at complete odds with the bright and joyful setting, yet this game maintains a more consistent aesthetic. The dim lighting and decrepit design evokes a sense of dread, while the walls are covered in grim evidence that reinforces the dark history associated with the house. The sprite work shows more improvement, looking sharper and with more detail than in Keatz, with some unintentionally humorous exceptions.
I think the developer should keep the idea that less is more in mind, as using the same blood splatters over and over becomes very noticeable. some thing don’t land well either, coming across as goofy instead of spooky. The music and sound effects are all from 3rd parties, it works well enough but nothing it’s special. Overall I think the presentation works well enough, although it seems to be where the most improvements lie.
The gameplay has barely changed since Keatz. Devil’s House is another attempt as mixing fast paced combat with precision platforming with similarly disappointing results. Aside from a few rare instances, these two aspects don’t interact or intersect with each other. The game would have been much more compelling if they merged and built off one another, instead the game usually only makes the effort for one at a time.
Combat it exactly the same. Its a war of attrition where you and the enemy shoot each other on flat terrain until one of you explodes, a war that you’ll almost always win. Enemies do such little damage that they might as well not be there, the only danger they possess is that they immediately kill you if you touch them. Its boring, unless you’re up against either airborne enemies or bosses, at least they incorporated some movement into them.
Platforming fairs a bit better, as there’s an actual challenge to it. While a frustratingly big part of that challenge is putting up with stiff movement and controls, getting around the vicious obstacles can be a tense situation. Thankfully, the traps are illuminated, making them stand out against the dimly lit corridors, another lesson learned after Keatz. Of the two elements, this is the strongest, though the lack of evolution is rather concerning.
The hardest part of the platforming is getting used to the controls, since they can’t be changed. Actually there’s not a lot you can change.
Look at this menu, just look at it. The controls can’t be remapped, the arrow keys don’t work and the only actual option is volume, which is strangely controlled with “m” and “n”. Despite the strange rendition, playing with a controller works surprisingly well. It somehow boosts your fire rate, although moving becomes even more fiddly. It’s an options menu with very few options, it really sums up the overall lack of polish this game suffer from.
Devil’s House makes a few small changes to the gameplay from Keatz. The lives system is rightfully gone since it was just a waste of time. Objectives are now listed in the pause menu, instead of being lost to the ether the moment the level started. These improvements are minor, but they shows the developer is making progress.
These quality of life changes aren’t the only thing new here, this game is littered with achievements. I say littered because I find most achievements to be a load of rubbish. it’s just empty words, especially when I’m earning “Survive Badges” while in the process of dying.
While many of the issues I had with Keatz: The Lonely Bird remain unresolved; the dodgy controls, poor writing and uncompelling gameplay, there are some noticeable improvements. It’s a small step in the right direction.
The nigh incomprehensible story and unintentionally wacky parts of The Mystery of Devil’s House make for some truly entertaining moments. I can’t say I’d recommend it but I can’t deny I got some enjoyment out of it. This game really only works because it exists in absolute sincerity, there’s clearly genuine effort put into even if it hasn’t worked out as planned. The Developer is clearly getting better at making games, but they’ve got plenty of work left to do.