Kierra Vale is like most fictional protagonists; she knows nothing about her parents. But recent events in her life have transpired that just might put that mystery to rest.
She’s received a letter from one Alton Quinn, caretaker of the Blackwater Asylum, who just might know something about her mother’s side of the family. Intent on learning about her ancestry, our heroine sets off to see what she can find.
Almost immediately, however, things seem more than little off. The abandoned asylum is as creepy as can be expected, but Kierra quickly finds out that something amiss is going on, and that someone…or something…is planning to use her for some nefarious deed.
The story of Nightmare Adventures: The Witch’s Prison might seem a bit cliché at the beginning, and one has to wonder why Kierra just doesn’t pick up a healthy dose of common sense and leave once it becomes clear that she’s getting into a dangerous situation. But it’s genuinely interesting, and thankfully gets better from there.
Throughout the adventure, you’ll come across various snippets, like articles and hospital records, which go into detail on Blackwater Asylum’s dark history. They’re seldom necessary to completing the game, but they add some nice flavor. Even better, they get stored in Kierra’s handy PDA, allowing you to peruse them, alongside Kierra’s own thoughts, anytime.
If there is a problem with the story, it’s that not every question it raises gets answered. The game ends with a sequel hook, but whether anything gets fully addressed in the future is left up in the air for now.
The Witch’s Prison is a very pretty game, make no doubt about it. The backgrounds are superbly drawn and animated, filled with all sorts of small details that can easily be taken for granted.
The same applies to the cutscenes, although they might seem a little primitive by today’s standards, being largely still screens with textual dialogue and only the slightest amount of movement. But on the other hand, they make the game feel akin to a storybook. A dark and horrific storybook, but a storybook nonetheless.
Music Used Effectively
The music is alright as well. It consists of some low, melancholy piano tracks that often fade in and out for ambience. Sometimes, though, music isn’t present at all, which does much to up the creepiness.
Perhaps the one wrinkle in the presentation is the way some sound effects are handled. When put to use, they’re great, and add to the atmosphere perfectly. It’s just that, sometimes, only a textual description is used instead of an actual sound. It’s not a big deal, but it can be a little off-putting.
Much More Down to Earth
As an adventure game, The Witch’s Prison plays as you might expect. You travel from screen to screen using the tried and true point-and-click formula, observe the environment, and solve puzzles to advance. It doesn’t do anything particularly new in that regard.
What it does do, however, is make its puzzles in general very cohesive and logical. It’s a common enough occurrence in the genre to have to solve problems in really roundabout ways. But in The Witch’s Prison, a screwdriver you find can indeed break the flimsy lock on a control panel. A jar can be used to catch a firefly. A crowbar can pry that door open. And so on.
That’s not to say that you won’t encounter any bizarre puzzles or riddles. You might be tasked with arranging the ages of some people on their tombstone based off of a mathematical riddle, for instance. You’ll also have to deal with the odd gearbox or lock mechanism puzzle as well, but these work well enough and suit the context of the setting.
What you won’t find are the usual assortment of HOG sequences. Outside of perhaps one humorous Easter egg early on, you’re not going to sifting through a single screen of random clutter in Darkwater.
Now, there are elements of HOGs present; early on, you have to keep an eye out for things like gears and lottery ticket scraps that are hidden and tucked away in the background. And like any good HOG, these require a sharp eye to find. But as said before, everything is made to fit the setting.
If you enjoy these kinds of things in your adventure game, you might be disappointed by their absence. For others, it could be a breath of fresh air, especially when so many other adventure games overuse HOGs to their detriment.
Unfortunately, compared to the competition, The Witch’s Prison also feels more cramped. Rather than having a sizable virtual world to explore, you’ll often be confined to small segments consisting of only about two or three screens. Though it’s nice that you don’t need to do a lot of backtracking, the lack of exploration is a real shame nevertheless.
Not One to Hold Your Hand
One thing to note about The Witch’s Prison is that it doesn’t always give you much slack. There is a hint button that can point you the right way, or explain how set puzzles work, but either way, it won’t be very blatant. You still very much need to think for yourself out there most of the time, especially since the hint button takes a while to “recharge.”
You have more help than that, fortunately. The various items you collect often have a description that hints at what they could be used for just in case.
Kierra is also resourceful enough to photograph any interesting things she comes across that can clue you in on the solution to a puzzle, and can be referred to at any time. This feature is very convenient to have once you finally encounter the area a photo is relevant to, as it can save you some otherwise annoying time spent backtracking.
Strangely for puzzles, you have the option to skip them outright with the press of a button, and there’s no real drawback present. It is optional, and might save some players from frustration, but it still seems a little odd to have what seems like an obvious cheat code always ready and willing to work for you, especially when taking account of the game’s otherwise fairly staunch approach to assistance.
The Final Diagnosis
Overall, Nightmare Adventures: The Witch’s Prison is a fun and atmospheric game. It has a neat story, cool visuals, and puzzles that are well designed and thought out.
It also shows a great attention to detail, giving you a lot of things to watch out for in the scenery, and even provides Kierra different but fitting reactions if you try using various items in certain places that are often funny even in the creepy setting.
It’s not perfect by any means, as it can feel linear at times. It also has a few technical issues, namely in that the cursor doesn’t change properly when you travel from one screen to the next. But ultimately, those are some fairly small problems in an otherwise solid adventure game. It’s definitely worth looking into for any fan of the genre.
Review by David Galvin
Dave Galvin is a freelance writer and avid gamer. Somehow, he managed to find a way to combine the two passions.
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