Hello again, my fellow nostalgics! As Halloween creeps ever closer toward us, I thought it would be fun to look at a couple of horror themed pc games from yesteryear. If you remember 90's pc gaming, then you know it was dominated by two major genres; first person shooters, and graphic adventure games. While Myst is easily recognized for kicking starting the need for a cd-rom drive, one company in particular was really big for pc's throughout that decade; Sierra, They made several types of games, but where they really made a name for themselves was with graphic adventures. Going in depth to all the games they made in that genre could truly be a whole series of articles, as it's a hefty catalog. Today we are just going to be discussing one series; Shivers. Let's get started.
Welcome to Professor Windleknots Museum of the Strange and Unusual. Well....sort of. See, the museum never actually opened. When it first was announced, the promise of a new attraction for the city as well as the new jobs it would create made it an exciting thing to look forward to. But then it's opening was delayed. And delayed again. And again. It didn't help that the Professor Windleknot was kind a strange old coot, and that weird things seemed to be happening inside the unfinished building. But the final nail in the coffin was when two teenagers snuck inside the museum and were never heard from again. Rumor has it that the Professor, who also seemed to disappear into thin air, went crazy and murdered them. Years went by and the uncompleted museum just sat, a tragic mystery never solved. But then one day you decide to spend the night in the grounds, based off a dare from your friends. They lock you in, and agree to be back and let you out in the morning. If you survive the night, that is....Mwa ha ha ha ha.....
Thus the adventure begins. First things first, you have to find a way in. Sure, you can walk right up the steps to the front door, but it's locked and there's message saying to please come back when it opens. But making your way along the grounds, you discover a couple of puzzles.
Solving these opens up a passage that leads to an underground river. Along it's shore, you make an unpleasant discovery....
Professor Windleknot I presume? What happened to him? And what is that symbol he drew in the sand? Things get even weirder when you get into a boat to cross the river. As you are doing so, some...thing...attacks you from the water, draining some of your life essence. On the other side, you find a pot. When it's opened, the professors ghost comes out and informs you that the museum has been overrun buy spirits called the Ixupi. This is what attacked you in the water. Afterwards you make it into a secret passage that leads to the professors study and can now begin to explore the museum properly.
That's how it starts. The goal of the game is capture the Ixupi that are loose in the museum. You do this by collecting pots and lids scattered throughout the museum. Each Ixupi corresponds to an element, such as ash, wood, water...etc.The Ixupi!!
What you have to do is match each pot to the element it corresponds to, and then find the matching lid for that pot. When you have a complete pot, you then go to that particular element in the museum to trap the Ixupi.A few examples of completed pots.
There's a rub, though. You can only hold one item in your inventory at a time. So what you have to do is keep track of where you left a pot or lid for when you find it's match. And that's pretty much the gist of it. You spend the game exploring the museum, solving various puzzles to get clues, open doors, and open compartments to access different pots or lids. The music of the game changes when there's an Ixupi in the room. When you hear it, you know to avoid looking at certain objects in the room you are in. For example, the wood Ixupi can be found in a wood carving or in a pile of wooden slats up against the wall in another part of the museum.(They like to move around.) You can hear them making noise if they are there. If you don't have the complete pot, avoid the area where they are, otherwise you will get attacked and lose life essence. Lose it all, you die. Capturing one restores it back. There's a lot of backtracking involved which can get repetitive. This was one of the critical complaints with the game and even though I understand it, it never bothered me. Mainly because the museum is really interesting.
Let me just say that if Professor Windleknot's Museum of the Strange and Unusual was real, and it didn't have soul stealing spirits in it, I would totally go there. The atmosphere of the game is excellent. Each room is themed and there's areas for Atlantis, Folklore, buriel customs, Myths, Strange but true, Ancient Egypt...etc. It's fun to explore and when the game is beaten, it unlocks an option to simply look around the museum without the Ixupi or puzzles. Most of the information found on the plaques around the exhibits are true, according to the game developers. Along with that, there's another reason I feel this games works and that's for the story it contains. In addition to hunting down the Ixupi, you also found out how they got there. Professor Windleknot, who has been dubbed "Windlenut" by most people anymore, brought them from a dig into his museum while they were still sealed away in pots and added them as a display. (Which you find as you explore.) Remember the two kids I said disappeared? Well, they did indeed sneak inside the museum one night, and as they were exploring, found the Ixupi exhibit. Despite warnings to contrary, one of them opened a pot.....It's a simple story, but it's told really well in my opinion. There's notes and things they left for each other as they became more and more scared and tried to solve puzzles to find a way out of the museum, a task which they unfortunately failed. There's also letters and recordings about the professor that explain his past, how he was regarded by the scientific community, and why he wanted to open the museum. His life was kind of tragic actually, and it makes you feel bad for both his life and how it ended. I understand complaints about game being repetitive and kind of easy for seasoned adventure gamers (which I'm not), but for me Shivers is a classic pc game, and I still think the environment can't be beat.
But that's just the first one. Let's take a look now at Shivers Two.
Yes, this is a sequel, but Harvest of Souls is a completely different set up and story. This time around you play as a member of band called Trip Cyclone. Finding a town in Arizona called Cyclone, the band decides it's perfect place to record some music and videos so off they go. You end up arriving a few days after the rest of your bandmates and find that things in the town of Cyclone are a little....strange. For starters, your bandmates are nowhere to be found, and neither is the rest of the town, save for the guy who runs the hotel.
You check in and lay down to sleep and are greeted by a vision that shows a whole bunch of fleeting images, one of which includes a car crash. You then wake up and it's time to figure out where you friends are and what the heck is going on around here. Exploring the hotel, you find that the owner is gone, but are greeted with a message from this guy...
Meet Darkcloud, the villain of Shivers Two. He informs you that he has you friends souls imprisoned and that the only way you can save them is collect all the ancient Indian prayer sticks and return them to their proper place in the canyons. Doing this will make you "The Warrior." This is vital to Darkcloud's plans though, but what choice do you have? So you set off and explore the town of Cyclone, hunt the prayer sticks, solve puzzles, and hopefully save yourself and your friends. But there's a whole lot more to the story this time around. Seems townsfolk who have wandered into the canyons haven't returned. What happened to them? What's this about mines and old Indian burial grounds? And why do the answering machines found throughout the different town buildings show so much animosity the people of cyclone had towards each other? These questions and more await you to find their answers.
Gameplay goes as follows. Each building or area in the town, be it the bank, café, church...etc, houses a puzzle and solving that unlocks another puzzle, this one left by Darkcloud and features a creepy looking figure.
Solve this puzzle, and you get a prayer stick. And of course, there's a catch. Once you have it, your life essence begins to drain. So you have make a mad dash to the canyons and match it to the corresponding glyph on the canyon walls.
This opens yet another puzzle and solving that will then let you be able to enter the sacred area and place the prayer stick. The process is then repeated until they are all found. Like it's predecessor, the world of Shivers Two is interesting to explore. Cyclone is just rife with secrets and it's interesting getting to know the stories of its citizens, as well as what's happened to your friends. Unlike the one item only inventory slot of before, you can now hold several different items at once. It also made some improvements to the genre as a whole. The first is the ability to rotate you point of view. Rather than being stuck looking at the screen you are in, you could rotate the camera left and right to get a better look at your surroundings. Shivers Two also had an internet tab in it's menu. Clicking it would allow you to connect with other players to help solve puzzles. This was back when the internet was still new, so the feature was pretty groundbreaking for it's time. There was also a map which could be used to insta-travel to locations, making backtracking easier.
Also the fact that you are part of a band was not just background story. Darkcloud met you're band before you showed up and provided equipment and funds for them to make their music videos. As his true and ominous intentions became known, they decided to use their videos to give you clues to help you when you got there. Videos can be watched on any of the TV's in town.
The music was a crucial part of the game's puzzles, and time had to be spent watching them all and listening to their lyrics. It's a clever gimmick. The second disk even included 5 Trip Cyclone tracks you could listen to on your CD player.
The games soundtrack as a whole, as in the actual background music, not the band tracks, is greatly improved over the original Shivers. There were also three different possible endings, depending on what you did during the games final scene. Overall, Shivers Two is the critical darling of the two, and my research showed it's got a lot of love still from folks who played it back in the day. However, given the choice between the two, I prefer the first one overall. Here's why. For starters, as much as I love the small town with a secret scenario, I find the museum a creepier setting. This isn't to say Shivers Two isn't creepy, it's just I felt the claustrophobic/unfinished and natural weirdness of the museum was scarier.
Also, the Museum worked better in regards to the puzzles. You find documents and pamphlets that say the museum was designed to have puzzles in it. They were part of the experience of it. This was a perfect excuse the for "adventure game logic" that is found there. As cool as using clues from the music videos in Shivers Two is, it still feels that things like solving a puzzle to get into the barber shop or putting pieces back together after matching a glyph are there just for the sake of being there. And finally, there's the stories. Shivers may have had a simple story, but it worked really well for game it was. The Ixupi may be cartoony, but they were a purely supernatural force with a history all their own that made them interesting and cool. Yes, there is supernatural at play in Shivers Two, but at the very center of everything is a tale of greed, murder, and vengeance. It's interesting to learn, but still. Plus, even though you know and understand who Darkcloud is and what his motives are by the end of the game, he still comes across to me as kinda cheesy and over-the-top. But those are just my opinions. And even with my quibbles about the second one, I can easily say that both these games are classics, a great ride, and a lot of fun. I encourage you check them out if you have the means to.
That wraps up another installment for me. Hope you enjoyed my thoughts on these games and if you've got memories of them of your own, share 'em in the comments. With many adventure games being remastered or rereleased for mobile devices, maybe Shivers will rise again someday. Time will tell. Happy early Halloween and as always, stay retro folks. Thanks for reading.