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Usually I’m not one for indie games and turn my nose up at anything without a physical copy but lately Ive relaxed my stance a little. This has led me to a 2000’s series of indie point and clicks known collectively as the Blackwell series which focus around the character Rosa who is a burgeoning medium and has to put the dead to peaceful rest along with the help of Joey, a ghost from the 1940’s that is somehow attached to her. As always in these articles SPOILER ALERT!

The first game in the series from 2006 is the Blackwell Legacy which mostly serves as an introduction to the series and its characters.

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The plot of Legacy is that your “crazy” aunt has recently died and you as her only real family is dealing with the death when you start to get crippling headaches. You soon learn that the “power” your aunt had of talking to ghosts has now transferred to you which included Joey the aforementioned ghost from the 40’s whom is attached to you. The goal is to then unravel a series of mysterious suicides involving three college girls

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This game actually really excited me upon hearing about it and its collective series. The idea of the whole ghost thing and the artistic esthetic of the game really made me want to try it out. This is a point and click so there is no text parser and runs like many point and clicks from the late 90’s. The game starts out with you as a local news writer are investigating the suicides by going to the college dorm and questioning who you can find. everyone is voice acted and the acting for the most part is pretty well done for a indie title. Some sites have brought up the fact that the Indian character, your neighbor, sound very American and that’s true but it never bothered me. maybe shes just an Indian that grew up in the US and dresses in her ethnic clothing, its possible.

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The art style is nice but the thing that really bothered me was the character portraits as there is some color limitation. In the game in general you cant tell but you get a distinct “256 color” look with the portraits. The puzzles are pretty simple, were talking Hugo’s House of Horror simple, maybe even simpler as they mostly just require you to talk to everyone and run back and forth multiple times talking to NPC’s. Important names or ideas are placed in a notebook item and you can click on two separate notes to see if there’s a correlation. Its a neat idea but sometimes progression is simply checking all combinations. No puzzle in Legacy held me up for more then a few minutes. As far as items go there’s not very many in the game. Actually when I said the game was in introduction to the series I meant it. I went in for some reason expecting a full blown adventure game but Legacy can be completed in two hours or so much like the Hugo games.

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In the end though I wanted the game to be longer because I was enjoying the experience. Thankfully they are a series of games and as I’m doing here you can think of them as one whole as they also be acquired together cheaply off a service such as Steam. As I quickly progressed though the game I found the girls were being harassed by a character they inadvertently summoned via Ouija board known as “The Deacon”. I was fully expecting some sort of showdown with the villain but in the end things take a different tone and its more about just helping him pass. After that the game just sort of ended and you get a scene on a bridge and then credits which as I said had me just kind of blankly staring at the screen as I felt the game had just started.

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The second game, a prequel is Blackwell Unbound was released a year later in 2007 and follows your aunt in the early 1970’s.

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Unbound is a better game. overall it was about the same length though maybe a little bit longer as in 2 1/2 to 3 hours long. Like the first game there doesn’t seem to be any way to die only get stuck if you cant figure out where to go or what to do next though like the first game puzzles aren’t hard, maybe a little trickier then the first game but I was never held up for more then a few minutes on any part of the game.

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Unbound follows Lauren as a spiritual medium working “cases” to free lost spirits. Overall I think I liked Unbound’s Lauren a little more then Rosa. The game revolves around two “cases” your currently working on which can be done in either order as far as I can tell or at the same time. The first case involves a female ghost atΒ  recent torn down buildings construction site and the second involves a ghostly jazz musician that plays nights at Roosevelt Island. Solving puzzles is the same fair for the most part as in going back and forth locations, talking and re-talking to people of interest and comparing clues in the notebook. There are a few inventory puzzles but they all make sense and aren’t to difficult. Instead of a computer to look up information now you have a phone book where you have to look up numbers of names you discover on clues such as paperwork or hints in photo’s which I found pretty fun.

There sort of a main protagonist this time with a crazy lady known as “The Countess” who you find out is also a medium who has lost her spirit guide. In the end there is a brief showdown but as far as I could tell you cant die even if you sit and let her straggle you.

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Also of important note, this time around you can control Joey the ghost directly and doing this is important to progressing as Joey can see things at different angles, pass through solid walls and physically interact with other ghosts. There’s also no portraits in Unbound but to be honest I didn’t find myself longing for the sometimes color limited images. Overall I liked Unbound. I liked the overall tone and music better then Legacy as well as the plot. The puzzles while by 80’s and 90’s adventure game standards are incredibly easy they were still fun and at least seemingly required a little more thought and detective work then the first game….a little.

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The third game in the series released in 2009 is Blackwell Convergence.

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Right off the bat you can tell the production values of Convergence are above the previous two installments. The art is better looking, the sound and just the overall presentation is superior to the previous games. Despite the improved visuals the length and structure of the game is on par with Unbound. With the game taking about three hours total to complete, maybe slightly more of less depending.

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This time your back to more modern times and again playing as the character Rosa Blackwell. You’ve grown to accept your role as a medium and are now regularly working cases with your ghost familiar Joey, whom as in the previous game you can change to and directly control. The story arch from Unbound clearly relates to Convergence as you soon work to unravel a string of mysterious deaths all involving choking or attacks on the neck and as you uncover more clues the deaths seem to lead back a local investment fund company. The plot is still advanced mainly by going back and forth and talking to various people with a simple inventory puzzle thrown in here and there. The idea of story is far more important to the Blackwell series then solving puzzles. Your computer is back as a means to find information complete with email (or Bmail as its called here) and a internet search engine which you need to use several times to find things like information and addresses. Its a pretty neat thing and more interactive then simply clicking on the computer and searching prewritten things from your notepad. There are even a few puzzles that require you to “hack” into others Bmail accounts.

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As the plot moves forward you eventually uncover that the protagonist from the previous game, “the Countess” is behind the killings and is now in unstoppable ghost form. Like the first game its uncovered that she is linked to a certain individual and whomever he writes about the ghost must kill, though this time the murders are intentional this time. There’s also a rather metaphorical theme going on with all humans being linked together and the past shifting of the Countesses links.

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Blackwell Convergence is another easy short and sweet point and click experience in the series but admittedly sweeter then the previous games. I did have a few issues with the improved graphics in consistency as in there were some parts that seemed overly pixelated and at other times it looked like Vaseline was smeared on my screen. On that note though Character portraits are back from the first game and they look good with no color limitations present. So far this was my favorite game and it seems the series keeps progressing and improving itself so I was really looking forward to the fourth installment.

 

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The forth game in the series Blackwell Deception was released in 2011

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The style of Deception is very similar to the previous game except somehow the character sprites come off worse in my opinion then in the last game. I thought it may have to do with my settings but my resolution and settings were set exactly as they were in Convergence. Rosa’s sprite is especially bad compared to the previous game in my opinion. The backgrounds and environments are as good if not better though.Length wise the game felt to be overall a little longer then the previous games coming in at maybe four or five hours but this may be because of the increased emphasis on puzzles which I’ll talk about shortly.

One thing I like about the Blackwell series is that as its timeline moves forward so does Rosa’s means of clue gathering. Its a small detail but I like it. for example Unbound which took place in the 1970’s had you using the phone book as a means to find things like addresses. In Legacy and Convergence you had to also return to you apartment in order to use the internet on your desktop to look up information. In Deception the process is made far more convenient as you now possess a smart phone which acts as your internet link and notepad.

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And speaking of notes the process of looking at and linking clues in your notebook to form new clues is back.

Deception takes place seemingly not to long after convergence. Your still a medium working to free lost souls from their earthly shackles. After a sort of introductory mission involving a ghost on a yacht your pulled into a larger conspiracy involving the death of a reporter friend and subsequently the deaths of several linked people he was investigating.

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One thing I liked about Deception is its increased focus on puzzles. Like the other Blackwell games there are no scenarios that result in death and thankfully as far as I can see no “dead man walking” scenarios where you get yourself in an unwinnable situation but the puzzles in Deception are more numerous and a bit harder then the ones found in previous games, at least I found this to be the case. There were actually a few moments in Deception that I really had to think and it took me a little bit of time to solve as opposed. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t mid 90’s puzzles that are either illogical or hair pulling difficult but they add a nice low level challenge that I felt was lacking in the other games.

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As the game unfolds I learned of the mysterious deaths of two young women. On further investigation it is uncovered that they were victims of a man named Gavin and that a strange secretive cult exists that knows much about the spirit world. Gavin acts as the main protagonist in Deception much like the Countess did in the previous installment. In the end its not really made clear what he is but its stated that hes over 200 years old and he has prolonged his life by “feeding” off peoples positive energies. The end of the game results in a battle against Gavin as he attempts to manipulate and drain Rosa of her energies.

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In the end I think Deception is a solid game. slowly uncovering the large conspiracy gave a sense of greater purpose that I found very motivating in moving the plot along. Again Deception builds on the previous games and comes out ahead of what preceded it.

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The fifth and final game in the series is The Blackwell Epiphany released in 2014

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Epiphany is in my opinion the jewel in the Blackwell series crown. This game truly felt to me like a full retail release and could of easily been a retail release from the late or mid 90’s. The graphics are great and the story ties things up rather nicely making this my favorite of the series. One thing to note though the game does not act as a continuation of the events of the previous game, Deception. At the end of that game your given the impression your going to hunt down and expose the “vampires” like Gavin whom you faced previously. Epiphany drops that plot though the events are refrenced many times in the game.

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The game starts off as the others with solving cases involving spirits except this time your working off the books with the detective from the previous game. All is going as usual when a man is shot in front of you and then he soul is seen being torn apart. Epiphany is noticeably darker in theme from the previous four games exploring topics such as suicide, child death, drug use, domestic abuse and prostitution. The game also ties a lot of loose ends giving us more background on Joey via flashback segments to the 1920’s.

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The game controls very much as the previous game did and I really enjoyed the puzzles as well as the mystery of the story and attempting to uncover why these souls were being wiped from existence and how they were related. Again your phone plays a dominate roll in searching for information on the net as well as serving as a notepad. Epiphany also felt a little longer then the previous games. Not by to much but perhaps lasted me a good five to five and a half hours and features many locations from a church to a police station and various homes to a mental ward at the end.

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As the game progressed I learned of the “Grace Group” a self help group whose former members were all dying and being torn apart in the spirit world. This group was led by a mysterious Benjiro whom nobody can seem to remember. Further investigation led me to a priest who was once a member of the group and who was bonded with Madeline a very old spirit whom formally guided the “Countess” whom was the protagonist in Convergence and Unbound.

After A time its uncovered that Madeline is actually behind the deaths and has gone mad after serving unappreciated and unrewarded as a spirit guide for generations as well as being abandoned to the void for over fifty years by her previous host.After possessing Rosa and then being forced out I ended up in a mental institution seemingly facing the same fate as my aunt and grandmother as the universe fills my head.

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At this point I discovered the spirit of the elusive Benjiro whom apparently was another spirit vampire experimenting with none fatal ways to feed and thus the grace group was formed. Also I learned that a tear was forming between worlds cause by Madeline who was attempting to find peace by destroying herself but taking the entire City of New York with her.

After an escape from the hospital and a final confrontation with Madeline ending in victory I as was pretty surprised when the main character Rosa dies and as a last act uses her new found and fleeting powers to return Joey to flesh. The the game ends on the bridge with a now mortal Joey dumping Rosa’s ashes into the river mimicking the beginning of the first game.

blkep19Why does he remind me of a down on his luck Leisure Suit Larry here?

As I already stated I really liked Epiphany. The puzzles and scenery were good and it had a great story to go along with it. I enjoyed figuring out the puzzles to unravel more of the plot. Though the game did suffer from the same weakness of the others which was the constant back and forth between locations and talking over and over again to characters. I also enjoyed the darker more adult themes of the finally as well as the grander consequences of failure.

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Blackwell Series overall

With the exception of the last game the games overall don’t really feel like full fledged games mostly due to length but if played as a whole the Blackwell Series becomes a 15 plus hour game featuring a unique plot and ideas and a overall excellent adventure game experience. The first games are a little rough in terms of polish but its kind of fun to play through and see how they evolve. There was never any way to die, run out of time or end up in “dead man walking” situations which does make the game feel a little easy compared to more hard core offerings of the early 90’s and 1980’s (though I can ALWAYS do without dead man walking situation) but I did appreciate the fact that all of the puzzles made logical sence and I did not have to seek help once while playing the entire series though I will admit two or three puzzles did have me stumped for a good five to ten minutes. and another one of two I had to sleep on before I came up with an answer to progress. The entire series id currently (2015) available via Steam.

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4 Comments

  1. I use to really enjoy point and click adventure games back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Kings Quest and Legend of Kyrandia are a few that come to mind. I was a bit young, not smart enough and usually didn’t get to far but I still had a lot of fun with them. This Blackwell series looks like a great throw back. The graphics are very nice. And being too short is not a terrible thing. It’s nice to hear you enjoyed it that much that it felt like it was over too soon. Quality over quantity right! πŸ™‚

    • I agree. I’m in the same boat as you. I liked these games as well back in the day but I to was a little to young to understand them enough to get very far. The same guy (guys?) that did this game have a few other retro style adventure games I’d like to try but I think first I’m going to go back and play some actual old school Point and click games from my collection. I’m looking at you Full Throttle and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

      • I remember Full Throttle but I didn’t have it myself. And I was going to mention Indiana Jones but I could not remember the whole name. I was very into Indiana back then πŸ™‚ Day of the Tentacle was another really great one… and Sam and Max. You’re taking me way back justinwl!!! lol

      • Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max are two games I don’t own yet but I’ve been looking for them. I used to play a lot of Maniac Mansion of the C64 though. There are so many great and unknown PC adventure games I’m always discovering new ones.


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