Hauntingly good fun!
You are the proud new owner of Harlequin House. It’s moving-in day and, whilst you know there’s a lot of work to be done, you can’t help feeling this is going to be the start of a bright and beautiful future! What you don’t yet know, is that many years ago, a girl went missing from Harlequin House and was never seen again. Her story is untold but her spirit lives on…
Dare you enter the depths and despair of the past; follow a trail of secret messages and coded clues, left behind by an entity from another world? Are you brave enough to help unfold a history hidden by a family, from a time long ago?
We’ve played Clue Cracker’s earlier three games, DJ McDee, Escape from Extinction Island, and Fairground Felony, so when they announced their fourth and final game, it was a given that we would be taking on the mystery of The Haunting of Harlequin House. We enjoyed all three of the games that came before, and while Escape from Extinction Island holds a special place in my heart (it has a dinosaur!), the team have really pulled out the stops for their final game.
As we settled in and pressed play on the intro video, it was clear that The Haunting of Harlequin House was going to be a little different from the Clue Cracker games that came before, with a distinctly darker feel, and a much more macabre theme that only intensified as we progressed. It is still family-friendly (no swearing or true horror elements), but there were creepier moments, darker themes, and a few moments that younger children (and jumpy adults) may find disturbing.
If you’ve played any of the earlier games from Clue Cracker, you’ll know exactly what to expect when you play this one. They’ve stuck with what they know works as far as game structure goes, as The Haunting of Harlequin House is browser-based, completely self-contained with no external googling required (in theory), and follows the same format of images and video clips to deliver the puzzles and story. And like the earlier games from Clue Cracker, this game is also limited to a linear structure by the platform it’s built on, with players entering a password or code to progress through the “house.” Pleasingly, the platform allows you to see the password you’re entering, and the fact that the “Next” button isn’t clickable until you have a correct code means that players aren’t going to be frustrated by Fat-Finger Syndrome, as you can spot immediately if it’s a typo or just a wrong solution without loading a new page, only to be told you must go back.
The linear structure doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few clever twists and turns along the way, however, as The Hunting of Harlequin House manages to bring things full circle in a way I was not expecting. Those twists and turns mean that good note-taking is absolutely essential to being able to complete the game since you’re limited to only being able to progress forward; there’s no going back. If you’re paying attention, you’ll know exactly what information you need, and the game is very good at reinforcing that certain things should be written down.
Clue Cracker’s earlier games were a gentle introduction to the world of online puzzling, but I have to say, they’ve certainly ramped up their game with a number of more involved, multi-step puzzles that considerably change the pace of the game, with a range of tasks involving decoding, logic, observation, maths, word-games, and sometimes a combination of several of these things. Now, earlier I said that there was no external Googling required, but that might not be necessarily true. Those puzzles that utilised words and/or phrases could be incredibly tricky if you don’t have the vocabulary or the knowledge, and skate the line of whether or not one needs “external knowledge”; an absolute no-no if it were a live escape game, but only mildly frustrating here.
Aside from this, however, the puzzles were generally very fair, but not without issues. There were two colour based puzzles where the colours were very similar, and while one used shapes in addition to colours to make the game accessible, another did not, and I struggled to differentiate between shades. We also ran into trouble with another puzzle that felt a bit ambiguous in the information we were given, combined with what felt like a bit of a logic leap. However, the flaw in the set-up of the puzzles which present a possibility of several potential answers is that thanks to some design choices in the mechanics of the game structure, it is possible to brute-force a solution if you’re just not getting it. And in fact, we did this on several occasions when something just wasn’t making sense, and then ended up looking at clues to reverse engineer the puzzle.
It’s hard to be innovative with clues for online games, and it’s quickly become apparent that there is an industry-standard for clues, with several gradual hints, generally followed by the solution. Clue Cracker know what works, and they haven’t deviated from the system they introduced with Escape from Extinction Island. And nor should they – Execution in clue delivery varies widely from company to company, and Clue Cracker’s is one of the more user-friendly variations, with clearly marked buttons on the bottom of each page, so you know exactly what you’re requesting and what puzzle you’re requesting it for if you need assistance.
The Haunting of Harlequin House is the most complex of the Clue Cracker online games filled with more intricate and multi-layered puzzles than we’ve seen in the previous games from the company. This, plus the slightly more sinister theme may mean it’s one to skip if you often play with very young children, but definitely not one to miss if you don’t (or once you’ve put them to bed if you do).
It’s also worth noting that if you haven’t played any of the Clue Cracker games, you can buy a three-game bundle and save yourself £5.00 (£10.00 for a multi-household bundle), but I’d suggest playing DJ McDee for free first, to gauge if you like the format.
- A device with an internet connection
- Tools for note taking
|Value for Money|
Team: 2 players
Time Taken: 1hr 03 mins