J.B. Harold Murder Club review

Sometimes there are games out there that seem simple enough and hardly make more than a blip in the radar. But sometimes they get noticed by other reasons outside the game itself or even develop a cult following, or even sometimes they’re successful in one country but hardly register in another country. Not to mention how much the game was influenced by and how much it influenced other games afterwards. Today we’re going to take a look at one such game: J.B. Harold Murder Club.

J.B. Harold Murder Club is an adventure/mystery game originally developed and published by Japanese company Riverhill Soft for the PC-88, PC-98, Sharp X1 and the FM-7 computers in 1986. It was released again in 1988 for the MSX and Sharp X68000 and in 1989 for the NES. It saw its first remake for the Turbografx-CD in 1990 and translated and brought to the US the following year for the same console, while the original version was released in the US for DOS that same year. The remake was again released (in Japan only) for the FM-Towns in 1992 and for Windows in 1996. A second remake was made for the Nintendo DS in 2008 under the title Keiji J.B. Harold no Jikenbo: Satsujin Club.

Only the DOS and Turbografx-CD versions were ever translated and released here in the West and although the Turbografx-CD is the most famous version, the game was originally released for the PC-88, which is a personal computer, which makes the DOS version eligible for review here.

But first, let’s take a look at the cover, shall we?

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No, this isn’t a Casablanca adaptation, although that would be cool

The cover definitely has a very noir feel to it, with the gun and the detective smoking in the background. A bit generic nowadays, but not a bad one for a mystery title. And because of all the other covers being variations of this one, there’s no real need to show them.

But it’s time to boot this gumshoe:

The intro is simple and gets to the point: a wealthy businessman named Bill Robbins was found stabbed to the death and it’s your job as a police detective to find the culprit and bring him or her to justice. Although they aren’t bad, I wish the intro screen showed more than some woman’s legs. The intro theme is surprisingly good and pumps you up for the game.

The game starts in your office where your secretary, Catherine, encourages you to give your best in solving the case. And from there you can go out to investigate by interviewing the witnesses and the victim’s friends and relatives. And I hope you’re still pumped from the intro theme because that’s the only piece of music you’ll hear until the end. That’s right, there’s no music throughout the entire game, only at the intro and ending.

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The gameplay consists of choosing a command from a list situated at the right of the screen, with the text appearing at the bottom. From the command list, you can chose your destination (when travelling) and other options when interviewing people or searching for clues, with the main screen showing the places and people through still images.

You’ll have to constantly return to your office, either to request warrants from the prosecutor, interrogate suspects and present clues to the crime lab, but also it’s the only place in-game where you can save and load games and check your progress.

With still images, several lists of commands to choose from and no music whatsoever, the gameplay quickly becomes very monotonous, especially since you need to trigger specific dialogues and events, which then prompts a lot of backtracking and return to the same locations or people for new dialogues and clues. You can’t even get search or arrest warrants until you get a specific clue or dialogue that might be or not related to a specific suspect.

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Time to get cracking. Those pillows look suspicious

Also, there’s so many information to discover that unless you have a superb memory, I recommend taking notes about everything and everyone, so as to not get lost in the middle of the investigation.

And that’s not the worst of it. First a little spoiler warning:

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Near the end, you might get a good idea of who the killer is, but he/she won’t confess until all other suspects confess their own crimes and/or motivations. Only after gathering and fully investigating all the evidence and clues and getting confessions from all the other suspects, does the killer finally confesses the crime.

OK, spoilers over! Back to the review.

Although this version of the game was released in 1991, it has the EGA graphics and sounds of an late 80s DOS game (because that’s when the game was made), although the art style is very westernized, just like the rest of the game. If I didn’t know, I would swear this was a western game, based only on the graphics and story. And because of the still images, it has virtually no animations whatsoever.

And the mystery itself is actually well written, albeit quite cliché. In fact, it uses most of the basic mystery tropes, including the fact that the victim was an asshole, thus increasing the number of suspects with motivations to kill him. But the final twist is actually quite good.

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“Just the facts, ma’am”

So, apart from the mystery itself, this game is quite monotonous to play, with a lot of repetition and backtracking. But I won’t deny it has good dialogue and the most of the characters are interesting. So if you have lots of patience and love mystery titles, you might give it a shot.

The Turbografx-CD version has better graphics (including still photos), a great intro with good animation, voice-over, some extra screens and music throughout the game, although it still has the same boring gameplay. But now with the music, it’s a bit less monotonous. I have no idea about the Nintendo DS remake, though.

The Turbografx-CD version had more success than the DOS version, not only because of the above, but also due to a little controversy: at the beginning of the game, there’s mention of an unsolved rape case. Now, that doesn’t seem a big deal, but since console games were originally targeted to children and teens and because there wasn’t any mature warning in the game’s box, you can see why it raised some eyebrows. IMO, the rape case was an attempt to make the game look more noir and gritty, but it’s possible that the developers might have second thoughts about it, because it’s hardly mentioned again throughout the game.

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“And I mean all of your steps”

Still, even with this controversy, the game was quickly eclipsed by other mystery titles, like the Sherlock Holmes series. However, it had a great success in its native Japan, because not only it had 2 remakes, but also four sequels. It also developed some cult following here in the West, enough to release an iOS version of the second game in the series, Manhattan Requiem.

The J.B. series were also responsible for influencing the visual novel genre, which has been quite popular in the East for many years and has recently becoming popular here too in the West. So, despite being mostly forgotten by now and aged very poorly, one can not deny the influence that Murder Club had in some modern titles, especially in dialogues and character interaction.

If you’re interested in trying it out, you can play it here in your own browser.

What are your favorite mystery games? Tell me by commenting below. Next time, I’m going to do something a bit different with a game everyone knows, and I mean everyone! Till then, keep on playing.

Snoopy and Peanuts review

Sometimes making a game geared towards children might be harder than making one for teens and adults. Just because you don’t need to worry about complex gameplay mechanics or storylines, doesn’t mean you get to be lazy about it. Children are anything but stupid and they can see a bad game sometimes better than a grownup.

Snoopy and Peanuts (AKA Snoopy: The Cool Computer Game) is an adventure (-ish) game made by The Edge (no, not the guy from U2) and released originally in 1989 for Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum. It was ported to DOS in 1990 and re-released for the Commodore CDTV in 1991 under the title Snoopy: The Case of the Missing Blanket.

And the aforementioned laziness isn’t just in the game. Check out the cover:

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Cool, uh? Yeah, right

While I can respect simple and minimalist covers, I can’t deny that there’s an awful amount of white space in this cover, which uses Snoopy’s “cool” pose, with sunglasses and everything. Even the sub-title is trying to tell us how “cool” it is! You know that kid from school that tried too hard to be “cool”? This is what this cover reminds me of.

Anyway, let’s boot this “cool cat” and check it out:

You don’t see it because it only appears in a fraction of a second, but we get a title screen just like the box cover and then a 2nd weird title screen with the company logo going up and down. And then you start the game just like that.

And man, everything is just so slow! Apart from Woodstock (who is a bird and therefore CAN FLY), everyone just moves so slowly! A small advice: jump! Honestly, the jumping animation is faster than the walking animation. And you have a lot of walking in this game. This game might have been called “Snoopy Walking Simulator” or something.

And yes, there’s absolutely no music whatsoever in the game. Only some noises here and there. That’s it! The Amiga version has more sounds characteristic of the original cartoon.

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And there’s the plot. Right there!

There’s also very little animation. Apart from some characters, you hardly ever see anyone walking around. And the creepy part is that you’ll find characters throughout the game but you don’t actually see them walking. One moment they’re in one spot and the next, they’re magically transported to another spot. Which means that if you’re looking for a specific character, you need to look around almost everywhere to find them.

Luckily, the map is quite small. Just a couple of houses, the school and two more areas to the far right and left of the map.

But in a way of perhaps prolonging the game or just more laziness, Snoopy can’t carry more than one object at a time, which means you have to do a lot of backtracking in order to get an object, use it and then go back to get another object.

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And here’s Schroeder “sliding “across the street.

And the puzzles are simply get one object, find out where to use it (or with whom) to get another object and rinse and repeat. Even though there’s a time limit to finish the game, you finish it in half-hour and never touch it again. There are two ways to finish the game, but I doubt anyone will replay it to see it.

But at least the game looks nice. It was one the first DOS titles to feature VGA graphics and at least it looks as colorful as the cartoon itself.

The CDTV version had music (one track that loops continuously) and better animation and sound, even some voiceover from the cartoon, but it also has the same tedious and monotonous gameplay.

In other words, I don’t recommend it. Not even to Snoopy and Charlie Brown fans. This is probably the worst game in the Peanuts library.

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Good Grief! I simply deduce he’s playing Beethoven because there’s no music whatsoever!

Don’t believe me? The video above is of the entire gameplay! Still don’t believe me? Here, try it in your own browser!

Well, this is probably the most negative review I’ve written. But don’t worry, next week, we’ll take a look not only a better game, but also a highly influential one.

Till then, keep on playing!

The 7th Guest review

One of the biggest technological improvements made to computers in the 90s was the introduction of CD-ROMs. Their superior storage capacity enabled the introduction of CD quality music, audio and video in videogames. It also began the popularity of FMV (Full Motion Video) games, which featured for the 1st time, actual videos with actual actors in it. And although 3D graphics were introduced a few years later, voice-over acting is still a predominant part of videogames nowadays.

That’s why today’s review is dedicated to one the first FMV and CD-ROM games and perhaps the one that popularized the use of CD-ROMs as a viable media for videogames. I’m talking of course about The 7th Guest!

The 7th Guest was produced by Trilobyte and distributed by Virgin. It was released originally in 1993 for DOS and CD-i, re-released a year later for the Macintosh, in 1995 for PC-Windows and in 2010 for the iOS and recently remastered for Android.

But let’s start by taking a look at the cover:

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Just your typical calm and serene haunted house.

This cover simply screams classic horror! It looks like the poster of any horror book or movie featuring a haunted house. And the title’s lettering reinforces it.

And the Windows 95 cover isn’t too shabby either:

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But let’s boot this sucker and prepare to shake in our boots:

The intro as seen, shown as a FMV, introduces the mansion’s owner Henry Stauf (an obvious anagram) and his story from homeless man to successful toymaker through mysterious means. One night, he invites 6 distinguished guests for a night of games and puzzles, but they were never seen again.

All the guests are introduced afterwards as ghosts, each with their own musical themes, which are played every time they’re on screen or referenced.

You never actually interact with any of the ghosts; they’re simply replaying the events of that night, as in stuck in a ghostly loop.

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Why must all scary mansions have a huge staircase?

You play as Ego, as named in the manual, who suffers from amnesia and is stuck in the mansion and has no other choice but to play and solve Stauf’s puzzles.

Every room in the mansion has a puzzle waiting to be solved, but at the beginning only the library is accessible. You have to solve puzzles to open other rooms with their own puzzles to solve. Every time you enter a new room, you can watch a “ghost” scene and you’re also rewarded with another such scene almost every time you solve a puzzle.

The objective of the game is to solve all the puzzles, watch all the scenes and find out what happened to all the guests, especially the eponymous 7th “guest”.

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“I say! This rude message is making me quite transparent.”

The “ghost” scenes are played in a hilariously over the top way and although the video quality isn’t the best, you won’t have any difficulty to make out what’s happening.

The characters are all quite colorful, if a bit stereotypical. But then again the focus of the story is Stauf himself, so naturally he’s the character that gets more fleshed out.

The logic puzzles in their majority aren’t too hard, although you’ll curse some of them, like the can and the microscope puzzles. The microscope puzzle became so infamous that it was cut out from the iOS version and released as a standalone game (The 7th Guest: Infection) for iPad.

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Now, this cake I wish it was a lie!

Both Stauf and Ego will give hints to solve the puzzles and if you still need help, you can go back to the library and use the book in which you saw the intro. The 1st time you use the book; it’ll give a hint and transport you back to the puzzle. The 2nd time, it’ll explain the puzzle and the 3rd time; it’ll solve the puzzle for you. But you might miss the scene that usually plays afterwards. You can use the book all you want except for the final puzzle.

And because you can tackle the puzzles that are available in any order, the “ghost” scenes might be played out of order, but it shouldn’t be too hard to understand the storyline.

The graphics are all in SVGA, presented in pre-rendered stills. This means that all movement isn’t free as in a 3D game, but also pre-rendered in a first-person perspective. But it looks amazing for the time and the transitions are all well-animated. The shadows and lights give an eerie atmosphere suitable to a horror-themed game.

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Good thing you can access this map in the options screen.

And speaking of atmosphere, the music is top-notch. All composed by George “The Fat Man” Sanger (a famous videogame music composer), the themes are fantastic and contribute even further to the game’s atmosphere. And if you have the game in physical format, just pop the 2nd cd in your cd-player and hear the amazing soundtrack.

The menu screen is an Ouija board, in which you save or load games, return to the game, restart it, quit to DOS, or look at the map. The map is another helpful tool, because not only it shows the layout of the mansion, but also shows which rooms are open and which puzzles have been solved (light brown for unsolved and red for solved).

All the action is controlled by the mouse and the cursor in-game changes accordingly to the function: skeletal hand for navigation, skull with brain for puzzles, drama mask for “ghost” scenes, pyramid to access the menu and rattling teeth for weird, supposedly scary scenes or to open and use the several secret passages in the mansion.

The secret passages are convenient to travel around the mansion faster and sometimes the way you use them should give a hint about Ego’s nature.

But for me the game has one small flaw and I have to go to spoiler territory to explain it.

I found the ending small and a bit confusing. I had to replay a couple of times to understand it a bit. Supposedly there was going to be a bad ending if you used the library book too many times or used it on the last puzzle, in which you return to the very beginning of the game, evoking the loop in which all the ghosts of the guests are trapped. But it was cut from the final product.

And I still to this day ask about the connection between Ego and the 7th guest.

Spoilers over.

But apart from this small flaw, which is due more to nitpicking from my part, I still find the game quite enjoyable and I highly recommend it.

Yes, it’s a collection of several logic puzzles, but they’re presented in such an original way, with a great atmosphere, featuring a great soundtrack, all-encompassing in a classic horror style, that it’s impossible not to enjoy it.

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I’ve heard about touching art but this is ridiculous!

You can buy it here in GOG.com, here in Steam and the remastered version for iOS here and Android here.

And if you’re playing it on ScummVM, then try this remixed high-quality soundtrack!

The 7th Guest sold more than two million copies, which began the FMV craze and cemented its place in computer game history. The sequel, The 11th Hour, didn’t have the same success and Trilobyte came back in 2013 and made a Kickstart campaign for a third game in the series, which unfortunately wasn’t successful. But Attic Door Productions, after licensing the series from Trilobyte, ran a successful Kickstart campaign for The 13th Doll, an unofficial sequel.

Although there aren’t any remakes (remastered for the iOS and Android only), I wouldn’t mind seeing a full 3D remake, but still with the same hammy acting, with better graphics and perhaps an expanded story and new puzzles to be solved.

So that was my review of The 7th Guest. Did you like it? Write your comments below and tell me about it.

I’m preparing a very special surprise for February, so I’ll take a couple of weeks to prepare it. Tune back just before February for me to introduce it and until then keep on playing.

Don’t forget! Just like old man Stauf says: “COME BAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK”!