'MacGuffin's Curse' Does One Thing, and It Does It Relentlessly

by Ken Hannahs

22 April 2012

A no-holds-barred sliding block puzzle game with a lot of guts, a lot of funny, and more content than it knows what to do with.
cover art

MacGuffin's Curse

US: 19 Apr 2012

In 1939, Alfred Hitchcock gave a lecture at Columbia University in which he defined a MacGuffin as “the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace.” The folks over at Brawsome seem to have taken that line to heart, making a game that revolves around the Lupine Twine Amulet. Lucas MacGuffin is the unwitting protagonist in the story, and acquiring the necklace sets up a series of events that range from the ludicrous to the genuinely evocative, with a fair number of degrees in between.

The basics of the story involve the player taking on the role of a small-time crook tasked with stealing an amulet from a museum by the baggy-eyed and balding landlord, Harvey Filkes, who is equal parts Benjamin Coffin III and Ebenezer Scrooge.  Once stolen, the city enters lockdown, and the only way to get from place to place is to reattach batteries that power the metal doors that stop you from moving forward. Oh, and the stolen amulet has essentially grafted itself to you and gives you lycanthropic abilities.  Now, in a city run by a nefarious arbiter with a bone to pick with Lucas and a host of other people who need his help, MacGuffin must find some way to resolve his predicament.

I beat MacGuffin’s Curse in approximately 11 hours, though at times it felt like much more. The game does one thing, and it does that one thing relentlessly. Near the end, there is some manner of respite by running around to the various characters to compete various delivery quests, but for the vast majority of the time that I spent in the game, I was sliding boxes of various sorts, swimming in inexplicably deep pools of water, closing doors, pressing buttons, and pulling levers, all in the name of putting batteries on their respective D/C switches.

The game is unapologetic, requiring the player to solve in some cases ten sliding block puzzles before getting to the next objective. It is, in many ways, a selling point and a detriment that can be genuinely fascinating, and at other times, incredibly frustrating. The best way that I have come to appreciate MacGuffin’s Curse is to see it as a curio that you can return to again and again that you can appreciate without needing to be heavily involved in it. In fact, if you play this game too much in one sitting, you’re never going to want to play it again.

The puzzles are good and fun, the writing is usually pretty good, the story is simple but serviceable. However, I think that my biggest hang up here is the sheer length of the game. While it is a commendable trait that a game such as MacGuffin’s Curse can provide such a deep pool of content, attacking the player with 12 hours of block puzzles that remain essentially unchanged after the four hour mark turns this game into a slog around the eight hour mark.  To put this into perspective, I compared the time that it took me to complete Portal and Portal 2 with the time that MacGuffin’s Curse required to beat, and MacGuffin’s Curse is actually longer than both of these games.  Combined.

To some—perhaps to most, even—this may be considered a positive quality. Given the price, getting more than twelve hours of play time smacks of a good deal, but when only being entertained by these sliding block puzzles and some pithy lines of dialogue about every object (of varying degrees of funny and effort), I am left with an unsettling feeling that after about the seven hour mark that I had had enough of this game. I get what they were trying to do, but neither the story, the aesthetics, nor the puzzle dynamics lend themselves to a 12-plus-hour game.

I found the puzzles to be largely rewarding, though there were a fair number that also felt like a chore rather than giving me that good feeling of catharsis that a good puzzle provides. For example, because of the dynamics of pushing and pulling blocks, there will be more than a few cases in which the only way to move a block will be to push it one tile forward, only to then find yourself having to then move it through a labyrinthine set of corridors, only then to find your way to the other side of the block again, so that you can finally pull it forward one more tile, and then repeating the process over and over. Of course, then you realize that because you closed one door too soon, you will have to restart the entire process. Surely, these problems are born from the genre, but messing up a puzzle was enough to drive me to cursing MacGuffin’s lupine form for at times being so goddamn awkward.

With this in mind, I would be remiss to not mention perhaps the most effective element of the game, which is something that I’m not entirely sure was planned, but nonetheless was the highlight of my experience.  Throughout the game, you collect treasure, and the only thing to do with this treasure is to buy furnishings for your squalorous apartment. And the only person to buy these furnishings from is the aforementioned terrible landlord.  This actualized a real sense of powerlessness within me and in many ways encapsulated what it is like to be poor.  Everything that you make goes straight into the hands of MacGuffin’s Scrooge.  At the end of the game, the victor is ostensibly Harvey Filkes.

If played in small segments, this game can be very enjoyable. I could see myself going back into Feyre to tackle those puzzles that I skipped during my playthrough. Knowing that there is still more things that I haven’t seen in the game is still something that is alluring to me, although not right now.

MacGuffin's Curse


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