Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None

As more developers begin to drag their old games from earlier in the decade and re-release them to the Wii, the question of what standards you apply to a ported game becomes a serious question. What is reasonable for a developer to do and what should be considered gratuitous? How much do we expect the precise gaming experience to be recreated on the Wii? The Adventure Company’s Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None, based on the novel by Agatha Christie, faithfully ports a decent but flawed adventure game while doing so in a manner that raises questions about porting titles in general.

What do you expect someone who has a finished game and is dragging it onto a console to do, really? Should the graphics be improved? As fond as someone might be of creating a super HD version of Monkey Island, I imagine most fans would prefer the original graphics if only for the nostalgia. If you want the game to have better graphics, just go ahead and remake it. Should they make new content? Although it would be nice to think such things are feasible, financially that might not be the case.

Do we then at least expect them to fix the flaws that were originally in the game? It is precisely there that an interesting line gets drawn because the concept of patching or improving video games is already something most people are accustomed to. Why shouldn’t a game’s port at least remove things that were flawed in the original game? It arguably depends on how expensive it is to fix the problem, but it seems reasonable to keep that as an expectation in reviewing a port. If there was something wrong with the game when it first came out, why not solve it when taking the time to design it for a console?

The first place to start is with the controls, and since this is an adventure game they translate relatively easily. You point and click with the Wii-mote. The action icon changes depending on what you’re hovering over, whether it be walk, pick-up, or examine. This is a tried & true method and it would’ve worked fine except for one little problem: the game never tells you what the cursor is over. When the narrator is announcing what he’s examining it’s not an issue, but that’s only if the look cursor pops up. Whenever you’re picking up items up all you know is that there is something you can pocket. Rather than at least announce what you just grabbed, you have to flip open your inventory and glance through it. During the port, they could’ve had the decency to label this stuff with a simple text appearing anytime the cursor goes over it. Instead, I’m constantly jarred out of the game as I flip through inventory and wonder why the hell I’m carrying a ladder. It was a cheap and easy opportunity to fix the flow in the game and they didn’t.

What they added instead were a couple of what can only be described as Wii-gesture puzzles. They flash a graphic in front of you and you figure out what gesture will solve it. A bold idea, even workable in some games (like Zak & Wiki), but the reason it works there is because it’s a physical puzzle. The game lets you experiment, and it depicts your trial & error so that you can see what you’re doing wrong. That game also is teaching you a set of physical skills that you know how to use and apply when situations present themselves. In this game, either the graphic is responding to your actions or nothing is happening. There’s no feedback on what’s working until you stumble upon it, and all of these sections of the game can be beaten easily enough, but given the other chances for improvement they had it’s kind of annoying that they even bothered. If you’re going to port something, at least spend any extra cash you have on fixing game flaws before you add new content.

Graphically, I don’t particularly mind this game and I don’t think the average adventure game fan will, either. The graphics aren’t great but they get the point across. True, they’re wooden even by 2005’s standards but I can’t help but wonder what character emotions in video games aren’t. As soon as you ask a video game to animate something that isn’t 1) a steroid-popping space marine and 2) doesn’t consist of being angry or excited, you pretty much always encounter this barrier. Fear, excitement, subtle irritation, love, and all the other emotional nuances that are prevalent in a murder mystery are tough to animate. The fact that it barely enters the Uncanny Valley of realistic facial expressions rather than being knee deep in it seems of little consequence. It’s not going to look right either way. The rest of the game’s setup is shown via static 3-D images that do the job but don’t really have any sense of artistry either. A lot of the scenery looks the same, and considering you spend the entire game walking around the house and island, they could’ve pushed things a bit. But I don’t really expect that to happen in a port either.

Enough of the trivial bullshit, lets talk about what really matters for the average person looking to buy a Wii adventure game. Is the plot any good? Yes…it’s a very good adaptation of the book. It draws heavy influence from Christie’s adaptation for the theatre and the movie, adds an eleventh character, and successfully re-constructs the narrative to have a new villain (just for kicks, it lets you see the book’s original ending as well).

The game creates the vivid experience of speaking with a large group of people in slow denial about their circumstances. Each of the ten victims first makes every excuse possible about their impending deaths. The first two murders are both written off as suicide, and every time you interview a character or progress the plot, people initially persist in this notion. But as the body count keeps getting higher people are finally forced to acknowledge that one of them is the killer. How do these people confront the reality of death made so dramatic and inevitable? Each character has their own poignant reaction: alcohol, religion, acceptance, misguided perseverance, and even relying on the protection of others. The writers poke a very large hole in the fourth wall of this scenario by adding you as an eleventh character, and through sheer deft skill of writing manage to keep it together. By doing so, they allow you witness a great time-tested inter-personal drama while trying to solve a thrilling murder mystery. After all, what else is life except finding out who will die next and trying to figure it out before it happens to you?

The game does have other flaws. The puzzles are a bit goofy, the flow of picking up items, using them, and understanding what to do next gets choppy at times. There are even a couple of puzzles that, after solving them, don’t seem to really do anything. But at some point, particularly with a ported game, you have to lighten up and accept that not too much can be changed without altering the very game some people were looking for to begin with. This is an entertaining mystery adventure game and it’s out on the Wii. Outside of a couple of problems, it works fairly well, and at the very least, will provide an adult experience for the console. May there be plenty more where this came from.

RATING 6 / 10