Covering The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, Blackwell Convergence and Blackwell Deception, so there won’t be any spoilers unless you’ve bought any of the games without so much as looking at the cover art or reading the description.
The overall idea of the series is this: the women in the Blackwell family — or at least the latest three — are psychics who help dead spirits cross over to the next realm with the help of a spirit guide named Joey. Most of the games are set in the present day, featuring Rosangela (Rosa) Blackwell, but Blackwell Unbound features Lauren, Rosa’s aunt.
The games are all old-school styled adventure games, so they’ve all got a low resolution. If modern HD graphics are your thing… the Blackwell games probably aren’t really going to be that appealing visual-wise, but I love them just the way they are. I know part of it is nostalgia because this the look I grew up with (except updated), but there’s also something about the art that just… says “made with love and care” that modern graphics doesn’t. It’s a bit like the difference between a 2D animated movie and a 3D one. I know the latter isn’t necessarily less intensive — probably more, actually — but the computer rendering is far more visibly involved for me.
I love the commentary mode on Wadjet Eye Games. It’s a really fun way to replay the game and listening to the developer’s thoughts and some of the voice acting bloopers. You really, really want to play the games through without the commentary tracks at least once, though, because there’ll be spoilers aplenty. One of the things that stood out to me in the commentary was this one screen commentary on a puzzle.
It’s from Blackwell Deception and the main thrust of the commentary is this: this puzzle was really hard for players, even though the solution is how they’d (instinctually) solve the puzzle if it happened to them in real life. Yes, it’s something that could happen to you in real life and it was this bemusing moment where something that makes perfect sense in our daily lives became a really hard and almost illogical way to solve a puzzle in a game.
What stood out for me with that comment was that I’d been that player in my first playthrough. I was stumped how to solve the dratted puzzle until it was pointing out to me and then there was this “Well, d’uh!” moment. In my case, part of the issue was probably that I’d forgotten the part that clues you in on where to look for the puzzle in the first place, never mind that it needed solving, so it’s not quite the experience Gilbert was describing. It still resonated, though, and I’m curious to see whether that disconnect is something that affects all gamers equally or mostly just ones familiar with older games. It’s something I’ve noticed as a pattern in all four games as well as Primordia is that my brain just will not jump to something that, in hindsight, is probably the first thing I would’ve tried if I’d been the protagonist. I don’t always react that way, but often enough for me to notice that I do think about game situations differently.
Anyway, I’ve had a wonderful time playing all of the games. I initially picked them up because I absolutely loved Abe Goldfarb as Crispin in Primordia. (I seem to have officially become that person who plays games because of the actors in them. I’d say “Oh dear”, but I really enjoyed the acting in these games.) I did have some trepidation that I wouldn’t be able to hear Joey as anyone but Crispin, considering how close my playthroughs were timewise, but I had no trouble keeping the voice apart at all. (Although there’s been a couple of bloopers where my brain went “Crispin!” and I amused myself.)
Altogether, including replays, at the time of this writing, the game time I spent on each combined is… about 12-13 hours give or take. They’re not particularly long games to play unless you get really, really stuck. The worst I got stuck was during Blackwell Unbound, I think, because I’d forgotten a few things and didn’t realise asking about the same topic multiple times would yield new information. Probably not one of my brightest moments that, but I never claimed to have any, I think, so that’s all right. ^-~ I like how each of the games has been laid out storywise, even though they’ve been quite a bit shorter than I’d expected. I thought I’d spent longer on them. I think it’s a combination of the tight storytelling, the pacing and the way the puzzles are all divided into clear arcs or sections. You’ve got a real sense of progress as well as depth from them as everything you do follows from one to the other or offers overlapping gameplay. If you get stuck on one ghost/puzzle, you can move on to the other for a while.
I really liked the interaction between Rosa and Joey, as well as what we got to see of Lauren and Joey in Blackwell Unbound. That said, the first two games were definitely the weakest for me. I didn’t mind the infodumping in The Blackwell Legacy, though Dave Gilbert’s commentary suggests he’d write it differently if he made the game today, but it worked for me as I felt it suited the situation. I did find it a little too… straightforward, I think. I keep wanting to say ‘linear’, but that’s not what I’m going for at all. It starts off fairly game-y (which Gilbert recognises in the commentary; and have I mentioned yet how much I love the commentary?) and I wish we’d seen Rosa struggle a bit more with Joey’s appearance in her life. But the game itself is a really nice introduction to the series. Blackwell Unbound… I felt suffered a little from the way its plot was handled. It all comes together in the end and it works, but… it still felt a little clumsy and contrived to me. :/ It lacked a bit of cohesion before the final reveal for me. I haven’t replayed it yet, so hopefully that’ll change on a replay when I know how the story fits together.
Speaking of how the story fits together, I love Rosa’s emails and the way characters from previous games pop up briefly either as characters or as email notes. It’s a great way to add a little life to the world if you want to seek it out and it really ties the games together into a unit because there’s a tangible (if slightly spoilerish) connection between the latest game and the previous ones.
Blackwell Deception is my favourite, I think, though it’s a close tie with Convergence. Deception, for me, easily has the best story of the four, but I think Convergence has a bit more meat to its puzzles for me. It’s a tough call. Story probably wins out as I’m writing this and I did opt to replay Deception before Convergence and I picked my replays based on how badly I wanted to reacquaint myself with the game and its plot. I think it’s that, with Deception, we get a hint of a bigger plot as well as learning a little more about Joey. Keeping him all mysterious for three games is… Well, it’s mysterious, I’ll grant it that, but it does mean that it feels like we learn very little about Joey and it made the characters, who are a team, feel very unbalanced because we learn a fair bit about Rosa. (And, also, learning more about what made Joey the person/ghost he is helps him come alive more as a character.) And I really, really like that this comes paired with a change for Rosa too. It’s just a tiny, tiny detail and so far I’ve yet to actually notice it consciously when it happens, but I really like that Gilbert combined those two in one game. For me that was just really effective and the two enhanced each other to create a lot of momentum.
I’ll be looking forward to playing the next (and projected last) game in the series as I’ve enjoyed these games immensely.