There aren’t many games that can claim to have helped push an industry standard, but according to some claims, The 7th Guest helped to popularize the CD drive for home computers before you could find them built into most devices. This was back when many video games still found their homes in arcade cabinets or on cartridges, so this CD game with a mysterious air and a new graphical style could conceivably help sell people on the utility of the format and the driver needed to read it. However, we often see games like these that introduce new graphical styles or push hardware losing their luster over time, and while The 7th Guest certainly has a few dated aspects to it, they thankfully don’t detract too much from the actual game experience.
The tale of The 7th Guest is a strange one, but it pulls you in with the mystery of trying to figure out what is even going on. A former drifter turned rich toymaker by the name of Henry Stauf has built an imposing mansion around the same time that children who own his toys have come down ill. Locking himself in his mansion, Stauf invites only six guests to come visit, promising any who can solve his puzzles and unravel the mystery of the mansion their greatest desire. However, there is a 7th guest, and as a new arrival to the mansion, it is on the player to discover what happened to the six guests, who the 7th guest is, and unravel the puzzles and mystery as well. The mansion is definitely a large and imposing place to search, with many rooms to work through and scenes to uncover. After the puzzle in a room is complete, a story-relevant scene will show visions of the past, the story of the six guests unfolding as we see their motivations and how they dealt with the challenge Stauf had put forward for them. Admittedly, the game’s acting can be downright goofy at times and some scenes are more than a little confusing, but the live-action actors do a fairly good job at conveying their story and personality, and it is a bit charming that the game isn’t taking itself too seriously while still managing to keep an air of grim mystery. Quite interestingly, due to how the game is structured, you are not guaranteed to see the scenes in sequential order, meaning you may see parts of a guest’s story from various parts of the timeline. The game does try to keep you progressing through the story in a somewhat structured manner, but it helped to make it feel like an investigation was gradually building by finding certain pieces of the puzzle out of order. Things certainly get weird at many points, but it’s a solid base for the gameplay and manages to be interesting enough to drive progress forward.
Some of the game’s longevity certainly comes from the choice in gameplay. The 7th Guest is a puzzle game pure and simple, with the player’s interaction with the world involving navigation of a creepy mansion to find more of them to complete. Almost every room has one puzzle in it to solve, as well as the occasional shortcut to other rooms or object you can interact with to see a short animation. Almost every puzzle in the game serves as a fine challenge for the player, calling upon thoughtful problem-solving to figure out puzzles both familiar and unique. The game does do a pretty decent job of giving you hints for most of them, with either the player character or the game’s villain either stating the rules of the challenge or giving hints through phrases with double meanings. That doesn’t mean every puzzle is well conveyed though, but at the same time, the puzzles where the hints are withheld almost hinge on the player’s ability to figure out what they’re even meant to be doing. Once you do figure out the rules behind these kinds of puzzles, they usually reveal themselves to be quite easy to complete from there. There are creative puzzles like the cake and telescope puzzles, but sometimes the game does indulge in old standbys, whipping out a slide puzzle and a maze in quick succession. Thankfully, the slide puzzle is small and simple enough that it doesn’t play into the many woes other games face when they include them, and the maze does not require blind bumbling due to a hint you can find in another room. For the most part though, even across multiple chess puzzles and weird spelling puzzles, the game manages to achieve a pretty good balance of providing mindbending challenges without requiring obtuse thinking or outside help.
Some puzzles do stretch the limits of what a game should really ask of the player though, such as memorizing 18 key presses slowly doled out like a game of Simon that can’t be done incorrectly or the player needs to start again, or the microscope “puzzle” that abandons any pretense of being a puzzle and just has the player play a game with the computer that the computer has near perfect AI to handle. The late game puzzles are a weak coda to the fairly good design near the start, but I learned afterwards there is apparently a way to skip certain puzzles. First of all, the microscope puzzle, now infamous to The 7th Guest players, is entirely optional, and other puzzles that can hold up a player can be skipped by way of the library if need be. The game does do a fairly good job of laying out multiple rooms the player can access at one time so you can do other puzzles if one is holding you up too much, but the library contains hints on how to solve them or can be used to skip hard puzzles entirely if need be, although you won’t get the scene you would have got if you had solved it legitimately. Still, even having the option is a fine compromise, and it can help alleviate one issue with The 7th Guest in general… it’s slow.
Besides puzzle-solving, 7th Guest has the player navigating the mansion to find the next challenge, but the entirety of the game is controlled through a cursor. Navigation can be clunky and slow-paced because of this, as you must click on the proper area of the screen to advance and then a pre-set path is taken that takes its time completing. If you need to get from one area of the house to another, it can be a bit of a process, but the game did put in a few shortcuts to help you get around more quickly, although I usually found them by accident and it put me somewhere I didn’t want to be with no way back besides the slow walk. The nature of the mansion also has it where many places are locked that only unlock as you make progress, but the game doesn’t really give any indication which places are now accessible and that can add to meandering about as well. Thankfully, the map will tell you quite a bit about which rooms you’ve completed and which ones are open, but there are cases where you might have to do something strange like revisit the seemingly completed library to trigger the next areas to unlock. The navigation is the real antiquated part of The 7th Guest, even though its graphics sometimes show their age as well, the designers smartly had an excuse for the quality of the live-action actors being poor through the scenes being portrayed as fuzzy visions of the past.
The mouse cursor can take a bit of getting used to as well, as the game makes it into a skeleton hand that can be a bit hard to read or position right. Despite looking like its tapping on most everything, it’s actually usually waving its finger “no” to say you can’t click on that area, but it at least visually changes when you find something to click on of interest. Sometimes though, the things of interest aren’t too obvious, but if you sweep the screen with your cursor you’ll usually find what you need to find. The slowness does crop up its ugly head when you play the puzzles though, as even if you’ve figured them out, sometimes the actions you take are done incredibly slowly. For example, the many chess puzzles have the piece moving process take an unusually long time, dragged out even more as sometimes the action stops as either the player character or Stauf decide to freeze time to utter a quip. This gets most egregious in puzzles where you need to restart repeatedly, as the characters often repeat their lines or lay out the rules no matter how many times you’ve tried the puzzle. While I do appreciate the hints and even the chides from Stauf, they would have been far better done in real time so as not to drag out the experience. Thankfully, the puzzle design manages to make up for many of the failings of design. There are quite a few puzzles that are likely to stump you for a while before everything begins to click, and a few even restrict you from wrong moves or restart a doomed configuration just to prevent you from getting stuck on them forever. While the incidental details dampen certain parts of the experience, they’re is enough good stuff in place that those small flaws aren’t deal breakers.
THE VERDICT: While I doubt I’d buy a CD-ROM drive just to play a game like The 7th Guest, it does have a certain understandable appeal to it that makes it a worthy buy in the days of digital distribution. With a fine collection of creative and challenging puzzles available, the few duds in the group aren’t enough to hold the game back, and the few duds can even be skipped if they end up being too frustrating. The 7th Guest has some wonderful puzzles to figure out that have the proper amount of hints and structure to make them possible without making them too easy, with most of them giving that feeling of satisfaction after everything has locked into place. The reward of the gradually revealed mystery of Stauf manor and the 7th guest only make finishing the puzzles even more appealing. It could have certainly done with speeding up basic actions though, making navigation more fluid, and the microscope game has no real place among a set of puzzles that normally test logic and memory. Still, if you can acclimate yourself to these bumps in the road, The 7th Guest has a lot of enjoyable brain teasers on offer.
And so, I give The 7th Guest for PC…
A GOOD rating. For fans of proper mind-bending puzzles, the 7th Guest has many new and familiar challenges to overcome. Some may be solved the moment they click in your head, while others require careful planning and complex thought to conquer. They do rarely deviate into formulas that can be chores due to the game’s slow nature, or in the case of the microscope game, its unfairly tipped against the player’s favor, but the majority of them are well-designed logic puzzles and the story helps keep things from being simple problem solving. Cheesy at parts and deliberately so without sacrificing all of the haunting atmosphere, The 7th Guest manages to even make its story a bit of an interesting puzzle, although this one will give you its answer eventually even if you don’t put all of its pieces together mentally.
If you’re looking for a set of interesting tests for your brain, you’ll likely enjoy a visit to the Stauf mansion.