Murderous Mystery Tour
You receive a strange letter from a relative that says you have inherited a mansion in a faraway place. No, this is not Luigi’s Mansion, but rather its spiritual successor, Ava’s Manor. You play as struggling mystery writer Ava. While redecorating her great uncle’s mansion, she hopes to solve the mystery behind his disappearance.
From Uken Games, Ava’s Manor combines a classic mystery story with a unique mix of Solitaire and interior decorating. The slow-burn mystery plot of this game was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the intrusive nature of the gameplay and a constant wave of unnecessary promotions kept me from enjoying it.
The central gameplay of Ava’s Manor is a card minigame that is loosely based on Solitaire. Winning the game earns you stars that you use to do tasks around the manor and advance the story. The card game has nothing to do at all with the actual story, it’s just a weird thing you have to do.
Basically, there’s a huge pile of cards you have to get rid of using the deck of cards in your hand. You draw a card from your deck to match with one from the pile. A match is when two cards are next to each other in numerical order (5 matches with 4 or 6 for example).You win if you get rid of all the cards in the pile before running out of cards in your deck. You can chain matches together to form streaks, win bonuses, or use boosters to make it easier. It’s kind of like solitaire, but not quite. Solitaire is intuitive and satisfying. This game not as much, but I still had fun with it.
The premise of Ava’s Manor intrigued me before I even downloaded the app. I love mystery stories, and I think one made out of a wacky phone game would be the perfect way to decompress during a year of [insert randomly generated awful current event]. Best case scenario, I would be sucked into a corny murder mystery that could keep me entertained for a day or two. Now I can guarantee there is a corny murder mystery within this game, but it won’t suck you in.
The Clues Don’t Match Up
First, as I mentioned before, the solitaire minigame has no connection to the story. Normally I don’t mind when the gameplay and the story don’t match up, but the story progresses so slowly. It’s hard to immerse yourself in it when you keep getting dragged into playing solitaire every ten seconds.
There’s many different relaxation modes. Sometimes you just want to conk out on the couch and watch bad television for a couple hours. Other times you’re a little more wired and want to be on your phone, swiping inconsequentially. That’s the problem with Ava’s Manor; neither of these relaxation methods work when they’re constantly alternating and interrupting each other.
Another problem is the transactional nature of the game. The usual purchases thrown at you are upgrades and boosts that allow you to get higher scores or beat the game faster. I’ve mostly become numb to that stuff, but Ava’s Manor takes it too far. One of the microtransactional resources is hearts. They’re like lives, and you need them to play the levels. When you run out of hearts, you can’t keep playing until they regenerate in 11 hours. This means that if you keep losing at the game, you don’t get to play unless you pay. I don’t mind games where the difficulty is arbitrary. That’s kind of how it is in actual solitaire, since you can’t control how the deck shuffles out. But if losing means I stop playing, I would rather it be based on skill.
Every time you load up the game you have to click through four or five plus windows of asinine crap like how you’re faring in the online leagues of this game or promotional events and offers for different holidays. Which leads me to my next point: why does this game, essentially a card minigame tacked onto a visual novel, need things like an online league or seasonal promotions? Someone had to write the story of this game and the dialogue. And it’s pretty long, so that was no small feat. There’s even full voice-acting and a couple cutscenes. The art style is a little generic, but this still looks like a game that someone put a little heart into, or at least had a lot of fun making. I would have been fine paying two or three dollars for this game if they had taken out all of the other stuff.
Unfortunately a big studio like Uken Games recognizes that they can make more money putting out a free game with tons of in-app purchases. I know microtransactions are slowly taking over our lives, but it’s ominous that they’re bleeding over into the realm of visual novels, and other games driven by story. Will one day all our entertainment consumption be regulated by arbitrarily difficult solitaire minigames? I hope not.
The real killer was microtransactions. But that’s not a mystery to anyone at this point, right?