Point-and-click adventure games were the bread and butter of my earliest gaming experiences. Sure, I spent plenty of time shooting zombies in Resident Evil and sneaking past terrorists in Metal Gear Solid, but I’ve always been a lover of stories first and foremost, and adventure games are all about the story. You could almost get away with calling them interactive novels if it weren’t for the fact that those are completely different things.
The Blackwell Bundle comprises four separate games: The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, The Blackwell Convergence, and The Blackwell Deception. They’re short on their own, but when played one after the other they feel like a full game, and it’s well worth it for the $14.99 price tag.
The overarching story’s main protagonist is Rosa Blackwell, who you take control of in all but Blackwell Unbound. Rosa is a writer living in New York City who discovers she’s also a Medium, so she’s basically me… if I lived in New York… and had supernatural powers. Okay, maybe we only have the writing thing in common. What I’m trying to say is that I both relate to her and want to be like her. She’s a kickass character, sharp and driven and brimming with sarcasm. She could be anyone at first glance, but she has a well of depth under the surface that’s impressive considering the modest length of these games.
As a Medium, Rosa’s job is to free lost souls and send them on their way to the afterlife, and it’s literally a job. She has a public listing and clients and everything, like a spiritual P.I. She also has a coworker of sorts, a spirit guide named Joey Mallone, who died sometime during the 1930s in a spiffy suit. Being a Medium is a gig that’s passed down through generations, which means Joey also guided Rosa’s grandmother and aunt before her. It also means he knows more about the Blackwell family than Rosa realizes. In Blackwell Unbound, you get a glimpse into Rosa’s chain-smoking aunt Lauren’s life as you play through a couple of her cases in the ’70s, and you see firsthand how much Joey knows and cares about the Blackwells.
Joey helps Rosa navigate her new life as a Medium, and you get to step into his, uh, nonexistent shoes during a good portion of the series. He’s basically stuck to Rosa by an invisible tether, which annoys her about as much as you’d imagine at first, but the banter between these two is one of the best parts of the series. They become more than mere colleagues, but “friends” isn’t the right word. It’s more like they form a profound bond through not only being attached at the hip but also experiencing the ways death and grief can fracture people’s lives. It’s deep stuff, and it proves that a story can be told through any medium—including a good old point-and-click—as long as it’s good enough.
The graphics change slightly with each game, but they remain nostalgically VGA, a throwback to the heyday of adventure games when Monkey Island and Sam & Max ruled my life. The series’ retro charm is part of its appeal, but it never feels outdated, mostly because it’s insanely well-written. Wadjet Eye Games has done a fantastic job of helping revive an arguably dying genre, injecting it with humor and three-dimensional characters. I would easily watch a Blackwell TV series. Somebody needs to get on that.
I’d play the bundle for the writing and atmosphere alone, but the puzzles round it out to a full package of success. They feel seamless, never getting in the way of immersion, and they advance the story in interesting ways. They’re also just challenging enough without being frustrating. Deception is easily the best in this area with improved gameplay mechanics, such as the use of Rosa’s cell phone, and longer playtime providing more variation.
Voice acting is included in the entire series, but I played with the speech turned off, partially because I wanted the old-school experience of having to read the dialogue but also because the voice acting left something to be desired. The somewhat flat voice acting is actually my only real complaint about the entire series, but it’s a non-issue since the option to turn it off is easily accessible.
I highly recommend The Blackwell Bundle for those who don’t mind a more casual gaming experience and are looking for an engaging story. Even if point-and-click adventures usually bore you, you might want to pick this one up anyway just for the story. The Blackwell Bundle is the equivalent of curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee on a rainy day.