Point-and-click adventures were the bread and butter of my earliest gaming experiences. I spent plenty of time killing zombies in Resident Evil and breaking boxes in Crash Bandicoot, but I’ve always been a lover of stories first and foremost, and adventure games are all about a good narrative. You could almost get away with calling them interactive novels if it weren’t for the fact that those are completely different things. Wadjet Eye Games’ Blackwell series is one of the more compelling stories I’ve run across in an adventure game, taking me back to my childhood days while tapping into the unavoidable existentialism of my adult life.
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. 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, and 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. They form a profound bond through not only being attached at the hip but also experiencing the ways in which death and grief can fracture people’s lives. It’s deep stuff, and it proves that a meaningful story can be told through any medium—including good ol’ 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 voicework left something to be desired. It’s not terrible, just somewhat flat, but it’s also a non-issue since the option to turn it off is easily accessible.
I highly recommend The Blackwell Bundle for old school adventure fans, those who don’t mind a more casual gaming experience, or anyone who’s simply looking for an engaging story. The Blackwell Bundle is the equivalent of curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee on a rainy day.