Old is boring in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor

Melanie’s father retired recently, and he’s already itching to get back to work, to occupy his time and his brain. I’m sure this is fairly common. You work and work and work, inching your way to a place where you no longer need to work–and find yourself lost. I myself don’t know if I’ll ever retire because I just can’t imagine my daily life with nothing to do each and every day. Sure, sure, I’d love to fill up that time with drawing and writing and being a creative fountain with unlimited high water pressure, but I suspect I’d somehow still feel real guilty about it. That said, if I do retire, I think one of the first things I’ll do is finally set about my mighty PopTarts-tasting adventure, wherein I try every flavor ever made; in fifty years or so, I expect there to be at least a hundred new flavors.

Anyways, all of that intro is to say that Donald Dowell, the central, almost-bald and definitely bored figure in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor, is also ready to get back to work. He’s in his eighties, and his reasons include being uninterested and to get away from his, so he says, intolerable wife. Unfortunately, not many people are hiring, and they certainly aren’t looking for a man of his age. He spends many hours knocking on doors and asking for jobs before he finds a potential gig: ghostbusting. Bob Delano, the most famous occult detective in all of Ireland, is looking for an assistant, and Donald’s first gig is investigating what is happening at the mysterious Barker Manor.

Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor is an old point-and-click adventure game made recently, only a few years ago. Lemme see here: it was released in December 2013. It’s designed to be more old school in terms of gameplay, graphics, sound, and so on, and that’s perfectly fine. At least it isn’t driven by verbs, though you still have to click use door if you want to try and open it. Some may be put off on its retro tone alone, but I found its look intriguing enough to start clicking. However, I quickly discovered that not everything was to my liking, which, for a free download, is not a huge loss, but I still feel like I need to get these thoughts down and out of my brain before I can move on to something else. So here we go…

First and foremost, there’s a malicious coating to everything that Donald says about his wife. These constant putdowns are unnecessary and disappointing, as “being old” is not an excuse to treat someone with such disdain. It really is upsetting and doesn’t make him the slightest bit likable from the word go. There’s also a fair amount of repetition, both in jokes and puzzles; for example, in the opening scene, Karl allows Donald to go into his bathroom twice and clog up the toilet in the exact same manner without raising an eyebrow about the old geezer’s motives. This is done so the player can solve a puzzle, but doesn’t hold up through the narrative. There’s also a lot of fourth wall-breaking, which normally doesn’t bother me, considering I enjoy things like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and being god in Drawn to Life, but here it just feels out of place and uninspired.

However, the biggest snag I’ve hit so far in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor is the kind of thing that I fear in every point-and-click adventure game I play–it opens up too fast. I believe this also happened rather quickly in the second part of Broken Age. Anyways, basically after playing the intro scene, which had you, at most, examining items in two locations with one sole to speak with, you are transported to Barker Manor–cue the lightning and thunder crash joke–wherein you are suddenly able to visit a handful of new locations immediately, all with people in them to talk to, items to examine, and things to interact with. I can’t count for you, but I feel like there were more new areas to explore than I have fingers. It’s overwhelming. The game is non-linear and doesn’t provide a good sense of direction in terms of quests or plot. There’s also no map, so once you travel all the way to one end of the manor’s grounds, you need to slowly retrace your steps, scene by scene, to head back. I think double-clicking to move to a new location in more modern point-and-click games has ruined my patience for these slow-burners.

That said, I really do like the art direction in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor. It’s cartoony and colorful, with characters that stand out and instantly have unique personalities, which is important to get since there is no voice acting. And, despite probably not catching every reference out there, the call-outs to things like Monkey Island, Broken Sword, and Day of the Tentacle are plenty and enjoyable, as are the many mentions of famous historical and fictional people. The music is all right, but begins to lose its fun after repeating several times, especially when you realize you have to listen to it as you cross the manor’s grounds yet again to see if that person at the far end of the river has anything else to say now that you picked up some dentures you stole from manor’s manager as he was distracted.

I really really hate abandoning games unfinished, but I’m just not feeling this one to want to see it all the way through. Especially not when I know there’s a laundry list of other point-and-click adventure games in my collection still to try, such as Yesterday, Oxenfree, Grim Fandango Remastered, and so on. Good luck, Donald, with your anti-retirement plans and catching them ghosts. Do try to be nicer to the people in your life.

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