MacGuffin's Curse: Head-Scratching Puzzles, Story Driven Tail Wagging
What do you give an out of work magician whose lady has left him while living in a town that monitors everything people do with camera equipped trees? Most would say a ticket to somewhere else, perhaps even a job on a Cruise Ship. Not so for the ladies and gents over at Brawsome, who decided that the best thing was to curse him with the ability to always know that the wet dog smell is likely from his latest werewolf transformation.
My introduction to Lucas MacGuffin, a former stage magician, is as I steer him to stealing an amulet that in turn ends up cursing him with the ability to turn into a werewolf. Not the kind that blindly attacks anyone in sight, but the type that’s good at moving heavy crates and intimidating biker gang members. With the purloined cursed amulet stuck around his neck, Lucas’ past and future begins to unfold as I work to remove the curse. A journey that takes me through the city of Feyre, meeting those who have me doing as much as they can get out of me in order to remove the curse and in the process serve their own needs.
As a puzzler, Curse shakes off the desire to do too much, taking a more minimalistic approach while still keeping it fun and challenging. Each room is a seven by nine room with the primary goal in each one being to get from the entrance to one or more exits. Placed in the path of my goal in each room are some of the most basic of impediments that made Lucas’ human and newly gained furry side work harder than one would expect. Certain impediments can only be traversed or managed when in human form, such as activating security panels, opening and closing doors, swimming across water, and even slipping through windows; and others only when in werewolf form, such as moving large crates and destroying piles of debris. Switching between the two, though, requires a beam of moonlight, sometimes becoming one of the more difficult puzzle assets to manage as I found myself limited in my ability to change from one form to the other at the right time.
Putting this all together makes traversing a room a matter of figuring out the ways and proper order in which you need to interact with the objects in the room. As simple as the puzzles in the game are designed, I still found that there were rooms where I envisioned the developers having a good laugh at my own expense as I over thought one element or overlooked the simplicity of another. I also often found myself in a position of having done something that prevented me from solving the puzzle, but resetting the room was as easy as leaving and reentering. This design of simple rules in a limited space with the ability to try and retry left a feeling that no matter how complex the puzzle would get, I wasn’t being locked into a point where I would have to repeat anything beyond the current room and the flexibility to try and retry aided in figuring out all of the intricacies of a room without feeling forced to look for help.
While the simple and yet challenging puzzles of MacGuffin’s Curse make for an enjoyable time, what sells the game, though, is its atmosphere and storytelling. Combining quirky characters with a well-written story intending to be more whimsical than serious that gradually unfolds through your actions and items found around town. The cast of characters tend to personify the strange city of Feyre and their feelings towards one Alphonse, a man who we come to find out has his hands in almost everything in the city. There’s the ex-cop turned private investigator Strump, who helps Lucas from the very first moments in the game, and Judy Grundy, the journalist who seems to have many of the keys to the various areas of the city but is unable to get the information she needs to write that one article that tells the truth about Alphonse. These characters and others use Lucas to get what they want, but in the process help to discover more about Lucas’ past and his journey towards removing the curse. But, each character in the game offers more than just their desires, they express the mood and quirkiness of the game through additional dialogue. Whether it’s an irritable Strump who can provide hints for you via walki-talkie on solving many of the puzzles in the game and isn’t shy about sharing his opinion of Lucas, a pawn shop owner who doesn’t find it wrong to charge an exit fee for his shop, a young daughter who accepts your werewolf form and treats you like a pet dog, or a librarian that just seems to have a lot to talk about in general.
But if the characters didn’t explain enough of the mood and issues within Feyre, almost every single item in the game also has its own sound bite. Each tree, park bench, and statue I investigated had its own comment that made a reference to pop culture, gaming culture, or expanded on the oddity that is the city of Feyre. As one who enjoys stories told through more than just the characters as well as sly references when I can find them, I found myself looking for new objects to investigate with each new room I came upon.
Other than the puzzles and people you meet, there are also some elements that you can earn by collecting gold or strips of comics from various locations in the city. Gold can be used to buy items from Harvey’s Pawn Shop, where you will find all the furniture to furnish your place as well as the ability to buy and replay the music from various points in the game. The comic strips you find, though, piece together the back-story of Lucas and other characters in the city, revealing their history more clearly and how they are all intertwined. Those looking to find all of these will likely spend some time after the credits tracking them down in addition to doing some side quests that are only available at that time.
What Brawsome has successfully done with MacGuffin’s Curse is combine frustration-free puzzle solving with a story that is interesting to see played out in front of you. The game works to make you interested in seeing what each item in the game has to say about the city or its people and provides a story that ends up being much bigger in scope than one would expect. This, hopefully, introductory story into the life and adventures of Lucas has a charm that doesn’t fade or lose its pace, but also has a knack for making me question why I spent twenty minutes over thinking how to move a few crates that were in my way once the simplest of solutions presented itself.
MacGuffin’s Curse will be available on Steam for the PC and iOS devices on April 19.