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This all looks pretty spooky, right? Cobwebs, porcelain dolls, bloody handprints, it’s hardly the friendliest work station in the office. The surveillance equipment and long lens photographs offer some clues as to the game’s theme, as we shall see. But why did I decide to cover Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood rather than any of the hundreds of other spooky hidden object games out there, or even the dozens of spooky hidden object games that I actually own? There’s no reason, honestly. It’s the luck of the draw. I reached into the metaphorical bucket of hidden object games and pulled out one about a young woman investigating a terrible mystery by rummaging through piles of miscellaneous objects and solving very simple inventory puzzles. I mean, of course that’s what I ended up with. That description covers about ninety-five percent of this genre.
Oh that Maniac the Storyteller, always on the prowl, staging elaborate murders with a fairytale theme. The top-right picture shows someone killed by a (presumably) poisoned apple, so that’ll be Snow White, and at the bottom-left you’ve got poor old Cinderella, beaten to death with a glass slipper. Or a Pyrex slipper, at least. You’d think you’d need the extra durability. This convenient exposition newspaper is sitting on the table of our protagonist, a young lady who goes unnamed, as far as I’m aware. She’s just returned home from a date with her boyfriend Kevin, when suddenly an ominous voice begins to speak to her…
Wow, I bet The Storyteller couldn’t believe his luck when he was out looking for potential fairytale murder victims and he spotted someone dressed as Red Riding Hood. That’s, like, half the prep done already! The other half is wrestling a live wolf into a grandmother’s clothes.
Kevin has been kidnapped as bait, in order to lure Red Riding Hood to the cemetery on the edge of town. She must really like this Kevin fella, because she doesn’t stop to call the police or anything; she just hops straight into her car and gets going.
Just as she arrives, a dog jumps out into the road, causing Red to swerve to a halt. The dog then steals her car keys. No, bad dog, down. The Storyteller must have sprung for obedience lessons, too. This seems like a lead we should tell the cops about, get them to check all the nearby dog training schools for suspicious characters, but there’s no time for that now. Red is all alone at the cemetery with no wheels and a well-trained guard dog watching her from behind the graveyard gate, and that’s when the game begins.
I called Red Riding Hood a hidden object game, but that’s not really accurate. There are hidden object scenes, but they only make up about thirty percent of the gameplay, with the rest involving travelling around the various screens of the game, solving puzzles that are either actual, you know, puzzles, or are inventory-based roadblocks that are solved by using the correct item in the correct place. For example, here we need to get the car keys back from the dog because if the dog then takes the car out joyriding and crashes it there’s no way the insurance company is going to accept “a dog stole my keys” on the claim form. You might notice that there’s a big, juicy bone right in front of the dog, so you pick that up and then give it to the dog. The dog then drops the keys but they’re out of reach behind the gate, so you have to rummage in the bushes until you find a long stick that can reach the keys. Congratulations, you’ve solved the first of Red Riding Hood’s many, many extremely simple inventory puzzles.
Waiting in the boot of your car is the first of the game’s hidden object scenes, and I’m sure you know how this works. Check the list of items at the bottom of the screen, find said items in the jumbled mess of Red’s absolutely filthy car and click on them. Once you’ve found them all the scene is completed and you’re rewarded with a useful item – in this case, some bolt cutters you can use to get through the cemetery gate. I know the list says “wire cutters,” but it means the bolt cutters. Red refused to take either the crowbar or the knife, apparently feeling very confident in her hand-to-hand combat abilities in the event of a serial killer attack. Let’s also hope no-one ever rear-ends her car, because between the can of petrol and the gas canister there’d be little left but a burning crater.
The Storyteller peeks out of the abandoned church’s doorway, perhaps suddenly concerned that Red wouldn’t be able to figure out how to get through the locked gate. “What if the dog runs away with the keys? All my elaborate planning will be wasted, countless hours spent watching all the Saw movies all for naught! Oh no, wait, there she is.”
I’m not going to show you every little thing that happens in Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood, because this article would take forever to finish if I did. Instead we’ll be looking at some highlights, one of which is the background art. It’s definitely got the Halloween mood now that we’re into the cemetery, even if the game doesn’t have an outright Halloween theme. You can’t go wrong with crumbling tombstones and dilapidated churches, really.
For whatever reason, part of The Storyteller’s sinister plan involves Red collecting a bunch of extremely ugly garden gnomes. This one looks like a wizard that fell face-first onto a belt sander. The purpose of these gnomes will become apparent later in the game, but until then let’s hope there’s a puzzle where I need to frighten a small child because I’ve got that covered.
Like the protagonist of almost every spooky hidden object game I’ve ever played, Red responds to being placed in a nightmarish life-or-death struggle by becoming extremely fussy about cleanliness. Here, for example, she refuses to wipe away some cobwebs with her bare hands. This means I have to spend fifteen minutes searching for a rag because Red doesn’t think to use the sleeve of her coat or a handful of leaves or something. It could at least have had venomous spiders all over it or something, and a solution that involve fashioning a crude flamethrower.
Here’s an example of one of Red Riding Hood’s non-inventory-based puzzles, where you have to play Beethoven’s Fur Elise on a church organ. Well, seven notes of Fur Elise, anyway. I’m no classical music expert, but I don’t think that’s the entire composition. It’s not a terrible puzzle, and it comes down to trial-and-error as you test each key and try to remember what order they go in – and if you’re not enjoying it, you can wait a minute or so and then skip the puzzle entirely. My problem with it is that it’s yet another example of the piano / keyboard / organ being the only kind of instrument that gets to be a puzzle in videogames. I know keyboards are basically rows of buttons so it makes sense, but surely we can mix it up a little? Brass instruments also have keys. I want a puzzle where you open a secret passageway by playing Flight of the Bumblebee on a tuba.
Having made it into the crypt, Red uncovers a terrifying sight: Kevin has been transformed into a wooden mannequin! Or it’s a mannequin dressed in Kevin’s clothes. That seems more likely, actually. There are also directions to a motel room. Red still refuses to involve law enforcement. Maybe it’s because I’m a coward, but I think I’d declare Kevin a lost cause at this point.
Red’s got more gumption than me, however, and she drives to the motel. Her bad luck with cars strikes once again as she immediately gets a flat tyre when she arrives, so for the time being we’re stuck in this dreary, run-down motel in the middle of nowhere – a situation that might be even more upsetting than the whole game-playing serial murderer thing.
The motel area is more expansive than I was expecting, with plenty of different screens to scour for useful items and garden gnomes. Thankfully you can travel between the different areas by selecting them from the map rather than having to walk between them. It’s a welcome time-saver, as is the exclamation point that shows you which screens have an active objective available.
My favourite puzzle in this area is the self-appointed guardian of the biker bar, who won’t let you in unless you’re wearing something made of black leather. George RR Martin here is pretty relaxed about the whole thing, and he doesn’t specify so presumably any black leather item will do. Should have taken your driving gloves out of the car, Red. Also, I know it’s supposed to be a filthy biker dive but you’d think the Hell’s Angels would have something to say about someone coming in and writing threatening messages in blood on the walls. Having said that, The Storyyteller did appear to be wearing a leather jacket so I guess he can do as he pleases.
The item you need is this leather jacket, which you’ll find in this hidden object scene. Not that it’s exactly “hidden,” is it? The hidden object scenes in Red Riding Hood aren’t bad, overall. They skew towards the easier end of the spectrum, but they don’t use the bullshit tricks of the less competent examples of the genre like changing items to be unnatural colours or making them semi-transparent. A something of a connoisseur of these things, he says as he accepts his fate as a sad, lonely person, I’d say Red Riding Hood’s hidden object scenes are bang in the middle in terms of challenge and not being frustrating nonsense.
What else is going on around the motel? Well, the key to the room snapped off in the lock, and the motel owner refuses to fix it unless you pay him. It’s a shame this guy isn’t voice acted, because there’s no way he wouldn’t have the thick New Jersey accent of a rarely-seen soldier in Tony Soprano’s crew. It turns out that you have to pay this guy by winning the jackpot of the fruit machine in the biker bar, and walking into this guy’s office and saying “oh, you want paying? Here’s your goddamn money!” before pouring a sack full of twenty pence coins all over his desk feels like a fitting revenge for his pettiness.
Red really hates touching cobwebs. The worst thing about this scene is that I own an identical-looking feather duster, and seeing it here made me look around and realise that shit, I should really do some dusting. I went to get my feather duster, and it had cobwebs on it. Is that irony? I think that’s irony. Or slovenliness.
One thing I’ll give Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood genuine praise for is Red’s journal. You can bring it up whenever you like, and not only does it keep track of your various objectives and the clues you’ve uncovered, it’s also full of these charming little doodles. This is obviously the best page of the lot, because that’s definitely supposed to be a picture of Mulder and Scully, right? Well, Mulder, anyway. The other agent’s face is so lightly sketched that it could be anyone. I also appreciate that Red took the time to celebrate gaining membership to the yacht blue by drawing a gift-wrapped yacht. Oh, hey, I’ve been calling her Red but it says right there that her name is Alice Burnheart. I think I’ll stick with Red, I feel like we’ve established enough of a rapport for a nickname to be appropriate.
Wow, Jason Voorhees really isn’t trying any more, is he? I know horror remakes are rarely better than the originals, but this is ridiculous.
By this point in the game, Red’s goal is to get a yacht working so she can travel across some water to an abandoned casino that The Storyteller is using as a hideout. To this end you have to explore a spooky lighthouse, brave an unnerving jetty and look through, erm, an evil telescope? No, wait, it’s just a normal telescope. It doesn’t even have boot polish smeared around the eyepiece, what a wasted opportunity. Don’t forget to grab the baseball bat that the bootleg Jason is holding. You’ll need it to smash through the yacht’s window so you can get inside. Red was carrying a hammer earlier, but she discarded it after fixing a broken ladder. Oh well, hindsight is twenty-twenty and all that.
The mission to steal a yacht is, I’m sad to say, by far the least spooky segment of the game. What do yachts make you think of? That’s right: sunny beaches, wealthy jackasses in polo shirts, Duran Duran videos. None of those things are especially frightening, and in general I’d say it’s quite difficult for a yacht to be spooky. Could have chucked a few pumpkins in there or something, though.
Here we are at the abandoned casino / French château. I don’t know whether that carriage is supposed to be part of The Storyteller’s whole fairytale theme or if the Casino was themed around the French aristocracy, but the same kind of gameplay awaits us here as in the rest of the game.
“Here at Storyteller’s Discount Mannequin Emporium, we’re Mad, Mad, Mad about Mannequins! Come on down this Saturday for our Maniacal Mannequin Madness event: fifty percent off all mannequins, free ice cream for the kids and the chance to meet our mascot, a mannequin with a crudely-carved human skull for a face! You’d be a real dummy to miss it! Disclaimer: we do not sell dummies, only mannequins.”
I know in almost any game with inventory puzzles you’re going to get some that test the boundaries of logic and that to keep pointing out those inconsistencies leaves one open to accusations of fun-sucking pedantry, but Red Riding Hood is now definitively taking the piss. You need the item behind this glass case. There’s a hammer on the goddamn cabinet. The solution is to find a screwdriver and carefully remove the screws. Okay, sure, whatever.
“Daft inventory puzzles” is simply the nature of the genre, and me complaining about them isn’t going to change a genre that is absolutely set in stone. The vast majority of hidden object games play out in the same way, with puzzles that rarely get more complicated than “oh, I’ve found a key, maybe I should use it on that lock I just saw.” Sometime the key is an earthworm and the lock is an aggressive bird guarding a jewel or what-have-you, but you get the idea. Red Riding Hood doesn’t do too bad a job of this aspect of the gameplay I suppose. The biggest issue is that so many usable items are thrown at you that it’s easy to forget what you’ve collected, an issue that is completely negated by the map telling you where any solvable puzzles are located.
I’m in it solely for the hidden object scenes, if I’m honest. I just enjoy them, is all. I’ve yet to come across a hidden object game that matches the purity of both concept and theme found in Halloween Trick or Treat, but for messing about for an hour or two at the price of about seventy-nine pence Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood is perfectly fine. I just wish it had more hidden object scenes. I am aware that I am an outlier on this point.
A quick check online tells me that a life-sized artist’s mannequin costs in the region of one thousand dollars. Wedding dresses ain’t cheap, either. This tells me that The Storyteller is wealthy enough to be described as “eccentric” rather than “insane” during the reporting on his court case.
Here’s yet another example of a hidden object game where the main character must have recently treated themselves to an expensive manicure – this pot of standard dirt is an impassable obstacle until you find a trowel to dig with. This exact same scenario popped up in the conspiracy-themed hidden object game Echoes of JFK and I’m sure I’ve seen it in at least one other HOG I’ve played recently, too. Let’s hope The Storyteller hasn’t already buried Kevin in a shallow grave or he’ll be in real trouble.
Then Red (literally) stumbles over a tranquillizer gun that someone has shoved under a rug. I’ll take it - it’s about time I had a bit of luck.
Do you think the Red Riding Hood doll has an inferiority complex about being placed alongside these Disney superstars? Frankly I’m surprised that the developers were willing to pay for the license to use actual Disney characters, wow, that must have been expensive!
Ah, I see, the creepy garden gnomes represent the seven dwarves, although they all appear to be Grumpy. And the one on the middle-right is clearly Gary Busey. The gnomes are the keys that unlock the final door to The Storyteller’s lair, and after solving all the puzzles and clicking on all the hidden objects, it’s time to confront the maniac himself.
I have given Red some stick for her strange priorities and the fussiness that saw her apply only very specific items to each problem she faced, but her character is entirely redeemed in the final scene: with no hesitation or attempt at establishing a dialogue, she whips out the tranquillizer gun and shoots The Storyteller right in the back. That proactive, that is.
It’s Kevin, unconscious and resting in an elaborate coffin. All that’s left is to wave some ammonia under his nose and we’ll be free of this fairytale nightmare. I’m sure Red’s already thinking about heading back to that biker bar for a celebratory drink, maybe going out for another spin in that yacht she nicked. She's a rebel, a renegade.
But wait – it turns out that Kevin was the killer all along! Who could have seen this plot twist coming, in a game with only two named characters? I was certainly caught by surprise. No, I’m being sarcastic. So who did Red just shoot? If you said “a mannequin,” then congratulations, you’ve been playing attention.
Luckily, Red still has the tranquillizer gun. Probably should have checked that before you started menacing her, Kev. Red shoots her erstwhile boyfriend again, he slumps to the ground, presumably ruing his decision to sweep the gun under a rug rather than tidying up properly, and Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood draws to a close.
I think I’ve already covered how I feel about this one during the course of the article, but here’s a summary: it’s okay. The hidden object scenes aren’t bad, although they could do with being more numerous and maybe a little more taxing. The minigames and inventory puzzles are, again, okay. Personally I found Red’s reluctance to keep hold of items or touch cobwebs endearingly dumb rather than annoying or “unimmersive,” and it was a glitch-free, coherent experience. That’s not always a given with these hidden object games, let me tell you.
Oh, and there’s one final twist when a nurse brings Red a big teddy bear while she’s recuperating in hospital. It seems that The Storyteller is still out there, biding his time, waiting for a chance to once again terrify the helpless by infringing on Disney copyrights. If Cruel Games: Red Riding Hood does get a sequel, I will probably play it. I’m not sure whether that’s an endorsement of this game or just a reflection on me personally.
A tricky one for the Halloween-O-Meter to rate, because it’s spookosity levels vary so wildly from area to area. It gets a seven as sort of an average, because while the graveyard and the casino definitely have that Halloween flavour there’s nothing scary about a marina besides the fees they charge to park your yacht.