Release Date: October 1996
Platform: Windows, Mac
What a missed opportunity. It's one thing when a game is not successful because it's just plain, old-fashioned bad. It's sadder, though, when a game is full of interesting elements and still doesn't come together as a good package.
For the record, 9 is a first-person point-click-and-wait puzzle-based adventure game. The "wait" comes from the fact that navigation in the game is quite frustratingly slow.
The shockingly innovative, ground-breaking plot involves your nameless character inheriting a mysterious and sinister mansion full of puzzles that you have to solve. No, I'm not kidding. Wild idea for an adventure game, right? What'll they think of next? Okay, so I'm being a bit mean. Frankly, that's a formula for lots of games I like, and I'll play games with this exact same plot as many times as it's done well.
Produced by Robert DeNiro's Tribeca Interactive, 9 is one of the most notorious titles in the adventure canon, mostly because it's full of Hollywood money and talent but was a huge bomb. The voices are provided by Christopher Reeve, Steve Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, and Jim Belushi.
Hilariously, the interface is a gypsy played by Cher. I've read many complaints about her character, but I found her a riot. There was just something surreal about having to talk to Cher every time I wanted to save or load a game. She's constantly making oblique cracks like, "I'm always saving for you ... you don't write, you don't call ..." or "Count backwards from one trillion ..."
I was interested in playing this title because of the high emotional reactions it seems to provoke in people. A naturally contrary person, I figured I might be in the minority who loved the game.
Did I? Well ... there are certainly things about it I admire. The overall graphic design is rather brilliant. It's like being trapped in an evil 70s funhouse-gone-mad album cover. The look and the accompanying sound effects are extremely aggressive, and I can see how they could be off-putting to many gamers. I enjoyed them, but they are certainly a far cry from the gentle beauty of Myst or the elegant creepiness of Shivers.
Another thing I think many people didn't like about 9 was its proliferation of music- and sound-based puzzles. Here's an area where I definitely am in the minority: I absolutely love any auditory puzzle. It's not surprising that, in a game with such rock-star involvement, there would be a lot of music puzzles. There's an auditory game of concentration, a drumbeat game of Simon, even a sequence in which you have to tune a guitar! I really enjoyed these puzzles, and I enjoyed moving through the game, opening up more and more of the bizarre mansion as each new puzzle was solved.
However. After a few hours into the game, my friend and I began to see one of 9'smajor problems: there's a huge uber-puzzle involving a pipe organ that you have to solve to finish the game. It involves several extremely cryptic and confusing clues left around various parts of the mansion. The problem is, not only are the clues willfully obtuse, but you can't collect them anywhere! Meaning you have to do very laborious visual recreations of these notes ... over and over again.
For ages I heard my friends groan about this puzzle. "Ooh, the organ puzzle," they'd say, shivering. I'd think, heck, what's another music puzzle? That can't scare me. Well, it turns out this organ puzzle isn't really a music puzzle at all, it's a brutal exercise in cryptography. Time to trot out Ray's Big Fat Book of Adventure Game Rules, and let's turn to #99845, shall we, which clearly states, "a puzzle can be challenging but it must not be depressing." This organ thing is so obtuse, so intimidating, and so nonintuitive that it just makes you want to stop playing. That's a real shame.
But it gets worse, my friends. The goal for solving the organ puzzle is a key to the attic. For each piece of the puzzle you solve, you get a coin, which you give to the gypsy fortune teller. After solving the last one, she's supposed to give with the key. Well, we solved the puzzle, checked it with numerous walkthroughs and hints files, and were sure we had the right combo--and yet the key was not forthcoming. Another reviewer has claimed that the game contains an unforgiving bug that locks you out of the solution if you don't wait to use the coins until you've gotten all of them. I don't know whether this is true or not, but that is exactly what happened when I played the game. Very fishy. After a frustrating day of repeating a solution I knew was correct over and over, I finally got fed up and used a cheat code to get into the room I needed the key for.
And here's where things went from bad to worse. Because the attic leads you to the basement, which is where you encounter possibly the worst arcade sequence I've ever seen in an adventure game. Yes, sports fans, after twenty or so interesting adventure game puzzles, 9 abruptly turns into ... a rat shoot. Now, you can argue whether a sequence like this belongs in an adventure game at all. But I'd be hard-pressed to imagine anyone arguing that, even if such an action element should be allowed, it certainly shouldn't be this hard. The rat shoot is just plain too difficult.
What follows is more disappointment. For the entire game, you have been repairing something called a "Muse Machine," dutifully dragging various items you win on your journeys to the machine, part by part (the interface only allows you to carry one inventory item at a time). After shooting the rats (assuming you manage to get through the sequence without quitting in despair or disgust), you get the final piece of the Muse Machine. Excitedly, you race back to the machine for your final repair. You insert the piece, the machine starts humming and then ... promptly blows up. Yes, blows up. That's just a nasty trick to play on a gamer who's been working so hard. Makes the whole game feel like a snipe hunt.
The game had one more obtuse, difficult puzzle, again involving an organ. My friend and I actually worked this one out, and the game did have an entertaining finale. Actually a literal finale--a musical number! But, in a final twist of the knife to the hapless gamer, in a game that featured the voices of Jim Belushi, Cher, and Steve Tyler, the only star who sings in the final number is ... Jim Belushi. Now that's just mean.
Sorry, Tribeca, I deserved better after struggling through 9.
Final Grade: C-
If you liked 9:
Watch: Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Read: I'm with the Band by Pamela Des Barres
16 MB RAM
Windows 3.1 or Windows 95
16 MB RAM
5 MB disk space
2X CD-ROM drive
Mac PowerPC System 7.5
16-bit, 44-kHz sound card