Night Whisper Lane
Night Whisper Lane is an indie game in every sense of the word. It is short, simplistic and the work of a small-yet-ambitious development team that’s clearly running on limited funding. It’s a point ‘n’ click survival horror game for iOS that uses turn-based combat and cruelly sends players up against deadly traps that threaten instant death for making the wrong choice.
The story is brief and delivered with hammy dialog. Vincent and a few other people are trapped inside a house on Night Whisper Lane. There they must either wait to be killed by a demoness, or they can try to make their way past an endless series of booby traps.
It’s presented from a first-person view, with little animation. The house is navigated in the style of older point ‘n’ click games, so players don’t have direct control over their character. Instead, they are presented with a static view of the room they are in, and when they tap on a doorway they’ll enter the next room. Each room holds a handful of items, and the usable inventory items are depicted in a clear manner that readily screams “Pick me up, I’ll be useful later”.
Gameplay consists of traveling from room to room, gathering weapons, keys and healing items, then defeating the same boos over and over again in about half a dozen fights. There are a handful of NPCs, but aside from the hero and villain the rest of the cast are merely disposable victims who die quickly after a couple of lines (And have useful keys on their searchable bodies).
Voice work is amateur, and flat. The main character speaks with a thick southern drawl that might be intended as an Elvis impression, and the rest of the characters are voiced with almost no distinction. The dialog generally consists of characters blurting out their intentions, demanding a particular inventory item, or trading cheesy one-liners before a fight.
The low budget production values wouldn’t be such a problem if the core gameplay was more distinguished, but Night Whisper Lane suffers from a near total lack of choice. Players progress through the rooms until they hit a locked door, then need to find the items that will lead to a key.
There is almost always a boss fight on the other side of a locked door, but even the combat leaves little choice to players. Weapons always hit, and each weapon does a fixed amount of damage with every attack. Each weapon has a limited number of uses too, so the fights boil down to one question:
“Did the Player collect enough ammo and healing items before entering the room”.
If “Yes” then the Player will invariably win the boss fight. If “No” the Player will die. It’s a matter of hard mathematics rather than player choice or skill.
The exploration aspect of the game is unfair. Certain items in the house are booby-trapped, and these traps often cause instantaneous death. There’s no way to identify which items are trapped, either, so Night Whisper Lane is driven by pure Trial And Error.
This discourages players from just randomly tapping on things hoping to get lucky, but it also discourages players from exploring. One puzzle actually requires the Player to tap a tiny, seemingly-insignificant item on the wall, but the rampant booby traps make players wary of taking chances like “I wonder if this coin can fit in that slot”.
There is no randomization either. Items and fights appear in the same place each time players go through the game. If a boss battle is lost, the Player has to start over from the beginning. Most players will end up playing through the early parts of this game a couple of times before getting the hang of it, and it gets stale doing so, especially in a game that only takes about twenty minutes to play through once the Player knows where the items are.
Night Whisper Lane isn’t going to bring about a resurgence in the point and click genre. It does have some promising design, and perhaps the developers will release updates that add in more choice and randomization, but in its current state this simple straightforward project only offers an hour or so of frustrations. It is out now for iOS, and generous fans of indie games can view it as a way to support indie designers. A free demo is also available.