Mystery of the Opera
from G5 Entertainment
All right, yes, let's just get this out of the way off the top. Yes, the game cover there is absolutely and obviously a flipped and painted version of the poster from the 2004 Schumacher/Butler movie featuring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. Yes, literally this one:
And you thought that was just something that happened on the covers of self-published novels.
Today's review is taking us on a journey through the tragic, heartbreaking world of obsolete games in the mobile age. By which I mean that this game no longer exists. And it's not like when an old computer game for Windows 95 or the hoary ages of DOS or Apple II-E dies but can be revisited and re-experienced through the magic of emulators, floppy disks and the legions of us nerds who want to return to childhood by making sure we can consume 1989 media until we die. No, this is a mobile game, meaning that it was meant to play on phones and tablets - and that the majority of its content was stored on the game maker's remote servers and accessed via download through various app stores.
So for us here Phantom historians, we lost on artifact on that day when G5 Entertainment decided to retire/destroy this game to make way for their new completely redone edition of it (which we'll get to, but first things first). Since the game no longer exists on G5's servers, I wasn't able to go download it (without downloading stolen apk files online which of course I would never, being virtuous, suggest anyone do) and play it on any tablets with reasonably sized screens. But, I'm also a prescient forest witch, so I had already downloaded it to my little ancient Android phone way back in 2013 when it came out, so I was able to get it started with many complaining whirring of gears and see what this bad boy is about.
As you can see, this game was obviously a little on the simpler side as far as artwork goes in this genre, and was heavily ad-supported (amusingly, these ads pretty much don't go anywhere now, since the game is itself dead and so are most things it used to link to).
Although billed as a hidden object game - and there are hidden object puzzles in it, so that's not actually a lie - this is much more of a traditional adventure game in the vein of old Sierra or LucasArts games, where you run around as the protagonist picking things up, using them on other people or things to get past puzzles and obstacles, and generally trying to make your way through the adventure using a combination of theft and ingenuity. Most hidden object games are adventure hybrids, but I spent way more time running around trying to figure out what to use to open this goddamn door than I did solving hidden object puzzles.
We do indeed, as you can see above, open at the Stoneburg Opera House, to the dulcet strains of some pretty standardly unremarkable Spooky Strings and Tolling Churchbells, because this is a Gothic fantasy and dammit, if we don't have the Church invoked somewhere to imply peril to someone's immortal soul, what do we have? The only option available in the Options menu is a volume control, so this obviously isn't a vastly customizable game.
(In case you were wondering, no, the Stoneburg Opera House is not a real place. Feel free to guess based on the stunningly generic architecture where on earth this is set and in what time period.)
There is an achievements pane, and I was amused to note that "Dress like a firefighter" was one of the achievements available, so clearly this game at least gets me. Most of the others are hidden object based (like find X hidden objects or find objects without clicking on wrong answers), but I am sad to report that "Save Christine from Death" is also one. Death is back on the table and I'm getting flashbacks to the 1987 Erik: The Phantom of the Opera game and I don't know why people in game design would want to do that to me.
There is just A LOT to unpack in this introductory sequence. Christine is playing Susanna, so hi there, homage to Susanna Foster, the definitely inimitable Christine in the 1943 Lubin/Rains movie! Raoul has been renamed "Edwin" which made me laugh out loud because it's a ridiculous name but also possibly another reference for you, since Raoul was played in the same movie by actor Edgar Barrier. Edwin is precious, as you can see:
(Ah, yes, "diva of the theater", a truly accurate and definitely real position people can have that makes sense.
Edwin's a cutie so I'm not going to make fun of him or the weirdly two-dimensional people he has chosen to attend this premiere with, but I will note that the rose he's offering her is a pink one. In most Phantom adaptations, following in the footsteps of the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film, the Phantom is the one who gives Christine a single rose for her performance, later getting super-mega-popular as a symbol because of the Lloyd Webber musical doing it. But the Phantom's rose is almost always a dark red one, the easily recognizable symbol of romantic love; Edwin here has a pink rose, which is usually associated with "softer" feelings - admiration, gentleness, appreciation, friendship, and sweet romance. So good job, whoever put that in to give our Raoul figure his due as the gentler childhood love as opposed the Phantom's toweringly Gothic romance, even if it was an accident. (I'd like to believe it wasn't. Someone out there saw their chance and they took it.)
Sadly, Christine is of course fabulous in her debut lead role, but as usual SOMEONE can't keep it together enough to let her actually do things onstage.
Quality Sith Lord Fingernails there, man.
So as Edwin tries to give Christine his rose while she's taking her bows, this be-robed malcontent swoops down on a rope and kidnaps her to parts unknown, causing general pandemonium in the process. The hooded robe is reminiscent of the 1937 Weibang/Shan film and its later versions, but it probably a coincidence since I'm pretty sure we're going for Evil Demon Cultist in this adaptation. (No, really! It's coming! I don't know what's up with hidden object games being all in on the Phantom being a Supernatural Menace Full of Magic Monster Death but it keeps happening.)
The Phantom's mask is white but full-faced, with a very longe, Carnivale-esque nose on it; we've seen Carnivale pop up in a few adaptations since it's an easy link with a guy wearing a mask, but it's worth noting that the long-nosed bauta style mask worn in Venice that this looks like not only has symbolic ties to masculine virility (as tends to happen when you have long objects, dudes are just like that) but was also worn as a sort of semi-official government official disguise in the seventeenth century, to allow people to ake political decisions anonymously. So obviously, we're looking at some sort of magical demon-worshiping federal employee and Christine is clearly in way over her head.
Introduction over, we find out that we'll be playing Edwin as he tries to find and rescue his lady love. Playing Raoul is always a fun time.
Luckily for poor Edwin, there's a "props man" out front to help comfort him and steer him in the proper direction, and he's also... a wizard? I feel like a man with a fabulous beard and weirdly prominent gloves who hands out amulets at the beginning of a quest needs to be properly termed a wizard. Maybe he's a wizard who just really loves working as a stagehand.
The game waits until this moment to drop the bomb on me that Christine and I were supposed to get married. TOMORROW. I do not need this kind of stress before the big day! That does explain why Douchey McScaryRobes up there felt he needed to get his kidnapping on right now, though.
We also get a date here - September 14th, 1898, which is later than most Phantom adaptations go for given that the original was probably set in the 1880s, but since we have wizards in the offing, this feels like it might be an adaptation ready to throw caution to the winds and do zany things without a permit.
As in may hidden object games, there's a little journal icon to keep track of what you've done so far in the game and what you're supposed to be looking for or doing next. The very first thing on my "Tasks" tag is "Disguise Self as a Fireman", so I'm not saying that someone on the game team definitely must have a fetish, but... That said, Edwin in a little firefighter helmet IS adorable, so who am I to judge, really?
So naturally, I solve this problem by getting a giant firefighter drunk and then stealing his clothes and really, I'm just SAYING.
A poster tells us that the opera being performed is Le nozze di Figaro, which earns a shame-on-me for not recognizing the snippets of music used in the introductory sequence or realizing that a lead character named Susanna would suggest Mozart getting his opera buffo on. (Ironic, considering how much the original Erik disliked Mozart.) We get a name for the manager of the opera - Jean Paul, which does not ring any bells from previous versions - and he gives an announcement from the balcony, but wait! Shenanigans are afoot!
It turns out that an enterprising reporter in the crowd with Ye Olde Telephoto Lens has caught footage that proves that the Christine being brought out on the balcony to soothe everyone's fears about the kidnapped diva is not, in fact, actually Christine. Which you'd think other people would also notice, given she's only on a second-story balcony and people are usually pretty good at seeing blatantly different faces, but apparently Stoneburg has gone blind. (By the way, this is technically possible, since telephoto lenses were invented somewhere around 1891, but a rando here both having one and using it for general press photos is stretching credulity a little.)
The photographer is a stranger but he is very into Exposing the Truth so he and I try our best to get the police involved, only to fail because they apparently hate hard evidence here in Stoneburg and also Jean Paul is an intensely proactive manager and is stonewalling me at every turn. I think the game is trying to make it ambiguous that maybe he's just legitimately trying to protect his opera's reputation, but it's not doing a very good job because a hooded figure keeps rolling around behind him like this is Night Vale and he's pretty clearly in league with it.
At any rate, the game finally gets around to explaining that I need to dress up as a firefighter because the Phantom's smoke grenades have made the fire brigade close the building down and they won't let me in without a Cunning Disguise. And after ALL OF THAT, finally, I make it to the first hidden object puzzle, which is why I say this is way more of an adventure game.
This is pretty standard for a hidden object game - a little on the simple side, with a fairly small and less than detailed setup and serviceable but not very interesting artwork. (And the cobblestones, lord.) It's nice to see that the game designers committed to mostly things that might actually be found lying around in an opera house, though, instead of the baffling choice some games make to have completely random things lying around to clutter the screen that make absolutely no sense for the setting. You also get your standard hidden object game failsafe - if you start clicking wildly willy-nilly instead of actually trying to find things, the screen will grey out and tsk at you before letting you try again, so no cheating allowed.
There's a size limitation problem here - the mobile screen can't show the entire list of items to be found at once, so it shows six of them at a time and replaces ones you've found with new ones still remaining. I'm not a fan - not being able to see the whole list at once means I go back over territory when searching a lot now that I have to find something I might have caught earlier but didn't know I was looking for, and it creates a feeling of not making progress that might frustrate some players.
You also get the bog-standard hidden object game convention of there being some "items" that are really multiple items combined together into a new one, denoted with a different color of text, but I can't focus on that because someone really thought it was necessary to lovingly animate the spiders running around through this pile of junk I'm rummaging through and Edwin is just a braver soul than I am. The scenes do have a lot of detail, and items are sometimes so small that I was forced to peer myopically at them like an aged bookseller deciphering Aramaic in my poorly lit alley bookshop.
Then I finally got inside in my disguise and the fire chief promptly sent me to do boring firefighter errands. I can't even lie, that's fantastic.
The minute I got inside, the foyer chandelier nearly fell on me and killed me. WELCOME TO THE STORY, EDWIN. Obviously, it's a slight change to have a foyer chandelier fall on investigators instead of the theater chandelier on the audience, but the idea of the Phantom dropping it on someone who's annoying him is at least still intact. Because this is an adventure game, I immediately have Edwin scavenge it for parts and materials and then find Christine's shoe on the stairs, evoking shades of the famous 1950 animated Disney version of Cinderella.
(I realize that I'm supposed to be in a rush to find the impresario and discover where Christine is, but I keep pausing because I have so many questions. Did he have a Christine impersonator in full costume just fucking ready to go as soon as he swooped in? Is it actually Christine but she's hypnotized or mind-controlled? Did the Phantom invent an automaton and there will be a shocking reveal later? Is this a terrifying homage to Lloyd Webber's creepy dummy of Christine? No one will give me answers.)
When I walk into the coat room, the Phantom, as you can see above, briefly appeared in the mirror to startle me before disappearing again. Obviously, Leroux's Phantom and a solid percentage of all his followers used Christine's dressing-room mirror as a way to spy on her and access her space, so this isn't unique, but I can't help feeling like in this particular game genre and environment, this is probably inspired by the 2011 Mystery Legends game, which frequently had its supernatural Phantom appear in mirrors to scare the bejeezus out of me and remains the giant of Phantom video game adaptations. Sadly, my slow phone screenshots with their built-in delay (THANKS, ANDROID) only barely caught it, so you will all have to imagine the full effect.
Obviously, this severe-looking lady to the right is not named technically as Madame Giry but also... I mean, she's a severe-looking theater employee guardian of the coatroom who Knows Too Much. So she's Madame Giry. She won't let me take any of the clothes in the room without a damn good reason, which is annoying, but I will say that I appreciate that she does not judge Edwin even slightly when he finds and hands in a garment ticket to pick up a pink satin ballgown. Thank you for letting people be themselves, Giry.
Then, the Phantom SHOT A BOX IN CHRISTINE'S DRESSING ROOM WITH FORCE LIGHTNING, so obviously NOW IT'S MAGIC. My Sith Lord theory is totally getting more and more legit as time goes by.
Then we encounter another little wrinkle...
Now, the Phantom story is public domain, obviously, since it was written at the beginning of the twentieth century, but J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series super is not, which is where the spells "Imperio" and "Colloportus" come from. Of course, there are Latin roots in both - imperio is Latin for "empire" and is where we get the word "imperial", which is why it's used as a mind-control/order-giving spell in Rowling's books, and Colloportus is a portmanteau of collo, to turn, and portus, "bridge", "crossing", or "door", which is why it's used to lock or prevent things from opening. But also, both are absolutely copyright infringement issues and suddenly the reasons for remaking this game are becoming clearer by the moment.
Anyway, it is apparent that the Phantom has MIND CONTROL POWERS, and not only that, apparently I might learn them later, too. So stay tuned for the mental battle of Edwin vs. Phantom: Puppetmasters Supreme.
Like many other hidden object games, this one also has logic and visual puzzles, in the fine grand tradition of the genre mostly serving as door locks that beg the question of who the hell is going around locking drawing rooms with complicated mechanisms that require a MENSA membership to decode. Of course, I still succeeded because I'm godly, but goddamn, let me walk through a damn door, people.
But that sort of pales because as soon as I got through the door, there was KNIFE COMBAT.
What in the goddamn is going on at this opera house. Holy shit. I am just trying to get married to the lovely woman of my dreams and instead of going to ye olde bachelor party and having a nice snifter of brandy there's KNIFEPLAY.
As we already knew from our technologically advanced random reporter friend outside (maybe HE is ALSO a wizard), this is not Christine but an imposter, who we quickly learn is another jealous opera singer named Charlotte. Which is of course the French version of the name Carlotta, and most likely the name that Christine's childhood stories about "Lotte" were shortened from, so we're firmly back in the Phantom story again, folks! Why is she trying to murder me on sight? Well, she's the actual star of the theater and is very pissed off about Christine replacing her, and she is deeply displeased to be disarmed and tied up because she would like us to know that she is the victim here.
The posters on the wall are for a production of Macbeth (I assume Verdi's), and upon closer inspection I discover that Charlotte was the star of it and also slated to appear in Puccini's La Traviata, but that she was shunted aside by forces unknown for Christine's Mozart debut instead, which explains why she's so pissed off about the whole thing. Her posters have even been destroyed and replaced by Christine's, and it's a nice touch of immersion in the story because I'm sure poor Edwin here really didn't know all this was going on, since he probably just thinks Christine finally got her big break in the normal way. (And a player who isn't familiar with the Phantom story also gets to be surprised along with him. The rest of us are cheating.)
I then loot her vanity while she's tied up, because Edwin is a classy guy.
This particular hidden object search gave me the unhappy knowledge that because of how the game handles replacing found items with unfound items on the list, if you click on an item that is on the list but isn't actually visibly listed yet because it's further down, it won't count as finding it. Which sucks and is another reason I'm not fond of this way of handling the screen size. (A second annoying screen size thing: the inventory also doesn't have much room to maneuver, so items sometimes "fall off" the screen and if you are a person like me who has trouble remembering they have things they can't see anymore, you're going to be pissed at some point when you realize you have six other items you haven't tried to use yet.)
It is, however, awesome that there is no cooldown on hints in this game - if you use a hint, you don't have to wait around for however many minutes before you're allowed to do so again as in many games in the genre. This is good for when you are Bad and also Impatient.
It also, however, gave me my favorite creepy touch in this game. Look at the screenshot above - there's a doll in the mirror... who is not actually on the vanity. And she has an item that you need, so the player is forced to realize she's there and reach into the terrifying mirror dimension to interact with her. THANKS.
The encouraging message at the end of this puzzle is the very prosaic, "Congratulations! You found something useful!" Thanks, game. Definitely not condescending at all.
Near the evidence of Charlotte's discontent, I also discover a glowing rune, which immediately causes me to understand that this room is ENCHANTED because this is a game with WIZARDS IN IT. It's not even me making that up anymore. There are enchanted runes and Harry Potter spells and now I'm wondering exactly what the hell poor Edwin is supposed to do in an environment where bravely demanding to know what's going on is going to result in a fireball to the face. (Incidentally, that's an ēðel or ethel rune from the Anglo-Saxon elder alphabet and it means "homeland" or "estate" on its own, but I highly doubt the game makers chose the runes in this thing based on any kind of significance for their use in actual pre-Christian religions and magic systems.)
Because Edwin is a fucking star, he's trying to break the mind control spell on Charlotte, and while yes, she can probably help if he does, I'd just like to note that I am 100% here for adaptations in which Carlotta also gets rescued from all this absolute bullshit and my adorable firefighter-impersonating friend here is doing the Lord's work. Edwin goes on to write explicitly in the journal that Charlotte seems to be a victim, not an enemy, and I just love him a lot for passing the extremely low bar, okay?
There is another logic puzzle that kicked my ass, but luckily the game takes pity upon us filthy casuals and provides a skip function for the puzzle/lock mechanisms, so I was able to blow past it and get into the locked trunk. Which was absolutely worth it because it literally SAYS the equivalent of "a wizard did it" and I am delighted. All right, zany wizard-filled Phantom world, show me what you've got.
There's Charlotte's poster again! Poor Charlotte. This is the box office, which somehow looks even more shady and neglected than the coat room, and I find handbills for La Traviata lying around, so the performance definitely almost went off and I am definitely the last to know about how Christine's debut was actually not planned much at all.
Outside, this horse can't reach the water trough because of the "belts". Oh, weird translation issues in adventure and hidden object games. Never change. Keep us guessing across international lines.
I obviously cut those belts because I am a proponent of freedom. Go be free, horse. Drink from every trough you want and live in horsey anarchy.
After pottering around for a while, confused and exasperated because I don't know what to do now, the game informs me via my journal that I should go find that reporter who took the photographs again and see if he has any more information, which seems pretty ass-backwards but definitely also something that I might have to do if I were a concerned fiancé who wanted to get into the building with emergency services stat rather than chasing down clues like an intrepid sleuth. Because this is an adventure game, the reporter's house is locked with Eldritch Puzzle Mechanisms, because of course it is.
I let out a little "awww" at Edwin thinking about how when he finds Christine again, they'll take a nice walk down to the waterfront - it's romantic, and it's also reminiscent of Erik in Leroux's novel talking about how he wanted to have a wife with whom he could go walking on Sundays. But unfortunately, at this point...
And that's all she wrote, folks. We will never know what the frankly bonkers demon-skull lava pit is about, or what could have been in those 60 magnificent scenes, or when we find out that Christine's natural hair color is red which is very rare in adaptations, or where the WIZARDS CAME FROM AND WHAT THEY WANT. We will never find any of that out, because at this point, the game ends its beginning trial and requires players to pay to unlock the full game... and the full game no longer exists, so it isn't possible to do so. (And in case the internet bandits of the world are wondering, downloading pirated apk files won't work, either, even if they're unlocked. The game will still attempt, and fail, to download the relevant content from G5's servers.)
So everyone will have to join me in mourning for what could have been. G5 does have an updated game by the same name that is apparently completely redone (hopefully with less, you know, copyright infringement), so we'll see how that measures up to this one when the time comes. This was a pretty fun and very RIDICULOUS romp for as long as it lasted, so at least we can have high hopes!