Sunday, October 8, 2023

Welcome House (1996)

"Keaton and his Uncle" isn't part of the title, but it's inclusion is weird because it's the subtitle of the sequel.
Name:Welcome House (ウエルカムハウス)
Genre:"Survival horror"/adventure
Time:4 hours 00 minutes
Won:Yes (79W/63L)

Described as a polygon cartoon on the obi strip, Welcome House is exactly the kind of game I wanted to learn Japanese for. Take a couple of established concepts like the look and feel of period survival horror games along with the comedy of silent films, mix them together and suddenly you have an unique idea. Now I should note, that when I say survival horror, its about as much as Doctor Hauzer was, basically not at all.

It's a bit tricky getting this one to run. At first it didn't work in Mednafan, so I tried Xebra. That worked fine, except I couldn't properly change my controls and it crashed too much. After fiddling around with Mednafan some more, I could start the game, so long as I set the controller to a Dualshock controller. Funnily enough, Mednafan doesn't allow you to load off an actual disc, just an image file. So for a game I actually own, I have to get a rip off the internet, because ripping a multi-track CD game is just so annoying to do. And that music is important.

The story is that our protagonist, Keaton has recieved an invitation from his uncle Parkinson, to his newly built and highly extravagant mansion in Miami. So Keaton drives from his home in Chicago all the way down to Miami. Unfortunately, his beater broke down, and his uncle is nowhere to be seen. Looks like he has to wander around, also, it's April 1st and your uncle is one hell of a prankster.

To state it simply, we're in a big mansion, but unlike other games, the owner doesn't want to kill us, it has the atmosphere of a silent comedy and it's sunny out.

There's a loading mini-game in the opening loading screen, it's one of those sliding block puzzles. I never took a screenshot and I never won one either.

I can't decide if Keaton is just wearing clothes that are too small for him or if they intentionally made him look like a balloon animal.

We get to see this intro concept like three times, the first with the manual, the second the opening credits and then a FMV. If you count just seeing Keaton's car explode, that's on the cover too. Somewhat excessive, boys. I note that in this intro Keaton's animations are lackluster, imitations of real movement lacking the weight of how even a cartoon character should move. The game itself is fine in this regard though.

And now the game begins. I complain, but it's all of 2-3 minutes. Smooth jazz plays. The game controls on a grid, tank controls, but this is more akin to a puzzle game than Resident Evil and the ilk. Keaton usually moves up and down as needed. Square is a general purpose action button, doing everything from interacting to running. Circle allows you to use items, start opens the menu, start again opens the save menu, and start again saves. It's a save anywhere kind of game.

It's kind of slow, even for something requiring tank controls. You have to start running while standing still and nothing is in front of you, hold down square and then forward. It feels off in a 3D space like this, especially since you're rigidly going on a grid.

This is the only time something funny happens for a bit.

This is the kind of comedy you can expect here. All the doors except one are locked and this staircase turns into a slide. Whenever Keaton gets hurt, he can't die, he sits down like in a cartoon until you press something and a laugh track happens. Oh, yeah, you get little Japanese texts that pop up afterwards, but they zoom by so fast I only get the rough gist. Exploring requires really searching the place, just examining everything you can. Any object could be something vital. Even a toilet. This apparently activates something far away on the second floor. Curiously, as I explore the hallway this area is in, I discover that you don't open doors with square, you just walk into them.

The next room over I find a blue book. So, let's get into items. After picking them up, you can search them or use them. In this case, it's Webster's Dictionary. As I try to leave the room the game crashes. Sigh...At this point I switched back to Mednafan from Xebra. I take another five minutes to return to here, then check the rest of the house. Turns out I have exhausted all my options, because all the doors are locked, both in the lobby and the hallway leading to those two side rooms. I must have missed something...and it turns out I should have looked at the side of the bed for a key. A red key, so you know something of a theme is developing with these items. You also need to search every square you can, because it isn't obvious.


There are quite a few red doors, it turns out the one I wanted was in the lobby. That's going to be the theme of this game, what door does this key go to, even with color coded objects. Gotta say, this here close-up is less charming/funny and more creepy.

This room actually makes sense as it is, compared to a lot of others, since a room like this would naturally want less furniture to obscure the pictures.

This is a red...uh...photograph room. Which has photographs belonging to Parkinson. I find a red book. The Sorrows of Young Werther, which I haven't read, but sounds very charming and appropriate for a light-hearted comedy game. (if you don't know, it is most assurdedly not) Parkinson's epic prank of Keaton? What's next, Candide? There's a key on the table. Is that all this game is going to be? Find keys for doors? How disappointingly boring. Oh, yeah, the silver key works on the brown-redding door. Thanks game, for breaking your color coding scheme. For a comedy game there hasn't been much comedy beyond being able to hurt Keaton's hands on the windows and the stairs bit.

Slightly funny, anyway.

...I spoke too soon. This brown room has a record on a dining room table, Que Sera Sera by Doris Day, that is the version from Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, the remake not the original. I already knew this song would figure into the game somehow, because it's on the back of the box.There's a grandfather clock constantly ticking away but you can't do anything to it. Finally, a fireplace, which has an item I was confused by until I realized it was garlic. The door this room has I can just enter and go into, without having to find another key. Huzzah!

Let me complain for a moment. The way this game works is weird in regards to confirming things. When you open the map to save, you press start, use the d-pad to switch to yes, then press start again. To use items, you press circle again after you open the menu with circle. To get press square after pressing square. Technically, it's consistent, but it's so annoying.

Fridge logic, why would the bread box be in a position you can't actually reach?

Next, the kitchen. It's not a very high end kitchen, if I may offer my humble opinion. This is the first puzzle that isn't just key in lock, and despite it's simplicity, I found it kind of neat. So there's a box on top of the refrigerator you obviously need to look in. If you interact with the fridge, you open the door, which reveals a secret passageway. So instead you have to open the stove, climb on that, then climb on the counter and walk around. Kind of lame he couldn't just reach up there, but cool they took advantage of a game mechanic.

There's another door here, naturally it's locked, and a yellow book on one of those serving carts. It's a cookbook, for a recipe I don't quite understand and definitely couldn't cook, but I know it's some kind of chicken and needs tomatoes, eggs, garlic and some other stuff I don't recognize. The fridge leads to a whole other area, with new music. There's nothing but some barrels and crates in this room, but downstairs...

He's talking about how he'd have to fly to get over this.
...there's this. A puzzle. A jumping puzzle, triangle jumps, in a break from square being the action button. Well, I guess if this is a parody of survival horror games, that makes sense. This is more of a puzzle than you usually get. After each jump the floor rises and lowers according to some reasoning I don't understand. Which makes it worse that the game picks the worst possible angle. Could we not get the ability to change our view? This is in actual, real-time 3D. Where the hell am I even going?
I would genuinely expect a classic cartoon to pull of something like this, but in that case they'd acknowledge that the barrel went through his head, this is just poor animation.

This leads to the garage. That means the entire basement basically consists of a secret room, a weird puzzle room, and then the lower half of a garage. In the downstairs half, I find a switch, as big as Keaton. Hopefully that toggles the stairs to the second floor. There's this gag, obviously set up. The barrel clips through Keaton, which is just is necessary to open the door next to him. The car here has nothing, maybe it's a puzzle? This leads back to the hallway and I can go up the stairs!

The upstairs hallway shows off most of the floor straight off, but naturally the doors are mostly locked. There's a central room I go around at first, finding a fire extinguisher I can't do anything with yet, and a mirror. That's...weird. This seems somewhat high tech, but I'm guessing it's just another Keaton model. I try to interact with it, but I end up walking through it.

As someone who vaguely understands how 3D works, it's neat to see a classic game make a winking joke about this.
No, that's actually exactly what it is, someone who looks like Keaton, if my Japanese is correct, his cousin, and he gives me a blue key. Not sure exactly what his deal is, as the model just sitting there looks like he's seen some stuff. This feels very Twin Peaks for some reason. This actually makes things worse for me, because now I have to keys to try on every door. None of the doors on this floor seem to be unlocked by either, so I go up to the third floor. This one isn't trapped.
In retrospect, I get this, but considering the game I thought this looked like some kind of spring trap at the time.
And I'm blocked off once up there, by some boards. I assume that's what it is, it looks very weird. So I double check the doors.
For when TV's so bad you'd rather watch some fish.

A blue door turns out to be the answer for the blue key. Good. It's an aquarium. I find another record on the table, Bobby Hackett and His Orchestra's version of In the Mood. There's a TV I can't turn on, door's locked...and the camera changes to a view of the aquarium that suggests I can climb into it. can't, but I suspect I need to fish something out later. Okay, what did I miss?

It turns out the door in the kitchen isn't as locked as I thought it was. Guess I didn't actually check. This leads to a bar. I like the way this room looks, very high color. I find a white book behind the bar, in case someone needed to figure out how to make a gin and tonic or a rum and coke. I'm kidding, its Tolstoy's War and Peace. The perfect bar time reading! There's also some brandy, which you can't drink. This also links back to the lobby, using the door unlocks it. There's a jukebox/record player in one corner. It turns out this was less a puzzle and more a method to change the music in this room? Huh, well, there's still another door here.

This leads to a pretty good outside view. If Keaton wanted to leave this place he could easily do so from here.
Rake up the backside is a new one.
Instead Keaton has to fall for the really obvious pratfall gag. Actually not in an obvious way, if he uses the doghouse it suddenly barks, then he jumps back and hits himself with the rake. You can walk over it as much as you desire. I'm starting to feel underwhelmed by this game. There's a pool with a diving board, can't use it, and a door to the outside, which I can't do anything to yet. Now what? My only key doesn't unlock a door I can reach and none of my other items seem to have an obvious use. What about the other record? Is the jukebox like the ghost dancers in Alone in the Dark? No. Oh, aha, I missed a door that was unlocked.

Well played, game. Well played. I hate how this game's puzzles seem to be boiling down to, don't have an item, you missed searching something earlier. This is a huge house for your movement speed. I missed two items in the kitchen, because I had no idea they even existed. You check the doors of the oven and the fridge after you open them. I repeat, you check the objects you can clearly see are just blocks. Great design here, the next evolution of the pixel hunt, invisible objects!

1920s rhythm games were very primitive.
I find out what I need to do to advance quite by accident. Checking the manual again, I realize you can back up to sit down on chairs. Before I've just been standing up on them. Doing this in the aquarium room on the chair facing the TV opens the door for me.

Inside there's a thing on the wall that I can't do anything to. I try my books, I try the key and I try just using it. No dice. So I walk away...and the door is locked. The walls start closing in. It's a Keaton sandwich! The second these things start approaching me I immediately understand what's about to happen. This isn't the kind of game which kills you.

I've advanced, thanks to Keaton becoming a piece of paper. (not showing it, but I like how Keaton kicks open that glass door in a moment) It's another hallway, disconnected from the main one. That balcony leads to another room, which is locked. The actual door into that same room is locked.

Another bathroom. Now I can have Keaton sit on the throne like a man. I suspect the developers were of similar mental maturity, because when I search the toilet, I get a pink book, which is a fake book containing a key. That's going to be useful for later, but for now my quest down this hallway has me use the gold key, finally.

It's a very yellow room. I find a chef's uniform, which is useless, and a love letter straight off. I suspect it's humor I can't yet enjoy, because there are a bunch of French words, including meuniere sauce and escargot. I've heard of the snails, but the sauce is new to me and I'm not typically ignorant of international cuisine. I didn't catch it until later, but this is a lady, Allegro Adagio and the person sending it is Escargot Aperitif. Very Japanese joke names. I also find a net, like for butterflies and a hacksaw. I think the net is for the fish, but the hacksaw is a mystery, hopefully a fun mystery. Wait, if I need to get a fish, that means I might need to make that meuniere sauce, that's for fish. Where the heck is this game going?

he locked room I now have the key for. It's a girls room, I guess, if that girl is into skateboarding and had a poster of Marilyn Monroe on her wall. A phone rings, I go to answer it, and a trap door opens. Considering the game's previous niceness to the player, I figure the hacksaw is supposed to be used on door blocks by one of those wooden things, but no dice. I reload to check I didn't miss anything. (I suppose it might be possible to return via the crusher room, but that's slow)

Further exploration is very fruitful. There's a bed and a dresser, containing a diary. That just says that someone came over, Monsieur Aperitif and the owner's French, but has the name Jack Smith. I wonder if this is implying something. The real clue is the bed here, obviously it closed at first glance, it's connected to the cabinet next to it, but to close it you need to turn a wheel in the corner. There's a brown key under it, and naturally it crushes Keaton.

After a bit of wandering around, I realize I can use the hacksaw on the boards blocking my progress on the third floor. There are two doors here, both locked, but the brown key works on one of them. This leads to a room full of boxes to climb over and paintings. There are three paintings, one of Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great and I think Napoleon. The problem is you can only carry one painting at a time, and after dismissing the possibility that I needed to shuffle them, I figured I just needed to bring them down to what I thought was a dumbwaiter back on the second floor. This, incidentally, requires a lot of pointless walking back and forth.

This opens up a library. There's a bookshelf in every color book I've found, except white, and then a bookshelf with green books and black books. I hope this means I don't need to cook that chicken. Since at this point I'm tired of the game's busywork, I look up where I missed the books. Okay, the black book is kind of clever, there was an oil drum back in the pool area, you use that to turn the white book black. The green book, meanwhile, is in the green room, which I need to get into via the painting in the yellow room.

This is fine, I guess. Here there's an Emperor record, very anachronistic, a green key and another note. It's from the same guy who the cook's note was sent to, complaining about the hole in his wall. Yeah, that makes sense. With the green key, I open the other green door on the third floor and find a green book in a piano. I think it's a book on Napoleon, which explains the painting puzzle. Continuing the humor, I can get Keaton's hands smushed again on the piano.

Considering that Japanese games have a nasty habit of misspelling that word, it's as much to themselves as to the player.

The black bookcase opens after all the books are placed, and I find a secret room in which there's a message telling Keaton to come to my room. Using a switch, I turn a set of stairs down to the door I fell out of, from which I can see a strange man on the pool. The music has changed too, to something classical. It quickly gets annoying.

This looked fine at the time, but now I realize this dog may have slight issues with it's back paws.

Once there, I find a dog, blocking my way into the pool. I guess this means I need to feed him something. Quickly checking a walkthrough again, because I forgot the ingredient list...I find out that now the game is a fetch quest. Much like how in Resident Evil, new monsters appear in places you once cleared out, now the residents of this mansion are walking around. I need to give them stuff. At first I was going to complain that the game was way too short, now I'm going to complain there's way too much padding here. This game isn't going to win.

I guess he really wants to rev up his Allegro.
The first character I have an actual objective for is Escargot, the chef. He wants me to give his love letter, which I picked up earlier, to Allegro. This all should be funny, but this feels less goofy funny, and more goofy I don't believe it. It sounds like I'm talking about cars. My mind is not comprehending this!
I wonder if the disconnect I'm noticing between actual gameplay and these screenshots after the fact means that this game looks a lot better in motion than in stills.

I guessed that Allegro is in one of the rooms with instruments. She's the woman I saw on the portrait. That's darkly amusing. She complains about Escargot, and how he beats cymbals in his room all the time, the bastard. So why were they in her room then? I get the feeling this isn't going to go in the chef's favor, give her the love note...and then she apologizes, but she has a fiancee from a rich family, here's a tomato. I recognize the humor, and I want to laugh, but this is just so bizarre at this point.

Jack looks like a stereotypical Japanese bad guy, I wonder if that's implying something.

This guy, Jack Smith, just talks about how he'll fix Keaton's car as soon as possible, but it's a piece of junk and he should buy a new one. He speaks in Japanese exactly as you'd expect this kind of guy to talk in English. He is not just a handyman, but a handyman artist! And he walks eggs, apparently. Gotta get those macros. Or not, because I can't give them to him. I get a silver key if I give him back his diary.

It's probably supposed to be a bone, but it looks more like a heart.

Well, it turns out that I have to give the recipe page I found earlier to the chef, then the ingredients, including a lobster I got from the aquarium by first using the empty net, then a fish I got from the aquarium. This gets me a dish, which I give to a dog. This dog is eating better today than most people do. This gets me a heart-shaped white key. Don't ask where it came from. Now what? I have two keys and no doors left to open. They don't open the front door, that's for certain!

Keaton! Using your reactions I have developed the ultimate life form! Muahaha!
After wandering around and checking a walkthrough again, I realize that the map screen lied to me. Thanks, game. Right of the staircase up to the second floor is a metal door I forgot about, because the other one was just completely unopenable. Uncle Parkinson. It seems like a setup for one last gag, so I check the room, seeing nothing, I approach. Parkinson, among other things, explains how Napoleon's marriage happened on this day. Second marriage, but who's counting? Worry not, your car is getting fixed, but we shall do this again.
It's a good thin Keaton's world operates on cartoon logic, or he'd be dead.

That confuses me, as if I try to talk to him again, he just says the same thing. Nothing else has changed, so I walk out. The game ends. We get a cutscene of Uncle Parkinson smiling out the window as Keaton enters his car. Very suspiciously, knowing his uncle. He gets in, drives off, and the steering wheel comes out of the steering column. To be continued.

Then there are neat little credits showing the names of the characters while the credits roll in proper Japanese. That was Welcome House. On the whole, this game degenerates a bit too much into simple lock and key puzzles, and it isn't fun having to rely on luck, as it isn't guaranteed that the key's color will match the door's color.

Once you get beyond that reliance on lock and key puzzles, we get some minor flashes of fun. We even get flashes of brilliance. Uncle Parkinson committing to his love of pranks so much he named his dog after someone who had one of his marriages on April 1st, then sprinkling hints around to that effect is really clever. It does a good job of setting itself up for later. It's a lot more effort put into the overarching narrative than I expected.

But, for far too often, the game is just all about running back and forth. This is not a long game, this is a very short game. It doesn't really live up to the comedy aspect, you get maybe a dozen pratfalls. It's no brainteaser, I just failed some spot checks. It's just a really bland game. I would have liked it if it were what it said it was going to be, but it just isn't.



They only appear at the end of the game, and in a very limited capacity at that. Still, I did think they were a little neat, despite their simple puzzles. 2/10

The mansion provides some variety, but rooms are quite bare and by design, the game stretches itself out twice over it. The final bit is no Resident Evil in opening up previously locked doors, merely an exercise in padding. 3/10

Player Agency:
Playable, but confusing and slow. Grid-based movement is fine, but even running is slow. Each group of actions is also weirdly executed. It makes sense when you think about it, but it's something that seems wrong. 3/10

You don't really do anything beyond some simple item puzzles and looking at various objects. 3/10

I want more. The game promises something of a classic cartoon style in a video game shell, but it doesn't quite deliver. On another front it seems to be trying to emulate a silent comedy, but still fails to deliver the same volume of jokes as one of those. 3/10

Serviceable. Everything from the animations to the rooms themselves provide nothing truly worth complaining about, but nothing exciting. Animations have obvious cut and start points. Models have a weird, creepy quality to them. Rooms are incredibly bare, good for puzzles, bad for the look of the place. It looks more like what you'd get out of a beta than a finished product. 3/10

For a game I sort of wrote off the story for, there's some surprising depth to it. We get subtle clues to our uncle's love of Napoleon until it's slammed in our face, and while I found some of the backtracking in the second half annoying, hey, it was cool seeing people I expected would just be words in a note file. 4/10

I feel bad for the guy who made most of the music. I can tell he put some effort into making some good jazz music, it's kind of like that, but it's way too short for the length of the game. Meanwhile, you can listen to three random tracks in one room for some reason. Sound-wise, it's fine, but a bit low-quality. 4/10

That's 25. Even for what it is, it's somewhat disappointing.

There's a sequel, released in the same year, which I'll get to next year. Perhaps that will be what I wanted from this game. In the meantime, it's time for Resident Evil.

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