We close out the year that was 2020 with a review of a little mystery game that harkens back to 1934. In Call of the Sea, you’recalled upon to slip into the sensible shoes and skirt of one Norah Everhart: a young woman who discovers she has some Nancy Drew mystery-insights and a dash of Lara Croft puzzle-solving in her DNA.
When Norah first steps on the golden beach of a little island—situated some 74 nautical miles east of Tahiti—she really hasn’t got a clue what she’ll do next. She simply knows that her husband, Harry, ventured off with a small expeditionary crew in search of a cure for her. Norah has an unexplained illness that has long afflicted her family members, and Harry seems to believe that he may have tracked the source of the disease to this tiny tropical isle, a place that the locals avoid like—well, the plague.
After a year’s absence with no word, however, Norah has no choice but to try and track down her beloved hubby. Could this island be his last resting place? As she explores the expedition’s abandoned campsites, gathers clues and bits of evidence, and then solves the island’s strange environmental puzzles, she hopes to put the whole story together and find the truth.
I mentioned a certain Tomb Raider protagonist up above, but in truth this first-person adventure game is all mysteries and puzzles with none of Lara Croft’s typical trigger-pulling antics. In fact, it has the feel of a game like Myst more than anything else. The lush tropical vistas and sweeping underscore quickly transport you to an alluring world that you could almost just walk through and enjoy without puzzles.
This, however, is a classic puzzle game with compelling art direction and a solid voice cast. And it features a very well written story with tons of smaller riddles to unlock; a good-sized environment puzzle to master for passage through each chapter; and a twisting overall mystery to eventually unravel.
You and Norah have to gather papers and clues that Harry and his fellows have left behind. And then you must translate symbols, solve musical and memory challenges, and wrap your brain around all the many different environmental conundrums that the game tosses at you. And unlike some puzzle adventures, this one eventually has a good reason for all the hurtles placed before the desperate-to-find-her-loved-one Norah.
I should note, however, that as Norah digs into the island’s mystery—something that actually does tie directly to the illness she suffers from—the tale takes a very creepy, Lovecraftian turn. No tentacled beasties stalk the island, but there is a dark, twisting fantasy afoot. That fantasy mystery isn’t fully explained, but there does seem to be something otherworldly and possibly extraterrestrial about it all.
We also learn of a native tribe that lived on the island and performed rituals and past sacrifices to their “Elder god.” There’s nothing overtly goopy, gory or spiritual here, but we do hear of people who have died or were killed. We see evidence of others who were plagued by whispering voices that drove them mad. We’re forced (as Norah) to cut our own hand and wipe blood on a ritual alter. And we are dipped in a general atmosphere of mysticism and death in the latter parts of the tale. On top of that there are several misuses of God’s name in the dialogue and a couple uses of “d–mit” (though the exclamations more often are limited to things like “jeepers” and “holy Moses”).
Add it all together and you’ve got a fun puzzling adventure toting a fairly mixed steamer trunk. You’ll undeniably find a lot of visual splendor and noggin-testing challenges to enjoy, but this vintage-feel expedition may get a bit too dark for some. (Especially those younger fedora-clad adventurers camping out in your family room.)
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.