Review: Theatre of the Absurd

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You might be expecting, as I was, that this one takes place in some kind of theater. Well it doesn’t, unless the kinds of theaters you frequent are hewn from the bones of giants, have multi-story crypts attached, or are built over mysterious Egyptian ruins situated in a remote, snow-capped mountain range. There’s no performance here, aside from a struggle against a gangly demon for the soul of a small girl trapped in an enchanted bell tower. Although as I type all this out, I suppose the Absurd part of the title is at least accurate.

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Did any of that make sense? I bet it didn’t, and part of Theatre of the Absurd’s charm is that it rather gleefully doesn’t. You play the auspiciously-named Scarlett Frost, a visitor to Dr. Corvus’ remote Castlevanian abode where he resides with his golden eye and arcane cube and daughter. In a sudden (and much, much later explained) fit of rage he destroys the cube, releasing a demon and imperiling his daughter. It’s up to you to reassemble the enchanted bell that can somehow drive away the demon wandering the bizarre halls.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, because the story has some twists in store that can barely be justified and it’s kind of great how earnestly it leans into them. Everything about the game, from the ridiculous plot to the insane setting to the ill-fitting name give Theatre of the Absurd the sensation of being unstuck from logic, existing in some kind of pocket dimension where all theaters have skull motifs and adjoining necropolises. It’s a fever-dream of a game capped off with an oddly dark conclusion that only makes the journey that much more odd.

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Luckily the puzzles and item searches don’t follow the same lunacy that guided the rest of the game’s design. They’re quite easy for the most part, the hidden object scenes in particular because they have no gimmick and just twelve fairly large and obvious items to find. I got through most of the scenes just blindly clicking, they’re so large. The puzzles are bound to be quite familiar to old hands at HOGs, with a few extra steps taken out to make them even easier. You’d have to completely forget where you’ve been or what you’re doing to get stuck, but there’s a helpful hint system in the form of a cursed forearm that straight tells you what to do, and handles a few puzzles for you as well.

The graphics are on the higher end of the genre, though don’t expect the resolution to meet modern standards. There are some decent effects and even a few genuine spooks thanks to some unnerving design on your nemesis. Sound design is also plenty solid, with a moody soundtrack, rich effects, and a few inspired choices for environmental sounds. Your adventure should only take about two hours and then there’s 20-30 minutes of bonus material that really just muddies the story even more. But that’s what you should be here for, a solid hidden object game with a story so absurd, they named the game after one of the least important parts of it. Luckily for us, that was really the only mark they missed here.

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