Past Perfect is a retrospective column in which we look back into gaming history to see whether old favourites are still worth playing today.
I have a mystery that will likely never be solved. After my dad died in 2016, one of the more peculiar things I had to do was go through his computer, log him out of everything, and close down various accounts. Which included Steam. Looking in his library on there, there were three games that sat atop his most played list, with hundreds of hours clocked up for each. Skyrim, X-COM: UFO Defense, and, er, hidden object game Escape Rosecliff Island. Pardon?
The first two were no surprise. As my dad entered his 60s, he got rather stuck in his gaming ways, frequently returning to those classics for his post-work winding down. But Escape Rosecliff Island? I dont think Id ever once heard him even mention it. Let alone that hed been plugging away at this hidden object game for seemingly years. So what was going on there?
Im no stranger to Rosecliff! In one of my many proud posts on RPS about my fondness for hidden object games, I wrote about this exact entry in SpinTops collection back in 2009. So could my father have read this one random post, never told me about it, and then become completely hooked on this game? I cant find out. Hes not picking up. So I figured Id play it myself again today to see if theres something more going on in there than I thought.
Lets not build up some unnecessary suspense here: there is not. This is, if anything, the platonic hidden object game. Created at a point in that peculiar genres history where theyd yet to start awkwardly evolving their way into a sort of proto-adventure game, but perhaps showing the first signs of leg buds as it tentatively sniffed the beach, it delivers the core of the formula as straight down the line as you could ever imagine.
If youve never played one, a hidden object game is in their purest form a collection of extremely busy mostly static scenes in which hundreds of items are hidden. Youre given a list of ten or so to find in any given screen, and a time limit in which to find them. Done badly, as the genre most often is, this quickly becomes a drearily repetitive chore of finding the same items on the same screens multiple times, as the game forcibly stretches itself out far beyond reason. Done well, as SpinTop were wont to do (there was a reason PopCap bought them as their casual gaming empire grew), and it was a very pleasantly distracting puzzle game in which you squinted at your monitor trying to find where the bloody hell a frog could be hiding in this image of a garage.
Over the decade or so since SpinTops reign at the top of the genre, as I mention theyve quite significantly moved onward. Nowadays youll probably get a big old storyline about missing victims of a mad witch, or a young female cop on the hunt for a killer, with vestigial adventure elements crowbarred in, most likely involving crowbars. I still enjoy them. So there. But back in 2009, it was much more straightforward, and Escape Rosecliff Island demonstrates this with aplomb. It insinuates theres a storyline here, but there never actually is. What there is instead is a degree of wit behind its design that makes it still an absolute pleasure to play.
The key is in the hiding. And you cant really appreciate how well SpinTop did it until youve suffered through some of the endless shovel-loads of examples youll find all over your favourite app store. For instance, lets just study this screen together:
Take a glance and youve got a treehouse in a tree. Its pretty nicely drawn too. Look closer and you have the maddest muddle of items imaginable. Look at that ladder, for instance. From the top down youve got an axe, a femur, a railway spike, a ballet shoe, great big knife, horseshoe, revolver, and acorn. And Ill be my bum you didnt notice one of them when you first looked. Look at every pillar of the treehouse base, every surface of the branches, its all just absolutely packed. And best of all and this is where so many copycats got it so wrong nothing is really where it should be.
Perhaps you could justify that squirrel or the cat, but beyond that? A baseball bat as the top of the doorway? Improbably vast acorns? That enormous dinner fork on the branch, next to the rope attached to a brush? This was what made these games so good: that there was a degree of wit behind the layout. Objects were made hugely bigger than they ought to be, and that made them harder to find! You still havent noticed the incongruously placed party hat next to the angel statue and the camel at the foot of the tree trunk. And perhaps havent enjoyed the gag of SYMPHON etched into the base of the house.
With 25 of these locations in each game, each one returned to over and over but never with the same objects to find twice, there was so much replayability here, certainly. But enough for my dad to have mainlined it alongside the Elder Scrolls?
It was only by playing it today that I think I got somewhere toward a possible explanation. Im not entirely sure the game ever ends. And if dad felt compelled to actually escape Rosecliff Island as the entirity of the games narrative suggested he should, then it was likely only death that could have freed him from the task.
There was a moment this morning where my five-year-old was squatted on my desk, while my games-avoidant wife was slumped on top of me sat in my office chair, as the three of us played it together for a bit. Id asked them to help me find a candlestick. They ended up staying for an hour, my wifes preternatural ability at these games frankly scaring me and the boy. Theres a screwdriver, theres a fish, thats the radio, the bells by the chicken, the dogs on that box, theres a feather next to Weve never ever played a game together as a family before.
After they left, I carried on, and I carried on, and I carried on. Im writing this far too late in the day because I carried on some more. I completed another five screens, then another four, then six, then four others, each one implying that Id at some point get to a place where I could escape this damned island. I have not. I fear carrying on to find out if I ever will, lest I too become trapped, like some sort of family curse that Ill be incapable of preventing from passing on to my own son.
So either dad just really liked this, and ONLY THIS, hidden object game, and for some reason never contemplated downloading another. Or he perhaps left it running in the background one time and then visited the moon without switching off his PC. Or, and I think we can agree this is most likely, was the subject of a rejected Stephen King short story, soon to be made in a direct-to-the-Horror-Channel movie.
Can I still play Escape Rosecliff Island?
Yes, you can. Its still on sale on Steam. However, as appears to be the case with a bunch of these old casual games on Steam, it likely wont load when you first try. Itll say it cant find steam.dll. This is easily fixed: head to the top level of your Steam directory, and youll find said file in there. Copy and paste it into this games directory in steamsteamappscommonEscape Rosecliff Island, and itll be good to go.
Should I still play Escape Rosecliff Island?
As an example of why SpinTop were the best there ever was at hidden object, and for genuinely engaging entertainment, yes, definitely! As a curse that might be passed down for generations, you might want to give it some thought.
John Walker was one of the original creators of RPS, before he was fired for being too great. He now runs Buried Treasure, a site dedicated to unknown indie games. You can support his Patreon!
- Creaks, a trippy 2D puzzle game, arrives on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC in July - Daily Star - July 3rd, 2020
- The recursive world simulation & puzzle-making process in Maquette - PlayStation.Blog - July 3rd, 2020
- Maquette Will Bring Mind-Bendingly Clever Recursive Puzzles To PS5, PS4, And PC This Year - GameSpot - July 3rd, 2020
- How citizen scientists and video games are taking on Covid-19 - RTE.ie - July 3rd, 2020
- Felix The Reaper Comes To Life on iOS - GameSpace.com - July 3rd, 2020
- Turok and Grip highlight free games for Twitch Prime members this July - PC Invasion - July 3rd, 2020
- Incredibly Innovative Puzzle Game Carto Comes To PS4 This Fall - PlayStation Universe - July 1st, 2020
- This Doctor Who Sliding Puzzle Game Is Driving Me Insane and I Can't Stop Playing It - Gizmodo - July 1st, 2020
- Made in the USSR: 6 video games Soviets went crazy over - Russia Beyond - July 1st, 2020
- Adventure/puzzle game 'Carto' heading to Switch - GoNintendo - July 1st, 2020
- 10 Fantastic Disney Games From The 16-Bit Era | TheGamer - TheGamer - July 1st, 2020
- Top 10 Addictive Games That Can Help You Cure Boredom at the Workplace - ThisisXbox - July 1st, 2020
- With dinnertime singing and 1,000-piece puzzles, the Portland Thorns are settling into the bubble before faci - OregonLive - July 1st, 2020
- Games to Watch Out For This July GameSpew - GameSpew - June 30th, 2020
- Shelter Tails: Whoever adopts Hank will need a sense of humor - Times Herald-Record - June 30th, 2020
- Apple just unveiled its picks of the best iPad and iPhone apps of the year - here they are - TechRadar - June 30th, 2020
- Doctor Who fans are losing their minds over the new Thirteen Doctors game - RadioTimes - June 30th, 2020
- THOSE WHO REMAIN Review: Fear Of The Dark And Heavy Decisions - GameTyrant - June 30th, 2020
- Five new Steam games you probably missed (June 29, 2020) - PC Gamer - June 29th, 2020
- The Almost Gone Review - New Game Network - June 29th, 2020
- Power-Ups - The New York Times - June 29th, 2020
- United Fresh LIVE! Badge, Puzzle and Trivia winners announced - FreshPlaza.com - June 29th, 2020
- Review: Neversong's Moody Nightmare World Doesn't Strike the Right Chords - thirdcoastreview.com - June 29th, 2020
- How Xbox Series X Game Call Of The Sea Uses The Console's Power - GameSpot - June 29th, 2020
- The best new Android and iOS apps you should download this week - AndroidPIT - June 28th, 2020
- Nintendo Switch free games news: Two unmissable free downloads have just hit the eShop - Express - June 28th, 2020
- Apple Arcade needs games made with iPads in mind - heres why - TechRadar - June 28th, 2020
- Here's what we played during the Steam Game Festival Part 2 - GTOGG - June 28th, 2020
- Here are the discussions you missed in the PC Gamer forums this week - PC Gamer - June 28th, 2020
- Puzzler Superliminal Releasing July 7th - Pure PlayStation - June 26th, 2020
- THE ALMOST GONE Review: An Intriguing Puzzle Game With A Haunting Tale - GameTyrant - June 26th, 2020
- The Almost Gone review dreamlike puzzles unlock a world of dark unease - The Guardian - June 26th, 2020
- Urban Flow is coming tomorrow, 26th of June! - GamingLyfe Network - June 26th, 2020
- European eShop releases for the week of June 25th, 2020 - GoNintendo - June 26th, 2020
- Uncover the truth behind the dioramas of The Almost Gone , now available! - Gamasutra - June 26th, 2020
- Blair Witch, Mr. DRILLER DrillLand, Ninjala, Duke Nukem 3D, and SpongeBob Rehydrated hit the Switch - Games Asylum - June 26th, 2020
- Garden Story pushes its harvest back to 2021 - Shacknews - June 26th, 2020
- Dr. Mario World Introduces Dr Baby Wario, And We're Not Sure If He's Cute Or Not - GameSpot - June 24th, 2020
- An Ode to The End - SUPERJUMP - Medium - June 24th, 2020
- Indie Spotlight: Why KO_OP believes Apple Arcade is the perfect introduction for non-gamers - Pocket Gamer.Biz - June 24th, 2020
- Gotta drink up! Heres the official Sonic energy drink - Thumbsticks - June 24th, 2020
- Ever Forward is coming to Switch at the end of the year - Videogamer.com - June 24th, 2020
- The 10 Best Tetris Video Games Of All Time | Game Rant - GameRant - June 24th, 2020
- Five new games to play on your mobile this summer - The Upcoming - June 23rd, 2020
- 'Circulous', the Semi-Sequel to 'The Company Game' from Teenage Developer Chain Reaction Games, Now Available for Pre-Order - Touch Arcade - June 23rd, 2020
- Ever Forward by Pathea Games is Coming to Nintendo Switch - Gamasutra - June 23rd, 2020
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV Western Release on PlayStation 4 Set for October 27, PC and Switch in 2021 - Niche Gamer - June 23rd, 2020
- Time travel puzzle game The Great Perhaps coming to PS4, Xbox One, and Switch on July 10 - Gematsu - June 23rd, 2020
- The Last of Us Part 2 Review: A Brutally Heartfelt Masterpiece - KeenGamer News - June 23rd, 2020
- New Catherine: Full Body Switch Trailer Revealed at New Game Plus Expo - GameRant - June 23rd, 2020
- CLASS IN SESSION! MYSTERIOUS PUZZLE ADVENTURE GAME THE ACADEMY: THE FIRST RIDDLE UNVEILS ITS SECRETS TODAY - Gamasutra - June 22nd, 2020
- The World Video Game Hall of Fame 2020 inductees have been announced - My Nintendo News - June 22nd, 2020
- Page A4 | E-Edition | thetandd.com - The Times and Democrat - June 22nd, 2020
- 10 PS4 Games That Are Harder Than Dark Souls | Game Rant - GameRant - June 22nd, 2020
- Lots of us adopted dogs in quarantine: 'Dog Whisperer' Csar Milln has some tips - Greater Milwaukee Today - June 22nd, 2020
- Protagonists, Puzzles and Ports: An Interview With Ever Forward's Producer - GameSpew - June 22nd, 2020
- Picture Puzzle Market Share, Growth, Statistics, By Application, Production, Revenue & Forecast To 2026 - Cole of Duty - June 22nd, 2020
- The best retro games and PS4 remasters on sale - Explica - June 22nd, 2020
- Games of the week Skelattack, Maneater, Potata: Fairy Flower and SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit - Inverness Courier - June 22nd, 2020
- Solution to Riddle of the Week: The Pickleball Puzzle - Yahoo News - June 21st, 2020
- This is the first prescription video game for treating ADHD in kids - The Indian Express - June 21st, 2020
- What's something about games you didn't mind as a kid but can't stand now? - PC Gamer - June 21st, 2020
- How to Solve The Secret Silent Hill Clock Tower Puzzle in Dead by Daylight - Screen Rant - June 19th, 2020
- 15 must-try demos from the Steam Summer Game Festival - PCWorld - June 19th, 2020
- Augmented Reality Mobile Games Market to See Massive Growth by 2025 | Niantic, Sony, Six to Start - 3rd Watch News - June 19th, 2020
- Rising SEA Woven Is a Free Collection of Mini-Games Celebrating Southeast Asian Culture - The Escapist - June 19th, 2020
- Pokmon Caf Mix is an absolutely adorable puzzle game for Switch and mobile - The Verge - June 18th, 2020
- App Army Assemble: Reky - Is this Bauhaus-inspired puzzler a must-buy on mobile? - Pocket Gamer - June 18th, 2020
- Play This, Not That: The Last of Us Part II - SuperParent - June 17th, 2020
- Download over 900 demos in the Steam Summer Game Festival - AllGamers - June 17th, 2020
- Stockholm-based Stillfront lands 114 million to expand its global group of gaming studios - EU-Startups - June 17th, 2020
- 'Kosmokrats' Puts Starship-Building in the Hands of a Potato Peeler - Indie Games Plus - June 17th, 2020
- Copy Cats - The New York Times - June 17th, 2020
- The biggest news from the Upload VR Showcase: Summer Edition - Digital Trends - June 16th, 2020
- Ever Forward Interview - The Art Of Designing Narrative-Driven Puzzles - Noisy Pixel - June 16th, 2020
- Games from Iceberg Interactive in the Steam Summer Festival - FULLSYNC - June 16th, 2020
- Unitied, a Minimalist and Relaxing Puzzle Game coming to Switch June 25th - SwitchWatch - June 16th, 2020
- Go To Hell In VR Puzzler Trial By Teng From The Creators Of Form - UploadVR - June 16th, 2020
- Bundle for Racial Justice Closes with 8 Million Raised - Heavy.com - June 16th, 2020
- Surgeon Simulator 2 is Transplanting to the Epic Games Store in August - GameSpew - June 16th, 2020