I don’t think my dad could ever Escape Rosecliff Island – Rock Paper Shotgun

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!

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I don't think my dad could ever Escape Rosecliff Island - Rock Paper Shotgun

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