It's time to recognise some real new talent in ZZT. Gingermuffins has already done great things with contests and the Mel Gibson game Sugartits. Here it all comes together in this excellent game. A shortened version of a project originally entitled Vinegar Gulf, Eli's House does not feel like a game that has been pared down. It's absolutely huge and you are bound to miss plenty of things the first play though. The sense of exploration achieved is comparable to Warlock Domain and Kudzu. Each feature of the world is captivating from the story to the graphics and it makes exploring exciting and interesting.
You start the game navigating a hedge maze in an attempt to gain access to a mansion. Your hero's origins are vague, as are his reasons for entering the house. Eventually you meet some other people who are trying to explore the house, and together you work to solve the mystery of the house and its elusive owner. The characters are well defined and mysterious, revealing more and more about who they are as the game progresses which rewards game play. Much of the house is open to exploration and figuring out how to open that next door is much of the charm. Eli's House will have you shooting things occasionally, but not much, and the game leans heavily into the adventure category. Puzzles involve remembering who wants what item, or getting clues as to secrets from people or objects. The game requires a bit of thought, but that's not to say it doesn't involve quick reflexes. Several of the obstacles to overcome require thinking on your toes, the sewer area being a fine example. Health is limited which means you must be careful, but the experience is not frustratingly difficult and actually makes the game more engaging and addictive.
Graphically, this is gin at his best. The design of the mansion is varied and colours are used well. There are lots of interesting rooms that all have their own feel and style, which when combined in the game leads to a very immersive experience. Objects are used well graphically. Subtle animations and the occasional cut scene rounds out a diversely illustrated game. The music is effective, and the pleasant, mood-setting tunes are short and sweet. All of the above considered, the polish of this game is one of its most impressive features.
The open ended quality of the first file is underused in the second, but it is just as large and twice as difficult. Things also get a little more weird. Traps here are devious and it's important to save often here. The Virtual Reality room is spooky. Later there is a sort of RPG fight, then you climb the windmill and move on to beat the game. The final sequences are exciting and satisfyingly climactic.
There are quite a few areas in this game, though you are not required to visit some of them to complete the game. Playing this game you get the great feeling that you will never see everything. Packed with fun puzzles that challenge you mind and your reflexes, Eli's House is one of the best games to come around in a long time. A must for fans of adventure games. For examples of a finely finished game, balancing game play, story, and graphics, the aspiring ZZTer will want to take this one to heart.