Wednesday 15 June 2016

Cruise for a Corpse - WON! And Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

One of you is guilty! But which one?

Last week, our Cruise for a Corpse had just about come to an end. Despite our best efforts, Suzanne and Hector had both been killed, although we discovered that the ship was smuggling explosives, that a mafia hitman was sent to kill Niklos, and that the captain secretly wants to be a railroad engineer. But how do all of these things connect? Who killed Niklos? And is he really dead? We’re about to find out! Raoul has gathered together all the remaining suspects and he’s about to reveal who the killer is.

After the killer is revealed, we’ll jump straight into the Final Rating. No need to wait another week when we only have around 20 minutes of play time left. So, let’s get right to it!

I just like sunglasses...

It was… Daphne!

No, I don’t really think that Daphne killed Niklos, although she certainly had a good motive. But before picking who I “really” think did it, I want to experiment briefly with a bad pick. It’s actually a fun little ending scene: Raoul points her out and claims that her motive was revenge. He says that she blamed Niklos for the death of her mother, Mercedes, but that she did not act on it for two decades because she only recently found the incriminating letter. As Daphne is led away and the passengers disembark, Raoul has second thoughts. There wasn’t enough evidence. He decides that it’s time to change careers.

No more adventure games for you!

After restoring my game, I play around some more. When I pick Julio, Raoul can’t even come up with a plausible story why he might have done it, except that he “has the heart of a true murderer”. I doubt that will stand up in court, Raoul! I then pick Tom and go through the whole process again, seeing in that case that he murdered Niklos to get him out of the way so that he could have Rebecca and his fortune. But in each case, we get the “bad” ending where Niklos just gets the sinking feeling that he didn’t pick right.

Shall we do it the right way now? (I think!)

How about “Shirley”?

It was… Dick! (Really!)

My real guess will be that it’s Dick, but only on a technicality. No one killed Niklos, at least not recently. “Niklos” faked his own death and has been hiding in plain sight, pretending to be Dick Schmock. He pulled this off because he is both a talented actor and no one knew Dick prior to the reading of the will. He’d also benefit from the “family resemblance” throwing off suspicions why they look a little too similar. I imagine he’d have to disguise his voice and do other similar things, but perhaps he could get away with it. My only question is whether or not Mercedes was complicit in it (because I doubt he could fool a woman Niklos had known intimately). I find it hard to believe Daphne didn’t notice the change also, but she was sent off to boarding school almost immediately. Let’s see!

Of course, I am right and “Dick” gives us a long explanatory monologue: He’s really Dimitry Ostrovich, a talented actor and entertainer. 17 years ago, he fell in love with Mercedes. Together they plotted to kill the real Niklos and replace him using Dimitry’s legendary acting talents. They put Daphne in school and severed all social connections, even moving to another city, to reduce the risk of discovery. (How they fooled Agnes will have to be left as an exercise for the reader.)

Who says money can’t buy happiness?

A few months later, Dimitry discovered that Mercedes was cheating on him, too. Around this time, Hector also discovered his deception as he knew him in his previous life as an actor. They killed two birds with one stone: Hector agreed both to kill Mercedes and then pretend to be Niklos’s butler, presumably with the pay and luxury that entailed. And that’s how things continued for some time.

Eventually, Dimitry managed to spend all of Niklos’s money and get him into deep debt. At that point he realized that he needed to find a way to get Agnes’s money as well. Dimitry knew that “Niklos” was her only heir so he moved his so-called aunt into his house and slowly poisoned her. But, the joke was on him because she willed her estate to her long lost son, Dick Schmock. But that’s when Dimitry hatched his grand plan: he invited Raoul on the cruise for police presence, a witness to the con he was pulling off. He killed the real Dick Schmock and took over his identity, using the real Dick’s corpse for the body that Raoul and Hector saw at the start of the game. We’re left to imagine how Dimitry would avoid meeting anyone in the world that had known the real Dick.

Donald Trump? There’s no way to fit this in-universe...

Everything was going well with Dimitry’s plan, but Suzanne figured it out. She had to be killed. And since he was already killing people anyway, he took out Hector because he was the only other person that knew of the deception.

Amazingly, the game offers an explanation why I was finding strange objects in strange locations at times that made no plot-sense: it was Dimitry. He was leaving me clues all throughout the ship, originally intending to frame Rebecca, but he was having so much fun leading me around that he started planting clues to point to just about everyone. Dimitry ominously says that his plan cannot fail and he implies that he even had a strategy for this eventuality, but we do not find what it is as he is led off the ship in chains. Raoul feels good about himself, but was there a sequel planned?

Protip: An in universe reason for a bad game mechanic, doesn’t make it fun.

Goodbye, Dimitry!

We are then given a look at what happened to each of the other suspects:
  • Father Fabiani resigned from the church to become a professional gambler.
  • Daphne ended up marrying Julio after all and are living happily ever after.
  • Rebecca remarried, finding another rich husband. This time, she was a bit more careful.
  • Rose and Tom divorced. Rose remarried and had a son, Raphael.
  • Tom was hounded by Rose’s father for his betrayal, eventually turning to drink and homelessness.
  • Dimitry Ostrovich was sentenced to life in prison.

Because he had been so good at it...

This seems so… unlikely. But at least he wasn’t a murderer.

Because now Tom couldn’t be rich enough. What a gold digger.

She didn’t get back with her first fiancee?

Look! Tom is standing up!

Just before the credits roll, we learn that Raoul has been so happy with his success on this case that he has quit the police force to become a private detective. The end!


Time for a sequel!

The game was obviously setting itself up for a sequel that would never come, but at least the reveal made some amount of sense. Even so, I’m glad for it to be over. Time for something new!

Time played: 20 min
Total time: 23 hr 30 min

Deaths / Reloads:
0 restarts due to game crashes (9 total)
0 deaths (2 total)
3 bad endings for picking the wrong murderer

Now that we’re done, how does this game fare on our PISSED rating scale?

A red herring; I’ll spend half the game trying to find cat food.

Puzzles and Solvability

Cruise for a Corpse is not much like the mystery games that we have played before, or really any other adventures. The lion’s share of the game can scarcely be called an “adventure game” as we understand it, with most of the “puzzles” simply being about collecting questions to ask the suspects and simply being thorough to explore every area again and again and again. For me, I think I gave up at around the dozenth time trying to delve into every cranny in rooms I’ve traversed before, but I suppose that is still “solvable”, right? If you invested the time?

We don’t get many traditional adventure game puzzles until the end game: opening the crates with the crowbar, fixing the film projector, and unscrambling the books to name three. We even get one puzzle with multiple solutions as you could also use the soap to defeat the mafia hitman instead of going into that little minigame.

But the biggest sin of this game is not that it did not have adventure game puzzles, but that it was filled with adventure game red herrings. What’s up with that mermaid code? Nothing! You never solve it or need it. How about the multiple direct hints that you need to find food to feed the cat? Nope. Not possible. There are more than a dozen other examples of descriptions or activities that suggest you should come back later and not one of them pan out. It’s frustrating, especially considering how few real puzzles this game has.

My score: 1. The central mystery is a puzzle in itself, but the tedious question-collection and item-hunting cannot be considered puzzles worth solving. Those more than make up for a passable endgame.

Fast travel is one of the nicer features of this game.

Interface and Inventory

When I reviewed Delphine Studio’s previous game, Operation: Stealth, I was too hard on the interface category. I liked Sierra games too much and I was too new at reviewing games to get that score exactly right. Cruise for a Corpse takes that interface and runs with it, while simplifying some aspects. No longer can you use inventory objects with each other, for example. It’s quite serviceable and very “object oriented”. My biggest complaint is that the verbs are contextual; I would have liked “throw” to always appear in the soap if it would appear somewhere. That gives me a good hint. As it stands, you have to check every object to see if new verbs appear for them in every room.

The interface’s two largest issues are unique to this game: the inconsistent use of items and the terrible dialog system. Both are closely related. Most of the time, if you want to discuss an object with a suspect, you find it listed in the dialog menu after you pick it up. A few times however, you have to right-click on it in the room and notice that a “Show” (or similar) option appears. Not a huge deal, but I always forgot to do it. Secondly, the dialog system is stifling. Even though you have a full passenger list from the start of the game, you can only ask someone about someone else after you met them. So I might have wanted to discuss Rebecca with Tom, but you can’t ask him directly about her until late in the game when you finally find her in her room.

My score: 4. It’s more polished than its predecessors, but the conversation system is artificial and constricting.

The captain tends to an injured Rebecca after a rare moment of action.

Story and Setting

The overall story is… not bad. I worry that it has been cribbed from an Agatha Christie story that I haven’t read, but what we have is a tangled web of interpersonal relationships and motives, culminating in the realization that just about everyone had a motive for killing Niklos. There are fun connections between suspects and lots of backstory to explore. We even had contextually-appropriate inconsistencies where not all characters saw the same people and events the same way. Real thought was put into building the narrative.

But, on my 50th or 100th circuit of the ship,I have to confess that the setting is uninspired and not very interesting. We’re on a boat! But with so few rooms and with the ones that we have being so unremarkable, it just became boring very fast. We never even found out where the cruise was going to! Transplanting some of the action to an isolated Greek island or similar might have kept the closed room aspect of the mystery while giving us something more interesting to look at.

My score: 4. Good story, but extremely limited and uninteresting setting.

The rotoscoped models are nice, but low resolution.

Sound and Graphics

This game was one of the first to get the rotoscoped style that Delphine Studios would be known for and it uses it fairly well in the introduction scene and the ending. The actual character animations are not bad, but a little too low-resolution, especially when they draw scenes where Raoul needs to walk to the foreground. The rotoscoped characters do not mix especially well with the hand-drawn backgrounds, but that is pretty typical for a game of the era. The character models for the dialog scenes are different from the rotoscoped ones, but they might have benefited from a bit more motion capture as they come off as if everyone is dancing the “robot”. The contrast between the two art styles is never too jarring, but never that well-done either.

The music in this game feels less varied than their previous outings and none of it passes the “hum” test. (That is, I can’t remember any of it a day or two after playing.)

My score: 5. Experimental graphics with forgettable music. Seems about right.

Rose, enjoying the sunshine while a murderer prowls the ship.
Environment and Atmosphere

I don’t want to say that the game’s atmosphere “sucks”, but I do not feel that the game’s elements came together all that well. None of the characters react in a realistic way to the fact that a murderer is on board, even as he starts to pick off the passengers. We don’t turn the ship around, Tom still just reads the newspaper in the smoking room, and Father Fabiani calmly eats his breakfast in the dining room. There’s no sense of urgency, made all the worse by the repetitive searching that we have to do to advance every step of the way. A timed murder mystery should have some tension, this game does not.

Add to that that the environments themselves are repetitive. Almost every room has exactly the same camera angles, the same color pallet, and many of the same things to click on. Why can I individually examine each structural beam? Each piece of laundry in the closet? I don’t know. I would consider it just flavor text, but over and over again the game forces you to search each individual towel in a closet because a clue might be hidden in one.

My score: 2. This game actively fought against the tone it so desperately needed to have.

Domestic battery, nothing serious. Hector, you are an ass.

Dialog and Acting

It wasn’t until I was thinking back on the game that I realized how much text there is, and how much of it is surprisingly good! Delphine’s previous outings were littered with translation defects, but here there are shockingly few of them. There are translation problems in the interface with inconsistent use of words and some grammatical missteps, but I can think of no issues anywhere in the hundreds of mini-dialogs throughout the game.

To add to this, each of the characters speaks in their own distinct “voice” with different use of slang and word choices. This is fantastic for a game which was not originally written in English. I wish that there had been more “adventure” in the game because the text is better than most of the games that we have played.

My score: 6. Well-written prose with distinct character voices, offset only a bit by translation inconsistencies in the engine.

Final Score

Time to tally up the score! (1+4+4+5+2+6)/.6 = 37! That’s not too bad, but I want to subtract two more points: one for pointlessly padding out the game with endless searching and wasting a terrific amount of time, and another for all of the red herrings. I never was able to feed the cat, despite the game bending over backwards to hint that is what you needed to do. I wanted to subtract one more for the “giving whisky to an alcoholic” puzzle, but at this point I think I’ve punished the game enough. That gives us 35 as the final score!

That is considerably lower than Operation: Stealth, but it seems quite appropriate. In fact, I’m surprised that it’s so high. The game engine is good, the new graphics are nice, but boy did I actively hate booting up this game and forcing myself to explore the same rooms over and over again. I almost wish this wasn’t Delphine’s final adventure game; I would have liked to have seen if they could have melded the improved translation, storytelling, and graphics with a halfway decent game.

Our winner this time is Charles, hitting the score right on the nose! He commented this his primary recollection of the game was a “a vague sense of infuriation and frustration” and that seems pretty much on point. With an average guess of 45, it’s clear that most of you either liked or had higher expectations of this game than I did. This seems like one of the largest deltas between the average guess and the actual score we’ve ever had. What are you seeing in this game that I didn’t?

I made a few predictions at the start of the game. Let’s see how I did:
  • Niklos isn’t really dead; we’re just meant to think that. No body means no murder, right? - I was partly correct. Niklos was dead and there really was a body and a murderer, but “Niklos” (Dimitry) wasn’t dead, he was disguised as Dick. 
  • We will discover who invited Raoul to the cruise… and it won’t be Niklos! - Mostly wrong. It wasn’t Niklos, but “Niklos” (Dimitry) did invite Raoul to the cruise.
  • I will find a way to make a pirate joke every post. - WRONG! I was so… er… enthralled by the game that I plum forgot. 
  • I will discover why this is Delphine Studios’ final adventure game. - I say this is on the nose. 
  • The butler did it! - Mostly wrong! Hector, not yet a butler, did kill Mercedes. But the key murders of the game were all done by “Niklos” (Dimitry). 
A Very Different Cruise

Before we end this post, I want to share some screen shots that were discovered by reader Abel Thorn from an old French-language preview of the game. They suggest a very different play experience and style than the game we actually received.

I like the “NK” initials on the wall, but I LOVE the giant telescope. What happened to that?

A fully functional casino onboard?

This design makes a lot more sense for a movie theater.

You can find these and more pre-release screenshots here and here.

Up next for me will be some Missed Classics, but I look forward to finishing out 1991 with another mystery: Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective! Can it be any worse?

CAP Distribution

165 CAPs for Joe Pranevich
  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For playing through Cruise for Corpse and blogging about it
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing through Seas of Blood and blogging about it
  • Best Thing To Come From Belgium Award - 15 CAPs - For commiting himself to some quality time with Belgian comics
60 CAPs for Voltgloss
  • Companion Award - 20 CAPs - For playing along and completing Cruise for Corpse with a walkthrough
  • Sailing The Seven Seas Award - 25 CAPs - For playing along and completing Seas of Blood
  • Game Tester Award - 5 CAPS - For pointing out bugs in Cruise for Corpse
  • This Is How You Do It Award - 5 CAPs - For correcting Joe about the placement of certain clues
  • Using Soap Prevents Fighting Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out an alternative solution 
50 CAPs for Deimar
  • Gambler Award - 50 CAPs - For making a successful (albeit unfair) bet
25 CAPs for CRPGAddict
  • First Time For Everything Award - 25 CAPs - For playing along and completing Seas of Blood
20 CAPs for Laukku
  • Companion Award - 20 CAPs - For playing along and completing Cruise for Corpse with a walkthrough
16 CAPs for Aperama
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For correctly guessing the score for Seas of Blood
  • Let's Do A Quick Review Award - 5 CAPs - For a quick review of a Fighting Fantasy book
  • Linguist Award - 1 CAPs - For an alternate definition of  "sound"
15 CAPs for Abel Thorne
  • Out Of This World Award - 5 CAPs - For sharing information about Another World
  • James Bond Award - 5 CAPs - For sharing information about Operation: Stealth
  • Photographer Award - 5 CAPs - For information about the earlier graphics of Cruise for Corpse
15 CAPs  for Niklas
  • Oliveira De Figueira Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out a Tintin reference
  • Hercule Poirot Award - 10 CAPs - For solving the case
12 CAPs for Ilmari
  • Rastapopoulos Award - 7 CAPs - For excessive Tintin information
  • Allan Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out a crab can Tintin reference
10 CAPs for Charles
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For correctly guessing the score of Cruise for Corpse
10 CAPs for Tramboi
  • Ariel Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing what the mermaid codes are for
  • It's Not As Dirty In French Award - 5 CAPs - For Original name for Dick Schmock (Désiré Grosjean)
8 CAPs for Rowan Lipkowiz
  • Hacker Award - 5 CAPs - For advice to turn on Safesearch before looking up "sounding"
  • NSFW Award - -2 CAPs - For causing severe nightmares with the above hint
  • Titanic Award - 5 CAPs - For noting that icebergs in Seas of Blood are retinting of mountains
7 CAPs for Reiko
  • Nancy Drew Award - 7 CAPs - For correctly guessing part of the ending (Suzanne discovering Dick's plot)
5 CAPs for Torch
  • Accountant Award - 5 CAPs - For noticing an error in CAP calculations
1 CAP for Fry
  • Grammar Award - 1 CAP - For an alternative definition of "sound"
1 CAP for Andy Panthro
  • At Least You Tried Award - 1 CAP - For guessing incorrectly that Julio was the murderer

Scores for 1991 games

1. Monkey Island 2- 80 point
2. Conquests of the Longbow - 73 points
3. Space Quest 4 - 65 points
4. Willy Beamish - 61 points
5. Larry 1 Remake - 60 points
6. Space Quest 1 Remake - 58 points
7. Spellcasting 201 - 51 points
8. Martian Memorandum - 50 points
9.-11. Timequest, Larry 5 and Police Quest 3 - 47 points
12. Castle of Dr. Brain - 46 points
13. Maupiti Island - 41 points
14. Cruise for Corpse - 35 points
15. Les Manley 2 - 31 points
16. Free D.C.! - 30 points
17. Hugo II - 18 points

Check out your standing on Top 5, Bottom 5 and Full House -scores

Last, but not least, an announcement from your admins. If you haven't noticed it yet, we've got company. Yes, that's right, Joe Pranevich has joined the ranks of TAG admins. I'm sure he'll do as great job as he usually does with his posts!


  1. >opening the crates with the crowbar

    I couldn't do that because of a bug. >:-( I had to reload and try again.

    1. I actually did as well, I think. I may have glossed over that for brevity.

  2. Also, since when could we add/substract TWO points instead of only one?

    1. We have an (inofficial) maximum limit of three discretionary points (Adventure got three bonus points as the instigator of the genre). In practice, we try to keep it in one bonus or minus point, but two might be in order in some cases.

    2. This game... well, it deserved it? :)

      But I agree, we should do so only in exceptional circumstances.

    3. I have a faint memory of Trickster adding sometime before Quest for Glory 1 the rule of adjusting by one point - before that it was just the basic PISSED rating itself and thus some scores were unavailable because of how the rounding works. I may be remembering wrong though.

    4. B.A.T., Colossal Adventure, and Willy Beamish also got -2, so there's a precedent. Mystery House and Adventure are the only significant positive deviants with +2 and +3.

    5. I'd suggest that -2 is only where it feels as though the game has unfairly 'gamed the system', or has a flaw which the PISSED rating doesn't fully explore (bugginess was my real reason for knocking down B.A.T., for example). There are quite a few games where in spite of them not being very good by any objective means, the PISSED rating takes individually good parts like graphics and dialogue and fails to recognise that the game actually has massive failings to it. In this instance, I know that Joe found the game painful from start to finish in spite of really liking the idea - which makes the game that much more sinful in that regard, so I do understand the negative 2. And besides.. it's French.

    6. As for Colossal Adventure, the reason why it got -2 was because of blatant plagiarism. Similarly, the only higher positives have received more points because of exceptional originality (Adventure begun the whole adventure game genre, Mystery House the genre of graphical adventure games).

    7. I took a look and found where Trickster added the addition/subtraction rule:

      (Extra extra note at the bottom of the post)

      He definitely says that he can change the score by ONE point. Not that it matters, a little more unpredictability in ratings is fine.

    8. I'm not sure that we're doing things exactly as Trickster would have. I'd wager if he played these games, his scores might have varied from ours by a few points. I doubt the overall thrust would be different, but we're not complete quantitative in our scoring.

      I think adding and subtracting points is perhaps something that we've done a bit more of than we should recently, but it's nice to have some flexibility because sometimes games really really piss you off. ;)

  3. Wait... I was right? Boy, I've watched to many murder mystery shows for my own good. And I can't even try on the next Lara Bow cause I already know who did it.


      (I should play this sometime soon...)

    2. Amazing, the puns hit me right in the heart. I love it!

  4. One point for me! Yay! That's a lot, right?

    I may have to adopt "At Least I Tried" as my official motto.

  5. Is there by any chance a reward for pointing out that 100+50+15 usually adds up to way more than 155? Sometimes even as high as 165. ( with regards to Joe's CAP rewards )

    1. Seems like I can't even do maths anymore... This is truly worth a reward!

      And with that, CAP scores and leaderboard have been updated. Joe is on the rise again.

    2. Unless I am reading this wrong:

      Top 5: Kenny, Charles, and I are currently tied for the top spot. Both Kenny and I have EchoQuest and all three of us have Heart of China on our top lists, so if either of those games fail to make the Top 5 then we're probably going to be bounced out.

      Bottom 5: Laertes has a commanding lead on the bottom-feeders, but he ha a lot riding on Elvira and Sherlock Homes being duds.

      Full House: Ilmari is a bit ahead here, but he's betting pretty hard on Heart of China. Let's hope that game doesn't disappoint!

  6. While everytime i tried to play this one back in the day i got bored or annoyed, i expected this to rate higher since the reviews were great at the time, and i though it was my problem for not liking it.

  7. Ooohhh my second correct guess in five years! Thank you, Cruise for a Corpse, for at least something good came out of our decidedly non-cute meet a couple of decades ago. Mysterious ways, etc.