In a tragic fire the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, lose both their home and their parents. Subsequently, and for some unknown reason, they’re initially sent to live with Count Olaf – a dreadful actor and all around miserable person. As legal guardian of the children, Olaf will inherit the entire Baudelaire family fortune should the children perish, so he makes it his business for them to do so. To overcome obstacles and enemies, Violet frequently creates handy inventions for her and Klaus to use, including hover shoes, stilts, and even weapons. Young Sunny’s small size allows her to navigate certain areas where neither Klaus nor Violet can fit. You must use each of the three children’s different abilities to solve puzzles and platform through danger. Between portions of the game its story is carried through drawn black-and-white images with accompanying narration.
Depending on whose skills are required you can switch between Klaus and Violet at any time. When a new challenge appears, Violet will devise an idea for an invention that will help the trio on their way. You must gather the items she needs as you find them. You’ll also find items for future inventions, but you can’t gather them until Violet specifies that they’re necessary. When you first start out in Count Olaf’s house you are unable to progress beyond the first few rooms until you kill all the rats with one of Violet’s inventions. When you find the parts needed, the invention assembly screen appears displaying the first item in the center and the remaining items on the side. You rotate the item in question until an ?X’ appears on it, at which point you are able to attach the next item. That’s it – you neither have to figure which item to use next nor how to assemble them; there’s no thought involved, surely it would have been more fun to figure out how to do this personally, or even create your own inventions. You’re led by the hand all the way through and it’s neither exciting nor rewarding. You’re even shown where to go next and which gadget to use when you get there.
When you do take care of the first batch of rats you can’t backtrack until you kill the next batch. Every door is locked in the main room of Count Olaf’s house until you kill even more rats, after which you proceed to the kitchen. Most of the game is extremely linear and you can’t reach most areas until you need to. Eventually you’ll graduate to killing toads and wasps. During your brief stint in Justice Strauss’ library your mission is to place books in their appropriate alcove within the time limit?actually that’s not true. Placing the book in any alcove – even the wrong one – will terminate the timer and allow you to peruse the library at your leisure until finding the right spot for the books.
After Count Olaf’s house it’s on to Uncle Monty’s where Olaf’s henchmen are everywhere, but not to worry since the game’s A.I. has an alarmingly short range, and if you walk far enough away the henchmen forget you’re there. I’m left wondering how all these people not only got into Monty’s house, but also how they made it through all the puzzles that it takes all three orphans collectively to solve. When you manage to retrieve all of Monty’s pet snakes and return them to the cages in his reptile room, ?B’ prompts still appear next to the cages, even though there’s nothing left to do. In this room you’ll also find plenty of draw distance issues, and tree textures seen through windows change as you rotate the camera, though that seems to be a graphical issue prominent throughout the game.
If you decide to keep playing after Uncle Monty’s house you’ll arrive at Aunt Josephine’s and, to keep a long story short, you’ll ultimately need to escape, which means jumping from floorboard to floorboard as they collapse beneath you. It’s difficult to judge how far you can jump, and when you activate your propeller shoes you may end up hovering too low to land on the next board or return to the previous one. Often you’ll just hover for a few seconds before plummeting to your death, or you’ll land as the platform disappears, forcing you to memorize which floorboards to jump on as you repeat the challenge again and again.
Combat: an expression which here means a series of unfortunate gameplay mechanics.
Although there is a jump function, jumping from a standstill in order to clear onrushing barrels or clouds of smoke occurs too late or not at all. Targeting can be done in first person, but this takes too long – you get hit before you can shoot because two functions are mapped to the Right Trigger, meaning you have to pull and hold to switch to a first-person view. Meanwhile, the thumb stick buttons are unmapped. Any time you attempt to move when shooting wasps, you get hit; your best bet is to stand and face them while mashing on the fire button and hoping that everything works out okay. Wasps explode on impact – if you stand in a particular spot they repeatedly fly into an object and explode, though more continuously appear because you didn’t killed them. I guess infinite respawn was easier than programming the wasps to fly around obstacles. Also, your weapon fire creates the same sound no matter what it hits, and the siblings don’t react when they mistakenly shoot each other. During boss fights the camera changes, making it difficult to do anything but run in a circle. This impedes your ability to find health items and, even outside of combat, the camera only moves left and right. Generally, combat with your ?fruit flinger’ and ?brilliant bopper’ is about as much fun as falling down a bunch of steep steps.
While most of the gameplay in Unfortunate Events is dull there are a few enjoyable mini games. By pressing the correct face button on the Xbox controller Violet plays the piano, and lock picking is a memory game similar to Simon. Sunny’s missions are all side scrolling and some simply require you to jump at the right time as she speeds along a large slide. As you progress you will encounter puzzle pieces, every twenty-five of which yields a picture of a location on the secret file screen. When you travel to that location you’ll find a hidden room with a package containing bonus content such as movie slideshows or character RTMs.
Despite the authentic movie voice cast and predominantly decent sound effects, such as creaky wooden bridges and squawking seagulls near water, Unfortunate Events has a fair share of audio issues. At the very beginning of the game the subtitles move faster than the narration and frequently Klaus’ jumping sound effect sounds like a goose honking. Even though you can switch between Klaus and Violet at will, dialogue is not recorded for both characters. For example, if you’re playing as Klaus and you try to enter a store, Violet may read out the sign on the door even though the children are separated at the time. When Violet is escaping through the aforementioned floorboard challenge and respawns at a certain point after falling, her location-specific dialogue overrides the narrator’s clever comment about how she failed and must try again.
The Baudelaire orphans should have utilized their collective genius to kill Count Olaf and save themselves some heartache. Your life gauge is called the misery meter and when it empties you die and start again, though it would make more sense if you died when the misery meter was full. I’m left wondering why the children weren’t just sent to a relative in the first place. Categorizing Unfortunate Events as an action game is a grotesque stretch of gaming imagination; though, on the upside, it is easily the best pest-control simulation I’ve ever played.