At first glance, it’s possible to mistake The House of Da Vinci for The Room, Fireproof Studios’s seminal environmental puzzler for mobile.
Look a little closer, though, and you’ll find that the similarities are mostly skin deep. The House of Da Vinci games certainly take some inspiration from The Room, but they pick up the concept and take it in a more ambitious direction.
As the name suggests, The House of Da Vinci plonks you down in renaissance Italy and lets you rub shoulders with Leonardo himself.
So far the approach has worked, with The House of Da Vinci 2 scoring an impressive 4.8 out of 5 on the App Store – exactly the same sky-high rating as The Room.
The House of Da Vinci 3 is the final game in the trilogy, and it picks up right where the previous game left off, with protagonist Giacomo scrambling to survive an attack by some thugs.
From there we get to follow Giacomo as he, Leonardo, and a well-acted cast of friends and foes navigate their way through a plot full of magic, machinery, conspiracies, secret messages, and puzzles. So many puzzles.
But it all starts in a rat-infested catacomb. Giacomo needs to escape but his Oculus Perpetua – a time-travelling contraption that allows him to bring up a portal and travel into the past, or to simply see into machines – has been destroyed in the melee.
To make matters worse, rats are blocking the only exit from the catacomb. Giacomo needs to collect the scattered parts of his Oculus Perpetua and put them back together in order to find a time-traveling solution to his predicament.
This is typical of the puzzles in The House of Da Vinci 3. Each problem is like a Russian Doll, with the solution only coming after you’ve removed the outer layers by solving them too.
An example. In the catacomb, which is basically the tutorial so we can talk about it without giving too much away, you need to pull a lever. But the lever is broken so you need to find a replacement, along with a means of attaching it to the wall. And so on.
And so on again.
The House of Da Vinci 3 is a linear first-person game in which you don’t have much freedom to roam. Your perspective is on rails, allowing you to move between nodes and zoom in on parts of the world that you can interact with.
To move from place to place or zoom-in you need to double-tap or pinch, while you pick up objects with a single tap. Other interactions – like pulling levers or turning wheels – call for gestures and swipes. It’s all fairly intuitive.
Blue Brain Games has streamlined the gameplay in The House of Da Vinci 3 in a few different ways.
For instance, it never lets you get more than an item or two in your inventory, meaning it’s always pretty obvious what you’re supposed to do with the things you pick up. And once you’ve used an object, it’s gone.
Similarly, once you’ve done everything you can in an area, you can’t go back there. You’re on rails, and the game tries to keep you moving along them in one direction.
While this keeps you from getting too lost, you’ll still regularly find yourself uncertain as to what you should be doing next – particularly if you’re playing on a phone with a small screen.
The stuff you can interact with is usually pretty obvious, but not always. We found ourselves jabbing away at the screen more than once in the vain hope of zooming in on something or activating some unseen mechanism.
This isn’t helped by the fact that The House of Da Vinci 3’s generally gloomy aesthetic. Turning the brightness up helps a little. Playing on a bigger screen helps a lot.
There’s also a generous hint system that dispenses up to three hints without penalizing you at all.
A Smorgasbord of Puzzles
In terms of the puzzles themselves, there are several different kinds to get your head around.
Many of the puzzles involve operating an elaborate machine, usually after searching for components and tools in the surrounding area. Solving these puzzles is often a matter of looking for hidden doors and mechanisms.
Other puzzles are more mentally engaging, with their own unique logic that you need to work out through trial and error. If you’ve ever played The Witness – or indeed the previous The House of Da Vinci games – you’ll know what to expect.
Finally, slotted in among these larger environmental brainteasers are some palate-cleansing manual 2D puzzles, which break up the action nicely.
Then there’s your Oculus Perpetua, which adds a dimension to the game by allowing you to access alternate versions of your surroundings. Crucially, it also enables you to pick out any salient features of the environment by highlighting them in spectral blue.
Between all these puzzle types, The House of Da Vinci 3 showcases a real variety of challenges, strung together by a tightly linear story campaign that ends with a dramatic conclusion.
If you’ve been along for the ride so far, you won’t be disappointed by this polished finale.