Review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2018
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Twisted Manor

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Mystery vocabulary game offers many clues but more dead ends

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts

  • Critical Thinking
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Pros: There's a lot to read, and the graphics, though hard to see, are creepy and well done.

Cons: Red herrings and a lack of hints make this incomplete game very frustrating.

Bottom Line: Students will like the idea of the game, but with so little substantive direction, they're likely to give up before improving their vocabulary or reading skills.

A game like Twisted Manor has potential for use as a tool to build vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. The storyline is neat -- a professor accidentally brings all of his creepy toys to life -- and could make for some great creative writing in the classroom. Teachers could also take advantage of the many objects and intriguing room decorations and layouts to encourage students to piece together what happened and discuss how those objects might have significance. Beyond that, however, teachers will need to deal with students' complaints about the lack of hints and directions and the fact that clues and objects don't seem to fit together in any logical way. Teachers should know that these complaints are likely a flaw in the game, and not students lacking grit. With some additional features such as tutorials, in-app hints, a path forward, and better lighting, though, this game would have a chance to be something that teachers and students could have fun exploring in the ELA classroom.

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Twisted Manor is a vocabulary and problem-solving game (available for iOS) that has students investigating a science experiment gone awry. After choosing a character, students venture through a series of rooms in a haunted mansion where they must with follow clues, learn new vocabulary, and make meaning out of dialogue, notes, and journal entries. Although it’s a great concept, the game is disjointed with many red herrings and items that lead to nowhere.

Cryptic dialogue with some of the characters -- toys brought to life -- offers some direction, but students may find themselves walking from room to room with an idea of what they're trying to accomplish, but no way to do it. For instance, a student might solve a clue to get a key to a door, but the door is nowhere to be found. Other times there are obvious clues that are either inaccessible or too hard to see because of the poor lighting. For example, there's a lever lit up in the study, but no way to get to it and no hints to help students. Things in each room flash and light up as if important, but there’s no way to figure out their meaning. So while the game is appealing both in concept and in style, it's ultimately an exercise in frustration. 

The journal of vocabulary can provide a springboard for paragraph writing, and a more complete clues journal might encourage reluctant readers to get involved in the storyline. The basic concept -- using clues to solve a mystery while characters and objects contribute to plot development -- is great in theory. Unfortunately, the overall gaming experience is a dud, especially after spending multiple hours traveling from room to room trying to figure out what to do with the clues. It seems like this is a neat concept that the developers abandoned. If they were to add more hints and a tutorial, and generally improve the experience of gameplay, the game would have a chance to impact learning via improved vocabulary, reading, and critical-thinking skills. As it is, however, students will want to find another haunted house to explore.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The creepy setting and pictures offer some instant engagement, but the incomplete experience will leave students wanting.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The journal can be a useful tool for vocabulary and hints, but without the chance to make meaning, the game falls short of educational efficacy. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There’s a lack of support all around: cryptic hints, an inability to use the clues given, and no tutorials or support make this game one to pass up.

Common Sense Reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Media specialist/librarian

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