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Tales of Monkey Island Review

A brand new tale in the world of Monkey Island is out. After a short walk down memory lane, I sat down to play the Tales of Monkey Island series. Tales of Monkey Island is a single story released as five episodes over the course of six months. I was happy to have an old school style adventure game for today's world, but unfortunately the game lacked some of the polish I'd expect from a non-episodic adventure.

Running the Game

When playing the older games today, getting them to run was an adventure of its own. I wouldn't have expected any issues with such a brand new game, but alas I did have one serious issue. My game machine is not powerful enough to run the game at full capacity. I had to knock the quality setting down from 6, the default, to 3 before I could get beyond the title screen. TOMI comes with no documentation; not even a PDF. It was only through trial and error I was able to find the quality setting and change the setting. This took about an hour, because moving the mouse smoothly across the title screen was not possible at any setting higher than 6. It was a jagged movement, as if the screen only had 6 pixels. Once I figured that out that initial problem, I was able to start the game, things went much smoother. Thankfully each new episode was able to 'find' my settings from the previous episode and I did not go through the same setting nightmare each time.

There is an interesting option in the settings named hint frequency. I wish some documentation would tell me what that means, but I assumed this somehow related to in game hints. I turned it all the way down in hopes of making the games more challenging. By my estimate I spent 5-8 hours on each chapter, slightly more than the estimated 2-4 hours per chapter. I only turned the hints higher at one point in Episode 5 was I was ungodly stuck. It turns out my issue there was a missed screen exit. Once I discovered that exit, I was able to easily solve the puzzle at hand. At some points in the game you do have to walk right at the screen. Getting around in the game will be quite easy, especially if you've played other games in the adventure genre. Unfortunately instead of pointing and clicking to move around, you have to hold down the mouse button and move the mouse. It aggravated my wrist occasionally, but for the most part was not too bad. Beyond that, the game sports the traditional point and click to interact with items.

Onto the Story Already

The game starts out on a ship, and in order to make it seem realistic, the ship actually bobs back and forth on the waves, moving both your view of the scenery and the hotspots you need to click on to and fro. This is a cool effect that you get used to pretty quickly, but I think they should have introduced the game, and therefore the interface in some other manner.

Guybrush Threepwood, our hero, getting ready to fight LeChuck , our villain, with the Cursed Cutlass of Kaflu. Guybrush just needs to finish up the voodoo spell; which doesn't go as planned. LeChuck turns into a human and his demon essence floats throughout the Caribbean infecting pirates. Guybrush ends up on Flotsam Island with a cursed hand. On Flotsam Island all winds blow towards the center of the island, meaning no pirate can ever leave. It is up to Guybrush to find a boat and crew and to solve the wind problem so he can escape and find out what happened to LeChuck and Elaine.

The game plays much like a traditional adventure game. The puzzles are logical enough, often based on using or combining inventory items that you collected along the way. Some require more thought such as solving the map puzzle in Episode 1, and a different map puzzle again in Episode 4. I was impressed with the amount of locations in each game, as I expected them to be heavily watered down due to the time constraints of creating an episodic adventure.

Guybrush's search will lead him to meet up with many old favorites such as Stan--now a lawyer, The Voodoo Lady, and Murray the Demonic Skull. It also introduces the best character to grace a Monkey Island game since Murray: Morgan LeFlay the female pirate hunter. Morgan, like you and I, is a fan of Guybrush. You might even say she has a bit of a starry eyed crush. The two characters play off each other fantastically; in some cases, it mirrors the interplay between Elaine and Guybrush from Escape from Monkey Island.

Episode 1 focuses on Guybrush getting a boat and getting off of Flotsam Island. Episode 2 and 3 focuses on Guybrush finding La Esponja Grande, a magic voodoo talisman to help get rid of the Pox of LeChuck. Episode 4 focuses on using La Esponja Grande in a Voodoo spell; and episode 5 finishes off the story with a final showdown. Episode 5 has a real treat, where you get to play Guybrush as a Ghost and a Zombie, mirroring the first two incantations of LeChuck.

As with many stories, the game raises more questions than answers. It calls into doubt the true intentions of the Voodoo Lady, and she takes a much larger role than in previous games. The characterization of Elaine seems to back flip between the character we all know and love to someone with intentions not quite as clear. Each episode progressively improved in gameplay and story, until episode 5 where the characterization of Elaine slipped and none of the questions raised were ever answered.

What Next?

In episode one you can find treasure maps on-line and explore the jungles of Flotsam Island for more treasure. I thought that this was a great way to add replay value and was disappointed this option was not introduced in future episodes. Even so, while traversing the jungles using a creative map system was fun the first time; it wasn't enough to get me to go through again. The first treasure was a special background for your computer. I thought it was a novel attempt to add replay value to the game and to provide additional benefit to the customers.

I guess now I go into the waiting game. I'll probably replay through the game, possibly on a better computer with higher quality settings, around the time that Tales of Monkey Island 2 comes out, and I hope there is a sequel. I greatly enjoyed the adventure despite the questions it raised. I hope it is leading somewhere and I look forward to joining Guybrush on another adventure, hopefully next year.

Monkey Island 4: Escape From - Classic Game Review

A brand new tale in the world of Monkey Island is out, and I'm hoping for a fun old style game in the vein of the classic adventure genre. I went ahead and pre-purchased all five episodes, and can't wait to delve in. But, before starting to the new stuff, I decided to refresh my memory on that which came before. This is a review of my experiences with The Escape from Monkey Island. I think this is my favorite game in the series.

Running the Game Running

Like Monkey Island 3, I had Monkey Island 4 on CD. Unlike Monkey Island 3, MI4 is not supported by SCUMMVM. I was on my own getting the game to run. Thankfully the game installed and ran with no problems. Unfortunately, this Monkey Island is buggy in the "CD" state, so I had to search around and find a patch, here or here. For some reason my mind told me to look for patches before starting the game; perhaps I have some deep routed ill memories about this title somewhere below the surface.

Even with the patch, there was still a show stopper bug. When talking to some chess pirates playing , if you don't finish the puzzle the first time entering the screen the game locks up when you come back later to finish. Unfortunately, you can start the chain of events without knowing there is an actual puzzle going on yet. I had to restore a previously saved game going quite back a ways in order to get past the bug. In retrospect I remember having this problem the first time around too.

There is also a 3rd party replacement for the MI4 loader, which supposedly gives you an easier way to install the game, download the patch, and change various settings. I could never get it to work, unfortunately, so can't comment on it. The idea sounds promising, however.

Getting used to the Interface

Escape from Monkey Island is the first 3D Monkey Island Game. I'm not sure if the 3D rendering adds anything to the game, but it didn't detract either. The look of the game was very similar to the style of the previous game; which had the visual appeal of a cartoon. I don't mind cartoons, so it was all good.

This game uses the keyboard as the primary interface, so no more point and click. I remember this frustrating me greatly the first time around. Imagine a game from the year 2000 that didn't use a mouse? This time I didn't mind the keyboard usage. It took a while to get used to, but once I was there it was fine.

That was a great Honeymoon, are we dead?

The game starts with our heroes, Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine Marley, coming back to Melee Island from their honeymoon. Unfortunately, Governor Marley has been declared dead and they are trying to demolish her house. As Elaine goes off to get herself declared undead--no not like that---Guybrush tries to stop the house demolition. Along the way we reintroduce LeChuck as a political candidate in the Melee Island Governor race, Ozzie Mandril an Australian real estate developer turning all that is piratey into big tourist traps and a quest to unravel the secret of the Marley Heirlooms and discover the ultimate insult.

The tourist traps offer great ways to make a mockery of pop culture, taking stabs at Planet Hollywood, and Starbucks.

The puzzles are logical and somehow manage to avoid the endless point and click until something works phenomena that exists in much of the genre. By introducing some random element into the puzzles, the puzzles are slightly more varied and require some thought to solve. For example, in one point you need to figure out how a filing system works to find the hideout of a thief on Lucre Island. The filing system is consistent, but the name changes, so each time through the puzzle is slightly different. As you would expect, Guybrush has to find a ship and a crew. Each adventure leads to the next, eventually leading to Monkey Island a final show down with LeChuck.

In part 1, LeChuck was a ghost. In Part 2, LeChuck was a zombie. In part 3 he was a demon. This time they switch between all three personas as LeChuck's character takes shape. I especially liked seeing Ghost Pirate LeChuck rendered with "modern" capabilities.

The insult sword fighting idea returns in this game as Monkey Combat. You need to shout a series of nonsense monkey words to move to a position. Each position wins over a different position and you banter back and forth w/ your opponent. This is the weakest point in the game, unfortunately. It is tedious to figure out the magic commands and it feels like just a roadblack to enjoyment.

The banter between the Elaine and Guybrush is fantastic and for me really nailed the essence of the characters. Guybrush was a bit more naïve, and focused on comic relief. He played his character as if he were a kid in a candy store, and everything he explored was new and exciting. Elaine, on the other hand, takes the more serious stance on things. The voice acting and characterization of all the characters is what really made the game a joy to play.

What Next?

Well, I'm out of legacy Monkey Island games to add to my playlist. I guess it is time to move on to something more recent, the Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. This is my first foray into episodic gaming and I'm not sure what to expect. I hope the five episodes of Tales of Monkey Island are equal (or greater) than a single game. We'll have to see how it goes.

Monkey Island 3: The Curse Of - Classic Game Review

A brand new tale in the world of Monkey Island is coming out, and I'm hoping for a fun old style adventure game in the vein of the classic genre. I went ahead and pre-purchased all five episodes, and can't wait to delve in. But, before starting to play episode one, I decided to refresh my memory on that which came before. This is a review of my experiences with The Curse of Monkey Island.

Get the Game Running

Unlike Monkey Island 1 or 2, I have Monkey Island 3 on a CD. The game is supported on Windows 95 and I was hoping I could get it to work 'as is' without resorting to SCUMMVM or some other utility. It went through the install easy enough, but unfortunately I got stuck there. The game loaded, but immediately had a sound issue in the opening screens. I gave up and reverted to the ScummVM path.

This time I discovered the SCUMMVM wiki. It tells me the data files that are needed to run the game. I was able to grab those data files direct from the CD without needing to install the game. That is good info to have and made the setup process a bit easier. With SCUMMVM, I had no issues.

Elaine Marley, will you marry me?

The Curse of Monkey Island is a big change from the previous two games. First, the games visuals are done in a cartoony style. I have to say I quite like it. Second they added voices, something that would not have been practical back in the floppy disk days. It is also worth nothing that Ron Gilbert was not on board as the designer for this third entry. Despite these changes, the game goes out of its way to pay homage to the Monkey Island theology.

The game starts out shortly after the strange Monkey Island 2 ending. Guybrush Threepwood, our pirate hero, is floating through the sea on a bumper car. He is pining for his lost Elaine and fears for his death from hunger and thirst. He obliviously floats between a sea battle between Zombie Pirate LeChuck and Elaine Marley on Plunder Island. Elaine declares her true love for Guybrush, LeChuck is defeated, and Guybrush pops the question. Placing LeChuck's cursed diamond ring on Elaine's finger. She promptly turns into solid gold.

The voices are hit or miss. Guybrush sounds great and I couldn't have picked a better choice myself. LeChuck's is good enough. Elaine's voice is not what I would have imagined, though. Other characters from the past are back such as Wally the mapmaker, and Stan the salesman. Murray the Talking Demonic Skull is introduced in this game, and I must say he is my favorite character from the 'later' Monkey Island games.

Solving Puzzles and The Mega Monkey Mode

Defeating the curse and turning Elaine back into a human makes up the bulk of the games plot. Guybrush must get a bigger, better, uncursed diamond ring to offset the cursed ring. The ring should be found on Blood Island, and to get there Guybrush needs a ship, a crew, and a map. That is standard fair for these games.

The interface of this game is different than the previous two. You click on an item and a "do stuff" window pops up. You can either use the mouth, to talk to or eat something; the hand, to use something; or the eyes to examine something. The interface is simplier than te point and click verb noun of the previous game. But, you'll get used it to quickly. Unfortunately things do downhill after that.

The games puzzles were tedious and there are so many items that the game is often one big click fest, trying to figure out what you combine with what. There are so many "useless" hotspots it is almost impossible to figure out what should be clicked where. I'm not sure if it is better for a game to have lots of hotspots for the sake of exploration and fun, or only hotspots that move the game forward. I suppose a balance could be reached, but this game does not reach it. The endless clicking was just frustrating and detracted from enjoyment of the game. It was as if behind every locked door was another locked door, and any progress was slow.

As with the previous entry in the series, this game offers an easy path and a mega monkey mode. I played through both. The easy path bypasses a few of the more obscure puzzles, which actually makes the game a lot more enjoyable to play.

What Next?

Monkey Island 2 had the weirdest ending of all video games. Unfortunately, Monkey Island 3 tries to make sense of that ending with little success. I have no idea what Ron Gilbert originally intended, but I'm sure this was not it. The design of this game was probably constrained by what came before.

Next up, I'm going to try to install and play Escape from Monkey Island, the fourth in the series. This game is not supported by SCUMMVM, so I'm not sure what to expect in terms of installation woes. After that, I tackle the new Tales of Monkey Island.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge - Classic Game Review

A brand new tale in the world of Monkey Island is coming out, and I'm hoping for a fun old style adventure game in the vein of the classic genre. I went ahead and prepurchased all five episodes, and can't wait to delve in. But, before starting to play episode one, I decided to refresh my memory on that which came before. I started at the beginning in Secret of Monkey Island.

Installing

As with Monkey Island 1, I have Monkey Island 2 on 3.5" floppy disks. I was able to get the game files, and install them using the included installer. The installer believes that you are installing from a floppy drive, not a hard disc, and there is not an easy way to switch discs during the install. I addressed this by putting all the disk files in a single directory. That way I only mapped one drive to the folder with all the data files and the install was off and running.

Running the Game

To run the game, I went straight to the SCUMMVM software that I used with Monkey Island 1. SCUMMVM is a tool for running old games, as long as you have a data file. It is named after the SCUMM engine which was used to create the original Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, and other LucasArts titles.

One of the great things about SCUMMVM is that you only have to enter the copy protection on the first run. After that, the game goes directly into "restore" mode and lets you jump into a saved game without having to go through the copy protection again. The bad thing about this is that, if you want to start the game over, perhaps to choose the "lite path" there isn't a way to do it.

I ran the game, quit the game, and ran the game again to start over from the beginning. I have no idea why that worked or if there is a hidden "restart" key in the game.

Do you know any songs that are not about my ex-Girlfriend?

The story starts out with our Hero, Guybrush Threepwood, on Scabb Island. He is once again bragging about his victory against the Ghost Pirate LeChuck; while letting us know that he wants to find the treasure of Big Whoop. He gets mugged by Largo LaGrande, a bully on the island and is stuck pennyless looking for a way to free himself from Scabb Island. Since Guybrush can't leave, Scabb Island is a great consolidated way to introduce us to the game mechanics. Guybrush will walk around and talk to people, looking for information on Largo and Big Whoop. The Voodoo Lady pops back up to ask for help creating a Voodoo doll to destroy Largo.

You just need four things to create a voodoo doll; something from the dead, something from the thread, something from the head, and something from the body. Get those for things from Largo, and you can attack him on his own terms. He'll leave the island, but not before stealing LeChuck's beard from Guybrush, thus creating the Zombie Pirate LeChuck. When did that beard get into Guybrush's inventory?

So, now LeChuck is alive, sort of, and after Guybrush. What is he to do? The Voodoo Lady tells you to find the map to the treasure of Big Whoop. I remembered a lot more of this game than I did the previous one, and got through it with only a single hint near the end.

You'll Charter a ship and start to investigate the tri-island area. Booty Island is in constant Mardi Gras; and Elaine is governor and you get to go to a costume party. Phatt Island is less fun, and you end up in jail for a bit. There is a lot of travel between islands, especially if you don't know the solutions already. The game makes great use of multiple locations, and keeps them consistently interesting.

Eventually, you'll get a bunch of map pieces, visit LeChuck's fortress, then go onto Dinky Island to get Big Whoop and a final battle with LeChuck, loaded with Star Wars references.

Choosing the Easy Route

The game has an easy path, for game reviewers or beginners, which bypasses most of the puzzles. I never played this route before, but decided to partake in it for the purposes of this review. After playing the game the hard way, this approach took a few hours to plow through. It is an abbreviated version of the game, but you still get the gist. The puzzles are either cut out, or bypassed. Instead of chasing a map piece all around an island, you just pick it up. Instead of becoming a spitting master, you just ask for help and the puzzle goes away. I think this was a brilliant approach that helps make the game more accessible to beginners to the adventure genre. If more games did this, maybe we'd have a larger populating of adventure gamers.

What Next?

If Sleepaway Camp has the most shocking ending in the history of horror movies, Monkey Island 2 has the weirdest ending in the history of video games. It is unclear what the meaning is, and unclear how Ron Gilbert intended to resolve the story. Future Monkey Island game designer's tried to resolve it, each in their own ways, but none so satisfactorily that we still don't yearn for the secret that still lies in Ron's mind.

At the time of this writing, the second episode of Tales of Monkey Island was just released, and I'm still two games behind before I start playing the episodes. I always forget if it is Curse or Escape that comes next; but I plan to play the third game next, whichever one that may be. Part 3 introduces a new designer, and the feel of the series changes a bit. But, I still remember enjoying them immensely.

The Secret of Monkey Island - Classic Game Review

A brand new tale in the world of Monkey Island is coming out, and I'm hoping for a fun old style adventure game in the vein of the classic genre. I went ahead and prepurchased all five episodes, and can't wait to delve in. But, before starting to play episode one, I decided to refresh my memory on that which came before. I started at the beginning in Secret of Monkey Island.

Installing

The Secret of Monkey Island is an old game, released in 1990. As such the copy I have is on 3.5 inch floppy discs. Going in, I had no idea if I'd even be able to get the game working.

I still have a couple working computers with 3.5 inch. ( Side note: Does anyone have a 5.25 inch drive? I'd love to restore some of the other games in my collection). I have the LucasFilm Classics Collection which includes Loom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - The Adventure Game, Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken, and of course The Secret of Monkey Island. I copied all files onto the hard drive and moved them over to my 'main' PC over the network. Copying them from floppy to hard drive took a lot longer than moving them over the network if you can believe that.

Next up, I had to install the game. The installer believes that you are installing from a floppy drive and can easily switch discs during the install. I mapped each disk directory into a drive letter, and launched the disc 1 installer. It ran, but when it came time to put in the second disc, I was unable to switch drives. Thankfully Windows XP is a lot more open to multi-task than the old style dos windows are. I remapped each disc to the same network drive when it asked.

As a side note, when I installed Monkey Island 2. I discovered that you could put all the data files in the same directory; and mapped to that one directory. It installed without having to remap after each disc. I suspect the same approach will work here.

Running the Game

So, after I got the game installed, I needed to run it. This was easier said than done. Selecting the monkey executable did nothing. Thankfully the solution was in SCUMMVM. SCUMMVM is a tool for running old games, as long as you have a data file. It is named after the SCUMM engine which was used to create the original Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, and most other LucasArts adventure titles.

I downloaded and installed SCUMMVM, pointed it to the Monkey Island install directory and I was off. But, why does the game cut off on my Dell 20 inch external monitor when running the game in full screen? I'm not sure, but after some tweaking I addressed this by setting the graphics render mode to 3x instead of the default. I was thinking of doing a separate blog post on just that because I could not find any help on-line.

Enter the World of Guybrush Threepwood, Elaine Marley, and the Ghost Pirate LeChuck

Guybush Threepwood shows up at Melee Island, a young naive adventurer wanting to become a pirate. He stops by to chat with the three pirate lords and they give him three tasks that he needs to complete to become a pirate. The game is packed with humor and fun while you solve these three tasks, find the treasure, and get the girl.

Although some of the game came back to me quickly, I'm surprised at how much I didn't remember. How do you get ahead as a navigator? I didn't know. How do you navigate the volcano fire maze? Beats me! How do you put the dogs to sleep so you can sneak into the mansion? No idea!

When I played the King's Quest 1 remake a while back, everything came back immediately almost as if it was ingrained into part of my soul. Monkey Island never touched me that way. I believe it was because I was young when I first played KQ1, but only picked up Monkey Island after the fact, about 10 years ago or so.

The joy of this is that I was able to re-discover the game for the first time. I was able to side tracked by every red herring, walk down every false path, and laugh at every wayward joke. It was a fantastic ride and I'm happy to have been able to walk down this path for the second time.

The game was uniquely new to me, while also retaining the familiar path, as if an old friend you haven't seen in many years. The puzzles aren't obvious, but they aren't hard either. I always thought that Monkey Island games were clunky when compared to the more popular Sierra "quest" games; but The Secret of Monkey Island presented none of those problems. It was a smooth game, which flowed well from piece to piece. The plot was straight forward, the puzzles stimulating, and the humor abundant. It is everything you could ask for an adventure game.

And then they cast Orlando Bloom as me

There is a remake recently released to the Secret of Monkey Island. It includes the old version that I just finished, but also updated graphics with a brand new sound track and the addition of voice actors. It is available on STEAM for the PC and will be coming to the XBox. I assume will end up in stores in some manner. Reviews I've seen show that the game is a 1x1 copy, changing nothing except the graphics and sound files while still retaining the original dialog and puzzle structure.

One screenshot I saw was near the end of the game where Guybrush as talking to a ghost, and the caption was along the lines of "And then they cast Orlando Bloom as me" most likely referring to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Lots of stuff in POTC reminds me of Monkey Island. As lots of stuff in MI will remind you of the POTC ride. I assume this is one random update they did for the sake of humor. I bet there are others throughout.

I think it'd be fun to play the updated version. Anyone want to gift it to me?

5 days with Dreamfall

Ragnar Tornquist just posted the first post in his "DreamFall: Post Mortem" series. Ragnar is the creator of The Longest Journey and it's sequel, Dreamfall.

This is a review I wrote for Just Adventure, that was never actually published. I was paid for the review in the form of a free game, but I think the guy behind the site just spaced (he told me at least once he forgot about it). Ragnor stated that they were hoping Dreamfall would be better recieved than The Longest Journey, which is what prompted me to finally post this. I can't imagine

I had dated my review 5/16/06. All screenshots borrowed from the Dreamfall web site. Read on.

[More]

Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine Review

Are you in the need for a dose of classic gaming? I long for the adventure style games of yesteryear. I want to revisit the land of Daventry as King Graham or throw back a few barrels of grog on Melee Island w/ Guybrush. But, where do you go to do such things that today? Although there are a few entries into the genre, such as Syberia and The Longest Journey (Not Dreamfall); Adventure games are pretty defunct and dead.

You have to go deep into the underground to get your fix. Some of the most impressive games out there are actual remakes of the classics from 10 (or more) years ago, and the most popular of them is the remake of King’s Quest brought to us by AGD Interactive. AGD followed up KQ1 with a refactoring of the KQ2 story. The refactoring was an attempt at bringing together a lot of disjointed elements of the original game under a single plot banner. They did that wonderfully; so many were excited to hear that the AGDs (short for Anonymous Game Developers) were about to try an all-original project.

This is where Himalaya Studios and Al Emmo enters the picture. I was so excited about the prospect of some modernized retro gaming that I pre-ordered the game as soon as it became available. (Last June while at the CFUnited conference). I finally received it about a week ago. Was the wait worth it? Well, honestly I’m not sure.

You play as Al Emmo, a 42-year old virgin loser who comes to the town of Anozira to pick up his mail order bride. She dumps him immediately and he misses the train home. Thus our adventure begins. Al tries to woo local bar singer Rita Peralto, but is continuously thwarted by sweet-talking prince Antonio Bandana. Along the way, you start to unravel a mystery behind Antonio, Rita’s father, and the treasure of the Lost Dutchman.

Although the game takes place in a Wild West setting, they don’t really make use of that, with many of the game drawing heavily from pop culture. Al Emmo himself is obviously inspired by Al Lowe’s Leisure Suit Larry character, but the humor in the game never hits home. Al Emmo is 42. (Any Hitchhiker fans out there?). A few of the characters will remind you of other pop culture icons such as Pam Anderson, Hugh Hefner, Antonio Banderas, and a “Rambo” character.

The puzzles are mainly inventory puzzles that rarely have anything to do with moving the plot forward. If you’re stuck, talk to everyone again. Most likely the solution will pop in your face. A review at Just Adventure left me a bit surprised; they obviously enjoyed the game a lot more than I did. The Adventurer Gamers review seems a lot more balanced.

Pros

  • No Hotspots: Unlike most games of today, Al Emmo did not have any hotspots. Hotspots are when you’re told where to click by a change in your icon. This was the best decision made by the folks at Himalaya Studios. They combated the hotspot devoid by making everything in the game clickable. You’ll always get some type of response. It made the game more fun to play and explore, but unfortunately did not add to the challenge of puzzles.
  • The ending: This is one of the few games I’ve played in recent memory that actually had a satisfying ending. One oddity, though, is that they give you the option to save your character for future games. Since the game is extremely linear (see the cons section) I can’t fathom what they are possibly saving. It’s not like this was a stat building game, and I want to start “al Emmo 2” with all of my throwing points.
  • Exploration: Al Emmo has ~120 hand painted backgrounds. That is a lot of area to explore. They also included a simple mapping system to allow you to jump to main areas of the game. But sometimes the walk is worth it.
  • Puzzles: When I played the refactoring of King’s Quest 2 that these guys did, I must say that the puzzles felt derivative of the old school adventure games. Although there was cool that the plot tied together different unrelated pieces of the original game, the story seemed to extend in places it didn’t need extending and the puzzles all felt like they were straight out of competing games. Al Emmo doesn’t present that problem. The story and puzzles are definitely in the style of adventure games of old, but they breathe a new freshness to them and retain their own character.

Cons

  • Voice Acting: To say the voice acting was horrible would be a complete understatement. Words cannot express how bad it is. Have you never heard a cat screech because you dragged its claws across a chalkboard? I haven’t heard that either, but it would have been an improvement. Unfortunately, the voice behind Al is the worst offender of the bunch. I might have been able to deal with a bad voice hear or there, but turning the main character into a cheese grater for your ears was not a good idea. Next time I hope they institute some type of third party review before they record all the vocals.
  • Short Acts: The game moves along very quickly and before you can blink the act your in is finished. Many of the act splits seemed to offer no purpose other than to throw in a cut scene. Shakespeare plays have 5 acts. Today we’ve cut that down 3 for most popular movies / plays. This game would have been better served by fewer longer acts.
  • Game Path; The path through this game is very linear. There was never a question as to where to go next or what you have to accomplish. Once you “map out the land” (presumably in the first act) there is never a reason to go exploring again. That is one aspect where they did not stay in line with older adventures.
  • Graphics: 640x480 graphics are a little too retro for my tastes. It wouldn’t fit on my 20-inch monitor without a setting change (I discovered the setting change half way through the 9th chapter).
  • Packaging: I had heard reports this game would be ‘packaged’ in a manner similar to games of old. I was either misinformed or delusional. The game came in a standard DVD jewel case, with only minor inserts (such as a “tell your friends” postcard). There wasn’t a printed manual of any sort. (Not even the cheesy ones you find in CD Jewel case games). I suppose the packaging got saved for the more expensive collectors edition.
  • Green Ghost Skulls: The green ghosts on the cover aren’t in the game anywhere. Talk about a tease.
  • No more ColdFusion: The original AGD interactive site was built in ColdFusion, but they moved to PHP.

Final Thought

Overall, it took me about 10 hours to get through the game from start to finish. I guess I got better bang for my buck than going to a movie theatre, but I’d feel a whole lot better if the price point was $20, which is comparable to most other games I buy. The game failed to evoke an emotional response in me, so I’ll probably forget it. Perhaps I can play again it as if it were new in a month or so? I’ll definitely buy the next game that these guys produce, if for no other reason than I have nowhere else to go to get my fix. If you remember the games of old fondly, give this one a shot. Otherwise stick with the latest on your Xbox.

The Longest Journey

In anticipation of the release of Dreamfall, I spent some time re-playing through The Longest Journey. The Longest Journey is a 3-D animated adventure game in the style of the old Sierra quest games. I loved the game the first time around and greatly enjoyed the second playing.

The game follows the story of April Ryan, mild manner young one who is having dreams. Many years ago the world was separated into two parts. One part was Stark (ruled by logic) and the other part was Arcadia (ruled by magic). The balance keeps things in check.

The guardian of the balance has vanished and there is no new guardian to take his place. Strange things are happening in Stark (where our story starts), and April eventually finds out that she is a shifter, meaning she can move between Stark and Arcadia on command. It is up to her to find the path back to the guardian realm.

The plot of this game is for adults, not kids. I've never played a game like it, and that made it very intriguing. There is swearing, death (but not the FPS type of death), and philosphical concepts.

The plot unfolds over the course of 13 chapters (and one prologue). As far as adventure games go, this truly is the Longest Journey. Even re-playing it (and knowing all the puzzles), it still took me 4 days to get through the game. Many adventure games often lost their length as the graphics took time away from plot.

This is an adventure game, so puzzles are abound. With the exception of one mind bender early on, the puzzles are straight forward. With some thought, you'll be able to figure them out. And here was only one pixel hunting puzzle (which got me the first time). I thought the puzzles were just right mix of logic and ingenuity. Like the Rubik's Cube,it was as perfect as possible.

The Longest Journey wins points for seamlessly switching between the futuristic blade-runner type world of Stark and the Lord-of-the-rings-ish world of Arcadia. Stylistically they look different, but it all meshes together to bring a consistent game play.

Not every game is perfect, and neither was this one. First, the chapters do not move along consistently. Chapter 2 is uncharacteristically long; while you can fly through the later chapters like a druggie popping pills. This doesn't interrupt the game flow, though, because each game segment flows smoothly into the next. The chapter screens could have been removed without interrupting the game.

My one major complaint about the game is that it is one of the most bug prone games I've ever played. Every few screens I'd get an error and bop back to windows. I quickly learned to save often. What I discovered this time (that i didn't find out the first time i played the game) is that I could just 'alt-tab' back onto the main screen and the game would continue to play / save / etc.. despite the error it had thrown. I often lost parts of the main character in a graphic snafu, but I could deal with that.

If all publishers were putting out games like The Longest Journey; the adventure game genre wouldn't be dead.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

I played through a game called Journey to the Center of the earth. As you may expect from me, it is in adventure game. You explore a world, talk to people, collect everything that isn't nailed down, solve some puzzles, unravel the story and eventually get to some kind of conclusion. I love these type of games.

The game is inspired by the classic Jules Vern book. I had never read the book, but I understand the game re-visits many of the locations in the book. The book is used as a jumping point for the game makers to tell their own story.

Unfortunately, Journey to the Center of the earth was extremely frustrating. It wasn't as bad as Lighthouse (a really bad Myst rip-off), but it was still pretty bad.

First off, some of the hot spots were missing. Most of them were walk hot spots. In some cases it made it hard to find new locations. But, mainly it just made it hard to walk across a board from one point to the next, even if you knew where you were going. There were a few particular sticky spots where it took 50 clicks or so to get to the another screen.

A lot of items that were not clickable at first became clickable after you triggered their need. There was no hint that said "You might not need this right now, but come back later". The hotspots just didn't exist. Often-times getting the correct tool required traveling backwards through 3-4 previous chapters. I think at one point, long ago, I would have reveled in this type of puzzle. But, I don't anymore. I liked the old typing style adventure games that made you think up how to use items. Nowdays it is just continuous point-and-click until you hit on the right combination. Hiding hotspots is an interesting way to extend gameplay, but not an enjoyable choice.

A few of the puzzles were random at best. When the Universal Hint System is telling you that the in-game hints for the puzzle have no bearing on the actual soltuion and you'll only figure out it out via trial and error, then you know you're screwed. Even using the hints, I had trouble solving a few of the puzzles. Sometimes, I'd click 3 or 4 times before something would happen.

I do have to give the game credit for something. The visuals were stunning. That was my first impression. It's a shame that impression could not last.

Space Quest 0: Replicated

Space Quest 0: Repliated is a fan-made Space Quest prequel, made in the style of the original 2 space quest games, and using the same AGI engine. It's been a long time since I've played a game with a typing interface (instead of the point and click icon interface). Keep in mind the AGI (Adventure Game Interperter) engine is 1984 technology, developed for King's Quest 1. It's really old stuff.

The game is designed as a prequel to the space quest series, but most of the plot references are given to Space Quest 2. Although you don't visit any duplicate locations, most of the game takes place on planet Labion (where most of the SQ2 game takes place).

Anyway, Roger Wilco (our hero) wakes up from one of his infamous on-the-job-naps to find everyone is dead on his space station. He escapes to the jungle planet of Labion and... well, things go from there. He discovers (and attempts to thwarts) an evil plot to create a clone army.

The game did a great job of visually capturing the feel of the first two Space Quest games. The caverns felt like they were straight out of SQ1; and the jungle planet felt like SQ2. The space ship that you pilot (later in the game) was even reminiscent of SQ3. However, the game lacked the humor inherent in the SQ series, sticking instead to Star Trek and Star Wars references.

The audio was great. I still love to hear that original theme, in all its beep beep glory.

Get the game here. It is interesting to note that Sierra's current owner has not shut down the two Space Quest fan projects, even though KQ9 has been got a nasty lawyer letter.

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