Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Any of you who were gaming on computers through the 16-bit era will no doubt have fond memories of LucasArts and their wonderful point and click adventure games. Titles such as Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, The Dig and, of course, the Monkey Island series were hugely popular during this period. With their simple controls, great stories and huge bundles of humour, they set the standard that all point and click adventures would be judged by and remain favourites of many gamers to this day. So when Duke Grabowski: Mighty Swashbuckler has successfully launched on Kickstarter two years ago, people got very excited, especially when it was being produced by a team led by LucasArts alumni Bill Tiller. The pirate theme also had people speculating if this would be the Monkey Island sequel they had been waiting so long for.
Although the pirate theme may seem obvious after the success of the Monkey Island games, Duke Grabowski takes on a very different tale. The story revolves around the titular hero, whose captain has just been killed – with the scurvy crew arguing over who should take his place. As the biggest, strongest and most feared pirate on the vessel – Duke very much feels that the mantle should belong to him. Of course, the rest of the crew have different ideas and unfortunately what Duke gained in muscle he lost in brains, so getting the better of our hero wasn’t too difficult. They make him believe that he can’t be captain because he’s not a lady’s man, so send him on a mission to woo three different women in order to prove himself worthy. They believe it will be nothing more than a wild goose chase that will see him return with his tail between his legs, but Duke has other ideas and goes in search of people who can help. This, of course, is where we come in. It’s up to the player to guide Duke around the island in search of women he can woo and people who can help him do it. Along the way, a number of puzzles will need to be solved if he’s to complete his mission, and this will involve picking up the right objects and talking to the right people.
None of the puzzles in Duke Grabowski are particularly hard to solve, even the ones that aren’t immediately obvious soon fall into place once you speak to the right person enough times – as many of them provide almost completely obvious clues telling you what to do next. And this is the first part of the game that didn’t really sit right with me: they obviously developed a story aimed at a more mature audience with our character basically “going on the pull” Leisure Larry style (another classic point and click!) but the graphical style and simplistic puzzles seem to be aimed at much younger players. The control system also seems to lend itself to the less experienced gamer too, with a choice of three simple options for each situation – for example, talk to/punch/grab or eat/pick up/throw. The style of the game and the story around it almost seem like polar opposites, in a total quandary with each other.
The big thing that always made the LucasArts adventures so enjoyable was the laugh out loud humour. This is very much something that the developers Venture Moon Industries have tried to carry over into this title, but sadly they fell flat on their face. During my journey through the game, which took less than a few hours, I didn’t laugh once. In fact, Duke Grabowski barely raised a smile. That said though, my nine-year-old son, who was very keen to help me, chuckled a few times, once again telling me that this game is aimed at a younger audience. That would be fine but the general theme of the game left him more confused than he was entertained, as he has no reference or experience of wooing ladies (leaving him pretty baffled by it all). The on-screen dialogue is accompanied by some fine voiceover work, and this was an area that I felt the game excelled. Throughout my journey with Duke Grabowski I was left torn and undecided. I so wanted to love the game but just couldn’t help feeling very unfulfilled.
The game is cheap enough that I think it’s probably worth it for the really ardent point and clickers out there and fans of the LucasArts adventures in general. Although it’s fairly short, Duke Grabowski is planned to be part of a long-running series, following his adventures across the high seas. Of course, this is assuming the game is popular enough to warrant it. However, those looking for a more thought-provoking adventure game that they can really get stuck into will be best off letting this one sail away.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Alliance Digital Media; Developer: Venture Moon Industries ; Players: 1 ; Released: 06/10/2016 ; ESRB: Unrated ; MSRP: $6.99/£4.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a beta version of Duke Grabowski: Mighty Swashbucler given to HeyPoorPlayer by Alliance Digital Media.