Adventures age much better than other games. I mean, not only is it still worthwhile to play old graphical adventures like Day of the Tentacle and the Seventh Guest (both published in 1993), there are even some people out there who still write and play text adventures. The reason, I think, is simple: adventures rely on the quality of their puzzles rather than the quality of their technology. This isn't a new observation -- it's not like adventures have ever been the driving force behind new 3D accelerators or anything -- but now developers seem be taking things a step further. Last month Karma Labs released Adventure at the Chateau d'Or, which employed an engine more than a little similar to the one used by Myst (also 1993), and now Swedish-based developer Prelusion has released Gilbert Goodmate and the Mushroom of Phungoria, an adventure that basically clones the engine used by Curse of Monkey Island (1997). Karma Labs failed in their attempt at a retro adventure, but Prelusion is successful and then some with Gilbert Goodmae. The game is funny and enjoyable and does just about everything you'd like to see an adventure do.
In Gilbert Goodmate you play -- shockingly enough -- Gilbert Goodmate, a young man who lives in the peaceful town of Phungoria, a town that idolizes a giant mushroom because it once helped to defeat an evil wizard. As the game opens, you wake up one morning to find that the sacred mushroom has been stolen, and that your grandfather, who was supposed to have been guarding it, has been arrested. Not only that, but the king quickly orders that your grandfather should be executed for his negligence, and since the local sheriff seems to be more concerned about taking naps than doing his job, you'll have to hunt down the thief and locate the missing mushroom yourself. What's more, you'll soon discover that whoever stole the mushroom might well have nefarious plans to bring the evil wizard back to life, and so you'll not only need to save your grandfather, you'll also have to save the world (or at least Phungoria).
If you've ever played LucasArts' Curse of Monkey Island, then directing Gilbert on his quests should be a snap. The gaming engines for Curse of Monkey Island and Gilbert Goodmate are almost identical, from the 2D cartoon style of the locations and characters, to the way the cursor turns red when it's over something you can manipulate, to the “mini-interface” that pops up when you click on an object. In Curse of Monkey Island the mini-interface looked like a coin and allowed you to examine the object, do a mouth action on the object, or do a hand action on the object. In Gilbert Goodmate the mini-interface looks like a mushroom and allows you to… examine the object, do a mouth action on the object, or do a hand action on the object. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Prelusion might be paying LucasArts just a few too many compliments with their engine. As a result, though, the engine works well, and it's easy to move around and interact with the game.
But Prelusion didn't stop at the engine. They also borrowed heavily from the “feel” of LucasArts adventures, and while I frown at Prelusion's pseudo-plagiarism of an engine, I'm all for them -- and other developers -- borrowing from the LucasArts attitude. If you haven't played a LucasArts adventure lately (or at all), then suffice it to say that in Gilbert Goodmate you can't die, you can't lose, and nothing you do can be held against you in a court of law -- or penalize you in the game, for that matter. In fact, some of the funniest moments come from trying odd things, like using the hand action on the king's daughter and watching Gilbert's reaction, or talking to the grandfather clock in Gilbert's room and hearing Gilbert say, “Hey there, old timer!” Plus, the situations and dialogue in the game are often silly and amusing, and the puzzles are almost all fair while not being blindingly obvious. In short, Gilbert Goodmate is a joy to play.
If Prelusion made a mistake while developing Gilbert Goodmate, it's that in some situations they didn't know when to (or just didn't want to) stop. The main culprit here is the dialogue, of which there is way too much. Sometimes you need a lot of dialogue to move along a plot or to develop a character (think The Longest Journey), and other times you need some extra dialogue just so the important things a character says don't stand out as much. But Prelusion padded the dialogue and then padded the padded dialogue just for good measure. As an example, there's one character who is a connoisseur of tea, and even though the character isn't really important and even though he doesn't add anything to the plot, you can talk to him about tea for 20 minutes. And some of the conversation choices – “What's your favorite letter?” “T.” -- could easily have been removed if Prelusion had felt so inclined. Basically, Prelusion was like a novice writer who really needed a good editor to help them pare down their work.
One area of the game that could have used some of the extra space taken by the dialogue is the graphics. The location backgrounds are all good and detailed and colorful, but the characters don't always mesh well with the backgrounds, the character animations are a little lacking (primarily when they speak), and the cinematics are few and far between and not particularly good even when they do appear. Similarly, while Prelusion used professional voice actors to speak the lines, they only hired about a dozen actors for the 50-odd parts. That resulted in too many characters sounding the same, and it also turned Phungoria into the accent capital of the world (the sheriff has a Spanish accent, the blacksmith uses a Scottish brogue, and so forth). And while Indiana Reay did an excellent job with Gilbert's voice, some of the minor characters didn't turn out nearly as well, perhaps because the actors had a hard time disguising their voice and still speaking their lines convincingly. So while Gilbert Goodmate is more than a little similar to Curse of Monkey Island, Prelusion wasn't able to offer the same sort of production values, and so you're not likely to confuse the game with a lost adventure from LucasArts. But, that being said, the graphics and sound are still good if not great, and they're more than able to carry the game.
Lastly, Gilbert Goodmate has a surprisingly nice manual. Most adventures these days -- including the recently released Myst 3 -- come with a boring and brief CD-sized manual. But Gilbert Goodmate, despite being sold in a plastic DVD-style case, has a 24-page, 5x7inch manual that is both funny and well written -- and actually printed in color! Perhaps Prelusion was able to save money on the box design and put the savings into the manual. If so, I hope more developers follow suit.
Overall, Gilbert Goodmate is a pretty good adventure. I enjoyed playing it much more than Myst 3, and while it isn't as funny as the funniest parts of last year's Escape from Monkey Island, it also doesn't have anything as annoying as Monkey Kombat in it. So if you're looking for an adventure to play, and especially if you're looking for an adventure that doesn't take itself very seriously, then Gilbert Goodmate is an excellent choice.