Sunday, July 24, 2011

Indie Face-Off Round 2: Jolly Rover vs. Hydrophobia: Prophecy

            It’s time for another round of Indie Face-Off, where two games with nothing related but the fact that they’re by independent developers face off to see who’s the better game.  Last time, puzzle-platformer And Yet It Moves bested shooter ARES in gravity-to-gun combat.  This time, we’ve got Lucasarts-style adventure game Jolly Rover vs. third-person shooter Hydrophobia: Prophecy.
            Jolly Rover could probably best be described as “Monkey Island with dogs”.  You play as Gaius James Rover, aka Jolly Rover, a weiner dog who was just trying to deliver his own brand of rum when he got kidnapped by pirates.  From there, he has to escape, make back the money for the governor, and face every puzzle along the way.  The plot is actually surprisingly good.  Maybe not fantastic, but it’s a plot of voodoo, family relations, and Rover stuck in the middle of it all.  He gets swept up in things that are far past him.  One of the essential parts for any game trying to be the next Monkey Island is witty dialogue, and it doesn’t quite succeed there.  In a way, it’s kind of going through the motions.  It hangs a lampshade on the various adventure game tropes like the bottomless inventory and the fact that you keep having to solve ridiculous puzzles, but those are things that have had lampshades put on them so many times that it’s basically a trope in itself to have to do it.  At the same time, I feel a lot of heart in the dialogue, and it’s hard for me to put the game down in that category.
            The main thing of any adventure game is going to be the puzzles.  They can’t be too difficult, but they can’t be too easy.  I felt that there was generally a good enough balance.  Some puzzles I may have figured out way too fast, but that might just be from playing a lot of adventure games.  There were also only two cases when I outright went “Well, what now?” and had to look at a walkthrough, and they generally made sense after I found out the solution.  What’s really nice is that the game does a lot of things to appeal to the adventure gamer, whether you’ve played the entirety of Sierra and Lucasarts’ catalogues or if this is your first.  For one, the game has a built-in hint system, and it will give you pseudo-hints before you actually have to pay.  I never used anything past the pseudo-hints, but it was nice to know a full system was there.  Items will be blue if there’s still new dialogue or actions that happen when you click on it.  The game also features a “Quest” indicator at the top that tells you what you’re supposed to be doing.  What I really love about it is that it will update even during cutscenes, with humorous things like “Talk Faster” and “Don’t Pass Out”.  It’s one of those things that just gives the game its charm.  There’s beautiful hand-drawn graphics.  There’s a point and rank system, something that’s just not seen in adventure games anymore.  It feels like it was made by somebody who really loved the old adventure games and wanted to replicate them, and had the heart do it.  It’s far from a great game, makes some rookie mistakes (Rover walks so slow) and without the heart I would probably be dismissing it easier, but it won me over enough to recommend playing it.  It gives you some solid hours of adventure gaming.
            On to Hydrophobia: Prophecy.  If comparing And Yet It Moves and ARES was like comparing apples and oranges, comparing these two games is probably like comparing apples and nuclear missiles.  Hydrophobia follows Kate Wilson, a systems engineer aboard the ship-based city called The Queen of the World.  It gets attacked by Malthusians, followers of a document written by Thomas Malthus, who warned about the dangers of population growth.  So of course, the Malthusians have decided to fix that by displaying signs saying “Save the world, kill yourself”, killing everybody on the Queen of the World, and taking the nanobots that were being developed to destroy the world (really, I don’t think there’s any other use for nanobots).  Honestly, it’s a pretty good villain.  They have a doctrine that makes sense and a good reason for what they’re doing.  They’re never really expanded on quite as much as you would want, but that’s a different problem entirely.
            As for the gameplay…well, I could describe it, but I don’t even think the developers could decide what they wanted it to be.  It starts out acting like it’s going to be a Prince of Persia-style game, involving lots of climbing and acrobatics, which I love.  But then you get a gun, and suddenly it turns into a cover-based third person shooter.  Now, the shooting does have some really cool stuff to it (a lot of environment-based damage you can do, although also a lot of explosive barrels, and some interesting ammunition), but it’s a really sudden change.  It’s not “You do some shooting, you do some acrobatics”, the acrobatics just vanish.  In the last level, I can only think of two instances where I had to use the acrobatics the first level taught me.  And by the way, there’s only 3 levels.  Near the end of the game, it suddenly adds in a pretty cool new game mechanic, but it’s such a last-minute addition that it leaves you going “Why even bother?”  When I finished, I felt like I had played the first three levels of a game, not a complete game on its own.  On the plus side, there’s the water effects.  They are beautiful.  It looks like real water.  It’s a pretty gutsy move to make a game that’s essentially the water level, which tends to be the least-liked level in games, but the swimming works well enough and isn’t too bad.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything particularly new with it, so I don’t know if I can really praise it.  Hydrophobia really ended up being a perfectly fine tech demo for a water engine, but as an actual game that they want you to pay money for?  It’s not there.  Even though this is the third version of the same game (between the original for 360, a major update for that version, and this version for PC/PS3 which is another major update), it’s still not there.  It’s rather sad when it comes down to it.
            So in this indie face-off, Jolly Rover wins.  Stay tuned next time when I attempt to compare two other completely different games for no reason than to save space and time.

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