Publishers: Snowberry Connection; Kalypso Media
Developer: Societe Pollene
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista, 1 ghz CPU, 512 mb RAM, 128 mb DirectX9-compatible video card, 300 mb hard-drive space
Release date: Available now
Sometimes it’s good to look into the past, to see how things were back in the day and to marvel at how far we’ve come since then. This is true of most things in life, including gaming, an industry that has a rich tradition of innovation and diversity. With Gobliiins 4, developer Societe Pollene and publishers Snowberry Connection and Kalypso Media take us back to the wild early years of our hobby, when adventure games ruled the roost and you had to have a good (but not necessarily logical) head on your shoulders to succeed.
The first Gobliiins game (and no, the extra vowels in the title are not typos) was released in 1991 for the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, the Mac and the PC, with the first two sequels published in successive years. After a 16-year absence, the series returns with a new story, new protagonists and new puzzles. In Gobliiins 4, three diminutive detectives are summoned to the castle of the Goblin King, who wants to hire them to find his missing pet aardvark, which might have its own reasons for not wanting to be found. Their search takes them through 15 locations, each one a little bit stranger than the one before it.
Gobliiins 4 differs from most modern point-and-click adventure games in that you have control of all three main characters at the same time. Each goblin has his own strength (Tchoup is the brains of the outfit, Stucco is the brawn and Perlius casts magic spells), and it’s up to you to combine their talents to solve the game’s numerous, brain-twisting puzzles. Each level takes place in one static scene, which you can’t exit until all of the level’s objectives have been reached. And Tchoup is the only character who can carry items, making the gameplay strategy all the more complex. Completing a scene generates a password that you have to enter if you want to shut down the game and pick up later where you left off.
Nowadays, adventure gamers have become used to slick 3D presentations, deep stories and even a built-in hint system to help when the going gets tough. None of these is to be found in Gobliiins 4. The graphics are very low-res, with exaggerated, cartoonish characters and 2D backgrounds that give you no sense of perspective. The story is childish and simple, although it doesn’t wander as other genre plots have an annoying tendency to do. And the puzzles can be Mystian in their obtuseness; the game offers no helpful hints to their solutions, requiring you to think way outside the box on a number of occasions. I want to shake the hand of anyone who can honestly say that they finished Gobliiins 4 without a walkthrough or some other form of outside help.
Even those who are forgiving enough to overlook the primitive look of Gobliiins 4 will be disappointed by its many serious problems, most egregious of which is the lack of a voice track. The only sounds I heard in the entire game were a surprisingly good soundtrack and background noises such as chirping birds. Each level has a brief musical theme that plays once and repeats after a gap of several minutes, but during that gap there is almost absolute silence; it’s like playing a silent movie. Thankfully there are subtitles to help you figure out what’s going on, but the lack of some kind of continuous sound presentation is unforgivable in a modern game. But there’s more: the camera is fixed in one position, making finding usable objects difficult at times. Pathfinding issues abound, with characters constantly walking through comrades and objects instead of around them. The game is filled with busy-work puzzles that artificially stretch out its length. Finding important items can be a pixel-hunting nightmare, forcing you to scan every inch of the screen in search of the one thing you need to finish a puzzle. And asking you to enter a password to rejoin a game in progress is just silly.
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, but we’re supposed to look at what’s come before and learn from it. By filling Gobliiins 4 with antiquated visual and gameplay characteristics, Societe Pollene seems to have forgotten that old saying about the dangers of ignoring the past. The game is a frustrating throwback to days long gone. And sometime soon, it’ll be found where all old and forgotten games end up — in the bargain bin.