March 18, 2012 1:00 PM | John Polson
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown of Backlog Journey takes a look at each game in the currently running Indie Royale St. Patrick's Day Bundle.]
Did you ever stop and think to yourself, "Hey. You know what would make The Secret of Monkey Island way better? If all of the characters were dogs." No? Well I haven't either, but it's pretty clear that Brawsome has decided to interpret the phrase "scurvy dog" literally. If you're going to go aping the style of one of the most beloved adventure games of all time, you best bring a pretty great adventure game to the table. Luckily, Brawsome delivers an excellent product that favourably compares to its canine lacking inspiration.
In Jolly Rover, you play as a delightfully foppish dachshund named Gaius James Rover. Rover certainly doesn't want to be a pirate, but fate and a pirate ship intervene to force him into the lead role of a swashbuckling adventure full of pirates, rum, cannibals and treasure. The plotline seems fairly simple at first, but gets slowly deeper and more intriguing as the game goes on. For the first half an hour of the game, I thought the entire adventure would be focused on escaping from the villainous Captain Howell's ship. Little did I realize that the ship escape is only a tenth of the entire game. It's not so much that the game is long, because I'd estimate about six to eight hours depending on how willing you are to use the hints. It's that the game has a very wide scope, covering several locations and puzzle narrative arcs. Each new area brings more mysteries, twists and puzzles to solve, and establishes more of Jolly Rover's backstory and world.
I don't want to keep beating you over the head with just how much it is like Monkey Island, but that's undoubtedly the main comparison one can make. With the wonderful writing, bizarre puzzle solutions, amusing pirate humour and intriguing plot hooks, Jolly Rover could probably pass as a lost adventure of Guybrush Threepwood. The game doesn't even try to hide this either, as the script is packed with homages to Threepwood's quest, including a bizarre pseudo-reference to Monkey Island 2's legendarily polarizing ending. It might be a heavy influence, but I'd say Brawsome has done a great job of capturing the Monkey Island spirit, putting themselves at least on par with Telltale's revival.
The writing is consistently amusing and entertaining, and the performances by the actors measure up to a fairly high quality standard. The humour is exactly the kind one looks for in an adventure game, and even manages to pull off a few amusing pirate jokes I haven't seen before. It's silly, cheeky, and constantly winking at the player. Graphically the game looks fairly nice, with only a few resolution problems and relative lack of animations holding back the 2D animated characters.
However, I think the one thing Jolly Rover improves on a lot is pacing and flow. The game is loaded with tools to make sure the player is never stuck for too long. Simple changes like marking whether or not you've clicked an object yet, keeping the inventory relatively free of clutter and red herrings, offering a robust tiered hint system in the form of Juan the parrot, and relatively self contained and logical puzzles. Rarely will you feel like you need to use everything on everything in this pirate adventure, and no puzzle ever really leaps out as a stumper. It does make the game too easy for more advanced adventure game fans, especially if you use the hints at all. However, I think the benefits of proper pacing and ease of use outweigh the difficulty being lowered. As it stands, Jolly Rover could be easily enjoyed by anyone, which greatly expands the appeal for people unfamiliar with adventure games.
Is it on par with such a legend as The Secret of Monkey Island? Probably not, but it comes a lot closer than most other indie adventure games I've tried. If you're a big Threepwood fan, or someone with a love for adventure game humour, or even just a person interested in trying adventure games for the first time, Jolly Rover delivers an amusing tale of old sea dogs that's worth checking out.
[The Indie Royale St. Patrick's Day Bundle, co-created by IndieGames.com, includes this game and is available now at the official website - go check it out!]