Kieron linked to the Hamlet demo yesterday. It’s a Samorost-style point and click adventure, cute cartoon graphics and, of course, a Shakespearian plot. I’ve been playing the full version for a while, and as is the way of things I have some thoughts about it.
Hamlet, you see, was about to avenge his dead parents, killed by Polonius, when he got squished by an time traveller from the future. Well, you’ve probably seen the play so you know how it goes. So as the time traveller, you need to complete Hamlet’s role in the story, by, well, opening doors and stuff. It’s not taking itself seriously. The title alone is enough to demonstrate that:
“Hamlet: Or The Last Game Without MMORPG Features, Shaders And Product Placement.”
It begins extremely well. You are outside the castle and need to get in. The environment can be played with, in much the same way as Amanita Design made famous with the Samorost games, and then further with the beautiful Machinarium. There’s a device that changes the weather, plants to grow, a wind turbine, and all sorts. You manipulate them with mouse clicks (rather than with your character, who mostly stands idle), experimenting and making progress.
It doesn’t long continue this way, oddly. Quickly the levels become much more obscure, much more specific. If you get stuck, clicking on future-Hamlet is supposed to give you a clue. Sadly these rarely offer any insight at all, saying something daft like, “I need to get out of here!”. Thanks, future-Hamlet. Rescuing Ophelia from an underwater cage involves first involves getting rid of some biting fish, and then getting past a large metal mine on a chain. When clicking on our hero he thinks about a crab. And stuck. There’s in-built clues for such occasions, but you have to wait patiently for them to appear, after a few minutes. Here it was the very same picture of the crab. In the end, through trial and error, I clicked on the crab in Hero’s bubble and it, um, chopped the metal chain with its pincer. Oh, of course! I was supposed to get through a heavy metal chain with an imaginary crab. I feel so silly!
Things rapidly get more strange. A puzzle involving removing some penguins requires you to complete the same slow task three times in a row. Then you’re completing an extremely simple tile puzzle, but it won’t give you all the necessary pieces right away. Which brings us to the first boss fight. Crikey. Here the rather clumsy cursor let me down, making it extremely tricky to click on musical notes as they appeared, required for taking out Claudius. Things became even more sparse for the next fight, the challenges growing weaker and more obscure, until the point I’m at now in Act 5 where I’m supposed to do something with an egg timer. I have no idea what. The clue, when it appears, implies something that appears to be impossible and my desire to continue is finally worn out.
Which is a shame, because the idea behind this is lovely. An idea as ridiculous as taking a classic tragedy and turning it into a cutesy Flash-style point-n-clicker is hilarious. But oddly, for the cartoon theme and simplistic interface, it’s extremely difficult. The hints are dreadful, and despite the appearance that you might receive a second clue once the clue clock counts down a second time, it just instead re-shows you the same one again. This sort of game has to have a guide, a way through, or who is it for? Perhaps I’m being enormously stupid and missing something obvious with this damned egg timer. But either way, something that’s surely aiming for a broad audience beyond hardcore adventure gamers should eventually offer up a decent prompt.
With a smarter hint system, and a lot more environmental puzzles like the opening one scattered throughout, this would be the lovely idea it’s so close to being. The animation is beautiful, and the presentation is splendid throughout. It’s bright, silly, and cheerful. But the puzzles just aren’t right.
You can get the demo from here, which lets you play an hour of the game to judge it for yourself. And then choose whether you want to pay the very tiny £6.82 for the full version.