It's not often something surprises me. Well, in a good way, at least. It sounds cynical to say, but I rarely enjoy going to the movies anymore, simply because I can usually pick what's about to happen. And let's not even mention games! Games? Pah! Don't make me laugh!
Except Jolly Rover. Through the exceptional good grace of Andrew Goulding of Brawsome and his willingness to trust a complete stranger via Facebook, I have had the privilege of beta testing what may be my favourite indie game of 2010. From my post last night, you may have guessed I would be heading to bed early tonight. Not so, Jolly declared, in his whimsical yet alluring voice! For the tides of puzzle flow seldom, and the rocks of flat humour are ever-looming...
Yet much like finding yourself on Dinotopia with your ship intact, my voyage through Jolly Rover has been one of surprise, followed by intense joy. Here is that lost wonder! There is the long-awaited shore of the return of the puzzle point-and-click! And that's a parasaurolophus. How strange.
Just to be clear, as far as I'm aware, there aren't any dinosaurs in Jolly Rover. What you will find is a personable (dogable?) non-pirate by the name of Gaius James Rover, who is unwillingly cast into a series of unfortunate but highly entertaining happenstances. The first room you can interact with gives a clear indication of the type of humour involved, but let me just say I was gladly intrigued from the words 'Cape Kit.' That's not supposed to make sense if you haven't played the game, but when you do, I'm sure you'll thank me for ruining the joke.
Luckily, there's an abundance of good humour and delightfully obscure puzzles to solve and be rewarded by. What starts off similar to Monkey Island 3 (minus the talking skull) quickly distinguishes itself as something different : a more elegant half-cousin of that beloved genre for which we all constantly pine. You can either interact with an object, or you can't. You can combine objects, if you try. But unlike the adventure games of yore, you don't have to cycle through countless icon options or interaction wheels to make sure you have the right sense selected. Finally! While I miss being able to make Guybrush try to lick everything in the game, I must admit the dialogue in Jolly Rover is witty and concise enough to stop me from missing that particular interaction too much.
That's not to say the gameplay is simple. There are multiple interactions that I could only dream of when we attempted to make our own ill-fated adventure game at the 48-hour challenge two years ago. In Jolly Rover, often the solution will be staring me in the face, but I'm far too stubborn to use my crackers. There, have another obscure reference. I hope they're piquing your interest.
The voice-acting far surpasses my expectations. The music is so well-suited I must admit I didn't even really notice it, but it added to my enjoyment immensely, and [spoiler] is so unbelievably [spoiler] that you're not going to believe it's [spoiler]! You'll just have to play the game for yourself.
The art is great, colourful and bright. The dialogue rarely runs overlong, and the jokes that abound are relevant, funny, and unpredictable. The story so far has me wanting to keep playing but, really, I do need to sleep at some point. Despite the fact that all of the characters are dogs, they act in such a way that it quickly becomes unnoticeable. They're pirates. Being a dog is irrelevant in the face of unadulterated piracy, but it does create some interesting situations. My favourite animation so far is probably of the main character digging. You notice, then, that he's a dog who just happens to be a pirate, rather than the other way around. It made him more endearing to me, despite the fact that when I forget he's an imaginary dog, I think I quite have a crush on him. Oh dear.
The dialogue at the waterfall alone is worth playing for. The constantly updating quest in the top-middle of the screen provides a subtle source of humour. I may be undermining my own credibility with my enthusiasm, but I don't think I can speak of this game highly enough. I may be criticised for the inherent cynicism in the following statement, but I believe the greatest compliment I can give Jolly Rover is this :
It doesn't play, look or sound like an indie game.
The level of polish is undeniable, and through it, the spirit of LucasArts lives on. I've got another half of the game to go, and the Gold Master is scheduled for this Friday. It's only a matter of time before you too can be enjoying the wonder that is a well-rendered, well-thought-out and generally exceptional modern-day point-and-click. Go ahead, check it out. Click the link. Watch some videos. Buy some swag. I just did.
And please, try not to use any hyphens or rampant enthusiasm for the next couple of days. I think I've exceeded both our quotas.