The days of comic point-and-click adventures with the humor of Monkey Island seem to be over, so can Alasdair Beckett-King‘s and Application Systems‘ collaborative effort Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet, a sequel to freely available Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! bring the piratey fun back?
Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet (PC)
(UK 2016, developer/publisher: Application Systems, platform: PC)
Pirate Nelly Cootalot has to rescue a flock of birds who were hypnotized by Baron Widebeard in order to find the treasure of the Seventh Seas.
Familiar, playing-it-safe storytelling and characters
Being a labor of love for a British standup comedian and filmmaker, one should expect quite a lot of laughs in this one, and to be fair, there are some memorable characters like Sebastian J. Coot, a bird that gives both advice and sarcastic comments, Professor Morgan who wants to write down all she knows about pirates in the Encyclopaedia Piratannica, or singer and songwriter Solomon Spry who has to be convinced to write a ballad about Nelly. Port Robicund and later Gloomholm have enough charm and personality to make talking to these and other characters as enjoyable as a comic adventure game can be.
Unfortunately, the writing can’t compete with either the old LucasArts or newer Telltale Games adventures of Guybrush Threepwood, which is mainly because the main protagonist’s lines are as harmless as her innocent-looking eyes, i.e. they lack the wit of more popular adventure game characters, while Nelly is as shallow and forgettable as the villain who chases her, something Anna’s Quest also suffered from to a certain degree.
Of course humor is always subjective, but it’s done in such a non-offending way that the dialogues aren’t as entertaining or as memorable as the old classics. Maybe it’s unfair to compare these two franchises, but considering that fun is made of pirate life, the hunt for treasure and some supernatural elements are part of storytelling as well, it’s difficult not to miss a certain originality. Laugh out loud funny moments and imaginative puns are rare, and they’re as thinly spread out as the boring story that only gets interesting when it’s already over with only a few twists. If one wants to see if the humor, the characters and world are appealing enough, then the free download of its predecessor is highly recommended, as it also helps to better understand a few references and characters .
Puzzling like in the old days
Fortunately, puzzle design is much more enjoyable. Again clearly influenced by classic point-and-click adventure games, picking up all kinds of things, combining and using them in a mindbendingly amusing way is as much fun now as it was back then. While not every solution is memorable and there are some filler puzzles like a very annoying barrel roll jumping mini-game that is awful to control, the quantity and above all quality is rather high, with original ideas like learning a pirate’s slang, changing the mood of a restaurant owner with various candle smells, or getting inside the head of the main antagonist’s speechless minion and playing mini games in order to make him remember his past.
Even if some puzzles aren’t very logic, they truly hark back to the good old LucasArts days when trying to find a solution and laughing at the end result made these brainteasers so rewarding to solve. This old-school design approach also means that there aren’t any alternative solutions or story paths, but with interconnected puzzle chains and quite a few locations and people to visit there is a certain open-world flair to it so that one is always motivated to solve puzzles in one’s own time.
Cartoon-y looks and sounds
Another reason why one should give the game a chance are the lovely hand-drawn and detailed backgrounds and characters. Although the latter don’t feature the best animations and the former don’t have as many effects as one would like (except for a rather useless seasick-inducing screen bobbing up and down-feature one can thankfully disable), it’s a colorful world that almost evokes the same warm, fuzzy feeling as The Curse of Monkey Island did, even if it never reaches the same high level of drawing skills.
Voice acting is excellent throughout with one very prominent name sticking out: Tom Baker who played the narrator in Little Britain and now acts as Sebastian J. Coot. He partly tells the story, but without the same gusto, which of course has to do with the script that is toned down in offensive language but also originality. The rest of the cast does a great job as well, so even if the quality of the writing isn’t the highest, at least the characters sound convincing. The soundtrack is equally great with uplifting piano pieces and some especially catchy and surprisingly fun shanties sung by the character Solomon Spry and also Nelly herself.
Stabbing and almost hitting the classic adventure feel
Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet tries hard to stand out from the Monkey Island imitators, and while its humor doesn’t reach LucasArts quality with the story and characters being a bit boring, the puzzle design is great old-school fun. The presentation with some colorfully drawn backgrounds, nice music and great voice acting also adds to that feel-good sentiment one knows from traversing the different islands of the Caribbean past. It’s certainly no instant classic or a serious contender for the comic adventure game throne, but as a short distraction of around 5 hours playtime it serves its purpose rather well.
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