In the year 5000, detective/archaeologist Henry Dijon and his team have to find professor Totel who has been kidnapped, while searching for the mysterious lost city of Mutropolis.
Wrong history books
The main idea of a team doing research on human history by trying to figure out how their ancestors lived and behaved is a great proposition, especially since most of the conjectures are wrong and lead to various hilarious misunderstandings. Considering that most of these facts are taken for granted due to history books, it makes for a perfect parody on modern history and archaeology.
A story not to write home about
Unfortunately the story isn’t very exciting, as the rescue mission takes too long. As it turns out, the old Egyptian god Seth is behind the kidnapping, but one can’t take him seriously, because he stays too much in the background and his art design is unintentionally funny. The finale is much more exciting, as is the emotional ending, but it takes a while before one reaches both.
It’s probably the setting that keeps the player going, as exploring a world that is all too familiar is seen through different eyes after it has collapsed and is mostly forgotten. In the case of Henry, he even makes drawings of his discoveries, trying to figure out how everything works and how it’s related to a lost human civilization.
A team of unlikely heroes
The team of archaelogists is soon joined by Isis, an Egyptian goddess who is the most interesting character of the lot. It’s somewhat disappointing that Henry Dijon, as much as he likes to be a mix of Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes, remains pretty boring. Granted, he’s an insecure nerd, but compared to the rest of the team and especially Isis, his dialogue and comments are more miss than hit at times, which can be seen in unnecessarily long monologues. But this is generally true for all conversations that could have been shorter, too.
This isn’t to say that one won’t feel attached to the characters. Despite not being very deep, all of them are fairly memorable, e.g. identically-looking Micro and Luc who always send Henry to the other one for tasks and mostly communicate via technology, or Cobra, a woman who’s very cold from the outside, but who still wants to connect to her team mates. There’s also a small robot called Max whose blips and beeps are very reminiscent of the robots R2-D2 (see Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope) and BB8 (see Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens).
Emotional and movie connections
However, the best moments are when Isis tries to understand and imitate human emotions, while Henry’s failed attempts at romance are also quite fun. Aside from the main characters, there are a few other characters that are entertaining to listen to, e.g. a talking trash can that complains about not having thrown anything into it and that hints at the impending doomsday when machines will take over (a reference to the Terminator movies), or a man who only communicates with emoticons. There are some more movie references, too, which are a bit less subtle, e.g. a man with the name Dr. Johansolo or even the main protagonist’s surname being the same as Indiana Jones’ father (see Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade).
Puzzles, puzzles, puzzles
There’s always something to do, with multiple puzzles to solve, sometimes so many that it’s difficult to keep track of them all without a logbook. While the goals are usually clear, reaching them is anything but easy, as there aren’t enough clues and certain items or even screen exits can be easily overlooked, resulting in unnecessary pixel hunting (that was only recently fixed with a hotspot key). This is made even more aggravating when one asks Isis and she simply states the obvious without being very helpful. There are too many instances when a puzzle solution makes perfect sense only after one has done it, being all the more frustrating.
The puzzles are varied and at times even imaginative, usually fitting well into the theme of archaeology or the sci-fi setting. So one has to authenticate different samples of an unknown person by doing research on Jimmy Hoffa, i.e. one follows leads in pictures and newspaper articles in a database, in addition to other more obscure methods. Then one has to use a console that changes the seasons in order to receive certain items. There’s also a brief section in which one plays as Max, replacing the inventory with computer folders. If only this part wasn’t too repetitive and there were more hints.
The biggest issue is that all the puzzle solving prevents the story to progress, as one is so busy running around back and forth between the same places multiple times, being sent from one person to the next, only to be sent back again or trying a different way. Even something as simple as getting a moijito drink for a special alcohol plant means brewing a calming tea for one character, which requires taking all sorts of alternative routes.
If one doesn’t pay close attention to every single screen, one can also easily become stuck, e.g. when one is tasked to find specific pressure points on a mummy that have to be tackled in a strict order. It’s a shame that so many puzzles become an exercise in patience, because there are quite a few that fit the adventuring aspect quite well.
More investigation and exploration
Looking for a treasure by following hints as breadcrumbs and finding locations on a map might be a sound idea even Guybrush Threepwood would be proud of, but this is still too tedious. The best example can be found in the first scene in which one has to look for a trowel Henry is so fond of.
If only one wouldn’t spend so much time interrogating potential suspects and investigating every nook and cranny for such a trivial matter. Another example is right after one arrives on the new planet, as one has to scan the terrain with binoculars without really having a clue where or what to look for, giving pixel hunting another bad reputation.
Sending Max to investigate new locations also results in some trial and error sequences. Probably the most irritating puzzle is Henry’s overcoming his fear of holes by putting his hand into various openings of statues across the island. This is followed up by a rain dance that can only be completed by using the right combinations of moves, i.e. if one messes up even once (without knowing why), one has to do it all over again.
Looks and sounds of the future past
The game’s art style is rather unique, mixing hand-drawn with brushed painting backgrounds and characters, but it’s also divisive due to them looking like dolls, which is made even worse by the looping animations. Still, there are some rather beautiful locations, especially on the new planet that add to the atmosphere of being a true adventurer.
The same can’t be said about the sound design, with the score mostly being similar to repetitive elevator music and the voice acting, while having good actors and actresses, having some awkward pauses between dialogues.
A long adventure for the patient ones
Mutropolis has a great premise with its lost civilization setting and learning about or rather misunderstanding humanity’s past. The characters are quite fun to be around with and the story has some interesting moments, but it’s all brought down by a puzzle design that makes progress cumbersome. There are a few nice conundrums, but one is still stuck too often.
Presentation-wise it’s something of a mixed bag as well, with a nice art style, but unspectacular music and not always convincing voice acting. All in all, it’s a pretty long game with about 10 hours playtime, but it only comes recommended to those who can live and persevere with its shortcomings.