Indie adventures: “Cleo – a pirate’s tale” (PC)

Note: This review was written in cooperation with fellow editor Annagram.

Christoph Schultz/Greycap Audiovisual Mediadesign UG‘s adventure game Cleo – a pirate’s tale offers all the fun of the classic genre and more.

Cleo – a pirate’s tale (PC)
(Germany 2021, developer/publisher: Greycap Audiovisual Mediadesign UG, platform: PC)

14-year old bartender Cleo finds a pirate logbook and is visited by a ghost, soon embarking on a journey that changes her rather boring life.

A pirate’s life for her
It’s difficult to tell a story involving pirates, treasure, and a ghost without mentioning The Secret of Monkey Island or its sequels. So while the references are obvious in some scenes, e.g. a pirate hanging from a chandelier in the bar, the plot and characters are quite different, especially with the main heroine. She might not be as memorable as Guybrush Threepwood, but she fits as someone reading about pirate tales and wanting her own adventures (something which Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town failed to do).

Wacky personalities
Many story twists make each new chapter a reason to continue playing, while the wacky characters are memorable, e.g. a cocktail mixer who has had his fair bit of misfortune with his ship, bearing a similiarity to the shipwrecked hermit on Monkey Island. Even if the LucasArts titles’ influences can’t be overlooked, e.g. tourist shop owner Ingo talking as fast as salesman Stan or a purple tentacle attacking a ship, some characters stand out.

The most fun ones are the aggressive parcel delivery service crustacean Shrimpus Maximus who specializes in weapons, which can be seen as a mix of the revolutionary woodworms in Simon the Sorcerer, the movie 300 and Amazon logistics. The dialogues are often very funny, even though some can turn into rather long monologues, as the characters are more than a little bit talkative with their expositions.

Games and movies to know and love
Spotting all the game and movie references as well as elements that poke fun at genres like point-and-clickers and RPGs is fun: a siren tasking Cleo to collect 20 flowers, cutting grass with a sword as in the Zelda titles, a cocktail mixer robot called COKTHAL 8000 (as in HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey), a sleeping/dead parrot (as in the Monty Python sketch) to name but a few examples. If these are really necessary depends on one’s preferences, but there are way more games that constantly bombard the player with allusions without any meaning to the gameplay, which is certainly not the case here.

Not all fun and games
Even with all the game and movie references as well as silly moments and characters, the plot is also about metafiction, dealing with the importance of both the listener and storyteller as well as questioning the truth of some tales. Despite all the humor, a few tragic and touching scenes make their appearance at times, too. Fortunately, these work in the context of the game and never feel out of place.

A game within a game
At some points, the player is asked to play a card battling game of Kraken Fodder (obviously a reference to the classic tongue-in-cheek military RTS/action hybrid Cannon Fodder) which is about beating the opponent in a sea battle. Unlike titles like Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, it’s rather easy to get one’s head around the rules, especially since one doesn’t even have to read all the explanations before trying it out: Every time a card is drawn, its usage and possible outcomes are made clear.

Kraken Fodder is a lot of fun that should receive its own physical edition. If one decides to skip these card battles, this is also possible, so adventure gamers who just play the game for the story and puzzles won’t be annoyed with the few times one can play it.

Classic puzzling
The puzzles are usually varied, fun, and can usually be solved without too much hassle. One doesn’t carry around too many items, these can’t be combined, and one has clear objectives most of the time. Hints are provided in dialogues and a talking parrot often pushes Cleo in the right direction if she’s lost (or at least leaves a sarcastic remark).

Despite starting out to be quite linear with only a few places to visit, this changes later on, as one can sail to other islands. It’s never as overwhelming as in The Curse of Monkey Island, which is good, because looking around for objects that can be overlooked without a hotspot key isn’t a rare instance. This isn’t to say that the conundrums are all memorable or of a high quality, as can be seen towards the end when an unnecessary time-sensitive puzzle rears its ugly head.

Classic looks and sounds of excellence
For a game that was mainly done by just one developer (whose company is coincidentally in my hometown), it’s amazing how excellent the pixel art in characters and backgrounds is, while voice acting and music are of a very high quality, too. The final song played and sung by Christoph Schulz himself is a beautiful piece to listen to and far removed from the often annoyingly grating music in Deponia, for example.

A fine retro adventure
Cleo – a pirate’s tale is a love letter to classic LucasArts games that works surprisingly well in both its presentation and fun puzzles, including a very cool card game. The humor is often spot-on, there’s a memorable cast of characters, and the story itself is great, too. While it doesn’t reinvent the genre and is relatively short with its 5 hours of playtime, it’s still one of the best indie adventures I’ve played for quite a while.

Score: 8.5/10

Buy the standard edition for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the deluxe edition for PC on
GOG
Steam

Official website

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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2 Responses to Indie adventures: “Cleo – a pirate’s tale” (PC)

  1. Pingback: Overview of (blog) life in February 2022 | Emotional Multimedia Ride

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