Raiders of a Lost Art
If you handed me Fester Mudd: Curse of the Gold on a yellowing floppy disk sandwiched between copies of Loom and Space Quest IV, I probably wouldn’t bat an eyelash. Every small aspect—the point-and-click gameplay, the MIDI music, the intricate pixel art, the iconic SCUMM font hovering above characters’ heads as they talk—is a pitch-perfect homage to the Golden Age of LucasArts and Sierra. For better or worse, this isn’t some modernization or HD remake or tongue-in-cheek sendup of ’90s adventure games. This is a ’90s adventure game, inserting itself into the history of the genre like some recently unearthed gem.
The benefit of this steadfast devotion is that Fester Mudd successfully borrows much of the charm of the era. The retro visuals manage to pull off a surprising amount with a scant few pixels, especially the cartoony animations, and the writing strikes that familiar, endearing balance between groan-inducing cornball humor and legitimately funny banter. Even the puzzles, arguably the hardest part of the adventure-game experience to re-create, are a spot-on when it comes to delivering those immensely rewarding “aha” moments when you realize the answer has been staring you in the face all along.
Of course, Fester also inherits all of the genre’s pitfalls, those sticking points that, for better or worse, eventually relegated the point-and-click adventure to the realm of niche and nostalgia. While there’s thankfully nothing in the way of pixel hunts or completely arbitrary solutions, some of the puzzles still require relatively absurd leaps of logic, and if the one right answer doesn’t occur you right away, you’ll hit a wall. Hard. It takes a special kind of patience to sit around fumbling with your inventory for the better part of an hour to see if, this time, the fish will finally agree to mate with the horseshoe and miraculously give birth to a solution. (Spoiler alert: It won’t, no matter how hard you’re crying.)
But those flaws come with the territory—and, depending on your perspective, they might not even be flaws at all. Fester only gets a handful of things wrong of its own accord. The first of these is pathfinding, which occasionally gets your intentions bafflingly wrong. Sometimes, you’ll tell Fester to look at a sign, and he’ll waltz right inside the door that’s underneath. Sometimes, you’ll tell him to walk an inch to the left, and he’ll decide to loop back around the entire screen for the scenic route.
Then there’s the dialogue, which falls into the all-too-common trap of providing the same set of canned answers for most of the inane dead-end combinations you’re bound to try during the course of any adventure game. Fester’s quips when I told him to turn my knife on a pesky dog or an all-too-vigilant saloon bouncer were some of the game’s most entertaining. I just wish I got a similarly amusing response for more combinations, like the time I tried—in vain—to put lipstick on my donkey.
And while I can appreciate that full voice acting doesn’t exactly jibe with the game’s old-school vibe, reading through every line of dialogue just feels a bit too sterile in this day and age. Offering up compressed, lo-fi speech in the vein of the CD-ROM release of Day of the Tentacle might have been a more judicious—and, ultimately, more successful—solution to that problem.
In the end, though, that big blue score down there shouldn’t really matter too much with a game like Fester Mudd. If you’ve tried and failed in the past to get into the Monkey Island or King’s Quest games, it might as well be a zero, because Fester‘s unabashed devotion to the genre certainly isn’t going to sway you. If you’ve never even played a point-and-click adventure game, you’d probably be better off starting with the essentials so you can truly appreciate what Prank has accomplished here. But if, like me, you’re a seasoned veteran who feels a slight pang of sadness every time you realize that the days of Space Quest and Gabriel Knight and rubber chickens with pulleys in the middle are behind us, Fester offers a rare chance to be transported back to the magic of that era, warts and all.
|Developer: Prank Entertainment • Publisher: Replay Games • ESRB: Not Rated • Release Date: 03.04.2013|
|Fester Mudd delivers an entertaining point-and-click-adventure experience, but given the game’s earnest devotion the genre’s sometimes-frustrating tropes, you might only want to give it a shot if you’re particularly nostalgic for the days of Guybrush Threepwood and Roger Wilco.|
|The Good||A enjoyable homage to the glory days of point-and-click adventures.|
|The Bad||Some missed opportunities to make the experience feel more polished and robust.|
|The Ugly||Staring at your inventory screen for 45 minutes trying to solve a puzzle.|
|Fester Mudd: Curse of the Gold – Episode 1 is available on PC, Mac, and Linux. Primary version reviewed was for PC.|