When LucasArts canceled Sam and Max 2 some time ago I admit I was among those that were disappointed over this decision. It *may* be that the golden age of adventure games is over and today first person shooters and alike rule the market. Yet I have fond memories of the good old point-and-click adventures. Forgive me if I’m nostalgic but they were happy days when I explored cities made of glass in Loom, accompanied King Graham and the members of his family through the King’s Quest series, identified myself with clumsy but loveable Roger Wilco and Guybrush Threepwood and feared the deceitful Purple Tentacle.
But don’t be mistaken, I don’t believe at all that the adventure genre is "dead". While it is true most US studios nowadays concentrate on other kinds of games, there are developers in Europe that have released many promising titles over the last years (Runaway anyone ?). Who knows perhaps the second age of adventure gaming will be upon us before we know it...?
A very promising, but god-knows-why in some countries never even released adventure game was “3 Skulls of Toltecs”. Developed by Spain-based Revistronic (www.revistronic.com) 3 Skulls was a decent, pretty straightforward cartoon adventure that introduced Fenimore Fillmore a brave Cowboy-wannabe. Fenimore, clumsy and allergic to certain kinds of vegetables seems to be in trouble wherever he goes but always he is able to find a way out. In his very first adventure he was after the three skulls of the Toltec who, once brought together, will show the way to a mysterious treasure.
If you didn’t hear of 3 Skulls before don’t feel too bad. Like stated earlier the game wasn’t released everywhere since Revistronic didn’t have a worldwide publisher backing in up. Luckily – for me and the millions of people speaking German at least – Germany is home to an independent distributor by the name of Crimson Cow. Crimson Cow and their marketing / distribution partner digital tainment pool (dtp) did make sure that 3 Skulls and many other underrated Adventure Games were released in Austria and Germany over the years and after the (small but none-the-less undeniable) success of the first part, it was only natural that they didn’t hesitate to publish the sequel as well: Fenimore Fillmore returns in “The Westerner”.
Economical yet beautiful
Players of the original game will get pleasure out of the fact that the graphics did make a huge leap forward. The original game was in 2D and featured nice but very rough cartoon environments and characters. While a certain “cartoonish” finishing touch remains the game has not only gone 3D but the overall quality of the graphics has improved considerably. The characters and environments were rendered and animated with loving care and a considerable effort was made with the characters mimicry. Considering this, cheers to the developers for the fact that even players with PCs below 1 GHz can enjoy the game because no matter if you play at a resolution of 512x384 or push it to the limit with 2048x1536: the game simply looks good.
I’m a lone lonesome cowboy
Fenimore and his stubborn horse Ray reach a remote farm one night and - unintentionally at first - help the farmer defend his property against the thugs of the local landlord. The Farmer by the name of Joe Banister and his wife and child are one of two families left in the region still defending their farms against John Starek, a greedy landlord and rancher whose thugs have scared away the other farmers. Who would have guessed – Starek is the baddy in this game and of course Fenimore will do everything in his power to put an end to his sinister plans! There are two main objectives Fenimore has to accomplish to make sure that Starek won’t win this time. First of all he has to prevent the reinforcement Starek sent for from arriving and secondly he has to help reinforce and defend the two remaining farms. And for the later he of course needs lots of what the farmers lack most: money. Lending it from the bank that is of course controlled by Starek is no option nor will the local shopkeeper give credit to the desperate farmers. One would rob the bank if there wasn’t that state-of-the-art security systems...
But Fenimore has other problems to solve first: Banister’s son has replaced his revolvers with toy guns, his horse won’t carry him unless properly fed and every time he thinks of the lovely local teacher - who turns out to be Starek’s niece - he is having butterflies ...
Who are you stranger?
The Westerner is a classic point-and-click adventure at its core. That the game is in 3d instead of the “rustic” 2d doesn’t change much about that. A left click orders Fenimore to move to a certain location or interact with an object or person, a right click browses through the different action icons like use, look at, talk to etc. you know the drill. Besides the usual puzzle solving Fenimore will have to rely on his revolvers as well when it comes to winning a new Winchester in a shooting gallery. If you want to you may test your skills in the flash port of the shooting gallery on the Revistronic homepage.
Definitely worth mentioning though is the dialog system: instead of selecting a certain phrase you have to choose from a selection of different icons either showing a certain object you want to talk about or Fenimore’s face in different moods that will influence how kind or harsh your next words will be.
Throughout his adventure Fenimore will interact with all of the roughly twenty inhabitants of the region. Although all the characters are based on the typical western stereotypes the witty conversations and their background story give them a unique finishing touch. The always drunk doctor who needs a doctor himself, the old mine-mole who calls himself an archeologist, the snobby heir and broom-to-be, the evil landlord, the corrupt sheriff and the wrongfully accused former criminal – they are all there and it wouldn’t be a western game without them.
Harvest Moon for Dummies
To move around the different locations including the city, the two farms, the school, Starek’s ranch and more abroad places Fenimore depends on his horse Ray. But Ray has a mind of his own and before taking a single step he has to be properly “fueled” with his favorite vegetable: carrots. Unless you don’t want to spend most of your already scarce money on buying carrots you will have to grow them yourself. Don’t panic, growing carrots is pretty simple. Grapping a bucket you can water the farm’s fields and the carrots will begin to sprout immediately and before long you can harvest them. Still – though the carrots grow at light speed planting the needed calories definitely consumes too much of your time and you have to repeat the procedure more than once too often. A shame that fuel economy isn’t Ray’s strong point...
Small is (sometimes) beautiful
The game is witty; the game is fun - yet a little too short. Just like after finishing Runaway I felt that there could have been more to do, more to see and more to laugh about. Still: the Westerner is a great game and if you like adventures and are desperate for new brain food don’t hesitate to be on the look out for this game. Hopefully you are luckily enough to live in a territory where “The Western” was or will be released – if not you definitely miss a great adventure...