Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! review
Like they’ve done for many over the years, the Monkey Island adventures provided a welcome addition to my gaming experience, with their quirky sense of humor, unique characters, and inventive puzzles. So when I saw Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!, designed by first-time Underground writer Alasdair Beckett, I jumped at the chance to give it a try. As it turns out, while taking some definite cues from Guybrush Threepwood’s exploits, the game provides a unique play experience that easily stands on its own.
The third-person game begins as the ghost of Captain Bloodbeard awakens Nelly, a rookie pirate, from slumber aboard her ship. The captain tells you that the nearby Barony of Meeth has been shaken by the disappearance of the region’s trademark fauna, a species of bird known as a spoonbeak. Nelly, a longtime spoonbeak lover, immediately agrees to travel there and get to the bottom of the situation. Players take control of the action once Nelly arrives, and must guide her around the realm as she pieces together the reason behind the odd goings-on and eventually returns the birds to their rightful place among Meethian wildlife.
The game’s hand-drawn graphics and detailed animations give Nelly a strong sense of personality. The leader of the Meethian people, the appropriately-named Baron Widebeard, left me laughing when I first encountered him—his beard is so wide that he looks like he’d get caught in any doorway he tries to pass through. The other characters, from the baron’s fashion-obsessed wife to a band of glum leprechauns, are brought to life equally well. The only thing that disappointed me about the game’s visual presentation was its color palette; it’s a muted collection of blues, tans, reds, and grays for the most part. It does lend some artistic originality to the game, but given the whimsical nature of the characters, I would have preferred something a bit more vivid. There is no voice acting, but the game’s digital music and sound effects are particularly well done and provide an appropriate nautical-themed backdrop to the action.
The game’s AGS-powered interface is standard. Hotspots are identified by name at the bottom of the screen, and players click and hold the left mouse button to display a pirate-themed action selector with “look” (porthole), “action” (hook), and “talk” (speech balloon) icons. Right-clicking displays Nelly’s inventory. Early in the game, Nelly obtains a map of Meeth, which players use for the rest of her adventures to travel from location to location. Locales include the local tavern, Baron Widebeard’s estate, and a mysterious mine, among others.
The puzzles are mostly of the standard “use-X-on-Y” variety, but there are a few inventive minigames thrown in. In one, Nelly must figure out a coded message scrawled on the tavern wall by applying her knowledge of “piraglyphics.” In another, the player must play a carnival game to obtain an item Nelly needs. This carnival game confused for a while. It requires a certain amount of hand-eye coordination, which is not exactly a strong suit of mine. I thought the sequence was timed, and that led me to click feverishly in what ended up being several fruitless attempts to meet the minigame’s objective. After asking for assistance from a fellow player, I discovered that the game simply lets you click a set number of times before it ends. Until that limit is reached, the game runs indefinitely, so all players need is patience, not lightning-quick reflexes. There are also a couple of dialogue-based puzzles where players must choose the right response, or series of responses, to move the action forward. If you choose incorrectly, all you get is a funny remark from the character you’re speaking to; players can always try a sequence again until they get it right.
The traditional inventory puzzles provide challenges that are often creative and funny, such as discovering how to fool a character into thinking Nelly is someone else, or figuring out how to coerce a “cat burglar”—an actual cat—into fetching an item she cannot reach. A few puzzles left me stymied for a while, but these were mostly cases where items are used in particularly interesting ways that aren’t apparent right away. The challenges are by no means unfair; some may just stretch your adventuring muscles.
The in-game dialogue is also clever, and it is here that players familiar with the Monkey Island games will recognize nods to that series the most, notwithstanding the general similarities in theme. References to a couple of running gags in MI are peppered throughout Nelly’s interactions with the characters, and can provoke a chuckle or two.
The plot stays engaging and cohesive throughout, and players almost always have a good idea what to do next as Nelly progresses on her quest. The storyline is fairly straightforward, and although it might not be particularly innovative, it is more than interesting enough to compel players to keep at it.
Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! is a creative and well-executed addition to the Underground scene. Its creative puzzle design and charming characters provide players with an experience that’s well worth the 15 meg download. The game is of respectable length for an indie title, but it shouldn’t take more a few hours at a leisurely pace. Perhaps best of all, the game’s closing scene alludes to potential future endeavors for Nelly. For now, her debut adventure should satisfy almost any genre fan, and those with a particular fondness for Monkey Island or pirate adventures in general should take a stab at it.
Nelly Cootalot can be downloaded here.