Potential frustration is leavened by the silly, playful nature of the game. Mistakes don’t feel wrong, they simply feel exploratory. For example, Stucco can punch a giant mushroom, which bounces back and knocks him out. As a result, the other goblins guffaw at your mishap, but Stucco revives none the worse for wear. And for the most part, you’ll get an idea of who needs to interact with what from these animations, so it never feels like a waste of time to experiment. There are some time-sensitive actions required occasionally, and these could prove troublesome, but such moments are short and can be tried again if necessary. The earlier levels may lull you into a fall sense of confidence with their pass-like-clockwork degree of puzzle solving, but really they’re meant to serve as a simple transition into the extremely difficult levels you’ll encounter later.
The signature style and artwork of the older Gobliiins games have returned, but this game marks the series transition into 3D. The detailed sprite work of previous games is certainly missed this time around, but the cartoonish look and animation of Gilhodes’ characters is certainly true to form. You’ll meet many large, friendly creatures and even talking vegetables in your travels through continually unique environments. One stage takes place in a train station with a living train, another in an oversized and demented children’s room laden with riddles, and yet another places your adventure inside comic book panels. During all this, you’ll notice plenty of animated background delights to keep you distracted, many of them surreal—such as a fish flying cheerfully around a castle, or a skeleton peeking out from behind boxes. On a technical level, the graphics aren’t quite up to snuff with the current generation of games, but the characters manage to be lively and well animated, with a personality that’s refreshingly different from most 3D adventures.
Aside from the goblins’ physical gags (and the friendly mocking that ensues), much of this game’s personality comes from the noises they make. The sound effects aren’t as wild and cartoonish as they were in previous games, but the odd, unintelligible voices are definitely present, and faithfully so. The English subtitles that accompany this gibberish are almost as strange, and yet I found myself giving in to whatever requests or statements were made by characters. When I encountered a self-proclaimed dentist trapped in the teeth of a monster’s mouth, I thought, “why, of course!” When I eagerly embraced the instruction to steal lettuce from a creature named Saladini to feed a sick worm-friend that I was riding, I knew the game had brilliantly sucked me into its craziness. Whether by voice or text, the game’s language is instrumental to adding believability and texture to its world.
The instrumental music is odd too, but not in the way you’d expect, as it’s not really weird like the rest of the game. There’s the bizarre instrument here and there (the jaw-harp in the first stage was a surprise), but mainly you’ll be hearing a lot of medieval compositions with piano, flutes, and plucked string instruments. While sometimes tinny-sounding and lo-fi, it’s surprisingly pleasant, and most importantly, non-repetitive, as you can expect a new, varied track with each stage.
Getting around is a simple point-and-click affair. Click on a character to control him, and point to where you want to go or what you’d like to interact with. Double-clicking allows you to run, which is useful since it can take some time to traverse screens otherwise. Switching characters on the fly is easy, and perfect for multi-tasking; you can have one goblin head towards one object while having another goblin fiddling with another on the other side of the screen. The only other element of the interface is Tchoup’s inventory, which is accessible with a right-click. The inventory is relatively minimal, and you’ll notice that only particular items carry over from level to level. This feels odd at first, but you’ll likely appreciate the reduction of (inevitable) trial-and-error puzzling. A few of the items feel a tad overused, since they’re used in much the same way, making new puzzles feel slightly less dynamic, but this is a small gripe.
The save system, however, is a little troublesome. As much as I appreciate the series faithfulness of this entry, I’m not quite sold on the archaic password system used by Gobliiins 4 at level completion. Sure, I love me some retro games, but getting out a pad and paper to write down a ten-digit code? Not a fan. The game auto-saves your latest level anyway, but the inability to save mid-level or have any control over save files is one aspect the series should have left behind for good.
There are “only” 16 stages in this game, which may sound short, but there can be a dozen or so puzzles in each level, all working towards one cohesive goal. And there’s plenty to do in all of them, so you could easily end up spending over an hour (or even days) wracking your mind over a tiny puzzle within one level. One of these levels is a bonus stage, unlocked only if you collect an elusive gold tooth in previous chapters. Some are more difficult to see or find than others, but if you do miss one, you’ll probably want to go back anyway, as the puzzles in this game are rewarding, and the solutions never feel too out of reach.
There are those who will dismiss Gobliiins 4 as a mere puzzle game, but unless you play adventures only for their stories, I can safely say that this game is worth the time of any point-and-click adventurer. More isn’t always better, after all, so if you’re up for a challenge in something a little different, get comfortable during the easy first stages, then prepare to explore fantastical surreal worlds one screen at a time, succumbing to their dream-logic puzzles, and laughing at the antics of the stooge-like goblins in this very welcome return.