Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s… uh, a dog’s… err, a pirate dog’s life for me. Indie Australian developer Brawsome’s humorous entry into the point-and-click pirate canon, Jolly Rover, provides a light swashbuckling romp chock full of silliness, salty sea dogs, and plenty of buccaneering hijinks. We may have seen much of this before, and a few more puzzles and additional interactivity would have rounded the experience out a little better, but a variety of extras give players plenty of bonus things to do, and superb accessibility makes the game a joy to play for experienced adventurers and genre newcomers alike.
You’ll plunge into this third-person comic adventure as Gaius James Rover, an anthropomorphized foppish dachshund pup with a taste for tea. James took a wrong tack somewhere in the ocean of life and ended up as an ineffective, overly polite pirate instead of the world-renowned circus clown he was destined to be. James’ sweet naïveté isn’t a very good fit for the life of a pirate and lands him in a variety of scrapes throughout the course of the game: escaping from a pirate crew that steals his shipment of rum, landing on an island full of cannibals who aren’t what they seem to be, becoming involved in a voodoo-tangled plot between two top rival dogs, and even getting caught up in some entanglements of a more romantic nature.
Jolly Rover’s 2D cartoon art deftly complements the whimsical atmosphere. There’s nothing too spectacular in terms of graphics quality or animation, but the visuals nicely suit the game’s light-hearted nature. And there are plenty of humorous details: a silhouette of a stumbling dog on a sign posted outside The Stumble Inn; trees at a childhood home carved with silly faces and branches serving as swords; and a Jolly Roger flag with a dog instead of a human skull. The artists have also done a great job with color, pulling in some vibrant greens and blues into their tropical palette. A sunset in the islands splashes the sky with tangerine above a pale blue ocean. Against this backdrop, a lean-to with multicolored driftwood, ranging from lavenders to sea green, sets the stage for some voodoo practice. In a later trip through amber caverns, James navigates through a maze amid stalactites dotted with iridescent green stones.
The animations are functional, with some ambient motion in the backgrounds: clouds rolling, waves lapping, lamplight flickering, and of course pirate dogs quaffing rum here and there. Many of James’ actions are obscured from view, but when he does visibly carry one out, such as whipping a shiny cutlass from his pants or performing a triple flip, it’s done to great humorous effect. While travelling, James moves across the screen, down hills and through paths reminiscent of old Sierra adventure games. This could have become a burden, as there are many screens to travel through, but the developer has cleverly provided a menu option to control James’ travel speed. This serves not only to minimize the drudgery of watching your character trudge across the screen, but it’s also pretty hilarious watching James’ short little legs skedaddle at high speed.
Each of the game’s full cast of dogs, both pirate and non-pirate alike, has a distinct look: along with James himself and his long snout and pirate hat replete with jaunty red feather, there are two fat poodle chefs who appear to have been separated at birth; tall, mangy Melvin with his dreadlocks (what self-respecting pirate adventure doesn’t have a Keith Richards impersonator at this point?); the grizzled Captain Howe with gray drooping jowls; and the sinister yet urbane Governor DeSilver, among many others. The voice acting also goes a long way toward distinguishing the many different canines in the game: James is the unflappable popinjay, with a dandy voice punctuated by some yips when he’s astonished by something (which happens quite often). The salty dog pirates all have the requisite gruff pirate brogue, and Governor DeSilver is a study in easy menace.
The music is appropriately jaunty, with a full orchestra providing the soundtrack; the wind instruments -- especially the flute and the clarinet – really liven up the scores. And there is great use of background sounds. As James travels through the jungle, the sound of a waterfall gets louder as you move through each screen, and a “cha-ching” sounds off whenever you earn points in the game. The game often uses sounds amusingly as well: you don’t see James’ crew when they abandon him to his fate, but you do hear them doggy paddling away.
James survives his adventures mainly with a straightforward inventory-based approach. The puzzles in Jolly Rover are logical, and the gameplay is rather linear. You’ll rarely have to travel too far between picking something up and determining how to solve a puzzle (or vice versa, when you encounter a puzzle first, like a chest to open or a costume to make), and when you do, it’s pretty intuitive what needs to be done: keys open locks, pirates use secret knocks, and rum gets dogs drunk (which is logical if you look past the absurdity of it). If you still aren’t sure what you should be doing or how to solve a puzzle, the game provides you with a flaky sidekick parrot, Juan, who’s stored in your inventory. You’re really only working on one main puzzle at a time, so the clues available are always relevant to the task at hand. As you explore hotspots in the game, you’ll also discover Juan’s favorite food, crackers. With each cracker that you give to Juan, his clues become less cryptic. If you’d rather not have tips, you’ll want to skip giving Juan his crackers, as his “tips” pretty much spell out exactly what you need to do to accomplish a puzzle.Continued on the next page...