Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World review
Adventure Gamers Awards
Imagine if history took a sharp turn in the Victorian era with the creation of a miraculous energy device that gave humans limitless power and the ability to navigate space with ease. Would this change history as we know it? You bet it would. Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World rockets you into such a world – literally – a world that has amazing technology coupled with 19th century lo-tech sensibilities. From advanced space drives to wooden ships, amazing ray guns to penny arcade space navigation devices, this is an alternate reality based around humans arriving a little early into the modern age. Set within this Brawe new world is an impressive comic adventure that feels like a welcome blend of old school classic and modern day cartoon that should please any adventurer, though it’s sometimes eerily quiet in space.
Predictably, mankind’s premature progress into the realms of space has brought with it all of the political interests and problems of our own little planet, including piracy, which has become an increasingly popular profession in this age of intergalactic industry. One such band of pirates known as the Kribbs (hmm, sounds familiar...) are a bloodthirsty bunch determined to loot and pillage the universe. To combat the Kribbs, the Space Police were formed to thwart the pirates at every possible turn. Kaptain Brawe is one such policeman: a proud and patriotic man who looks to protect space travellers and follow the law (almost to the letter) whenever he can. Sometimes a little naive and always gung-ho, Brawe strives to be the hero and often goes into situations without thinking or even back-up. Commanding the patrol ship SPS Mazslow, he prides himself on his ability to keep his lone crew member upbeat (which he fails miserably at doing) and bringing glory to the Space Union. With only his navigator, the often-exasperated ensign Kralek, to assist him, Brawe usually finds himself on solo missions, which completely agrees with his sense of adventure and duty.
The first such mission occurs when the Mazslow receives a distress call from a crashed spaceship, calling for assistance. After solving a few tutorial-like puzzles on board, Brawe sets off to the planet Jama Spacea, where the vessel has crash landed. Initially it appears to be a quick rescue, but the Kribbs soon make an appearance and start searching the planet for potential survivors and cargo. As the story evolves, Kaptain Brawe's adventure expands across three core planets: one tropical, another a remote ice planet, and an Earth-like world which the Kribbs call home. As each of the three main chapters open, the narrative reveals more about the survivors from the crash. This group of scientists appears to be the focus of a conspiracy, which involves capturing them and controlling a revolutionary invention that could threaten the existence of the Space Union and the political stability of the entire galaxy. Throw into this mix a mysterious assassin called SHE, plenty of political corruption and a very unfriendly boss, and you have the makings of an altogether quirky and unusual adventure.
There's something of a mock Eastern European theme that runs through the game (which isn’t surprising given its Croatian origins), attempting to give an amusing Communist / Cold War flavour to many of the characters. The game delivers plenty of quips and clever dialogue, often poking fun at speech differences and pronunciations, and Brawe himself is a hopelessly inept speller, a fact that even (purposely) carries over to his subtitles. Some of the most amusing comedic moments come from the interactions between Brawe and Kralek, who clearly has little respect for his superior and subtly tries to undermine him as often as possible. Rather than being laugh-out-loud funny, much of the game’s humour is pleasantly subdued, drawing out the gags and puns that will frequently bring a smile.
In terms of gameplay, Kaptain Brawe follows a very traditional point-and-click adventure style, challenging you to guide the protagonist through a variety of trials and tribulations by overcoming puzzles, finding items and quizzing the characters you meet. You'll have the aid of a trusty wooden robot named Rowboat, who follows you throughout the game. Rowboat not only stores your inventory in his chest, you can use him as an item to interact with the environment as well. Most of the game is spent controlling Brawe, but at times you are given the option to use other characters and switch between them with a simple button press, though they may be unavailable if they are trapped or not part of the current story scene. There are three playable characters in total: along with Brawe, you’ll also control the lovely Agent Zero, a member of the Space Police Internal Affairs, and Danny, an ex-member of the Kribbs. All three characters must work together to overcome obstacles, each offering something the other cannot, whether it’s strength, the trust of other characters, or even just simple availability. At times only the teamwork of all three players will trigger events that could not happen with one character alone.
There are two difficulty settings to choose from in Kaptain Brawe, a casual and hardcore mode. Both versions are almost identical with little alteration to gameplay, the main differences being the means of interaction, the level of hotspot detail offered, and the types of hints available. In casual mode, when your cursor falls over an object of interest, it immediately defaults to the appropriate type of interaction you need to perform, whereas the hardcore mode will make you click on it and then decide whether to examine or use the object. This can impact the type of information you’re able to learn. In casual mode, you are often not given the option to simply look at items, which means you will miss some history or the odd bit of amusing dialogue here and there, but it does streamline the process for those who simply want to get on with the adventure. The casual mode also gives you the option of extended clues available in the log book, which states your goals for each scene. Each objective offers the ability to click on it for increasingly direct hints on how to achieve it, though it won’t ever provide you with the solution outright. The clue option is completely removed in the hardcore setting, allowing you only to view your tasks at hand.
The rest of the interface is fast, fluid and generally ticks all of the boxes for ease of use. Inventory is activated with the right mouse button or by clicking an on-screen icon, which opens up a central window. Here you can examine any of the items, interact with them directly in some fashion, or simply click on one and move it outside the inventory box to use it in the game. You can also combine items by clicking on one and then another item of choice. With the exception of a few hard-to-locate hotspots, finding items generally isn’t difficult, though for those moments a hint button is available that highlights all interactive objects. Moving around is as simple as clicking a spot on the ground, but double-clicking on exits automatically transports you to the next screen. There's also an auto-save function that tracks your progress. You can save manually as well, but with this option you really never have to bother during a session.
Kaptain Brawe offers a mix of both straightforward puzzles and a fair dose of seriously challenging head-scratchers that hearken back to the likes of Monkey Island 2, but even harder. Part of the reason is the re-working of modern day technology in this alternate history, as not all items work exactly as we expect them to. There are plenty of clues to uncover, but in some cases you may find yourself experimenting with item combinations before a solution becomes evident. In many ways this level of difficulty is a good thing, as there aren't many games that offer both the quality of design and hardcore puzzle challenges of the genre’s golden era. This game does both, giving you a nostalgic reminder of old school adventure with modern day help support if you need it. There is no score for solving puzzles, but each goal is clearly outlined and delivers a satisfying reward chime and notification when you've overcome one, and many can be solved in different orders. I enjoyed this multi-layering of puzzles; whilst all puzzles need to be solved before completing a chapter, you are usually free to make progress on several tasks at once. In some cases, the same item can be used across a number of environments and be part of several puzzles, starting first with a smaller puzzle and then factoring again into a larger, more crucial puzzle at a later stage.
Graphics in Kaptain Brawe are an absolute treat, with every scene oozing detail and colourful cartoon graphics. The varied backgrounds come to life with effective lighting and a vivid use of colour. The visual quality strikes a familiar resemblance to Curse of Monkey Island in both appearance and design. The sprites are nicely detailed and full of character, giving each model a unique look with a wonderful cartoon feel. Animation is absolutely superb, with fluid character movements and well-defined actions. There are some small shortcuts in animation at times, usually occurring when combining or using items, like when Kaptain Brawe is supposedly using a hammer and it looks like he's just using his hands to perform the action. These don't affect the game in any way, however, and are only a small blemish on an otherwise impressive presentation.
Music has been very nicely implemented with a number of subtle background tracks that fade in and out depending on the current circumstance. There's a great selection of moody scores for each environment that change and blend intermittently when moving between different areas. My favourite aspect is the contextual music to highlight a specific action or character motive. It’s especially satisfying when watching a key character as the music begins to insinuate that they have some form of underhanded intention. Sound effects are produced to a very high standard and blend seamlessly with the action, with lots of nice touches throughout. I particularly liked Rowboat, who has a wonderful array of robot buzzing noises. The one area noticeably missing from the sound department is any voice acting. Whilst this may disappoint some people, and will take a little getting used to at first, it ultimately doesn't take anything away from the game. In a way it even adds to the old school nostalgic feel. Still, the characters are full of personality and it’s a modern convenience we’ve come to expect, so hopefully if the game is commercially successful, there will consideration given to a special edition or voice pack at some point in future.
Overall, Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World is a fun old school adventure game with modern user-friendly conveniences, combining some of the best elements of the genre and delivering them in an attractive sci-fi cartoon package. It offers a great mix of puzzles, story and humour, and should provide plenty of entertainment for anyone looking for a bit more bite from their adventure gaming meal. The puzzles can be a little too obscure at times, but the only element really missing here is speech, which may disappoint some, but I strongly suspect that once you start playing you will barely notice its absence. It’s even a lengthy experience (remember those?), as the game should offer at least 20 hours of play and possibly longer for novice players. I highly recommend Kaptain Brawe, so the only question that remains is: are you Brawe enough to save the universe?