Adventure Gamers Awards
With such quality voice-overs and unique characters, it’s a pity that some of the jokes haven’t quite survived the journey from the original Italian. For example, on encountering a seemingly coal-powered van, Skinny says, "Where is my flying broomstick now?" You can sort of see what he's getting at, but as a joke it falls flat. That said, sometimes the more outrageous lines end up being awkwardly funny, such as when you mouse over lovers’ initials scratched in a tree and get the option to "inebriate yourself with love." I’m still not sure whether the effect was entirely intentional, but it was certainly memorable. It’s far from all bad – a sequence where Skinny takes a moment to translate a football player’s dialogue from Jock to English is particularly hilarious – but the jokes that don't land are conspicuously clumsy.
The interface is pretty standard point-and-click. If you right-click and hold over a hotspot, you get icons for look, pick up, use and talk to, and mouse scroll (or tab) brings up your inventory, with the usual options to combine or use objects. If there is only one particular thing you can do with a hotspot (such as try not to look too closely at that suspiciously spooky picture in the living room), it's labelled with a description of what you can do and you left-click to perform it. The inventory screen (a view of Skinny's ribcage, with your objects hidden inside) also houses load and save options. There are just three save slots, though, and they're only distinguished by a screenshot, so be sure to stand somewhere distinctive if you want to remember which is which. Finally, pressing the spacebar activates a hotspot highlighter; given how crowded the screens are and how small some of the objects can be, this is a real godsend.
After all its good work building a quirky, beautiful world, it's a shame The Wardrobe is let down by its puzzles. They're almost exclusively inventory-based (with just one conversation puzzle and a stint maneuvering a crane to break things up) and they can be great fun, but they come out of left-field just a bit too often. Much of the time, you're doing things more to make something interesting happen than to achieve an obvious goal. That's fine, and pretty common in comic adventure games, but every so often the things you need to do make no sense, except possibly in retrospect, and even then only if you squint.
For example, early on you encounter not so much a dust bunny as a dust monster, with dreams of taking over the world. He's so small and feeble that those dreams are laughable, and at first I wrote him off as a bit of background colour. Except he's not, and you need to jump through a variety of hoops before he can help you acquire an item for reasons you don't discover until you've obtained it. It was only when I got stuck and started trying random objects on him for the sake of it that something popped, and even then I just got the incomprehensible clue: "Too few collateral effects. I would need something much more unstable." I took that to mean I should try brute forcing my way through and I eventually stumbled onto a multi-step solution, but the whole exercise was a frustrating roadblock in what until then had been a fun experience.
This doesn't happen a lot, maybe a handful of times over 6-8 hours of playtime, but each time it brings you screeching to a halt and leaves you floundering. Just to rub salt in the wound, if you try enough random objects, Skinny will retort that trying everything on everything won't work in this game. (Technically, he's right: there's an unmarked hotspot at one point that doesn't appear unless you walk across it.) The worst part is that if you set these teeth-grinding moments aside, the rest of the puzzles are nicely entertaining, in the scattergun kind of way that characterises this game. It's not often that you have to break up a student tryst with a voodoo doll, find a way to marry off Cleopatra or out a fake boogeyman. The payoffs can be wonderfully unexpected, too, and generally come with a nicely-animated cutscene.
The story is perhaps The Wardrobe's weakest point, but that doesn't really matter. In the same way that, arguably, The Lord of the Rings is just about going to drop a ring in a volcano and then going home again, Skinny is simply on a quest to find Ronald, taking in the sights and puzzling his way past one obstacle after another. When the journey is as wacky as this, though, it's hard to mind. And while Skinny may not be changed as much as Frodo was by his adventures, in his own small way he finds peace. The early stages are full of comments about what he can't do because he's a skeleton, such as have skin to crawl or a bladder to empty, and being unable to go outside without freaking people out. By contrast, at the end he's more interested in the advantages of being undead, like having a load of free time, being able to eat what he wants without putting on weight, and being immune to electricity; he sees himself as a kind of superhero. The turning point is probably at the beginning of the second of three acts, when he realises that since it's Halloween he can go where he likes and everyone will just think he's wearing a really great costume. Even though he'd spent the whole time calling me an idiot and asking for a better player to take over, I wound up feeling oddly happy for him by the time the credits rolled.
You'd expect The Wardrobe, a game about sudden death, skeletons and zombies, would be at least a little bit dark, but in fact it's as joyfully exuberant as a puppy. The world brims with weird and wonderful characters and references, thrown together with no rhyme or reason other than to raise a laugh, and through it all wanders Skinny, a grumpy, bony teen, trying to be sarcastic but actually learning to love himself. The puzzles may be unfair at times and some of the jokes may be better in Italian, but the lovely cartoon graphics, bouncy music and sheer invention more than make up for that. If you like pop culture, comedy horror or just like the idea of taking a road trip with a wardrobe, it's well worth checking out.