BLACKSAD: Under the Skin
By Christiane Biederbeck
Pendulo’s BLACKSAD: Under the Skin is a narrative and investigative adventure based on a Spanish comic book series. The game features an all-new case for detective John Blacksad, with 30 characters both old and new playing a part in telling this new story that seeks to appeal to existing fans as well as adventure game lovers.
In the early 1950s, the famous boxer Joe Dunn is found dead. Another boxer, Robert Dale, disappears without a trace and his daughter hires the famous detective John Blacksad. This world is dark and dangerous, like common noir detective movies. What makes it unique is that all characters are human-shaped animals and their species reflect their character. For example, the murdered boxer was a dog (more precisely a boxer) and our main character is a tomcat in a trench coat.
Very suitably for a '50s detective story, the game comes with a nice jazz soundtrack, while the comic-like art design is in 3D and very much in line with the Blacksad comics.
The gameplay contains elements of both classic and modern adventure games. As a detective, players collect evidence and information, which can then be combined in inventory to draw conclusions, kind of like Ace Attorney. It is possible to interact with lots of different things in the environment, but not everything will be helpful.
As far as we can tell from the gamescom demo, the non-linear gameplay very much revolves around the story. Besides the typical detective work, it also features Quick Time Events and multiple choice dialogues. Previous decisions can affect the narrative in multiple ways: if you use the fire exit instead of going through the main door, your quest continues in a different way.
In case you get stuck, it‘s possible to use your enhanced cat-senses to look for more clues. They can even provide new dialogue options and deductions, such as in one early scene where they help you play dangerous gangsters against each other. A handy ability. During short action scenes, we simply needed to pull off a quick QTE, pressing the action key at the right moment to save the day. Otherwise, Blacksad's sudden demise may occur. Of course, if this happens the game will automatically reload back to a fair save point without losing too much progress.
Seeing the demo made me curious about reading the Spanish comics that inspired it. That won’t be necessary to enjoy the game, though it would probably help getting more familiar with the characters and the settings. BLACKSAD will be released in 2019 for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, featuring a play time of about eight hours. English, Spanish, German, French and Italian voice-overs can be expected.
This year's gamescom offered a diverse mix of adventure games from Poland. Here's our round-up of some of the games exhibited in Cologne.
By Christiane Biederbeck
Tsioque, from OhNoo Studio (Tormentum – Dark Sorrow), succeeded on Kickstarter three years ago and is now aiming for a release on November 7th (Windows PC, Mac and iOS). It has been delayed quite a few times, especially due to the very small budget, but during gamescom we were reassured by the developers that this time things are looking good.
In this 2D point-and-click adventure, we control the actions of the young princess Tsioque, who – as we know from a cutscene at the beginning – was captured by an evil sorcerer and his minions. Tricking the guard, stealing his key and escaping the prison cell are the first tasks, providing an opportunity to get acquainted with this fantasy world and its gameplay. At first we have to click on everything to find out what does what, which involves a lot of trial and error. Once that is established, we can make use of them in order to reach the next part of the dungeon. Hidden in a crypt nearby, we find an invisible cloth. This artifact offers a great boon: invisibility. Whenever a guard approaches, we need to quickly use the cloth (and continue to repeat this action to move forward, which feels very much like a Quick Time Event). If we fail, the princess is captured; however, we can try again without losing any progress.
As for the distinct comic art style, the studio is collaborating with the animated filmmaker Alek Wasilewski (Lucky Day Forever). The result looks slightly reminiscent of the LucasArts classic Monkey Island 3. It's quite remarkable to see how many interactions lead to unique animations during only the first few minutes. Those of you looking for something similar to Tormentum might be disappointed, because Tsioque is going in a very different direction – not just when it comes to graphics but also in terms of gameplay. Although the story may seem typical at first, the developers promise that it comes with a smart twist and that there is more to it than it appears. An early demo is still available on the official website.
By Christiane Biederbeck
Alibabe is currently being developed by Gspot and aims for a rather interesting mix of cyberpunk and fable settings. Among others, influences come from the Grimm Brothers, but also from Terry Pratchett and Monthy Python. The 2D graphics are hand-drawn, and due to her large eyes, at least the main character looks loosely inspired by the Japanese manga style.
The story centers around the eponymous female hero, who finds herself confronted with the absurdity of everyday life. While exploring the 2D fantasy world, she meets many well-known fairy beings, such as Gretel, who has gotten quite long in the tooth, and the fairy godmother who turns out to be a demon called Bill. Alibabe definitely has potential for situational comedy.
While checking out the playable demo, the most conspicuous aspect was the gameplay itself. The core element is the reassigning of emotions. In every area, we meet several mechanical creatures that are driven by a specific emotion. This emotion can lead them to not wanting to help us, being in the way, or forming some other obstacle. We can, however, take this emotion and replace it with one from a different NPC. Many puzzles are based on this idea. Apart from that, there's also some running and jumping to do.
There is no release date yet, but Alibabe is being developed for PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. English and Polish voice-overs can be expected.
My Brother Rabbit
By Christiane Biederbeck
My Brother Rabbit is a colorfully drawn 2D point-and-click adventure game from Artifex Mundi that lets us explore a quite surreal world, residing a child's dream. In this strange place, we seek a cure for our sick sister. The main character is the plush animal belonging to her brother: a funny looking rabbit.
The whole game consists of five areas, each of which should take up to an hour to complete. As for the puzzles, we can expect gameplay similar to The Tiny Bang Story or the adventures of Amanita Design. Of course, there's going to be a lot to explore and various hotspots to click on to see what happens, and the detailed graphics definitely invite the player to take a closer look at the surreal environment. In terms of difficulty, the developers told us that they want to appeal to both children and adults, so obviously the puzzles are not going to be that hard.
At the Poland booth, we played the first few minutes of My Brother Rabbit. After searching around for relevant objects, we had to solve the first real puzzle, with several threads of different colors that needed to be connected to a knot with the same color, without crossing the other colors. That definitely seemed doable for kids and yet, frankly, it took us a while to get the solution.
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So perhaps this game really will be able to entertain younger and older audiences alike. We'll see once it is available sometime in autumn 2018 on PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch.