Adventure Gamers Awards
Excitement! Adventure! Luxurious moustaches! The Mystery of Woolley Mountain has it all, and a time-travelling rock band to boot. Feeling like a cross between Saturday morning kids' TV and a sci-fi adventure serial as filtered through a vintage lens, it's a lighthearted throwback, both to the point-and-click adventures of old and a time of impeccable manners, afternoon tea, and cucumber sandwiches. If you like your upper lips stiff, your beans old, and your puzzles plentiful, this could be just the thing to brighten your day. It may have a few glitches and head-scratchers here and there, but it tells a ripping yarn and its heart is in the right place.
The witch of Woolley Mountain has kidnapped a group of children, seemingly just because she's evil. So evil that she has a necklace of nightmares. And two henchmen named Colin and Dave who look after her big scary monster, Bertie. Clearly someone's going to have to Do Something™, and that someone is Van Damme Laudenkleer. Adventurer, multi-instrumentalist with the Helmholtz Resonators, and part-time square-jawed hero, he's the sort of chap who could never pass up a cry for help, especially from a stranger who asked so nicely. There's only one teensy problem with his rescue mission: he may be frightfully brave, not to mention one of the few fellows who can still look good in a safari suit, but he's not terribly good at spotting traps. In fact, he gets captured almost immediately by our old friends Colin and Dave, meaning it's up to the rest of the Resonators to come rescue both him and the children, and generally save the day.
The Helmholtz Resonators aren't just any band, though. When they're not rocking out or travelling the world in their Crystal Submarine, they're scientists. Time-travelling scientists, no less, guarding the secret passed down to them by Grandpappy (who stumbled upon it back in 1865). They're an agreeably eclectic, not to say rum, bunch. You mostly play as lead singer (sorry, head chorister) Garland, who's channelling Bertie Wooster in his top hat, waistcoat and heartfelt moustache. Then there's artist and guitarist Carlton, a lover of liquor and lifetime sufferer from "cannotbearseditis". Drummer Professor Frithel couldn't be more different: he not only lives and breathes science, but caresses, high fives and smooches it. Woe betide anyone who tries to interrupt him in the middle of an experiment! Rounding out the crew we have the baby of the bunch, Chladni, low-frequency guitarist and lover extraordinaire; and Auto the automaton, the group's aid and protector.
As the story opens, however, the Resonators are anything but united. Carlton's watching a Western and working himself into a moonshine-induced coma, Frithel's mixing up a coulourful sciencey potion, Chladni's distraught at losing his love's latest letter, and Auto... well, Auto is too disgusted at humans' lack of respect for robots to leave his treehouse. If you're ever to rescue Van Damme, you'll first have to get the band back together. And that's to say nothing of confronting the horrors that await you on Woolley Island. Is the cackling witch just being wicked, or does she have an ulterior motive? Could the Resonators also be walking into a trap, and if so, why?
The Lightfoot brothers, developers of The Mystery of Woolley Mountain, are clearly fans of classic adventures, moustache twirling, and (I suspect) Buckaroo Banzai. There are also liberal nods to their roots playing with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum in the ‘80s, to the extent that an actual shipboard (subboard?) Spectrum plays a prominent role in a couple of puzzles. Here even the very idea of 3D is, as Garland says, "an overpriced novelty, I tell you!"
That description may have you picturing retro chunky pixels and beeping chiptune music, but instead we get bright and breezy, high-res graphics and a gently upbeat backing track. Especially given the small development team, the visuals are a delight: simply drawn, bold and fun, they would look right at home in a children's cartoon. There's also plenty of life to the backgrounds, largely due to the abundance of both main and incidental characters that crowd many of the scenes. One neat trick that helps here is that most of them appear to breathe by bouncing gently up and down; it's a small thing, but really helps them feel alive. There's no slow plodding around here either: Garland zips about the place with great energy. That is just as well, as there are no fast travel options and there's quite a bit of traipsing back and forth in the middle act.
After starting out on board the Crystal Submarine, you go on to explore your mooring spot on Oompah Island, as well as Woolley Island's port town, the mountains around it and, naturally, the evil witch's hideout itself. None of the areas are huge, but there's a fair bit of variety, from leafy forest to arid caves, the comfort of the Moonlight Tavern to the pain of Bertie's lair. For good measure, there's also an extended dream sequence that gives you some trippy insight into Garland's mind.
The sound design is more understated but does a solid job of keeping the vibe going. The background score varies from slow, ambient guitars to peppy synth riffs, with everything from lapping waves to wolf howls mixed in as needed, setting the scene without being especially memorable. You can play a few more catchy tracks on the sub's record deck, but given that this is a game about musicians, it does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. Sprinkling in some of the Resonators' greatest hits would have done a lot to make them feel like a real group; as it is, they never actually get together to rock out. Heck, they don't even join in a battle of the bands you stumble across, being more interested in hitting the bar!
We're back on firmer ground with the voice acting, at least. Although the cast isn't exactly huge (largely consisting of the Lightfoots themselves), the delivery is agreeably hammy and there's just enough diversity to the characterisation to make it work. It's a little unfortunate that the game begins with Van Damme, as his is notably the flattest and least convincing performance, but Garland's overgrown public schoolboy charm more than makes up for it, and the actors clearly had a lot of fun with the henchmen and minions.Continued on the next page...