Review for Chook & Sosig: Walk the Plank
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Chook & Sosig started out as characters in a number of free visual novel games. A ghost chicken and blue cat with noodly arms, respectively, the two protagonists and their friends share a variety of fun times together. Indie developer TookiPalooki used the earlier games to gain experience before starting work on the first commercial 2D point-and-click adventure Chook & Sosig: Walk the Plank. Their newest get-together sees the gang participating in a roleplaying game enacted on a number of Caribbean islands, with Sosig playing the part of a pirate on a quest for treasure. Even though I’d never played any of the previous titles, I had no trouble getting into this one and was very glad that I did. Walk the Plank is simply a lot of fun!
The game opens with the titular pair joining their other friends for a relaxing tabletop RPG. Exley, a sort of undead goat, is the game master and runs the event. The playable portions all take place within the roleplaying game itself, with Sosig as the main character. As he interacts with the others, occasionally the view switches back to the table for the characters to exchange some light and usually witty banter. For instance, Hebble, an orange wiener dog, is frequently trying to find ways to get a dragon into the game because he happens to have a dragon miniature in his game box. Although he says he’d play a friendly dragon, the others know that never lasts nor ends well.
Sosig’s other friends include Cow, an undead ungulate who always speaks in capital letters. Technically he’s only part of a cow, as his head has been separated from his body and mounted on a placard. Nobody quite knows where the rest of his body is. And then there’s Min, a bat who is the head of the Psychic Association (outside of the roleplaying game). Actually, she’s the de facto head as she’s the only psychic in the association. Each of Sosig’s friends portray multiple characters within the context of the RPG, and it’s interesting to see the different situations they get involved in. Cow proudly proclaiming he’s joined a cult and Hebble showing up as a mermaid are equal parts endearing and disturbing.
The stated game-within-a-game goal for Sosig is quite simple. As a pirate he’s searching for lost treasure hidden on a similarly lost island. His travels to find both lead him to quite a number of different isles, each consisting of one or two rooms. Early on he only has access to a few such places, but as the game proceeds more areas are unlocked. When leaving one island, a map of all the places currently available is brought up. Clicking on another destination will sail Sosig there and deposit him on its shore.
Although there are relatively few locations overall – perhaps only a dozen or so – Walk the Plank makes good use of the ones it has. There’s quite a lot of variety, from the storm-swept island of Cow’s cult to the bottle mail depot (an island devoted to a mail system that delivers messages via bottles in the ocean); from the sunny tropics of an island of goblins, to Hebble’s adventuring guild (with its assorted examples of taxidermy). It’s a weird mix that somehow always feels appropriate and, in an unorthodox way, rather comically piratey. Each locale is beautifully hand-drawn with clean lines, vibrant colours, and plenty of background details. Occasionally the level of detail works against the game, as it can sometimes be hard to pick out which parts are interactive, but a context-sensitive mouse cursor and optional hotspot highlighter help to rectify that situation.
The locales are also well-utilized throughout the adventure. There may not be a lot of places to go, but each one tends to be used multiple times. For example, Hebble’s adventuring guild not only provides an extension to the travel map early on, it’s also revisited a number of times later when various exotic animals in the region are referenced. It’s important to return to places you’ve been as the game progresses to see if anything has changed or if any of the characters have anything new to say. And yet even though it’s necessary to make multiple repeat trips, it doesn’t occur so often that it feels like being stuck in one spot or even caught in a loop. Backtracking is never random as there’s always a hint of where you need to go, but some hints are given early on and aren’t utilized until much later.
Most scenes incorporate some animation, and indeed this is one of the areas where Walk the Plank really shines. There’s something delightful in seeing two goblins hopping from foot to foot around a cauldron, or watching an angry seagull messenger – a competitor to the bottle mail service – squawk angrily at Sosig for getting too close to his nest. My personal favourite, though, is simply Sosig’s normal walk cycle. With a semi-dopey grin and languid swings of his spaghetti-like arms, it’s great fun simply to watch him move about. (I even took some time out from actual adventuring just to walk Sosig in circles a few times!)
For those not interested in waiting for Sosig to mosey along, he can be made to run by clicking and holding the mouse button, although his normal speed is fairly swift already. If that’s still not fast enough, double-clicking an exit will immediately load the next screen. The rest of the game plays in typical point-and-click fashion, with the left mouse button used to either examine, interact, or talk depending on the selected target. A few items can be taken from the environment and placed in inventory, which is available at the top of the screen with the click of an on-screen button. From there they can be dragged to an appropriate hotspot for attempted use.
Puzzles tend to be traditional inventory-based exercises for the most part. Even so, some of the items required aren’t what you’d find in a more serious adventure. I don’t remember the last time I had to help a character by recovering her lost psychic skull, by which I mean her actual skull, not one that she just happened to own. Then there’s the mean-tempered parrot you pick up at one point to take with you in your travels. Although objects like these may seem odd, there’s never any read-the-developer’s-mind solutions, as their uses all make sense in context. Walk the Plank also features a handful of close-up puzzles, such as when having to get a broken-down water fountain working again by entering a hard-earned symbol code on a control panel. These close-ups are few and far between but provide a nice bit of variety when encountered.
While the game is named for Chook and Sosig, Chook is left behind on the first island, where she serves as an in-game hint system. This is even justified narratively as Chook having taken a look at the notes Exley prepared for hosting the roleplaying session so that she knows what all the puzzles are and which obstacles Sosig will encounter. Even so, the hints she gives tend to be more along the lines of reminders of what Sosig should currently be working on as opposed to step-by-step solutions. When I got bogged down trying to calm one of the birds at the seagull messenger service, I consulted with Chook. She essentially told me I needed to find a way to calm down the seagull.
Chook also serves as the game's hotspot highlighter. At the press of a button, a giant screen-sized Chook will appear in Sosig’s current location. She’ll then amble across the scene and all the hotspots will be revealed with little animated flames for a few moments after she’s passed. While the help was appreciated, giant Chook walking through the scene was always a little jarring and served to slow the game down when all I was really looking for was confirmation of whether I’d missed anything important or not.
In between Sosig’s roleplaying adventures in search of pirate treasure, the blue cat spends his time back in the real world bantering with his friends around the gaming table and exchanging friendly jibes. Characters aren’t really voiced, with all dialog appearing as text in word bubbles above their heads. However, when lines are displayed on-screen they are occasionally accompanied by simple utterances – such as a cute “mew-mew” from Sosig or a more gravelly half-growl from Cow – that go a long way toward indicating how the characters sound. These happen sparingly enough that they never grow distracting, instead establishing a better sense of each character. A good assortment of other sounds are featured as well, such as the lapping of waves on beaches and the pop of a miniature executive cannon on Hebble’s adventure guild desk. While not hugely abundant, the effects here are used to good effect.
The score is another strength of this Chook & Sosig experience. I’m not much of a music aficionado, and when playing most games the soundtrack is just there for me, instantly forgotten when I walk away. Not so here. Keeping with the charming whimsy of the rest of the game, the various synthesized pieces have a bouncy, jaunty, semi-piratey feel. They’re all based on simple tunes that are easy to whistle along with. (Oh, like I’m the only one that does that!) One island even provides a radio that can be tuned to switch between the different tracks in the game. Just as I enjoyed taking time to walk Sosig around to see his animation, there were also times when I hung out in a particular area just to listen to the tune being played. I don’t collect game soundtracks as a rule, but if TookiPalooki ever releases one for Walk the Plank, I’d be sure to snag it.
When not stopping just to revel in all the playfulness, most of the time you’ll be continually on the move to your next destination. Here is one of the niggling little issues I ran into, as transitioning between scenes always brings up a loading screen. They never last more than a few seconds, but they always feel like an awkward pause in the proceedings. Given that most of the puzzles require visiting at least two islands to solve, the loading screens became more noticeable over the course of my three-hour playthrough. Partly this is due to having to traverse a lot of locations fairly rapidly, and partly it’s due to the map itself. As new places are unlocked, the size of the map expands to accommodate them. As the map size expands, the loading time for it also gets longer and it eventually becomes the slowest screen to load late in the game.
Although there are no situations that really require it, Walk the Plank does an excellent job in the progress-saving department. In addition to allowing you to make your own manual saves, the game also autosaves every time a new scene is entered or when quitting out completely. With most new adventures it’s usually either one or the other, and it’s so nice to see a game that does both! This instills confidence without having to worry about a single autosave becoming corrupted while still retaining the convenience of being able to just continue on from the main menu when restarting. Many developers could stand to take note of this.
Chook & Sosig: Walk the Plank is more than just a treasure hunt. The roleplaying portions offer charming settings to explore with some interesting challenges to unravel along the way, while the meta experience of being at a table of roleplayers – some alive, some dead, but all wonderfully bizarre– allows for some fun exchanges and good humour. It feels like a group of friends coming together and having a good time without the need for an antagonist. The game’s clean, well-drawn visuals make it a feast for the eyes, and its fittingly hummable music makes it equally easy on the ears. Despite not being the first adventure for its title characters, no prior knowledge of the series is necessary. So grab a seat, crank up the volume and just have fun with this delightful band of characters. The real gems to uncover here are the friendships.