MADievals hands-on preview
MADievals is a point-and-click adventure developed by Italian studio 2finger that has been in Early Access since July. The game so far contains only one (quite short) level that can be completed in about two hours, depending on how much time one spends exploring and interacting with the environment, but even in its current state it is quite polished and shows a lot of promise.
The game kicks off in an abandoned, foggy cemetery (fittingly ‘’Ye Old Cemetery’’). You play as Rusty Steelknee, a self-described ‘’fearless knight’’ who makes a living from hunting precious relics. He arrives in the Realm of Manzasun to seek the Idol Lamp, a valuable artifact kept inside the Ascension Temple. But, in true point-and-click adventure fashion, he loses all of his tools and supplies to a pack of greedy goblins, forcing him to tackle the adventure through wits and cunning.
The premise sounds pretty standard so far: the hero goes on a journey that he thought was par for the course, an unexpected event complicates the logistics of the task and the story is underway. However, MADievals gets pretty crazy, pretty fast. The first thing you see is Rusty doing push-ups in his heavy steel armor while a man narrates the premise in his baritone voice.
Rusty then springs to his feet and addresses the narrator directly. This is where both the tutorial and the game’s affinity toward fourth-wall-breaking devices begin. The narrator guides you through several basic adventure controls (take, look, etc) and instructs you to ‘’look’’ at the fountain since a fountain can’t possibly be picked up. Of course, Rusty revolts, picks up the fountain and dutifully puts it in his inventory. He then places it back, with the narrator explaining that Rusty wanted to keep a sense of normalcy in the story.
This small moment from the tutorial perfectly conveys the spirit of MADievals, highlighting the quality of the writing and the humor. The developers cleverly play around with the tropes and conventions of the genre, breaking, twisting and outright parodying them while keeping the experience firmly in point-and-click adventure territory.
Unsurprisingly, these aren’t the only conventions that 2finger are anxious to break. The medieval setting is only an excuse for the writers to throw in the most absurd references and anachronisms that I’ve seen since Archer first aired. From trolls playing football to UFOs, gravestones with futuristic devices attached to them, and modern toilets, MADievals rapid-fires pop culture references and meta-commentaries with the impetus of a teenager who’s discovered TV Tropes for the first time.
To illustrate my point, one of your first assignments is given by a textile manufacturer who hangs upside down from a tomb. They even went so far as to add in a Spider-Man-looking font to his dialogue lines. Naturally, they couldn’t help themselves in referencing one of the most parodied scenes in film history.
This brings me to the game’s biggest strengths: the quality of its characters, humor and, by extension, the writing. As is made clear from the beginning, Rusty is a goof that somehow always finds himself in the most absurd situations. Not even his biting sarcasm and snarky comments can save him from this fate. He’s also quite naïve and trusting for a knight who, according to him, is an experienced adventurer. As proof, he’s tricked by literally the first character he encounters, a cemetery guard who confuses him for a lamppost because he can’t wear his glasses with the helmet his wife gave him.
But the narrator is undoubtedly the soul of the game, at least so far. The voice (as he hilariously refers to himself as), besides narrating the story and guiding players, berates Rusty for almost everything. Rusty is aware of the narrator, and whenever he addresses the voice, the narrator responds only indirectly by… you guessed it: narrating. It’s as if he thinks so little of Rusty that the knight doesn’t even warrant a straight answer. Their antagonistic relationship is possibly the funniest aspect of the game, and I hope this dynamic continues to be explored in future chapters.
The voice casting is also on point. Rusty’s sarcastic, exasperated delivery reminds me of Gothic’s protagonist, and the narrator is, quite frankly, absolutely delightful to listen to. The voice speaks in what I assume is a humorous variation of the Trans-Atlantic accent, reminding me of a bored newscaster who narrates fantasy novels to pass the time.
The developers manage to inject some humor even into the visuals. While most comic adventure games opt for a very cartoony aesthetic to match the tone, MADievals goes the opposite route with a very deliberate dichotomy between the gritty, realistic graphics and the zany, over-the-top comedy. Imagine booting up Dark Souls for the first time, watching the ominous starting cutscene, then seeing Hollows playing football in the first five minutes. The effect is quite striking at first, but you get used to it. It works like a charm and perfectly matches the spirit of the game.
Being in Early Access, this chapter isn’t without its issues. One pet peeve is the lack of a quick save function, which I noticed halfway through the game after repeatedly pressing F5 and losing all my progress. I've been spoiled by other games and assumed MADievals had at least an autosave function, exiting the game only to return and scratch my head in bewilderment at the empty save slots. Granted, the experience is quite short at this point, but it’s something to consider. Make a mental note to record your progress manually every now and then.
My biggest issue lies with the aspect I liked most about the game: the sheer number of pop culture references. I feel like the humor relies too much on them instead of the strength of the writing itself. With that being said, I am fully aware that MADievals is the studio’s first effort and the writers were eager to flex their comedic muscles – it’s only natural. I just hope they will spread the references around in future chapters.
All in all, in its current state MADievals shows a lot of potential. The game itself, with its humor, anachronisms and hilariously self-centered characters, is clearly a love letter to the LucasArts adventure games of old, especially Monkey Island. With a bit more polish and restraint from the writers, the finished game could become of the better new comedic adventures out there. The full game isn’t expected until sometime next year, but the next chapter is due to arrive before the end of 2019.