Review for The Plague Doctor of Wippra
Wippra is a historical town in central Germany and the setting for this fairly short medieval point-and-click adventure about a doctor battling against the ravages of the plague. Developed by German indie game maker, Electrocosmos, The Plague Doctor of Wippra is an expanded version of their earlier game called The Pest-Doctor of Wippra (pest being German for plague). The more extended version of the game reviewed here has been born of a desire to flesh out the original's story, settings, and characters, and the result is worth it.
You play as an inexperienced young doctor called Oswald Keller whose thinking, we quickly realise, is very much at odds with the popular perspective of the times. Oswald is convinced that rats and fleas are the agents of the plague. The dirty streets and homes, along with a lack of sanitary facilities and a growing population, are breeding grounds for rats and have allowed this incurable disease to spread far and wide. However, the more significant part of the local populace sees the plague as simply a punishment from God. Anyone who disagrees is believed to be going against God’s will. In the face of this religious fervour, Oswald’s enlightened way of thinking becomes a problem for his safety. Not only is he compelled to help those suffering, but he must do so with caution lest he incurs the wrath of religious zealots.
The game’s challenges revolve around Oswald’s need to carry out primitive consultations and medical or surgical procedures. As the plague is incurable, these tasks are primarily undertaken to alleviate suspected plague victims' suffering or aid natural healing processes. Puzzles frequently require specific objects to be located and combined, often involving concocting ointments or medicinal preparations from foraged plants and other substances such as wax. The tasks are not particularly hard, but there is a certain amount of satisfaction to be gained from easing a character’s pain, no matter how pixelated their on-screen form.
In addition to the object-based puzzles, one logical deduction puzzle involves studying what a patient says about her previous treatments. There are also moments when you will have to decide what you tell officials about your doctorly work. What you say or don’t say has consequences later in the game, although there is no way to know the ‘right’ answer beyond trial and error. I can say that on my first play-through, having thought I had done reasonably well, everything came crashing down horribly around my ears in the final stages because of my earlier missteps.
The puzzle design sometimes leaves you wondering why a particular object must be used when there are obvious easier alternatives. For example, you must seek a bird feather to spread a liquid at one point when a simple piece of rag or twig would have been perfectly suitable. Of course, this is all part of the fun, but the logic is slightly strained.
The style of gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has played a point-and-click adventure before, with different cursors to highlight objects to examine or to use and the routes to different screens. Your inventory doesn’t become overloaded, and I found items always remained accessible without scrolling. Combining objects is a simple matter of clicking on the relevant two objects in your inventory, and once used, these objects are conveniently discarded for you. The story text and dialogue are neatly laid out and the overall impression is that the screen is always well organized.
The game path is quite linear, so there is little in the way of flexibility in the order in which the game unfolds and how you can approach challenges. Some players may also find that the character moves a little too slowly through the screens, and although there are few locations to traverse, you will find yourself plodding backward and forward through the same screens often.
Graphically the game is initially a little surprising in its sheer blockiness. The artist has managed, however, to achieve subtlety of detail within this very low-resolution and fairly subdued palette of greys, browns, and greens. The game’s locations and characters are recognizably medieval, nicely evoking feelings of warmth, danger, discomfort, or whatever is required for the scene. The three-pixel bloodsucking leeches are a case in point: they are really leech-like! At times there is evidence that the pixelation is just for show, though, when specific effects such as smoke or sunlight are rendered in smoother and more lifelike animated detail.
The music that pops up throughout is the most artistically impressive aspect of the game. It is piano and viola and is poignant, despairing, and sombre, and it takes the full emotional impact of the story up a notch or two. Similarly, the sparse use of sound is worthwhile on the few occasions that effects are employed, such as the groan of a patient in pain. There is no voice acting at all; everything is handled through text alone.
The Plague Doctor of Wippra is a moderately short but satisfying game. There are not that many tasks overall, and barring the occasional bit of ‘moon logic’, the puzzles have been well thought through. The characters and settings are convincingly conceived for the short time you will spend with most of them. The excellent music enhances the melancholy atmosphere running throughout the game. However, the gravity of your situation does not become apparent until near the end of the game. It is nicely presented, concisely constructed with several endings, and interesting from a medical, religious, and historical standpoint.