I was waiting for Gobliiins 5 impatiently, and it exceeded all my expectations. It teleported me back to my school days when I first discovered the adventures of Asgard, Ignatus and Oops, three silly little men named goblins for some reason who explored ridiculous levels filled to the brim with animated objects, hurting and killing themselves on every turn in the most hilarious ways. Some of the funniest and most horrific moments of my gaming virginity lie there.
I then happily discovered the rest of Coktel Vision’s catalogue, although it was pretty short as the company soon ceased to exist, leaving no successors. Nobody ever managed to replicate its unique style (yes, even Amanita), including the founding father Pierre Gilhodes whose fourth installment published in the 2000s, while not catastrophic, only proved that Gobliiins don’t work in 3D, same as Monkey Islands or Broken Swords.
And yet Pierre Gilhodes, good old Pierre Gilhodes, a superb artist with wild imagination and all-round wonderful person, refused to abandon his goblins and celebrated the 30 year anniversary with a true 2D sequel — working alone, as a one-man game/animation studio. Combining the premise of the first Gobliiins with the interface of the second game, huge scrolling multiperspective levels of the third entry and animation techniques used in Woodruff, it is an ultimate love letter to that epoch as well as Pierre’s personal Bible of game design, with its ups and downs.
For example, the story takes a step back to the naivety of Goblins 1-2. There’s a slight satire here and there, with a kingdom terrorised by the potato pandemic that quickly accepts it as a new norm and starts pursuing the “unpotatoed rebels”, but nothing like the dark dystopian totalitarian society or a journey into subconsciousness. Gob5 is joyful and lighthearted, even the evil dudes turn out to be not so evil while the protagonists reveal unexpected sides. Ignatius, a low-profile magician with unpredictable powers and a talking staff, is into Zen and women now. Oops — a complete opposite — is very shy and tries his best to fix things and not hurt anyone. Asgard is even dumber than before, trying to hit or eat anything he stumbles across, but the way he cares about his friends is really touching. The game truly shines with kindness.
That is not to say there’s a lack of cartoon violence, in fact it’s all over the place along with countless animated gags. The life bar is absent as goblins never die, but they are regularly get hurt or scared by the hostile environment in humorous ways. It only helps that, once again, everyone speaks using not words, but silly noises. Gilhodes went for an old-school 640x480 resolution, yet you rarely notice it sine the art and animation are of highest quality, and the many close-ups make it often feel like reading animated comic strips. The only downside is that once in a while an in-game cutscene starts, with goblins leaving their strategic positions and rushing to reunite just to share a word or two, while you are left with nothing but to wait impatiently.
The levels — 16 in total — are huge, they scroll in all directions (sometimes even dimensions) and take plenty of time and nerves to finish. As usual, they vary from simpler areas such as a noisy village or a crumbling king’s palace, to stranger ones, say, a science lab that produces evil potato soldiers, to utterly ridiculous: a giant snail taxi, a childhood trauma of the crazy professor, or a wall decorated with pictures, photos and posters that come to life. The latter feature some of the most imaginative level design I’ve seen in a good while, they are extremely fun to solve and explore. Puzzle logic is not always clear, but using every goblin on every item usually helps, or leads to some hilarious result at the very least.
By the end the gameplay does feel a bit unbalanced, clearly written with Oops in mind: he is the brain of the operation, doing most of the talking and puzzle solving, while Ignatius and Asgard in particular just run along, performing similar actions once in a while. Some levels might even play like fillers with a number of repetitive tasks that don’t require much thinking. Casting a relaxing spell on every potatoed creature you could find? Feeding every fish hidden on a flying ship? And then feeding goblins themselves with 20 snacks scattered around the house to satisfy their hunger? Somehow Gilhodes seem to enjoy those sorts of obstacles more suitable for casual games.
Gob5 was programmed using the AGS engine, and it works smoothly, although I don’t get the decision to abandon the “save” option: you may only reload a level once you reach it. Yes, similar system was used in the original Gobliiins, but that one featured much shorter levels. Here you may get stuck by the end of the chapter and then spend 30 minutes just replaying it. Hopefully this will be fixed in an update along with a final screen bug when a click on a weirdly named hotspot (probably a coding leftover) activates the ending credits. A little polish here and there certainly wouldn’t hurt.
But then it’s an indie effort we are talking about. An 11$ game from one of the greatest minds of the French adventure scene who managed to recreate not only mechanics, but also the soul of his earlier masterpieces all by himself, like a true artist who shows so much care for those funny little fellas. Whose adventures will hopefully continue as the ending promises. One could only wish to see Muriel Tramis, the founding mother of the series, joining its father on a new epic journey. This world really needs more gobliiins.
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Time Played: 10-20 hours
Difficulty: Just Right