The learning curve for point-and-click adventure games tends to be a strange one. Growing acclimated to the “controls” of an adventure game consists of observing how (or even if) interactive objects stand out from their native environment, pacing out where the invisible walls lie, and gaining a feel for just how far the developers push the inventory puzzles into absurdity. That last condition is often the secret handshake for getting your foot in the door of an adventure game. And jack Keane, our generally thick-skulled protagonist, sometimes knows the handshake, and sometimes gets left with his hand out.
When the title screen opens up with a sailing vessel, the “Charming Princess,” with a morbidly obese mermaid affixed to the prow of the ship … something’s obviously up. The whimsical animation is in pitch with the whimsical humor, and the doltish acting is in tune with the doltish scripting. It occasionally dips into the self-aware (“Are you saying you want me to quit playing this game?” Jack asks) and even sways into more long-winded jabs such as riffing on the world-famous “Advance Fee Fraud” Nigerian email scam (“Who would still fall for the oldest trick in the world?” Jack scoffs.) The sense of humor is dry when at its best, and boorishly exaggerated when it’s trying too hard, which affords a few golf-clap chuckles, but doesn’t pull anyone out into laugh-out-loud territory.
Interacting with unimportant objects yields few rewards. If Jack purposes a one-word answer for something (“Interesting”) then it’s obviously not integral to the plot. (As compared to, say, Sam & Max, who have unimaginably witty and intelligent humor in their dialogue when interacting with every square inch of their environment.)
Walking about at an elderly pace, Jack travels to various highlights of ye olde British Empire during the early colonial era. And -- hold your breath -- he’s suckered into a Queen-mandated mission to save the world’s dwindling supply of tea. And some enigmatic fellow named Doctor T (get it?) is the only chap left on the planet without a spoiled crop. It’s enough to get a royal family member’s Earl Grey up in a bunch, but Jack’s motivations are often more of-the-moment, namely by trying to land enough British pounds to pay off an old, sizeable debt to one Mr. Lee that’s caught up to him in a very strong-amred manner. So it’s off to Doctor T.’s base of operations on Tooth Island, where we surmise that the not-so-good doctor has plans to cripple the entire British Empire. By severing off the Brit’s tea supply naturally. Oh, it’s rich, isn’t it?
In nature-infused environments, the puzzles in Jack Keane fall along more logical lines, keeping the gameplay moving at a commendable pace. But in urbanized, busy environments -- a layover in Capetown, South Africa, comes to mind -- the combine item A with item B to create item C puzzles tap into the ridiculous. There’s some head-scratching and a dash of MacGuyvering to be done. And, as is largely accepted within the adventure game genre, attempting to stray from the straight and and narrow path of success only breeds roadblocks. The dialogue puzzles are simple enough to sift through, as Jack navigates the words necessary to further the plot, acquire particular objects, etc.
Jack Keane is coming to PC on March 31.
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