Retro review: Gobliiins Pack

[quote] An important note on orthography:
The Gobliiins Pack includes three games. These are Gobliiins, Gobliins 2: The Prince Buffoon, and Goblins 3. No, I’ve not committed some grievous spelling error – INCONTHIEVABLE! – but instead, the number of ‘i’s in the title represents the number of playable characters in each game. In an exceedingly clever twist, this sequence is perfectly inverted in series iterations. That was probably entirely unintended, but if Dan Brown’s next novel claims it’s a secret Masonic code, I called it first.

A lifetime of repressing his baser instincts now an untold burden on the mild-mannered goblin, Fingus secretly ponders the pleasures of casual violence.

Anyway, the games play like a mashup of something like, say, The Lost Vikings, room escape puzzlers, and point and click adventures. So you’ve got a bunch of goblins (or one goblin and a series of ad hoc comrades, in the third game), each with their own special abilities, and you have to solve a bunch of puzzles in a scene before moving onto the next one and starting over. There’s also a story in there somewhere, but in between jamming bits of stuff together to make stuff happen (or not), it seems mostly irrelevant.

The first game has a lot of obvious problems. There’s no interaction feedback whatsoever, so working out what you can actually do anything with is part of the fun. Where “fun” actually means “not much fun at all, really.” This utterly impenetrable approach to gameplay is significantly compounded by an additional complication – you have a limited amount of health shared between your goblins, and mucking up means losing chunks of this. Muck up enough, and it’s game over. Sure, there are checkpoints, and you can simply restart the scene, but the game all too quickly lapses into a tedious series of pixel-bashing trials and error (or a trial of errors, perhaps).

A severed hand. Supporting adventure game props since 1984.

The second game adds mouseover object highlighting, but chucks the simple, unambiguous character class system for a sort of personality system that’s ultimately rather too nebulous. In theory, the goblin Fingus is smart and diplomatic, while Winkle is stupid and dauntless. In practice, however, this means surreal, inscrutable predicaments where, for example, Winkle can’t figure out how a switch works in one scene, but has no difficulty negotiating the otherwise complex mechanisms of a doorbell in another. Adventure games do tend to rely somewhat on illogical – if illogically predictable, at least – approaches to problem-solving, but this character inconsistency can be quite frustrating.

Third time around, and Goblins 3 plays much more like a regular adventure game. Although the main character, Blount, is supplied with companions throughout the game, their usefulness is generally more transparent. Also, every scene features an objective summary, providing a practical context that’s altogether absent in the other games.

Well, I say “objective summary”. It’s its own puzzle, really.

It’s needless to say, maybe, but none of these games are particularly easy. Many of the puzzles are necessarily – and, paradoxically, unnecessarily – obscure, meaning you’ll frequently find yourself stuck with absolutely no idea what to do next. Given their uncompromising linearity, this also means you can’t get busy doing something else in the meantime. As a rather unique series, it’s certainly worth checking out – but only if you’ve a prodigious capacity for failure and resentment to go with your old school sensibilities. Which you likely do, of course.