It belongs in a museum
Fester Mudd: Curse of the Gold completely passed me by when it launched in March. It was originally slated for release last year, and I’d been keeping an eye on it for a very good reason: It’s a collaboration between Finnish developer Prank Entertainment and Josh Mandel, who, along with Al Lowe, created the classic point and click adventure game, Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist.
When I found out that it had actually launched, completely unbeknownst to me, it demanded a review. This rather late review is in keeping with the game itself. Fester Mudd opens with “This game is a tribute to the golden age of adventure games”, but it’s more than a tribute — it belongs in that era. This is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
Fester Mudd: Curse of the Gold – Episode One (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Prank Entertainment/Replay Games
Publisher: Replay Games
Released: March 4, 2013
MSRP: $9.99 (Mac, PC) $0.89 (iOS) $2.99 (Android)
Rig: Intel i5-3570K @3.40 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 670, and Windows 7 64-bit
There’s nothing about Fester Mudd that would suggest it came out in 2013, besides the fact that it’s a digital release. From the VGA style graphics to the MIDI soundtrack, playing Fester Mudd is like being transported back to the early ’90s. The only difference is that back then, I was incapable of growing a beard, and I had to ask my parents to buy me games.
If classic adventure games fail to float your boat, then you might as well bugger off and do something constructive, as this review won’t change your mind.
Have they gone yet?
Good. Now we can revel in the golden age of pixels, inventory management, and terrible jokes. Fester, our titular “hero”, begins his adventure slumming it out in the arid plains with his trusty mule, Martha. His life appears to mainly involve sleeping and taking it easy, which I can definitely get behind. This all changes when he receives word from his brother, Bud, who has struck gold and needs Fester’s help.
Without further ado, Fester makes the long trip to wonderfully named town of Loamsmouth to meet his prospector sibling, but in classic adventure game style, his progress is immediately halted.
Episode One is fairly short, with Fester attempting to solve two major problems. The first is that the saloon where he needs to meet Bud is now carding people, and Fester has absolutely no ID. It’s a simple issue that unsurprisingly expands into several puzzles running the gamut from mundane to extremely silly.
Fester interacts with the world through the incredibly old-fashioned verb menu (there are also hotkeys), requiring players to select words like “look”, “talk”, and “use”. Thankfully, clicking on objects will make Fester use a default action, so the extra step of using the verb menu can often be avoided.
Once Fester gets into the saloon, he once again finds himself stuck, and must solicit aid from a gunman. And, in typical form, the gunman needs Fester to gather a bunch of items for him before he will help the useless fellow out. It’s hardly inspired, and Fester Mudd certainly sticks to the path very well traveled.
Loamsmouth is a quirky dust bowl lampooning western cliches, but it’s not quite as memorable as the settings that inspire it. It’s not without it’s charms, however, from a gun shop owned by a surly clown to a lake filled with “farting fish”.
Puzzles are mostly logical, though it’s adventure game logic, occasionally requiring a couple of hops and a leap. For instance, it seems obvious that to get an angry dog out of the way, you’ll need to use the nearby cat as a distraction — but how you get the cat to follow you is far from obvious, well, until you figure it out and it all makes perfect sense in the context of the zany adventure genre.
While it can be frustrating to spend time better spent enjoying the quips of Loamsmouth’s residents or exploring the game faffing about in Fester’s inventory, hearing him repeat the same phrases over and over again, this is something that anyone who played ’80s and ’90s adventure games will be all too familiar with. It might now be seen as a flaw, but in a game that tries to perfectly capture the genre’s heyday, it seems appropriate.
While the impetus for some of the head scratchers might elicit some chuckles, they rarely reach the lofty heights of the clever puzzles found in the the likes of Monkey Island, and they certainly aren’t as engaging as the multi-layered brain-teasers found in modern adventures such as the recently released The Night of the Rabbit.
The opening episode of Fester Mudd: Curse of the Gold should be cherished for giving those of us who still adore classic adventure games and opportunity to play one that never existed back in the day. It’s a nostalgic reminder of hours spent enjoying silly characters and painful puns, but it also highlights how far the genre has come since it’s so-called death in the late ’90s.
Though I’m looking forward to the next episode, I am, perhaps, not quite as excited about it as I would be if this was an adventure game that wasn’t so adamant about sticking to extremely old genre conventions — both good and bad.