I always take an interest in new point and click adventures, almost despite myself. Something about the familiar task of putting inventory item to object, usually to be told “no, that’s wrong,” feels oddly comforting. 90s PC gaming nostalgia has a lot to answer for.
Judging from the first two chapters included in the preview build, Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle is familiar. This pirate themed adventure sticks to the traditions of the genre like a barnacle to a ship’s hull. That’s not necessarily a criticism – there’s still an audience eager for both pointing and clicking, but even within the rigid adventure gaming structure, Captain Morgane looks to be a mix of things that work well with things that just don’t.
For example, the graphics. The 2D backgrounds have a lovely painted feel to them; bright, cheerful – just like the overall tone of the game. (We’re firmly ‘pirates are adventurous scoundrels’ fiction here. In one puzzle you actually have to persuade a crew-mate to help you break into a building. That’s persuade a pirate to help you steal.) These are matched by the detailed and expressive stills that play out alongside the in-game subtitles and the even more lavish storyboard animations of the cut-scenes. For some reason though, into this wonderful art are placed crude 3D character models. Sublime yet tacky; you see it in so many aspects of the game it almost feels like a design mantra.
Taking the role of “Captain” Morgane, you begin as a child in her home on Bounty Island. It’s a gentle start, a procession of plot points – do chores, play with friends, overcome the island bully – specifically spaced to set-up inventory puzzles set around each single area. This expands out in the second chapter where a 17-year old Morgane, now a full member of her father’s pirate ship, is promoted to acting captain and asked to find crew and adventure. Here it’s stressed that Morgane’s choice could have ramifications in the future, implying a degree of variety but unfortunately, it seems the warning was just plot foreshadowing; the actual choice being annoyingly linear.
The early puzzles work well enough, but suffer from being a bit bland and none are staggeringly original. A puzzle requiring the use of a shard of glass to magnify the sun to start a fire, for example, caused a particularly weary seen-this-done-that eye-roll. That said, the inclusion of recruited crew members in your inventory for use in particular puzzles is a nice mechanic that will hopefully be used in interesting ways later in the game.
Less promising are the minigames. The one included in the first chapter – a pretend swordfight with the neighbourhood bully – is a mess of button mashing. It appears to be an afterthought; something to cater to the casual market and to take advantage of the motion controllers of the console versions. Six are promised in total and while you have the option to skip them, that only highlights how out-of-place they feel.
The ability to travel between islands (unavailable in the preview) suggests that later chapters will have a multi-island puzzle structure in the style of Monkey Island 2 but obviously that’s not the only way the game pays homage to the LucasArts series. As mentioned earlier, the whole colourful, light-hearted approach to pirate adventure does much to remind you of the games throughout, which is unfortunate because it’s a high bar that Captain Morgane has forced its self to be measured against. However, there is a distinct strand running through the plot: where Guybrush’s quest to be a pirate was charmingly naive, Morgane’s romanticism of the seas often comes across more as an idolisation of her father, which leads to some deeper themes than the colourful aesthetic immediately presents.
This familial underpinning is set to be the key to a lot of interactions within. Morgane’s mother dies in the decade between the opening two chapters – and Morgane expresses a desire to help her father come to terms with the loss. This more serious plot strand does sometimes clash with the cheerful tone of the game, especially in one conversation about her mother where Morgane bounces between sorrow and peppy enthusiasm like a bi-polar yo-yo. Still, it at least gives the hint of a story that’s deeper and more compelling than it initially appears.
Judging from this early taste, none of Captain Morgane’s problems are major. At the same time, none of its highlights are worth getting too enthusiastic about. For me personally – while I may always investigate a new adventure game, what I’m really looking for is the innovation the genre has been in desperate need of for over a decade. And based on what I’ve seen so far, that’s not what Captain Morgane is going to deliver.