Genre: Adventure Game
Developer: Stone Monkey Studios
Publisher: Stone Monkey Studios
Release Date: 8/20/15
Are you one of those people who hate indie games that use a retro aesthetic? Well do I have a game for you to hate: City Quest is a game that visually preys directly on our nostalgic memories of popular point and click adventure games of the past and latches on to that nostalgia like a vegetarian on a tofu steak. This is all in the effort to create something that feels like a game you might’ve played decades ago but still seems new right now. In fact, that was pretty much the selling point for the Kickstarter of this game, selling it as a classic point and click adventure with a sharp wit and a clear love of its predecessors.
And you know what? It works. I fucking love this game.
Let’s get through the standard review stuff so I can talk about how much I love this game.
Graphically it advertises its high definition graphics, and those blocks are sure rendered as hard as my computer could render Amiga looking graphics without bursting into flames. The style is deliberate, and maybe it’s just because I played games at a time when these kind of graphics were not just the norm but a pretty big deal, but I dig it. I like the style of it, and there’s an amazing amount of personality that shines through despite (and maybe because of) the extremely pixelated art style. It’s weird to say, but I kind of like how it looks, because my mind has to work a little to imagine what is going on, so when the main character gets mauled by a bear or goes purple in the face from choking, my imagination is filling in the details… and somehow that’s more gruesome than the detachment I have from the uncanny valley of modern game graphics. Though it could be because I’m old. One of those.
The music is also fantastic for the game. My wife has been walking around the house humming it. Each area has a distinct background track for it, and the sound effects are corny to the point that they add another layer of comedy to what is going on.
Controlling the game is simple. Unlike some of the old point and click games of the past, you don’t have to type ‘Pick up X’ or ‘Talk to X’ or ‘Put Mouth on X’. Instead there are icons on the bottom of the screen, one for Walk, one for Look, one for Touch, and one for Mouth. If you click Walk and then the screen, you walk to where you clicked. If you click Look and then something on screen, you will get a description of what you are looking at. If you click Touch and then something on screen, you will either get a description of what it feels like or add something to your inventory. If you click Mouth and a person you will talk to them, while Mouth and objects mean you will either try to eat or speak to those objects. There’s an Inventory with arrows to scroll through and a menu button that describes your last objective while also letting you save, change options, and so on.
Fairly intuitive right? In addition, the game is good about if you click on an area that you mean to walk to and not talk/lick/touch/look at, as it’ll automatically switch to the walk option and guide the character there. The whole process is much smoother than entering in a bunch of text and hoping that this text would be correct. The game is designed well from from an input end and is easy to pick up and play.
The game itself contains four different storylines. It starts with you as a country bumpkin entering the big city and then puts you in a tutorial area of sorts so that you can figure out what bright career you will have on your adventures in the big city. Those career options are Hobo, Lady of the Night, Mafioso, and Politician, in order from least morally corrupt to most. If that seems kind of ridiculous, welcome to City Quest!
Of course, one can create a game that seems like the adventure games of the past but misses the inane, clever humor and magic of those past games. Many have. Well, City Quest gets it right. The writing is well done and the humor hits more often than it misses. The individual quest lines are well told (so far, I’ve gone through half of them) with a wild mix of pop culture and specific adventure game references. The writing is entertaining enough that this is a game I wasn’t allowed to play without my wife watching, when normally it’s the other way around (i.e. she doesn’t want to be in the room when I play). Instead, she was commanding me to lick this or touch that. There’s an achievement for licking 500 objects, which I made a priority, and several hours later I’m so close, but I’ve still got more things to lick. When you do, different messages pop up describing what you touched or tasted, and the results are not only amusing but surprisingly varied. They wrote a lot of text for this game assuming there might be someone like me who was going to put his mouth on everything.
That’s where some of the magic of old adventure games comes into play. The odd mix of trying everything just to see what might happen, because experimentation might lead to things you weren’t expecting, like getting a key and testing it on everything until it unlocks a door and just being pleased to figure out what it did. Realizing the apple I stole could be used to help create fake breasts in a dress in this game was a singular moment of accomplishment. Being told I can eat things from my inventory and then finding a baby and thinking, huh, can I? HOLY SHIT I CAN. With amazing results. So maybe it’s just that I share the same dirty, juvenile humor as the developers and it just clicked with me, but OH MY GOD there are pixelated dogs fucking on the screen and can I lick them?
The game throws great references all the time at you, is constantly surprising you with clever jokes and rewarding you with humor when you play around with what you can and can’t do within the game. Death is sudden and frequent, though since it is part of the humor of the game to find these fatal occurrences, the penalty is just a loading screen.
One of my only complaints about the game was that it was occasionally hard to tell what screens you could walk to an adjoining screen on or if they were dead ends. Then, in a quick update, THEY FIXED THIS, days ago, in a way that was consistent with the world they built. In other words, I have no complaints; this game is exactly what they promised it would be, and one of the more entertaining video game experiences I’ve had all year.
City Quest is an homage to old school adventure games and exists as a great addition to them as well. There’s so many little things to find and explore, and weird things on each play through that you might not have noticed the first time, that it’s a larger game than it initially appears to be. Sure, I took the time to lick everything, but the Mafioso storyline took about three hours the first time through and the Lady of the Night storyline took almost as long. The game has an achievement for completing these in under an hour, which I believe could absolutely be done if you aren’t trying to lick and steal everything, only there’s weird crazy shit with creepy clowns that I’ve barely scratched the surface of and hidden babies and more, so it’s a game you don’t just beat once. You play it again and again. It actually has a sharp wit instead of just advertising one, making it an entertaining experience worth playing through several times.
Short Attention Span Summary:
As a fan of older point and click games, I’ve seen many Sierra and LucasArts imitators, but few that live up to that lofty bar set by those companies. In my opinion, City Quest leaps over that bar and manages to not just be a homage of those games, but worthy of a place beside them.