Jolly Rover review
Not a Jolly Good Find
Jolly Rover wasn’t a game I went out of my way to purchase, since the point and click genre has never really jumped out and showcased pure awesomeness to me. Still, the game came as part of a package deal from Steam and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by titles like The White Chamber so after I had finished playing Recettear to death I chose this as my next adventure.
If anything the game does its best to layer on the charm. The adventure plays off the angle of everyone being anthropomorphic dogs that sail the seas and so the developer gleefully uses this often as part of the humour. The effectiveness of it does vary though, in that at times they manage to shoot off some rather witty connections to the theme but it can be total overkill and sometimes you can see they are really overstretching just trying to make a comment stick. There are times though that the whole theme makes it feel like a one trick pony. It’s not that Jolly Roger doesn’t have humour that strays away from the dog jokes but that they are somewhat lost in there.
In terms of actual plot development everything just gets played for laughs. Gaius James Rover is a sailor transporting goods and is clearly not the brightest of pups when he mistakes a pirate attack for them wanting to say hello. He soon figures out that his employer wasn’t being entirely honest and somehow gets roped into paying him for “losing” the goods. It’s unfortunately quite hard to “connect" with any character though as their personalities seem to exist purely to play on humourous stereotypes.
Graphically the game looks pretty good. THe different locations like the pirate ship, sailor port town and the desert island all have the kinds of features you'd expect crafted with some clear care and attention. Little things scattered about just clue you in on this level of detail too and help create some interesting environments you'll end up travelling through.
Character design is likewise excellent. Rover's fancy threads seem befitting of a pup trying to make it on the seas but not quite understanding the role. The pirates are a more rough lot, especially the captain bulldog who you really shouldn't mess with. Each one has a different fresh design that gives the NPC crowd their own charm.
Music is pretty good too, providing the kind of sea shanties you'd expect a pirate adventure to hit you with. Nothing especially jumps out and grabs you demanding attention but you are aware of the music while playing and it helps the adventure move along. The voice work is even better, giving each character just the right tone of voice they need. Rover? Refined of course, delivering a range of emotions a primary protagonist needs. Pirates? Nearly snarling their works and in some cases sounding purposely hoarse.
Jolly Rover is a point and click adventure where you have to guide Gauis James Rover around trying to solve the myriad of puzzles thrown at you as a tale of pirates and corrupt officials unfolds. Movement is handled purely by clicking on a space onscreen, where James will make his own way there and clicking on preset exit points will transition to a different area. That is all pretty simple and suffers no problems.
Interacting with items likewise just requires a simple click on them, with James performing an action depending on the need. If it’s an important item needed for the quest he’ll likely stick it in his inventory, otherwise he’ll likely make some remark about it that may or may not be useful for the adventure. There are plenty of items in each area you can click on to examine and thus it becomes a task of figuring out what you need and what is really just useless junk scattered about. The game helps out in finding out exactly what in any given area can be interacted with by including a function that highlights them all when the space bar is held, which is useful when some of these are small items that don’t normally stand out and thus would be easy to pass over.
NPCs are also scattered about and have a similar role of useful and not useful people. Some will ask you for something or you will need to complete a specific task before certain NPCs will help you, and part of the challenge is figuring out how to complete these tasks, like making food for the pirates.
This is really where Jolly Rover starts to fall apart though and is the main reason I just do not feel compelled to continue playing through the adventure. Too many of the puzzles of the game just don’t seem to follow any standard train of logic and seem to require some bizarre series of acts to do things that don’t really come naturally. How do you get a bottle of rum out of a sleeping pirate chef’s hand? Apparently you hang a dead fish on a hook by a window, open the window, wait for the chef to wake up and then who will close it and fall asleep again but spilling some rum in the process, sprinkling pepper corns in that rum puddle and reopening the window. Quite what kind of logic you have to go through in order to figure all that out is beyond my comprehension short of literally trying everything with everything, resulting in a rather irritating trial and error gameplay. Of course, this isn’t merely a problem of the solution making little sense in-universe. The White Chamber had you reassembling a dead body that even the main character questioned the logic of, but the structure of that puzzle meant you figured out what you were meant to do even if it made no sense in the context of the plot. I don’t get this feel with Jolly Rover’s puzzles.
The game attempts to combat this with Juan, a parrot that acts as the game’s hint system. He can be accessed anytime after you free him from his cage and will generally give a free clue for your current task, which also tends to be ridiculously vague and usually of no help at all. You can use crackers found during the game to get him to provide more detailed clues, with each cracker making the required action more clear, to the point that Juan will flat out tell you what to do. The inclusion of a hint system like this does reduce the likelyhood of getting completely stuck ingame at the cost of crackers (and a little pride) but at the same time it also feels rather cheap that this system feels like it has to be used often (short of lucking across solutions or hitting your head hard enough to break common sense).
Which is a shame, because there are some really good puzzles hidden away in here too. One such puzzle hits you with a scenario that appears to be the opposite of an earlier obstacle. What to do? Why, apply the exact same solution in reverse. It's clever but more importantly it's something the player can figure out without having to resort to moon logic. Another clever little puzzle involves spying on a secret knock so you can repeat it yourself to gain access to wherever is needed.
There is also far more backtracking than I would like. Even if you know what you need to do you can still find yourself trekking back and forth between locations to activate alternate event triggers just to move things along, and it really does feel like the amount of moving about is done purely to pad out the length of the game rather than as part of cleverly structured puzzles. Then if you don’t know what you’re doing then you can expect even more back and forth as you miss things that you need for later puzzles but wouldn’t even think about beforehand, forcing you to go back and get them.
Item management is largely painless affair. Your inventory bar is on the bottom of the screen and is pulled up just by clicking on the tab that pops up as the mouse cursor nears it. Click and drag is used to try and use item, either combining them with objects in the current area or with each other, hoping for some result that doesn’t involve James insisting that they don’t work together. You can also click and drag to rearrange items on the bar should you want to do so.
For those that persevere with the game's puzzles there is at least a lot of rewards for digging around everywhere. Bonus content like concept art is unlocked the more goodies you find, achievements are awarded for completing ingame tasks and a point system whose job appears to be to score you on the amount of different things you inspect just to make sure you work hard to find every last tiny object.
For me though, Jolly Rover just cannot retain my interest for long. For every cleverly thought out puzzle that is a joy to solve there are at least two more that defy logic where the only emotion elicited is the relief that the player has seen the back of it. It's a critical problem and one not easily overlooked, so for that reason I recommend searching out other point and click adventures if the genre interests you. While I admire the independent effort, that doesn't change my opinion that better efforts exist out there.