Griswold the Goblin:
Islands of Fire — Chapter One
I think we can all agree that episodic adventure games are good, as they represent a commitment from the developer to deliver a full, satisfying storyline without delaying the final product. Instead of gorging ourselves in one sitting, we can enjoy our meal in courses, already savoring our anticipation for the next entrée.
With that in mind, allow us to remove the dome cover from Griswold the Goblin: Islands of Fire — Chapter One, a beautifully compact and well-produced point-and-click adventure game from B-Group Productions. Take the reins of Griswold, a droopy half-alert fellow with ridiculous posture, as he embarks on a sure-to-be-epic quest, for no other reason than that his TV broke and he's just bored enough to look for some treasure. In the animated introduction, we see there is some sort of mysterious evil at large, armed with a robot fish and messing with important magical forces; but at the beginning of his day, Griswold is just feckless and greedy, as you'd expect from a proper goblin.
Navigate Griswold's adventure mostly with the mouse. Click the icons at the bottom of the screen (or rotate the mouse wheel) to switch between Walking, Looking, Handling, and Talking; then click on objects to interact with them. Click on the MENU button or press [space] to enter the inventory screen. A few events involve mini-games, and you can control all of those with the mouse as well.
Analysis: This is not the first story about Griswold; programmer/scriptor Casper Smith and artist Chris Gianelloni have a previous collaboration under their belts starring the lovable gawky hero. However, this new adventure is a step up in every way, featuring smooth cartoony artwork and animation, a fitting soundtrack by Brian Holmes, fewer farts, and a completely voiced script.
The voice talent is exceptional, doing as much to anchor us in Griswold's world as any other element of the game. The various characters suffer a bit from Random Funny Accent Syndrome (and Griswold himself sounds a lot like Abe from Oddworld), but they sound distinctive and, most importantly, believable.
I just have to call out the designers on one decision: an early action-oriented mini-game that doesn't add much to the story but might frustrate some players with the precise timing required. If you get hung up on that one, just know that the other mini-games are more brain-oriented, and there isn't anything else that arbitrary later in the game.
In a welcome departure for this game genre, the puzzles all have logical, physically plausible solutions. In fact, they may be almost too logical, to the point where you will instantly know the purpose of most objects, and the only challenge is in figuring out what you can interact with. There are none of the wild flights of fancy found in, for example, the Journeys of Reemus; but on the other hand, Smith might just be warming up. By populating the first chapter of Griswold with these prosaic trials, he earns our trust, and the right to get weird on us later on. I mean, we already know there's a big robot fish ahead. Who knows where this saga will lead?
[Warning for those with slow internet connections: Griswold the Goblin takes a long time to load, and it displays a white screen at the beginning for longer than you'd expect. Don't worry; the pre-loading screen will kick in about a third of the way through.]