The Scruffs: Return of the Duke
Most of us don't get cool birthrights; we get things like old hand-me-downs, untameable curly hair, or a collection of decorative spoons from our families and call it a day. But not Grandpa Scruff; he's destined to be the next Duke of Scrufford! Or, at least, he would be if he hadn't been gone for thirty years, allowing an impostor to take advantage of an ancient contract and step into his shoes. Unless Grandpa Scruff finds the lost Regalia before night, Scrufford will be forever plunged into an era of darkness the likes of which the world will have never seen!... possibly. The Scruffs: Return of the Duke is a silly, gorgeous little hidden-object adventure that packs on the charm for a light-hearted cartoon romp anyone can enjoy.
To restore Grandpa Scruff to his rightful place, you'll need to track down the pieces of the Regalia by seeking out the Knights of Scrufford, a secret order loyal only to the true duke. Naturally, there's a catch; each knight only knows where the next one is, so you'll have to find them all individually and then prove Grandpa really is who he claims to be. (Because really, who wouldn't be clamouring to name themselves leader of a kingdom that sounds like it should be populated solely by wire-haired terriers?) This is done, usually, by tracking down a bunch of items for each person and solving some puzzles in the process. If you need some help, just click on Scruffy, the family's intrepid mutt, and he'll bark in a hot-or-cold fashion to let you know when you're close to the item you're seeking. There's also a fully integrated strategy guide under the menu if you need a little more direct help, but surely the Duke of Scrufford needs no such contrivances, right? Onward, noble disheveled ruler!
Analysis: There are times when a game like The Scruffs: Return of the Duke is exactly what you need. Colourful, vibrant, and energetic story and characters, it's the perfect way to unwind and just let yourself smile. The artwork and animation is fantastic, with an unusually solid and robust set of voice actors only adding to the experience. It definitely doesn't take itself seriously, and that light-heartedness is more than welcome if you want something that feels casual and relaxing. If you haven't played the original game, you're probably not going to understand who anyone is, but it's not really a perquisite. The plot, focused on the hammy Saturday morning cartoon-esque drama and villain, is corny but funny despite its cast of cardboard cutout characters. Just don't take it too seriously, enjoy the twists and turns, and you'll have a great time.
Despite its goofball presentation, however, Return of the Duke isn't necessarily easy. It's just a shame the cartoonish character design wasn't married to the environmental artwork, since the mishmash of actual photography not only looks a little weird, but can also make it difficult to tell what you're looking at when some items are small. Puzzles also don't really give any instructions or help, so if you're particularly stymied as to the rules of something or even just don't know what you're looking at, you're out of luck and might be forced to use the skip button. Luckily, the cast and story more than provide enough incentive to keep playing, and as your eyes adjust to the odd style choice you'll have an easier time picking out objects as you go.
When it comes to goofy, feel-good cartoon adventures, The Scruffs: Return of the Duke is right up there with the best of them. While the characters and dialogue will probably enthrall you more than the standard gameplay does, it's a great choice for players who want something casual, charming, and light-hearted to relax for an evening or so with, especially if they've got some kids who are fans of gaming too. Most players will probably spend around four hours on it, more or less depending on how difficult they find it, but if you like humour and silliness you'll love every second. Give the demo a try and see if you don't enjoy getting acquainted with the Scruffs.
(Note: Make sure you properly close this game by selecting "save and exit" under the menu or you may lose progress back to the beginning of the chapter!)