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The last iteration of Gobliiins came out back in 1993. The series was developed by a French artist named Pierre Gilhodes and it featured three cute goblin characters in a number of insanely difficult point and click adventures. After such a long break it is surprising to see the franchise revived with Gobliiins 4. The point-and-click puzzle game-play has not changed but this iteration is supposed to be more accessible. The main difference is the shift to 3D characters and depth in the 2D backdrops. So is it a welcome update to a forgotten license or a blast from the past that we could have done without?
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The action in Gobliiins 4 is typical genre fare and you click on the map to send your character scurrying over to investigate. You have a choice of three characters you can control. There is Tchoup, Stucco and Perlius and each one has different abilities. Tchoup is the leader; he can talk to people and has the inventory which is accessed by right clicking on him. Perlius can perform magic tricks and Stucco is the strongest of the three. In combination they can solve each puzzle and you can flick between them by clicking on the character. This was a nice innovation in the original series and working out where to use each character is part of the challenge.
The game starts with Tchoup receiving a letter from a noisy bird which is a summons to see the King. Tchoup is supposed to be a kind of detective and with the help of his two pals he is tasked with finding Riri, the pet of King Balderon VIII. This leads the trio on a linear adventure across a series of 16 static one screen levels. On each screen you have to solve a series of puzzles in order to progress and if you collect gold teeth along the way you will unlock a bonus level.
The plot is very basic and the simple levels fail to engage. The puzzles range from fairly easy to ridiculously difficult and progress is frustrating at times. Being reduced to randomly trying combinations of every object in your inventory and repeatedly clicking round and round the same screen gets tired very quickly. I’m not a big fan of point-and-click adventures with obscure puzzles in them and this one really tried my patience.
It is surprising to see so many point-and-click adventures hitting the market and the genre clearly still has a following. However while the recent release Ceville, was gently fun, well polished and never too taxing this game seems to combine the most infuriating features of old. Gobliiins 4 refuses to get with the times. It is a throwback, a reminder of hours wasted trying to solve irritating puzzles. There is no save option and instead you get codes for each level. It is not helped by the occasional bug and production values in general seem low. The humour is endearing at the start but quickly becomes boring and the game has a childish tone. However it is tough to imagine kids wanting to play this or having the patience to try and solve an illogical puzzle which might take them an hour to work out.
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The attempt to render the game in 3D is a complete disaster and you simply cannot escape the fact that this is seriously ugly. Crudely modelled characters obviously stuck over a 2D backdrop. There are frequent occasions where they clip through objects and the interface and menus look dated and basic. The art style is clearly recognisable as the work of Pierre Gilhodes and you either like his quirky characters or you don’t. They look more like what we might describe as garden gnomes than goblins. The animation work is probably the best thing about the art and there are touches of humour and pratfalls aplenty. Sadly the comical impact of the animations is somewhat spoiled by repetition. The surreal and wacky nature of the creatures and objects you interact with just doesn't work as part of a coherent world.
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The sound is deeply annoying right from the start. When the bird began to warble on the first level I wondered if there was something wrong with the install because the sound effect was awful. The sound continued to grate throughout the game. It is yet another element which manages to come across as hopelessly dated.
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To run the game you’ll want a Pentium 4 1.8GHz, 1GB of RAM, 128MB graphics card (GeForce FX 5700 or better), 1.5GB of hard drive space and Windows XP or Vista. On a much better system than the spec listed above it was a little slow to load and quit and there were a couple of bugs which caused crashes. For the most part it ran smoothly.
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It must be fairly obvious that this game failed to impress me. It is so similar to games from almost two decades ago now that you might as well go back and play the original titles. The humour works in places and is likely to appeal to children but they will struggle with the difficulty. Although the attempt to render the universe in 3D is a complete disaster there are some good animations and colourful backdrops. For fans of this type of adventure gaming who enjoy racking their brains over difficult and obscure puzzles this will surely be a tempting release. For me it is anachronistic.