As I listen to the first few moments of dialog, I am transported to the past in a flash. I had played plenty of text adventures in school, but not having a computer at home put me at quite a disadvantage. It wasn’t until the mid 90’s that I realized just how much I was missing. I have to thank my brother-in-law who sold me his old “upgraded to the max” 486. He also lent me my first non-text game ever: Full Throttle by LucasArts. This was followed immediately by the purchase of The Secret of Monkey Island by LucasArts , Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, and Sword of Shannara by Legend Entertainment. I spent the next month staring at the monitor in awe. I had so many questions. Was it wrong to have this much fun on a computer? Could it be illegal to laugh this much? How could all these characters carry so many inventory items on their person? Isn’t it wrong to steal? I have to combine what?? with what????? That just doesn’t make sense… Sure it does. Hence, an adventure game addict was born. And, I have never looked back……..until now. From Himilaya Studios comes an enchanting adventure that will have you laughing your way down memory lane.
Make sure you watch the introduction before starting actual game play. It’s on the main menu as a separate selection. The introductory cut scene begins as we see Jacob Waltz and Eduardo Peralto in a mine deep within the mountains. They are close to finding the lost Aztec gold. But, Jacob is sickly and can not continue on. They confirm secret promises they have made to each other. The danger of the situation is clear.
Fast forward 2 years as we watch a train journey across the desert to its destination. Al Emmo, our main character, is on a quest to snag himself a wife. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? Well, Al does have a lot of factors riding against him. First of all, he’s middle-aged, balding and still lives with Mommy and Daddy. Add being vertically challenged with a high-pitched whiney voice that could rival nails on a blackboard and the challenge of this quest becomes quite obvious. Wanting to make his parents proud, Al orders himself up a fine woman from one of those mail order catalogs. All he has to do is pick her up. She’s arriving by train in Anozira; a small run-down western town set in the heart of the desert. It’s a long trek from New York to Anozira but this is all worth it to Al. He’s going to have a wife. In fact, she’ll be the first woman he’s ever had. Sad, isn’t it?
So, the day is here. Al’s life is about to change. He arrives in Anozira by train and heads over to Kevin’s saloon where he awaits his new bride. Ahh….the dainty damsel arrives. Ivanna has high hopes of living the good life with her new rich husband. [Insert sound of screeching halt here]. It seems there has been quite the miscommunication. Al has money??? Well, sure…..if you count the allowance he gets from his parents. But, at least Al has a good job, right? Uhmmm……wrong. Alas, Ivanna is not into charity work and beats a hasty retreat out of there. Poor Al… He’ll have to head home empty handed. But not so fast! Heading home expeditiously will require a train station that has frequent arrivals and departures. It’s just not Al’s day today (or really any day for that matter). So, it’s off to find some accommodations for the night.
Back at the bar, you can almost hear the choirs sing as Al gets his first glimpse of a real-life angel; Miss Rita Peralto. Does the last name sound familiar? It should. You saw her father in the introduction. Rita is a fiery Latin beauty desired by all the town’s men. She’s so popular, there’s even a flyer listing her attributes and hints of the ways to her heart. Only the cream of crop will have a chance at winning her hand. Considering Rita is working furiously to keep from losing her family home, it might also help that the eligible suitor has some money. Cream of the crop and money??? That certainly knocks our poor little Al out of the race. Wait! He couldn’t possibly be thinking of trying for Rita, could he? Our Al is a plucky little guy and determined to make the most of his foray into independence. His quest has now taken on a whole new light. He will do everything is his power to help Rita save her house and win her love. Try not to laugh too hard, but you (playing as Al) will be in charge of making it happen. Let the game begin.
Al Emmo and The Lost Dutchman’s Mine is a 3rd person entirely point and click adventure created using the Adventure Game Studio (AGS) game engine. It is the characters and the dialog that truly bring Al Emmo and The Lost Dutchman’s Mine into a class of its own. Each 3D character has a dialog portrait that pops up any time a conversation is initiated. This allows you to see the characters in close-up detail. All the renderings were great and fit will with each character’s voice ad personality. Yes, they may not have the smoothest body movements, but this does not detract from the game at all.
The voice acting is outstanding. I was surprised to see John Bell listed in the credits. If you remember, he did a lot of the voice acting for Lifestream and Shady Brook. My wish to see his voice featured in more games has been granted. John supplies (in classic TV game show fashion) the voice for one of the most prominent (non-seen) characters in the game; the narrator. Hah, bet you didn’t think there would be a narrator. The narrator’s job is to provide verbal detail for every clickable item in the game as well as to torture Al by constantly picking on him. These descriptions and witty comments are gloriously funny and will have you clicking on every inch of the screen just to hear what he says. Chris Warren provides the voice of our quirky little Al. The voice is a bit off-putting at first, but hang in there. It is the perfect voice for Al and by the end of the game, I couldn’t imagine any other. As enjoyable as the voices were, I could list off every voice actor; but then there are credits for that. Overall, well done!
There are a lot of characters to interact with in this small town. Antonio Bandana (sound like any movie star you know?) is Al’s arch nemesis. He’s a slick Latin romeo and just happens to be royalty. He always seems to be there to thwart Al’s attempts at romance with Rita. He has that sexy accent that makes women swoon. But, he’s not perfect. The ever so sexy Antonio has an even more prominent lisp. The mayor of the town could use a good hearing aid. His correct answer ratio is about 50%. Koko, a local store owner speaks to you in chopped up sentences. It’s almost like English is his second language by choice although he doesn’t know any others. His store’s claim to fame is in stocking next to nothing on the shelves. He’s sure this strategy will pay off. The local hospitality house has another familiar character and will have you chuckling. I won’t spoil it by saying who it is. There’s a snot-nosed geek working over at the post office. If rudeness could be sold, this kid would be a millionaire. At least he’d be able to afford some Proactive acne solution for that face of his.
A huge thank you goes out to Daniel Stacy for the superb writing. I haven’t laughed this much in a long time. The one-liners, innuendos, and witty banter come at you like rapid fire. The humor is dead-on from beginning to end. It is this aspect that will truly take you back to the days of old. It really cracked me up when Al got a certain delivery via “Fed Up” who promptly insulted Al and threw his package on the ground. Sometimes I think my packages get that same treatment in real life. The story itself is engaging and will keep you interested up to the end. Al is a true underdog and we all love to root for the underdog. So, while your brain may be saying “Come on Pal, give it up already”, you’ll continue to help in hopes that Al can get some happiness for once.
According to the official website, the backgrounds have been hand-painted with acrylics and pixel edited in Photoshop. That being said, the backgrounds are wonderful. They have a cartoon-like feel to them and are so bright and rich with color. The small town feel has been conveyed well. The landscape is filled with red rocks and appropriate vegetation for the area. Having been to Arizona which Anozira is obviously modeled after, I can say I saw miles and miles of those backgrounds. You have to pay attention or you might miss the rays of sun filtering across the landscape. You also will see the little swirls of dust and sand kicking up here and there.
The local bar is like home base for Al and he will return there often. The town has a Sheriff’s office, Hospitality House (you can guess about that one), post office, train station, Bubba’s barnyard, Rita’s house, the Mayor’s house and other locations. Outside the town, there is a beautiful oasis pretty much consisting of a 2 ft. deep body of water, Indian encampment and of course, a mine.
Each location is quirky and brings a sense of fun to the game. In addition, there are numerous animated cut scenes which bring depth to the story. My only complaint is that at certain places, they were a tad blurry. I kept checking my glasses to make sure it wasn’t me. But, they were still enjoyable and provide a lot of entertainment. The game is divided into 9 acts. At the end of each act, the storyline is moved along to the next act with the use of comic book cut scenes. This was a surprise and quite the refreshing change. It would be great to see more of this technique in other games.
The puzzles in Al Emmo are mainly inventory-based and quite logical. Of course, no one just gives something to a character like Al. He has to work for it. It’s truly a scavenger hunt here; hunting for some obscure flower to figuring out some way to trap termites. Remember, almost everything you see on the screen can be clicked on. There was the dread of having to solve a cryptogram and knowing that in order to get a hint, I’d have to go talk to that jerky kid over at the post office again. You’ll be constantly running off to find some weirdo item to complete your tasks. I’m not even going to mention what Al has to do at the Hospitality House, but I will say I almost fell off my chair laughing. And, although you have to complete certain tasks before you can move on to the next act, game play is non-linear. You can take items left and right even before you have a use for them. The puzzles up their difficulty level in the last chapter. Beware --- you can die near the end of the game. I won’t spoil it, but be warned that you’re going to need a little speed. All the puzzles fit well with the environment and the storyline. Oh…..must not forget the easter eggs! Everyone loves easter eggs. Due to a shorter time frame of getting this review done, I didn’t have time to really look for them. I managed to find one of them by accident. That’s ok…..this is a game fully worthy of a relaxing replay.
Navigating through Al Emmo is a piece of cake. The cursors are classic. There is one standard cross like cursor which you can place anywhere on the screen and have Al move to that spot. Placing it an exit location will provide transition between the screens. There is a large set of teeth used for conversation. A large hand is used to use or pick up items. Oversized geeky glasses are used to examine items. The correct cursor can be chosen by clicking on your right mouse button to scroll through the options. You can also move your cursor to the top right hand side of the game screen and get the options for eye, hand, mouth and inventory. Clicking on inventory will allow all the items Al has collected to appear at the bottom of the screen. Items are easily selected for use simply by left clicking on them. One of the most amusing features in the game involves the inventory and how….or rather where Al holds everything. It’s amazing how many items can be stuffed down the front of one’s pants. The top left of your game screen is where you access the main menu (Setting). It is here that you can load, save or quit your game. I’m assuming there are unlimited saves but I never used enough of them to find out. You can alter the volume for music, speech and overall sound volume. Special effects can be turned on or off. Subtitle options are also available. Players can choose text only, text and voice, or voice only. A most welcome feature is the addition of a map. While Al does a fair amount of running around in the beginning of the game (yes, you can double click and make him run), once he has visited an important location once, it will appear on the map. He can then click on that map location and be instantly transported there.
The accompanying soundtrack provides a flavor all its own. The music practically screams Old Wild West in some location. Each location has its own particular flair. At the oasis, it makes you think of mellow Beach Boys and those Gidget beach movies. At the Indian encampment, the music is tribal at its best. It’s strange that even though the music was decidedly original and made for this game, I felt as though I was listening to a Monkey Island game. The music has that same feel to it. Perhaps it’s just an old school classic feel that I’m clinging to. But, that is what’s so wonderful about this game. That classic adventure game feeling permeates from every corner of the game and all the many elements meld together as one.
As you can probably tell, I found this game to be absolutely delightful. My trip down memory lane was as rewarding as ever. There are gamers out there who may not fully appreciate the retro feel of this game. Games are a lot different these days as companies compete to see who can blow the other out of the water with dazzling special effects and killer instincts. In the midst of all the madness comes Al Emmo, bringing us back to our roots and reminding those of us who have been around a while what a true adventure game was and should be; just pure fun. It took me about 16 hours to play, but I didn’t even cover everything that I wanted. I suspect that I will get even more from the game the 2nd time around. The fact that this game made me laugh from beginning to end is ultimately what determined its stellar grade. Fantastic humor, outstanding writing, and fabulous old-school graphics make this game a must for every adventure collection. Do not let this one pass you by.