First posted on 03 February 2009. Last updated on 13 August 2009.
Coktel Vision, a relatively obscure French game development company acquired by Sierra On-Line in 1992, is known for its unique, bizarre, and often downright frustrating adventure games. Gobliiins, the first game in the Gobliiins series for which Coktel Vision is best known for, embodies all of these traits, and many more.
The game begins with an introductory cut scene showing the good King Angoulafre cheerfully dining with his court. Suddenly, there is an inset shot of somebody holding a voodoo doll of the king. The unseen foe then stabs the doll with a large pin, and the king howls in pain. The assailant proceeds to torment the doll—and thus the king—in various ways, ticking him relentlessly with a feather, dangling a toy spider in front of his eyes, and pounding his head with a tiny hammer. Once the game starts, your mission is to find out who is tormenting the king and discover a way to cure him.
In the game, you control 3 little "Gobliiins" (one for each "i" in the title): BoBo the warrior, Hooter the magician, and Dwayne the technician. Like a match made in heaven, each of the Gobliiins possesses abilities that the others lack. BoBo, the strongest of the trio, can use brute force to overcome almost all obstacles, though he can also climb up poles and ropes, unlike his companions. The bald, bearded Hooter can use magic to transform objects, make them grow, or move them. Dwayne, the last of the trio, is the only Gobliiin capable of picking up and using objects, even though he can only carry a single item at a time. Together, they will have to use their skills to solve a variety of fiendish and at times utterly illogical puzzles. Some of these puzzles involve getting past a certain obstacle or obtaining a particular item, while others may be as menial as getting the trio of Gobliiins to a certain point in the scene.
Gameplay in Gobliiins is divided into multiple screens, and all the puzzles on a screen must be solved first in order to progress to the next screen. This task is far from easy, however. If any of the Gobliiins performs an action that frightens them, injures them, or upsets them, or if the action itself is just nonfunctional, the energy meter at the bottom of the screen will go down. If too many wrong actions are performed, the game will end. Unfortunately, there are many ways to deplete the Gobliiins' energy, and at times it is impossible to tell if selecting a certain action will result in harm or not.
There are a number of "red herring" objects in the game whose only purpose seems to be depleting the energy meter. For instance, in a certain screen where there is a butterfly and a windsock (which resembles a butterfly net), using the windsock on the butterfly explicably results in a loss of energy. To make matters worse, on multiple occasions there are 2 or more objects that look almost completely identical, yet only 1 object is useful while the others can be harmful. Luckily, there are points in the game where the Gobliiins' energy can be revitalized. Unluckily, there are only 2 such points in the entire game, and the first point does not appear until about 2/3 of the game has passed.
The energy issue is made even worse by the game's save and restore system, or rather, the equivalent thereof. There is no way of saving your game. Instead, once each screen is completed, you will receive a code for the start of the next screen, which has to be typed in if you wish to restore a certain point. If you lost a lot of energy prior to completing a screen, that loss will be reflected in the code for the next screen.
The game's interface is quite simple. Depending on which Gobliiin you have selected (clicking on the crystal ball at the bottom of the screen cycles through them), you have 1 of 3 cursors available. The default arrow cursor is for walking, which all 3 Gobliiins have. There is an action cursor for punching objects (for BoBo), using magic on objects (for Hooter), and retrieving an inventory item (for Dwayne). There is also a hand cursor for picking up objects, which only Dwayne has.
The graphics in Gobliiins are playful and whimsical, though almost demented at times. A variety of curious creatures, flora, and architecture populate each and every screen of the game. This unique style, created by the French artist Pierre Gilhodes, is used throughout the entire Gobliiin series as well as The Bizarre Adventures of Woodruff and the Schnibble (the unofficial fourth installment of the series). The graphics and animations alone make the game—if not the entire series—worth looking into.
The music and sound effects in Gobliiins are minimal. The sound effects are comical and fitting, but of some of them can get a little annoying at times (especially the Gobliiins' terrified shrieks). The digitized music is considerably better and quite varied. At times it is peaceful and atmospheric, but it can also be eerie and strangely mind-bending, with various creepy sound effects mixed in.
What little plot the game has is almost drowned out by the many puzzles found on every screen. Most of the puzzles in the game are fiendishly difficult, and some have little or no logic. At times, it is hard to even tell what you are supposed to accomplish on each screen. For example, on the very first screen of the game, the Gobliiins are seen standing outside a house. It may be logical to think that the goal of this screen is to find a way into the house, but instead, the goal is to find a branch and have Hooter transform it into a pickaxe.
In fact, at some points in the game you begin to resort to using every Gobliiin on every available object on the screen in the hope of triggering a useful response (and probably running completely out of energy in the process). While performing the wrong action can result in an amusing animation, it causes a loss of energy nonetheless and can get a little frustrating after a while. Even those puzzles that contain sensible logic are difficult to solve, since the only information about them is hidden in the manual. It is also possible to instantly lose the game if any of the Gobliiins (and even a supporting character) meets an untimely demise. Thankfully, this does not happen very often.
In conclusion, Gobliiins is a challenging adventure game with many puzzles but little plot. The ability to control multiple characters with different skills is an innovative idea for its time and has become the hallmark of the Gobliiins series. Though the game's extreme difficulty may frustrate some players, gamers who enjoys solving twisted, illogical puzzles will enjoy working their way through its various worlds. For others, however, what is written on the game's box cover—"The King Has Turned Into a Raving, Drooling Lunatic! You're Next."—may not be quite as humorous as it first appears after several hours of play.