Evil Days of Luckless John
First posted on 24 April 2009. Last updated on 15 May 2014.
Classic adventure game fans often criticize the modern state of the adventure genre of becoming uninspired and tasteless, to the extent that even the noblest efforts to recreate the sheer beauty and humor of these classic adventure games have translated to bitter gaming experiences. Evil Days of Luckless John is yet another attempt by Czech developer Centauri Production to recreate some of the whacky humor and unique charm of these early classic adventures, in which the idiosyncrasies of the game characters are only rivaled by the amazing series of misfortunate events in the main character's life.
As a door-to-door salesman, Johnny Majer, or Luckless John, lives quite a miserable life. His effort to keep his life afloat has repeatedly ended up being jinxed by his chronic ill fate, until the day when luck finally presents him with a wink and a smile—following the death of his wealthy uncle, Leopold Majer, John has become the sole heir to his uncle's million dollar casino. As John prepares to enjoy his new, carefree life with his newly founded fortune, however, his ill fate catches up to him when the local mafia is determined to catch John and claim his money spinning casino. Stepping once more into trouble, John must run away from the evil claws of organized crime and fight for his inheritance, acquainting himself with new and trusted friends to aid in his quest.
Instead of the typical 2.5D perspective, the game allows the player to move freely around in a 3D rendered world. The cost of such a decision weighs heavily on the amount of fun the player is likely to take from this experience, as the poor control system in the game proves to be an early turnoff. While the detail of the visuals causes no impediment, the use of a more dynamic camera system is needed so that the player may have, as needed, a better perspective of the spaces where the character is allowed to explore. For example, early in the game, John must evade the mafia making his way through narrow back alleys. In order to reach higher ground, he must pile up wooden crates, pushing and pulling them together so as to create an improvised ladder. This seemingly simple task is best described as a torment for even players who are accustomed to this familiar puzzle, as it turns instead into a test of endurance or patience.
In spite of the infuriating control response, the puzzles in this game are clever enough to provide the player some entertainment. Because the objects of interest to the resolution of the enigma are marked with an icon above them, their resolution will often be quick and simple. Also, if the player is not directing the right attention to the central elements of a puzzle, the game system will provide the player extra clues that will help to understand what is essential and what is redundant. To the extreme, if the player is completely missing the solution, the game will even solve parts of the puzzle for the player.
For presentation, the game rates quite above the average. With its unique distorted and cartoonish depiction of the mid 20th century lifestyle, the game provides an agreeable ambiance along with some hilarious character designs. The glamorous and upbeat melodies from the heydays of probation in America sound very appropriate, even if the majority of the soundtrack is composed of ordinary themes that are far from memorable. The quality of the visuals, considering the details and animations, is also quite acceptable, halfway between full 3D graphics and the illusion of 2D given by slight hints of cell shading. Apart from the poor camera control, the graphics engine is quite functional when considering the modest production budget of this title—if the player can ignore the persistent errors in the driving sequences, that is.
The most essential feature for a small production typical of an indie game lies in the effectiveness of the narrative and the impression it leaves on the player. By this criterion, this game is an unmistakable failure. If the box cover art and original manual provide the prospect of a merry return to the long lost flavor of the great graphic adventures of yesterdays, the game is all but a bitter experience. The first letdown is the mere lack of imagination in the dialogs, which is often dull and prosaic. The voice acting is equally appalling. The story itself and the way it progresses is too familiar, resulting not in an original and fresh adventure but in a compilation of the most frequent clichés used in video games.
Aimed as a return to the pure and fun classic adventure gaming of a bygone era, Evil Days of Luckless John turns out to be highly unsatisfying. While the game is clearly meant to be enjoyed for nostalgia, poor mechanics and a general lack of creativity make the game rarely pleasurable.