First posted on 01 May 2009. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
About the author
Martin Mulrooney is an avid writer from Liverpool, England. He loves all forms of storytelling, including adventure games that are amongst his favorite past times. Graduating in the summer of 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Media and Film, specifically in modules of Screenwriting and Print Journalism, he has recently completed and published his own magazine, entitled Alternative.
For more information, visit Alternative Magazine Online.
Ceville, an adventure game from German publisher Kalypso Media, is an oddity. You play the self-confessed villain, but not the usual antihero who will eventually redeem himself as the narrative progresses. Rather, the tyrannical, pintsized leader of Faeryanis is only relatively good because the antagonist in the story is even worse! He also does not develop as a character much either, staying the same stereotypical grouch to the end.
This is not necessarily negative, however. The protagonist's dry satirical humor and dour comments only serve to make him more interesting and enjoyable to be around. Nobody likes to admit it, but it is always fun to do what you never dare in real life. Furthermore, in this fairytale setting with a twist (not dissimilar to the animated film Shrek), stereotypical characters can be elevated by sharp humor, which this game has in abundance, especially as Ceville interacts with them. It is a pleasant surprise that a game which initially seems very generic is actually quite original and unique.
Taking place in and around Ceville's kingdom, the humorous story tells a tale of the evil Basilious and his plans for a reign of terror. The already terrible ruler Ceville must stop an even worse leader from taking over, clear his name, and regain the throne. Along the way, Ceville also befriends (or tolerates, rather) a girl named Lilly. As well, the vein knight Ambrosius is on the hunt for Ceville, that is, when he is not too busy checking himself out in a nearby mirror or styling his hair. The humor and plotline in the game is wacky enough to be acceptable within the established universe without being overly silly or grating.
Surprisingly, I experienced some troubles when trying to install the game. A press of the install button installed the game data, but only to a point and then just seemed to never progress. I finally discovered that the game required the .NET Framework 3.5 to work, as explained in the game manual. As it turned out, when the progress bar stopped, it was still installing in the background, so it just needed to be left alone. Eventually, the install prompt for the .NET Framework would appear, and after installing it, the progress bar would finally jump up and complete. The game required 2GB of hard disk space. There was no option to select different degrees of installation. On the upside, once installed, the game actually did not need the disc to be played, so the slightly lengthy install time was worth the hassle.
Sadly, the game has fairly lengthy load times that can last up to a whole minute, though the player is rewarded with load screens accompanying the load bar filled with hints, tips, and general trivia that are varied and rather useful! These loads are less frequent as the game continues, and only happen between major areas. There is no load time at all between the smaller connected areas, and the camera even swoops and pans very effectively to give the best vantage points for the player.
The graphics are very bright, vibrant, and stylized. For every low-resolution texture or background art that may catch the player's eye, there are enough small details and touches that more than make up for any shortcomings. The game harks back to the wacky LucusArts classic adventures, having every screen packed with hotspots with which the player can interact. Even better, pressing the spacebar instantly reveals all the hotspots on screen.
The important hotspots that require interaction are shown in red, whereas the other hotspots that can be clicked just for fun are shown in grey. This system works really well and eliminates the age-old problem of pixel hunting that is bane of adventure games. It is a great feature, making it very addictive and fun to click every hotspot regardless of importance anyway, just to get Ceville's sarcastic comments.
Controlling the characters is intuitive. Ceville is the main playable character in the game, although small sections of it are spent also controlling Lilly and the Knight Ambrosius. When the player controls more than a single character, for example both Lilly and Ceville, it is handled very well. When apart, they can be swapped easily with a click of an icon at the bottom of the screen. When together, both characters move wherever they are clicked. Any items used will default to the required character from a combined inventory. Conversations also work very well, as Ceville's dialog options appear in a different color than those of Lilly's. It is a very clean, fresh interface that makes controlling multiple characters a pleasure rather than a chore. The character models and animations are well done, especially for the dwarfish Ceville, who totters everywhere with great speed and determination!
The characters are all voiced well, with the overacted personalities suiting the context of the story. Conversations do not overrun and dominate over the puzzle solving. The puzzles are overall excellent, both logical and rewarding. There are some timed sequences, but there is no punishment if the player fails. These puzzles can be retried as many times as necessary, with the countdown timer actually increasing after every fail to aid the player. Ceville and his companions can also never die.
Still, there are times when a certain character will gain vital dialog options necessary to be triggered to continue without the player realizing or when the game can run to a standstill while the player tries out every available interaction. Again though, these instances are few and far between, with the majority of the game being made with great care and attention to be enjoyable for the player without undue frustration.
Save game slots are unlimited. The game also automatically saves every 5 minutes.
The music is not overly memorable or fantastic, but it is strangely relaxing and pleasant as it plays in the background. It is not bad by any means, though it is doubtful it will have many gamers humming away after the game is done. The sound effects are all very cartoony and exaggerated, adding to the comedy. A problem with the sound is that sometimes chattering from characters in the background can drown out conversations taking place in the forefront. This is infrequent, but it is distracting. Fortunately, there is an option to enable the subtitles.
The subtitles are dynamic, moving near the character's heads. Translation from German to English is generally well done, though it still suffers several spelling errors on occasion. Also, the subtitles sometimes vary slightly from what is actually spoken by the voice actors.
It is questionable if the game really benefits from being in 3D, as it probably would have worked just as well, if not better, in 2D with pre-rendered backgrounds. The front cover of the game box even shows the characters as if they are illustrated. However, it is certainly more financially viable and technically feasible to make a game in 3D nowadays, so such a design decision cannot be held against the developer.
The real draw for this game is its comedic story. The narrative provides plenty of humor, offering a wide variety of fun locations and memorable characters. The story sags a little in the middle acts, but it soon picks up again towards the end. The puzzles are fun to figure out and can even raise a smile when the solutions catch you off guard. Ceville as a character is just evil enough to be funny without being overly repulsive, although it may be difficult for some gamers to relate to and truly care about him.
In the end, how much you will enjoy Ceville will largely rest on how much you buy into the game's wacky premise. It is certainly a very funny and very well made adventure that offers a good chuckle from start to finish. The puzzles are clever, and the comedy is not overly juvenile. The game suffers slightly sometimes due to the occasional poor translation from the German language original, and it lacks the depth of more serious adventure titles. Still, it is hard to fault a game for setting out to amuse you and following that goal through. In this regard, Ceville succeeds admirably. Ceville may not be the savior of adventure games, but it is certainly a well made representative of the genre.