First posted on 07 August 2009. Last updated on 11 August 2009.
Gobliiins 4 is the fourth game in Pierre Gilhodes' long running Gobliiins series, developed originally by Coktel Vision and later by Sierra On-Line. For many gamers, the series is the gaming equivalent of marmite: either you love it or you hate it. So, imagine to my delight when, amidst dated graphics and buggy translations (from French to English, all immediately noticeable), I find a wealth of personality and charm in the game that soon wins me over and makes me want to play just that little bit more. Despite a long hiatus taken by the series since 1993, the wacky world of Gobliiins is still very appealing to gamers who have longed for the series to return.
Gobliiins 4 is, in many ways, a return to the franchise's origin. In the original Gobliiins, the player takes control of 3 different Goblins (or Gobliiins), each with his own unique ability, to solve a series of puzzles. With each successive sequel, a Goblin is lost from the main cast, until the last game wherein only a single Goblin remains as the sole protagonist. Mirroring the original game, it is easy to see the appeal of playing as multiple Goblins in this sequel, choosing the right Goblin for just the right task. It adds an extra layer of depth to the puzzles and helps to vary the gameplay.
Tchoup is the leader of the group, able to read signs, pick up objects, and access the inventory. He befits his description as a detective. He is the most useful character in this sense and is also the character that the player will command most frequently. Perluis is the magician of the group, able to use magic on objects, such as on stone slabs to levitate them. Stucco is the strongman of the group, able to move heavy objects and manipulate large levers and buttons. The different roles of these characters work reasonably well within the logics of the game, although it still boggles my mind as to why Stucco is so strong and yet he cannot pocket a tiny key or why Perluis is so powerful with his magic and yet he cannot decipher a simple written message!
There are 16 levels in the game, including a bonus level for finding the hidden gold tooth on each screen and then using all the hidden gold teeth in the final level. Each level consists of a single screen. The puzzles are quite wacky in design yet weirdly logical, at least early on. It is a shame that this logic begins to crumble as the game progresses.
A defining characteristic of the adventure game genre is its focus on delivering a strong story. Due to this series' premise, the game features very limited interactions with other characters. Even the main protagonists themselves speak only in strange murmurings, accompanied by sparse text. Rather, the game's main story (which is practically nonexistent) is told via a series of load screens shown before each level that features pieces of hand drawn illustrations and sparse lines of text. Such use of load screens simply underlines how this game has both feet firmly planted in the past.
The humor in this game is very gentle and can certainly raise the odd chuckle. Unfortunately, the overreliance on the series' quirkiness makes it difficult for the game to sell itself successfully to adventure gamers unfamiliar with the series. Some actions can cause the trio of Goblins to break out into fits of laughter, even when the humor is underwhelming. Monsters such as The Great Saladini seem simply lame rather than inventive.
Early on in the game, the levels feature just the right amount of puzzle solving. The cooperative game mechanic works well, and the puzzles are all very achievable and fair. Sadly, by the middle of the game, this is all but over. If there is a game that ever needs a hint system, this game will be it! Even though there is only a single screen per level, the puzzles soon become so convoluted and bizarre that the game borders on being near impossible. The Goblins themselves shuffle continuously along at their own steady pace. Running back and forth around a level, especially when the player needs to shift the Goblins over obstacles such as rivers and moats, can seem to take an eternity. The game also has a tendency to encourage the player to just click randomly on the screen for the sake of progress.
The interface is very simple, requiring at most only a single click to perform any task. Yet, this simplicity does not help to alleviate the difficulty of the puzzles. The game certainly has enough style and charm to entice the player to initially look beyond any shortcomings. If a puzzle works and is fair, solving it is an undeniably satisfying affair. However, the more convoluted the puzzles become, the more quickly it is that solving them turns into a boring, tired, and frustrating exercise. When a particular solution calls for using a pink hat on a giant earthworm so it will move to reveal an object hidden behind its head, it begs the questions of whether or not logic is ever part of the equation in the first place. In fact, entire levels later in the game are a lesson in pure tedium that will likely make many players give up and stop playing altogether.
Sometimes, it is necessary to speak to a character several times before the game will progress, but there is no indication when the game is ready to move onwards or that this is even the case. Other times, an action will not work unless it is done after another action elsewhere that is completely arbitrary. In a later level, all the Goblins must speak to a character, even though only Tchoup has the ability to interact this way up until that point! These inconsistencies really pull the game apart and make the experience drag on a lot more than it intends to be.
The music is cheery enough, although it certainly has a synthesized and repetitive sound to it. It also becomes easily annoying when mixed with the strange garbled noises passing for voices alongside the text. Real voice work may help to break this monotonous attack on the senses with what is frankly a grating audio accompaniment.
The save system is very archaic. Only a single save is permitted at the beginning of each level. Alternatively, pass codes are given that can be used to resume a level. The game seems well suited to short play sessions, but the save system somewhat ruins this.
Still, for all the frustration of the puzzles and the simplicity of the story, Gobliiins 4 offers some genuine charm and enjoyment. It is a shame that the developer has chosen to increase the longevity of the game by simply populating the later levels with puzzles that are hard as nails, often to the point of obscurity. Fans of the series may want to check this game out. Sadly, for other adventure game fans, a recommendation cannot be offered with a clear conscience.