First posted on 10 February 2011. Last updated on 10 February 2011.
Jolly Rover is an indie point-and-click adventure game created by Andrew Goulding of Brawsome. This is the first commercial game released by his company. Taking place in the Caribbean, Jolly Rover will immediately feel familiar to seasoned adventure game fans. This is because comedic pirate adventures are a popular theme within the genre. However, the twist in this game is that every single character is portrayed by various different breeds of canine, nicely spicing up the proceedings.
The hero in this game is Gaius James Rover, a sausage dog who aspires to fulfill his dream of following in his father's footsteps to become a clown. Unfortunately, disaster strikes when he is captured aboard a ship and is forced to join the fearsome bulldog Captain Howell onboard with his pirate crew.
The opening of the game offers a gentle starting point for players to get to grips with the controls and to allow them to begin the story with a firm objective in mind. Players are encouraged to escape the ship, all the while learning the various gameplay mechanics. Crackers, pieces of eight, and flag segments are dotted throughout the various locales, allowing players to get hints, unlock music tracks, and earn artwork. These bonuses are a nice touch and add incentive for players to thoroughly explore each scene.
An absolutely fantastic hints system is brought to the fore when players discover Juan the parrot. Speaking to Juan at any time allows players to find out what they need to be doing next as well as glean gentle hints to complete difficult puzzles. Firmer solutions can also be bought by offering Juan a cracker, although this will negatively affect the game's final score. This is an inspired way of including a hints system that allows individual players to set their own pace and difficulty.
Elsewhere, the interface is highly intuitive. Holding down the space bar causes any hotspots to show up with a white box over them, whilst hovering over them directly shows descriptive text in purple. Once every observation or interaction is exhausted, the text then turns white, thus cutting down on unnecessary repetition. Interacting is a single-click affair, with a pop-up inventory located at the very bottom of the screen and the current quest status visible in a box at the top of the screen.
Although the gameplay is not very innovative overall, the voodoo element introduced in later parts of the game works quite well, allowing players to interact with the game world in new and interesting ways. Sadly, usage of this idea is still rather limited and requires players to initially remember several symbols in a correct sequence. In fact, a pen and paper is an absolute necessity when playing this game, just to keep a record of all the symbols needed to cast the voodoo spells!
The puzzles are sometimes quite obtuse. It is not that they are terrible, far from it in fact. However, many of the puzzles will be overly familiar to adventure game fans. The game features several maze, recipe, and spell involving brainteasers—all of which serve their purpose but do not feel particularly fresh. Furthermore, the puzzles that are unique sometimes miss their mark. Players will never get completely stuck due to the well designed hints system; yet, it is disappointing that some of the puzzles prove to be inherently hard by design, rather than on the part of the players becoming naturally stumped. Despite a few misses, the puzzles flow nicely overall, even if they feel slightly unoriginal at times.
The 2D graphics are impressive for an indie production. Close-ups of characters, in particular, are cartoony and well drawn. In fact, the artwork goes a long way towards selling the game world, with every scene drawn skillfully and filled with plenty of detail. However, there is little effort to convey lighting or depth, such that some scenes can often feel flat or even dull. This is a shame, as some of the scenes truly look stunning, even if such moments are the exception rather than the rule. The game is not bad looking, but it lacks an extra layer of polish to make it truly shine.
The story is perfunctory but often too familiar. Pirates and voodoo have constantly been paired together and done to death within the genre. This game takes a good stab at it, but it focuses too much on what has gone before and not enough on its own unique take on these themes. Gaius wanting to be a clown just like his father is a wonderful idea, with several moments (without revealing any spoilers) managing to be surprisingly heartwarming. Sadly, such plot strands are undeveloped. Gaius is likeable, but the players learn too little of his character even by the time the credits roll. Nonetheless, the length of the game is quite generous.
Sound design is solid but not particularly inspired. The music is a pleasant blend of pirate jigs and circus tomfoolery. In many ways, it is a compliment that the various tunes fit in with the game so well: they may not prove memorable in the long run, but they manage to set the scene without ever trying to steal it. Voice work is strong for a budget production: the cast is small, but what is present suits the art style very well.
Overall, Jolly Rover is a solid adventure but lacks the extra layer of polish to make it truly shine. As an indie production, this game is undoubtedly impressive. However, many adventure game fans may feel slightly underwhelmed due to a prevailing sense of déjà vu. Nonetheless, it is an easy recommendation for gamers who find the idea of a canine cast of pirates appealing—in that sense, Jolly Rover is a game that manages to remain somewhat enjoyably unique despite its flaws.