Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine
First posted on 21 February 2012. Last updated on 07 December 2013.
The game is available at GamersGate.
In 1984, Sierra heralded in a new era for graphical adventure games with the debut of the King's Quest series. Subsequent series debuted by Sierra, including Space Quest (1986), Leisure Suit Larry (1987), Police Quest (1987), and Quest for Glory (1989), helped to firmly establish adventure games as a distinct gaming genre. Indeed, there would not any gamer worthy to be called an adventure game fan who had not played and enjoyed any of these classic games. Not surprisingly, it was this love of Sierra and its great games from which the seeds of Himalaya Studios, developer of Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine, were forged.
Around 1987, a young girl named Britney Brimhall developed a love for Sierra when she played King's Quest III: To Heir is Human. In 2001, Brimhall pursued her passion for adventure games by cofounding, with Christopher Warren, Tierra Entertainment. Their first game project was a complete VGA fan remake of King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown. Expecting only moderate success, they were overwhelmed when an estimated 700,000 fans downloaded and played this remake. Their avid fans loved their game and demanded more remakes. All the while, both Brimhall and Warren had kept their identities as game developers anonymous.
In 2003, Tierra Entertainment changed its name to Anonymous Game Developer Interactive (ADG Interactive). Both Brimhall and Warren retained their anonymity and (according to Brimhall) only "wanted to be known as unidentified individuals who were taking action because of a belief that these games needed not to merely survive, but thrive." Under this new moniker, they completed a VGA fan remake of King's Quest II: Romancing the Stones and a VGA fan remake of Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire. Both remakes received high praises from their fans.
Finally, in 2004, Brimhall and Warren founded Himalaya Studios. Based in Arizona, it was to be their first commercial game development company. In 2006, they released their first commercial adventure game: Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine. The game was created in the same spirit as their earlier Sierra remakes but was otherwise completely distinct. Still, upon playing this game, it was easy to recognize the many influences drawn from classic Sierra adventure games that would undeniably conjure up fond memories of playing these classics.
Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine begins with a long introductory cinematic cut scene. The scene sets up the back story of how Al Emmo (pronounced Alamo), the main protagonist of the game, comes to be left stranded in the tiny Wild West town of Anozira (Arizona spelled backwards).
Al is a short, shy, bespectacled, rapidly balding, and not so handsome man. He has spent the first 42 years of his life living at home with his parents and off a small pitiful weekly allowance. Despite this, he wants to get married. So, he subscribes to the Mail Order Monthly magazine to try to find a wife. Over the next 2 years, Al gets married 37 times, all of which have ended badly because of his unwillingness to leave his parents' home and earn money for himself. In desperation, Al makes contact with Ivanna Lottakash through the magazine and believes he has finally found the right woman who will bring joy to his otherwise miserable life.
Without delay, Al heads west by train from the New Yawk Central to Anozira. On arrival at Kevin's Saloon, Al is warmly welcomed by Ivanna, until she discovers that he cannot even afford to buy her a drink. The all too brief marriage plans are permanently destroyed when Al calls Ivanna a gold digger. Heartbroken once again, Al is thrown out of the saloon and heads to the station to catch the next train back home. Little does he know, however, that the next train is not due to arrive for another week. After failing to secure a full refund from the stationmaster, Al is left stranded in this little town, with little cash and little hope.
Overall, Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine is a highly entertaining adventure game. Yet, because of its use of adult humor and sexual innuendo, the game may not be suitable for younger gamers playing without parental guidance. The game contains only 10 or so major puzzles, most of which are ridiculously easy and will not present much of a challenge to seasoned gamers. This game, however, is not about puzzle solving but about humor. To this end, it is undoubtedly among the funniest adventure games I have ever played.
The game is jointly directed, produced, and written by Brimhall and Warren. The story features no fewer than 28 characters, including humans, creatures, and even a talking door. Early on, Al tries to mingle with town folks. Later, Al needs to travel through the vast desert lands, from where he has to gather clues and items to survive. Eventually, he learns about the legendary lost Aztec goldmine from some native Indians with whom he meets along the way. Al must complete all of these quests before he can win the heart of his new love, Rita Peralto.
Many of the characters in this game are parodies of well-known people and places in real life. These include characters such as Pammy Sanderson (Pamela Anderson), Lou Heifer (Hugh Hefner), and Antonio Bandana (Antonio Banderas), as well as locations such as Anozira (Arizona) and New Yawk (New York), just to name a few. Each parodied character personifies its alter ego with such aplomb, passion, and outrageous wit that this game easily stands out from all others that try to do the same.
The game is a classic third-person point-and-click adventure. You control Al for the entire game. When Al instigates a conversation with another character, a close-up of the talking character appears that gives greater details and animations of that character. The voiceover for each character is exceptional, including Al who is voiced by Warren himself. The voice acting is passionate, individualized, and fits well to the quirky characters that the voice actors try to portray.
Installation is smooth without any technical issues. The game supports only a single resolution of 640x400 that must be preset before the game is run. The game manual explains clearly about the game's interface, which is very similar to the icon based interface used by Sierra in its adventure games. This includes both saving and restoring the game. In addition, there are controls to enable or disable sounds for Al's footsteps, subtitling, and additional visual effects. There are also options to play the game with sound only, text only, or sound and text together. There is no provisional control to change Al's walking speed, though double-clicking the left mouse button in-game can temporarily speed up Al from walking to running.
Navigation is simple and uses only 3 cursors: a look cursor that is shaped like a pair of Al's glasses, a talking cursor that is shaped like a set of false teeth, and a hand cursor that is shaped like a human hand to enable you to select, use, or pick up items. The inventory can be instantly selected by clicking on the top right corner of the screen. It can also be accessed via the Tab key on the keyboard. At some stage during the game, a map becomes accessible which you can use to transport instantly between previously visited locations. The map can be accessed by clicking on the bottom left corner of the screen.
The ambient music complements well the theme of the Wild West of the 1800s. A dramatic score is also used to signal moments of trouble and danger in the story. A particular highlight is a very patriotic John Brown's Body being played at Bubba's Barn when the Dixie Civil War flag is lowered. Sound effects are realistic, featuring the sounds of drum rolls, dripping water, explosions, footsteps, and many others.
A major character in the game that is never seen but always heard is the narrator. The voiceover of the narrator is brilliant. It is especially true when the narrator engages in long, acerbic, demeaning, and yet witty conversations with Al. Al is always quick to retort, however. The unique witticism of the adlib dialog is simply classic.
With few exceptions, the artwork is superb. The updated version (Version 3.0) released in 2010 introduces new high resolution graphics not found in the original version. Much of the hand drawn graphics lend the game a distinct retro style. The improvement in the update is instantly recognizable, giving the visuals a more polished appearance as well as depth. Unfortunately, the game also boasts a few 3D pre-rendered cinematic cut scenes and some 2D static cut scenes that are at odds in graphical quality compared to the rest of the game. An enhanced version released in 2013 introduces a new voice actor for Al (Robin Leonard), even higher resolution graphics, interface tweaks, 20 new achievements, and a revamped scoring system (500 points to win).
According to the developer, the production team for the game consists of 17 designers, programmers, and artists, with Brimhall and Warren heading the art and animation team. The game is built using Chris Jones' Adventure Game Studio, a popular development tool used by indie game designers to create graphical adventure games.
The game is surprisingly long. The puzzles make use of some 28 items in the inventory, some of which need to be created by combining different items together. Interestingly, the game does not have a hotspot finder, such that you must have a sharp eye to locate on your own some of the items that are better hidden (with a little bit of luck too). The majority of the items, however, can be easily found.
In sum, Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine is a breath of fresh air. It is a game that I can unreservedly recommend to all adventure game fans who enjoy a witty, humorous, and engaging story. As a bargain release, the game is priced for the cost of only a hot coffee and muffin. The latter may give you an instant fix, but the former will give you a buzz for hours to come. It is a game that offers a lot of fun without any disappointment.