The Ugly Prince Duckling

Posted by Mervyn Graham.
First posted on 01 December 2012. Last updated on 01 December 2012.
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The Ugly Prince Duckling
The ugly duckling mistakenly believes that the story Hans tells is about him.
The Ugly Prince Duckling
The princess dares to leave the palace without much protection.
The Ugly Prince Duckling
Hans finally earns a reference from the sculptor.
The Ugly Prince Duckling
Hans finds Ludvig hiding under a gazebo.
The Ugly Prince Duckling
Hans enters the Aristocrats Quarter that befits his new social stature.

The game is available at GamersGate.

What child does not know of the time eternal fairy stories written by Hans Christian Andersen? Over his lifetime, Andersen has penned many fairy stories and fictional novels as well as poems and plays. His most notable works include The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, amongst others. To date, his writings have been translated into over 150 languages. Further, many of his stories have been adapted to films, television shows, comics, plays, ballets, and even video games.

The Ugly Prince Duckling (also known as Hans Christian Andersen: The Ugly Prince Duckling) is an adventure game created by Danish game development company Guppyworks in partnership with its sister company Kongo Interactive. Even before the game's release in 2007, the game has already garnered critical acclaims by winning the coveted gaming award for "Best Danish Kids and Youth Game" in the 2006 D3 Awards in Denmark. Despite its title name, The Ugly Prince Duckling is not a story about an ugly duckling that turns into a handsome swan as penned originally by Andersen. Rather, the game's story is a camouflaged biography about Andersen himself, in which he rises from complete anonymity to become world famous. In fact, the story in this game parallels quite closely the story of Andersen's real life in many aspects, though a liberal license is obviously thrown in also for good measures. As well, many of the fabled characters from Andersen's own fairy tale stories appear in the game. These include the Little Mermaid, Little Match Girl, Swineherd, Shepherdess, Chimneysweep, and many others.

The game is a classic third-person, point-and-click adventure. You play the protagonist role of the young Hans Christian Andersen as he arrives at Copenhagen (also in his real life) seeking fame and fortune. As Hans climbs up the social ladder from poverty to aristocracy, his social status or stature is appropriately reflected by his admittance to the 5 different Quarters of the city. Hans' adventures in these Quarters make up the 5 acts or chapters in the game, culminating at the Royal Palace where he meets the king and the princess.

The retail version of the game comes attractively packed on 2 CDs. The game installs easily and without glitches. When the game is first started, a Main Menu appears to present you with several choices: Start, Options, Credits, and Exit. Clicking on Options enables you to alter the Screen resolution, adjust Graphics detail, enable Subtitles, and change other system settings. I strongly advise you to select the "Relative to HCA" option for the Keyboard Control mode. Selecting this option enables you to control Hans using both the mouse and the keyboard.

The game begins with a cinematic scene showing Hans sitting in front of a puppet stand and writing his autobiography. Watching him intently and providing commentary is an ugly duckling, a character from one of his famous fairy tales. Hans tells a story of a princess who has just turned 15 years old and who has decided to leave the palace to explore the world on her own. In this story, Hans has just arrived in Copenhagen as a 14 year old lad. Upon entering the Poor Quarter of the city, Hans gets immediately thrown out of the city as a vagrant by the locals and must avoid the policeman as best as he can. Further, Hans soon learns of a sinister plot by the Dark Lord and the Master of Darkness to overthrow the king and usurp the throne as well as a plan by the Master of Darkness to marry the princess. As Hans, you have to get references, rise through society, protect the king, and ultimately save the princess. Along the way, you will meet many endearing characters from Andersen's own fairy tale stories.

Navigating through the game can be slow and frustrating at times. This is because most of the streets are narrow but many of the characters are big, therefore leaving little room to get by. Unless Hans is standing in exactly the right spot, it is hard to maneuver him by pointing and clicking with only the mouse. Instead, I have found it to be much easier to use the keyboard to control Hans' movements. This applies to both the street view and the overhead views. If you need to go faster, you can double-click on Hans to get him to run. Sometimes, Hans will walk forward into a new frame, and if you are not quick enough to change direction, he will go back immediately to where he has just come from. This occurs because of a change in perspective wherein forward can sometimes mean backward.

Game saves can only be done by first exiting back to the Main Menu and then select Save. There is no limit to the number of saves you can make. You can die in this game, so making frequent saves is highly recommended, especially when Hans meets the trolls. The game also makes automatic saves from which you can restore after dying, but these saves can be a little way back from where you have just died.

Unless you have a good ear, enabling the subtitles is highly recommended. When conversing with another character, you are well advised to continue to talk to the character until that character starts to repeat the same answer.

The game's overall production is exceptional. The game uses the open source OGRE (Object-Orientated Graphics Rendering Engine) 3D game engine, which allows for flexible 3D rendering to coexist with the hand drawn 2D background arts. All of the model characters are very colorful. Not surprisingly, the character Hans bears a striking resemblance of the famed author himself. The period clothing worn by the characters is consistent with the time period of the story and is modeled in great detail. The period architecture of the city has also been meticulously captured, bringing a sense of authenticity to the game that is otherwise not possible.

The sound effects are solid, and the voice acting is excellent. The coup de gras, however, is the orchestral musical score that is played in the background throughout the game. The music is an adaption of some of the Peer Gynt suites from the play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen that is composed by Norwegian composer Edvard Greig. Melodies such as Morning Mood, In the Hall of the Mountain King, and Solveig's Song, are instantly recognizable.

The puzzles are not too difficult, provided that you pay close attention to information and clues given to you by other characters. The tasks which you are to complete are confined mostly to finding some character or some item in the city. The game includes over 60 characters to interact with, over 40 items to procure, and a host of puzzles to solve.

Gameplay is quite linear within each act of the game. In general, tasks must be done in a relatively set order, and all puzzles must be solved before you can advance to the next act. The inventory can be accessed by either by hitting Esc or by having it permanently pinned to the screen. You can press Tab to rotate the inventory items until you find the right item to use.

In sum, The Ugly Prince Duckling is a most appealing family friendly adventure game. I unequivocally recommend this game for its superb graphics, brilliant story, and engaging characters. Parents can play this game alongside with their children to learn about Andersen's life in Copenhagen and many of the fabled characters from Andersen's fairy tale stories.

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