Helga Deep in Trouble
First posted on 07 March 2014. Last updated on 07 March 2014.
Helga Deep in Trouble is the first commercial game from the small Czech indie game developer Off Studio. The studio has previously released the freeware adventure games Five Magical Amulets and Five Lethal Demons. In fact, Helga Deep in Trouble is a spinoff to Five Lethal Demons, both of which are described by the developer as parodies about game developers. As well, the game is notable for being created using the Wintermute Engine, developed by Jan Nedoma who is also part of Off Studio.
Helga Deep in Trouble is a traditional third-person point-and-click adventure. In addition, the game has a number of mini-games, including a particular irritating arcade mini-game which cannot be skipped and is probably meant to be a parody of other arcade mini-games. The main protagonists are Helga, who runs a game development sweatshop, and Magda, a bimbo secretary who is Helga's rival. The story is set in the world of small game studios, but it is really a farcical parody rather than a serious anecdote of the challenges indie game developers often face when making games (such as dealing with unreliable game publishers). Though games themselves do not always have to be serious, they are difficult vehicles to use to put across these viewpoints.
The story begins with Helga leading the development of mindless action games in a small game studio, forcing the studio's programmer, artist, writer to work long hours to do so. Not surprisingly, when a chance opportunity arises, they rebel and decide to choose the pretty but dumb secretary Magda as their new leader merely because of her looks. Helga leaves the studio in humiliation and is determined to set up a new rival game studio to create a new game to beat her old studio. When she realizes that she needs some geeks to make her new game she is going to sell, she sets about recruiting her old staff for her new outfit. This challenge will entail Helga visiting nightclubs, sewers, and even brothels, bending the law just enough to pursue her grand plan.
The game installs easily without any glitches. It can be started in either full screen or windowed mode. The main menu gives the options to start a new game, restore an old game, change settings, view credits, and access a short tutorial on how to play the game. The game supports up to 100 manual save slots. Different volume levels for music and sound effects allow for separate adjustments. The game has no spoken dialogs. Instead, all dialogs are written or subtitled. The speed of the subtitles can be adjusted. The tutorial is quite hilarious, with Helga giving some comical answers to questions such as what to write in a game review!
The graphics are 2D and hand painted. The bright but limited color palette pays homage to classic adventure games and befits the comedic theme of the game's story. The quality of the graphics resembles that of the developer's previous freeware adventure games. The art style is an odd mix of skillfully drawn background art and amateurish (perhaps deliberately) looking characters. Many of the scenes have background animations that prevent them from looking static and lifeless. There are no cut scenes. Instead, the game displays messages about time passing whenever transitions are needed.
The repetitive MIDI background music serves adequately to drown out the silence but is otherwise not at all memorable. The writings are humorous and include a lot of jokey dialogs. Helga also meets quite a number of comical and oddball characters in her questing.
The puzzles are traditional inventory and dialog based puzzles. Some items can be combined with each other in the inventory. The solutions to the puzzles mostly make sense within the context of the story. Solving some individual puzzles can involve quite a bit of trekking, such as going back and forth to speak with the same few characters. The game features a surprisingly good and robust hint system. It is context sensitive and gently guides novice players through the game. There are no timed or arcade sequences apart from the shooting mini-game (which can be muddled through with just some patience, even without any dexterity). The game is extremely linear in that there is only a singular goal to achieve at any given time, though the game allows for free movement between the different locations using an in-game map.
Alas, Helga Deep in Trouble simply falls short when compared to other commercial indie adventure games. It may be of better quality than other freeware titles, but it lacks the polish that makes this title appealing. While the game succeeds somewhat as an interactive parody of game development, it ends up more as a limited demonstration of game making using the Wintermute Engine.