Try-It Tuesdays is a (semi) regular weekly feature in which I take a break from my current roster of games to play something new (to me) for an evening. You can check out past Try-It Tuesday adventures here or submit a suggestion for a future title in the comments!
A month or so ago, friend of Bio Break Spagomat reached out to me and offered me a free copy of a game that he and some ex-LucasArts devs had worked on. I’m hardly one to turn down free games, particularly in the adventure game vibe, so I ended up with a copy of Duke Grabowski: Mighty Swashbuckler. A Thanksgiving weekend is a good a time as any to get all piratey, right? Sure, why not.
I’d never heard of it before, but right from the get-go I was on the receiving end of some serious Monkey Island vibes. That’s probably intentional, considering the art style, irreverent tone, and subject matter. Instead of a gawky, ambitious pirate, the titular character of Duke Grabowski is a hulking dullard of a man who throws in his sword to become the new ship captain. Nobody’s really having it, so they send him on a wild goose chase to successfully woo three women, which the rest of the crew figures is impossible with his temperment.
From there it’s a very straight-forward, relatively easy adventure game featuring limited (as in three) mouse commands, lots of dialogue, and those trademark quirky situations and characters that we got with the Monkey Island series. If you enjoy the puns (there was even a SCUMM joke) and goofy attitude, the world will prove to be plenty engaging.
However, I found myself really adverse to the main character. I get that the devs were trying to subvert expectations by taking what would traditionally be a background character and shoving him to the forefront, but I couldn’t get into Duke very much. He’s quite slow in all mental respects and everyone dances around him verbally. And his character model — especially his face with the giant, bulging eyes, is off-putting. It made me miss Guybrush Threepwood and other sarcastic, intelligent narrators of adventure games. A thinking game in which your character can’t think seems so wrong.
I played for a little over an hour to get a feel for it, but I wasn’t getting sucked in. The background artwork and music are top-notch, as is most of the voice work, and occasionally the game made me chuckle with a well-timed pun or two. And I’d always rather an adventure game err on the side of puzzles being too easy than too hard, although there was nothing that taxed my brain here.
However, the foreground models (including the characters) did not mesh well with the background, giving them a disconnected quality. And most of the NPCs I met were, to put it nicely, crudely designed. It’s as if there were two art departments, one which kind of phoned it in and one which did a tremendous job.
Ultimately, without a main character that I could get behind, I wasn’t going to invest any more time. It’s nice that the game was made and that the devs from the LucasArts era are still hard at work, of course. It just wasn’t for me.
With special thanks to Spagomat!