Did you ever read Beano and Dandy comics, or the colourful hardcover annuals, while you were growing up? Because that’s the type of humour you’ll find in new puzzle-adventure The Mystery of Woolley Mountain, from indie developers Lightfoot Bros. It’s distinctly British – one of the locations is a pub mid karaoke contest – and distinctly dated – the player is supposed to be repulsed by a character kissing a large-nosed woman.
The sense of humour requires some getting used to, much like the game’s art style, which is one part South Park and one part made-in-Flash shareware circa 1994. While the game’s animation typically boils down to the characters’ heads lightly bobbing on their shoulders, the biggest eyesore is the garish font. Oh yes, and characters say things like “Less talky, more drinky and watchy.” There’s a lot that is cringe about The Mystery of Woolley Mountain.
Then again, the game’s throwback sensibilities are probably the point. The Mystery of Woolley Mountain consistently celebrates the retro. Vinyl records. A re-monikered Commodore 64. Eighties toys, comics and movie posters that parody real-life pop culture of yesteryear. There’s even one nostalgia-obsessed character who collects memorabilia from past decades.
At the same time, the game is something of a rarity in that it’s marketed as a point-and-click comedy adventure for the whole family. It’s blatantly meant to bring together parents and kids around the screen, even if the family orientation fractures when it comes to odd choices like having the heroes sneer at teetotaller Christians.
For the record, The Mystery of Woolley Mountain is “An otherworldly adventure game” – and Kickstarter success – that slathers weirdness over a very simplistic story. In short, the Evil Witch of Woolley Mountain has kidnapped local children, and time-travelling audio scientist Vandamme Laudenkleer goes off solo to rescue them. When he’s captured by the Witch and her “evil-usioned” monster minions (Woolley Mountain’s lays on the Dad jokes thick), Vandamme’s friends and fellow scientists spring into action.
You primarily play as pernickety group leader Garland Vanderbilt, who must rally the distracted troops – alcoholic Carlton Breezy, love-struck Chladni Plates, chemistry-obsessed Frithel Stock Stone and misanthropic robot Auto. That’s a representational red flag right there as the scientists are all male, but as already mentioned, there’s nothing progressive about The Mystery of Woolley Mountain.
At times, while playing, it honestly seems like Amateur Hour. Forget the aesthetic. There are technical issues, like a scene transition resulting in a switch to the wrong character model. In other instances, puzzles seem to resolve on their own without the correct action being performed on the correct screen.
This said, the puzzles are one of the best parts of The Mystery of Woolley Mountain. Playing the game collaboratively as a family seems like a good idea because the puzzles are often very challenging, requiring the player to traipse back and forth across the full distance of a level. There are inevitably a few solutions that seem to have no logical connection, but that’s to be expected of the genre.
For the record, the game sticks to its point-and-click roots with simple gameplay mechanics: click on objects and people to interact with them, or drag items (some of which are combinable) from the always-visible inventory as required. That’s it for the most part, barring a few in-game games to master and conversation-triggered events to manoeuvre.
What Woolley Mountain really excels at is making you think you’ve overcome a head-scratcher only to reveal there’s one further step required to reach the solution. There’s a definite sense of accomplishment when you finally detangle certain, extremely knotted puzzles.
A further plus is the jaunty score and soundtrack, which is fitting given the game’s aural themes and the fact that its developers also double as music creators.
So while there’s a lot that is extremely trying about The Mystery of Woolley Mountain, if you can slog through and/or appreciate its sense of humour, you’ll find rewards. But, boy, is it a test of players’ contemporary gaming, and general entertainment, sensibilities sometimes.
The Mystery of Woolley Mountain hits Steam and the Switch on 10 April.
Note: This review was based on 6+ hours of play and not the full game.
Last Updated: April 10, 2019