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Imogen (PC) artwork

Imogen (PC) review

"Freeware is the refuge of the broke of pocket. Or the tech-savvy brokenicks, at least. Oh, sure, there's ROMs and abandonware out there too, but I was over so budget enough this month that I got wary at the thought of handling anything that might have once cost money. "

Freeware is the refuge of the broke of pocket. Or the tech-savvy brokenicks, at least. Oh, sure, there's ROMs and abandonware out there too, but I was over so budget enough this month that I got wary at the thought of handling anything that might have once cost money.

Fortunately in troubled times as this, I always stumble on games that are genuine freeware, written by generous souls who just want a bit of recognition. Imogen is one such game, reworked from a 1986 BBC Micro game of the same name. The programmers of the remake are fans of the original, and they carry its vision faithfully into a world of more detailed graphics. The game retains the simplicity and cute puzzles(from what I saw on the game's dutifully constructed history webpage) without feeling dinky.

Imogen starts with a wizard who's already rescued the village from a dragon--but then, alas, his mind snapped from the strain, and he went undoing his good deeds. While he was banished into his own mind to work out Jungian or Freudian representations of his internal demons in the form of weird puzzles, things got better and then worse. They're bad enough that you need to help him through sixteen odd yet relatively simple puzzles to find fragments of a magic gem which will help him break free and return(apparently saving the village is the easy part as he's done it already.) The premise is cute; it validates the disjointed solipsism of the puzzles, and it doesn't totally retread any overused plots.

Most of the levels are very basic platformer types, with a maximum of five room-screens. There are ropes to climb to get to the next ledge, and there are bigger barriers to jump over. But your wizard can't do that as himself. He needs to transform to a cat, which can leap huge gaps, or a monkey, which can climb up ropes. Then he must change to his usual form to find the items they could reach. And there's only limited magic; you have 150 transformations for the whole game. Most levels take six to eight with best play, and you need to be exact on the easy levels to give yourself breaks on challenges with a couple of tough jumps. You can't save in the middle of a level, either, which doesn't seem a problem until you hit a complex one. On the bright side, there's no way to get killed. The main problem is to avoid a slip and fall at a critical place.

The controls(keyboard, as retro games should be) are of the sort that will get you mad for the first ten minutes as the game seems to be simple, but it reacts differently to your various forms. The cat, for instance, can jump with its front paws in space and land safely without its back paws touching anything. Through the course of the game you'll wonder why this anomaly doesn't always work quite the way you want it--you'll mistime jumps on an already illogical basis. The monkey can only jump off a rope the same way he got on, which is initially frustrating but leads to a few good puzzles. Everyone seems to have a problem with bouncing back after a jump if you don't follow through, and their blocky ricochets, while easily sickening, are about the only bad bit in the game.

But the arrow-guided toolbar at the top allows you to pre-empt your next action, even as you swirl to transform between shapes, which saves time handily. They're also customizeable, but by the time you've got the hang of them, you'll be too used to them. My big problem, though, is that you do move slowly, which makes replaying(often necessary to minimize magic used) a hassle. Walking through screens with nothing to do can take a while.

All the puzzles have some quirky humor--nothing to make you laugh aloud, and some would be very disturbing without the cartoony graphics. You need to find several ways to kill baby zombies scattered all over, there's a scene where you whip a dog, and an innocent hamster goes splat in another. Standard cartoon gags include chucking bombs at monkeys, and there are even a few outright weird solutions you can probably figure out just because there's very little else to do. The timing puzzles don't pile on until the end, and other scenes, such as where you must water a plant several times, tempt you into transforming too soon. There's never a huge challenge, but you can usually feel good about solving something.

Your three forms all manage to look cute even if the cat is disappointingly stolid--the monkey really steals the show by making goose and other noises if you idle too long, and he generally looks mischievous your way in action. Imogen is absent minded and almost bowled over. The whole chubby features, narrow limbs and big eyes formula works great for the NPCs you generally have to steal from, sucker into performing a task, or even inflict comic violence on. There are lots of badly written signs too. The sort that will be funny no matter how high computer resolution gets.

And Imogen must be the best-wallpapered magic game I've ever played. The backgrounds have that novelty value that amuses for a day or two, which is just perfect, because each level shouldn't take more than a half an hour. The music really rocks--unfortunately you can't specify which song of a random set will be playing, but they're all quite good, slightly electronic but really capturing the upbeat novelty of electronic keyboards and harps without sounding hollow. Echoes the music during the original game's era is a nice touch.

Imogen has about everything you could expect from a retro game of its scope. The graphics are polished and attractive without feeling complex. The characters even got a pixelated makeover. Imogen's quick and satisfying, and although it wasn't hard to find the best solution to each puzzle, I found myself wanting to nail it down. Walking around for this goal got a bit drawn out, but the most frustrating moments were the puzzles I hadn't quite timed right, and that's how things should be. While some of the jokes fell flat, or some of the cat jumps I needed seemed arbitrary, this game will satisfy retro-gaming fans even if they never touched a BBC Micro.

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (January 22, 2004)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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