Jack Keane (PC) review
""This is Monkey Island done right, at last," the box proudly proclaims. It's somewhat appropriate that the first comparison to the iconic adventure series would be made before you even start the game, given the parallels. Still, it's high praise indeed, and appropriate to boot. While some might argue that Monkey Island was done right a long time ago, Jack Keane is certainly a fitting reminder of times long past."
"This is Monkey Island done right, at last," the box proudly proclaims. It's somewhat appropriate that the first comparison to the iconic adventure series would be made before you even start the game, given the parallels. Still, it's high praise indeed, and appropriate to boot. While some might argue that Monkey Island was done right a long time ago, Jack Keane is certainly a fitting reminder of times long past.
As a point-and-click, Keane is a game that survives by its wit and its atmosphere more so than by being flashy or deep. The scenarios need to be consistently clever to hold the player's interest, because there's no exploding zombies or mindless action involving explosive projectiles too large to actually exist in sight to do it. It's all about charm.
The charm begins with the graphics. The whole world is rendered in a very cartoony style, but it suits the world well. It looks like one would expect an adventure game to look: bright and vibrant and low res. The characters are expressive without being realistic, and the world is in turns threatening and fascinating in the same way as an old Disney movie was in our childhood. It's like a breath of bright, crisp, lively air in a world full of games that have been bump-mapped and pixel-shaded into an endless mass of identical brown corridors.
It has, you know, personality.
The nation of Britain faces a crisis. The maniacal Doctor T, renowned herbalist, has created a species of plant that actively seeks and devours tea leaves, creating a worldwide drought. To combat this threat, they have dispatched their greatest agent to the mysterious Tooth Island. Serving as the doctor's lair, it's a sinister place full of man eating plants and curious electrical traps powered by monkeys on bicycles. To get there, Montgomery employs the help of the sharp-witted but impractical captain of the 'Charming Princess', Jack Keane. And the hyjinks that ensue are the stuff of legend.
That's the early part of the game in a nutshell. If you don't find the premise delicious in its absurdity, this game probably isn't for you. Within seconds you'll know everything you possibly could about playing the game. There are no tricks to learn, and the only skill to develop is thinking so far outside the box that the box itself is a tiny smudge on the horizon. Click on things, use your head, and get to the next level. Anyone who's played a game of the kind before will feel immediately at home in Jack's world.
There are times, however, where the game is a little too clever for its own good. It has its share of moments where game logic and real logic don't sync up too well, and it leaves you scratching your head. In one scenario, you acquire an old fishing rod with no line, which you can't use until you add some twine you acquired elsewhere. Furthermore, you have to acquire bait in the form of a worm on your ship. Once all three pieces are put together, you use the rod to go fishing...for a wooden plank that's floating in the ocean. The inclusion of the worm seems somewhat baffling since the eventual goal is to get a piece of wood.
Moments like that aren't especially uncommon. It's often faster to progress by smacking everything in your inventory against everything in the environment and watching the game bring the logic to you rather than attempt to bring logic to the game. It's hard to really say if this is a flaw or not. There are times where standing around completely stumped are genuinely annoying. But there's an unshakable sense of glee that comes with puzzling things out on your own, and a wonder that goes with seeing the protagonist MacGuyver a solution to his woes with the most random assortment of things possible.
Worth a mention are frustrating load times. They aren't bad in the way a lot of other games nowadays are. The playtime-to-loadtime ratio is usually pretty good, and the load times themselves aren't especially long. The problem comes, however, when the game jumps from one cutscene to another. It tends to interlude away from the action of the moment to clue you in on what other characters are doing. This means it has to load the environment in which the cutscene occurs, and then reload the environment the player is in. And generally, these interlude cutscenes are short, generally shorter than the dual load time that viewing them requires. Unfortunately, the long pauses get in the way of the generally clever message the writers were trying to get across.
So there are some snags, but really, they aren't any more than a minor annoyance. The game in general is a brilliant example of its genre, one that shines especially brightly in an age that has forsaken them nearly altogether. Clever and intriguing, Keane is a solid and amusing ride from beginning to end. If you tire of the gaming norm these days, or miss the old days where point-and-clicks were the dominant genre, or even if you just want to laugh at the absurd antics of a few characters, give it a try.
Freelance review by Josh Higley (May 10, 2008)
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