By Joseph Viney
“To be or not to be?” That was the question once upon a time but this neat little puzzler will have you scratching your head whilst taking you on a journey of your own mental winter of discontent. In an age where the brainless shoot-em-up reigns supreme, games that really stretch the mind are in short supply. So step forward Hamlet to reclaim the throne that, according to Shakespeare, should rightfully have been his.
As with all great ideas, an original concept has been taken and flipped upside down. In this adventure game from Russian indie developer mif2000, you play as the eponymous ‘Hero’, a time-traveller who, during a seemingly ill-advised dawdle through time and space, is thrust into times of yore… and promptly lands his ship on top of poor old Hamlet, killing him instantly. Our hero now finds himself in one hell of a bind; fulfil Hamlet’s destiny or destroy the fabric of the space-time continuum for good. It’s a situation that we have all been in once or twice before in our lives, right?
Unfortunately for our hero his quest is not easy. Rather, it is littered with 25 separate stages, each more maddening than the last. Too many times will you find yourself simply staring at the screen, mouth agape and wishing you’d paid attention in school, particularly the ‘How To Kill A Guitar Wielding Bad Guy With Just A Rubber Duck And An Outlet Pipe’ lesson. Perhaps AMO is not smart enough but some of the conundrums placed before you are inexplicably hard and you may find yourself recruiting those around you to help solve the next puzzle. Blessedly, it does not over-complicate itself with regards to gameplay and is nothing more than a simple point-and-click exercise when it comes to the controls, without the need for an inventory.
The graphics are a surprisingly good mix of the cute and the grotesque. Our hero, looking like a Who of Whoville in his little purple spacesuit (or a sausage with a light bulb on his head… seriously!) is juxtaposed nicely with the mean-looking and bad tempered enemies like Polonious and Claudius. The former a laser-gun wielding Ork-lookalike, the latter akin to Tenacious D’s devil in Greatest Song In The World.
The world the game inhabits is suitably demented. During your travels you meet, besides the aforementioned Polonious and Claudious, a giant octopus, a colour-blind horse and of course Hamlet’s other-half, the beautiful and radiant Ophelia who could be a new rival to Jessica Rabbit in the ‘Cartoon Characters You Probably Would’ stakes.
This game will certainly appeal to the hardcore puzzler and may well even grab the literary freaks amongst us, such is the smooth mix of reading smarts and great gaming. Don’t expect a perfect translation of the text though… it’s just a game. If you follow the plot closely enough you will come to realise that you are trying to stop Ophelia from marrying her own father. What is this, a night out in Norwich?! If you’re in it for snide Shakespearian jokes and Olde English putdowns, prepare to be disappointed as there is nothing for you here. The setting is merely circumstantial; the devil is in the detail, as they say.
If you’re worried about the daunting task ahead, and fear that the puzzles cannot be solved, never fear; Hamlet comes complete with a timer system. After a certain amount of time elapses, a hint will be displayed and it may well be the great reveal. The only drawback being that one hint, and one only, is revealed to the player. Perhaps a two or three level hint system would have been beneficial, as some of the levels are very difficult, to the point where they could keep you awake at night.
The implementation of the game itself is also exemplary. You are allowed to play in either full screen or windowed mode. In windowed mode the game is kind enough to turn both sound and timers off, should you be distracted by something else. The graphics, as mentioned previously, are superb also and fit the game world perfectly. The surreal qualities of the story are complemented well by the levels and backgrounds; one minute you’re in a castle, then underwater, then on a galleon and then somehow on a spaceship. Frankly, it’s best if you just don’t ask questions.
If you’re after a challenge instead of the dull bang-bang-bang offered by most mainstream titles then you would do yourself a huge favour by giving Hamlet a whirl. The 2-3 hours of gameplay on offer here seem very reasonable considering the low RRP. Perfectly suited to: smart people, insomniacs, OCD types and whoever else wants a go. Nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark, we’re served more matter with less art.
8 OUT OF 10