By Marty Mulrooney
Alchemia is an indie adventure game created by Springtail Studio (Tomas K. and Julian Winter), creators of the the Haluz series. The former digital-download game has now been brought to the European market on physical disk by Bridgton based publishers Lace Mamba Global. It was released on 17th September 2010.
The story of Alchemia is a simple one and gets straight to the point. During the opening cutscene the player is introduced to Noses, a tiny little man who is peacefully cooking his dinner over an open fire. When a mechanical bird called Lootpecker flies down and steals Nose’s food, he tosses his hammer into the sky in anger, accidentally destroying the bizarre creature. As a result, Lootpecker’s soul (a ghostly apparition) is left without a body and Noses reluctantly agrees to help him build a new one. The game is essentially a journey beneath the ground to where Lootpecker was originally created.
Built with Flash (like last year’s Machinarium, reviewed here) the interface is of the simple point-and-click variety, using the left mouse button to interact with the world. The entire experience is linear, meaning that players will only advance one screen at a time. This is reflected by the inventory, where players will only carry one or two items at once, to be used fairly quickly on something in the near vicinity. The graphics are quirky and sharp, although they sadly reside firmly in the centre of the screen at all times, surrounded by thick black bars (even thicker on my 16:10 monitor than those shown in the screenshots).
Alchemia actually has more in common with the casual adventure game Hamlet (reviewed here) than it does with Machinarium. The majority of the puzzles take the form of a locked door, with various contraptions blocking the way. This isn’t bad per say, but it does end up feeling repetitive even for such a short game. Alchemia’s web-based roots are always evident, whether scribbling down a password to navigate the antiqued save system or becoming frustrated at the strictly linear nature of progression.
The game offers a walkthrough for each screen, easily accessible with the click of a button. I was thankful for this feature towards the end of the game (where the puzzles very nearly crossed the boundary of being hard to becoming impossible) but overall it was too much of a temptation to cheat and took away from the already short completion time. Overall, the puzzles work well but don’t feel like they reside within a coherent, tangible world.
My main problem with Alchemia is that it looks superb and sounds great for an indie game, with a catchy if not somewhat limited soundtrack provided by Julian Winter. Yet the story misses so many opportunities. There is no actual speech but text occasionally displays within speech bubbles. This text often feels perfunctory and uninspired. Compare this to Machinarium, which told an amazing story with no text or speech at all. Noses and Lootpecker are great characters but end up coming across as wafer-thin. The game should have further played upon their relationship and reflected this dynamic within the puzzles… but it doesn’t even try.
Alchemia is a game that I enjoyed, but that I feel didn’t quite deliver in the end. Comparisons with Machinarium are unavoidable and could prove devastating to Alchemia. Yet there is a charm that is undeniable and I did enjoy the experience overall. My advice for people who are attracted to the game’s unique aesthetic design would be to play it online first (you can play a considerable chunk of it here) and then, if you want to continue, pick up a digital copy of the game wherever it is available cheapest. Pretty but of little substance.
6 OUT OF 10