By Marty Mulrooney
Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet is an indie point-and-click adventure game created by award-winning comedian and filmmaker Alasdair Beckett-King (read AMO’s 2013 interview with Alasdair here). A standalone sequel to the 2008 freeware adventure game Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!, players take control of Nelly as she tries to save a group of adorable birds that have been hypnotised by the villainous Baron Widebeard. Her adventure will take her from Port Rubicund in the South Seas, to the icy northern isle of Gloomholm. She may even discover the Treasure of the Seventh Sea along the way…
The Fowl Fleet begins with heroine Nelly Cootalot being visited by the ghost of her mentor, ‘a fearsome buccaneer and the protector of all creatures small and adorable’, William Bloodbeard. He warns Nelly of a nefarious plot to steal his treasure put into motion by his brother, the ‘wrongen’ Baron Widebeard. He foresees many birds be perishing as a result… and birds hate perishing! Nelly can’t stand by and do nothing, so she ditches her job in the mailroom of the M.S. Undeliverable and heads to Port Rubicund to pick up Widebeard’s trail and stop him before it’s too late.
It’s a simple premise that nonetheless gets the ball rolling immediately. Port Rubicund is a small area featuring several different locations that immediately present Nelly with a variety of obstacles that need to be overcome. A traditional adventure game through and through, the left mouse button is used for interaction while the right mouse button is used to look at things. There is also a spacious inventory to store all the things you’ll be picking up and using along the way.
From the outset, the strength of the game is undoubtedly Beckett-King’s writing. The humour is extremely gentle yet full of genuine wit and charm, with the nautical pirate theme milked for all its worth. Although Monkey Island is an obvious inspiration, the laughs here are far more homely and unmistakably British. Each line of dialogue is no doubt enhanced via the wonderful voice cast, with Beckett-King’s partner voicing Nelly (she also inspired the character) in an extremely calming, endearing and natural manner.
The rest of the voice actors shine too (including some of the supporting talent from the previous Broken Sword games), but the crown jewel is undoubtedly Tom Baker (yes, the Tom Baker of Doctor Who fame) as Sebastian J. Coot, Nelly’s small bird companion. Whether you’re familiar with him or not, his voice shines through as the game’s narrator, as well as a relaxing guide throughout the game itself. Whenever the player gets stuck, they can simply chat to Sebastian and get a nudge in the right direction. It’s a hint system that simply works and works well. It can also be completely ignored by players who fancy a bit more of a challenge.
However, don’t be expecting too much of a challenge. The gentle nature of the humour and plot also extends to the puzzles. At first it all feels far too easy, like a game designed primarily for children. Not that this is necessarily a complaint – children will indeed have a wonderful time exploring Nelly’s world with Sebastian. However, older and much more seasoned adventurers would be well advised to persevere beyond the opening act.
The difficulty never really spikes, but the scope of the game expands significantly during Act 2 (there are three acts in total). Highly reminiscent of Plunder Island in The Curse of Monkey Island, the Guttering Howls (it’s far less ominous than it sounds) is a sprawling seaside area that acts as a central hub leading to a variety of different locations. You’ll travel from a picturesque promenade to cobbled streets and alleyways, via a brightly lit tea shop and a dingy pub, before visiting a Chinese restaurant with a very peculiar proprietor… with a Liverpool accent!
All of these locations are jam-packed with funny, memorable characters and pleasingly logical puzzles waiting to be solved. The difficulty may be relatively low throughout, but there’s so much to do – and it all clicks together so well – that the lack of challenge soon takes a backseat to simply enjoying yourself and exploring. Application Systems Heidelberg helped to co-develop the game and their contribution to both the design and budget shows. The full HD 1080p graphics – particularly the backgrounds – are beautiful, the music by Nikolas Sideris only adds to the charm, and the voice acting, as previously mentioned, is ‘spot on’.
There are only a few complaints to make. The 3D character models look suitably cartoony and compliment the backgrounds well. However, the animation itself is a bit limited at times. The game is also rather short, with a playtime of about 6 to 8 hours without a walkthrough – repeat playthroughs will undoubtedly clock in at even less. There were also a few small non game-breaking bugs, such as the spacebar failing to bring up hotspots on-screen (saving, exiting and reloading solved this). Finally, the main story is absolutely fine in terms of character and player motivation, but it often fades into the background and gets lost amidst all the exploring and fetch-questing.
Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet is a thoroughly enjoyable, unashamedly quirky, British-flavoured adventure game that can be enjoyed by players of all ages. From beginning to end, it does its best to charm your socks off and largely succeeds. Nelly is an absolutely lovely character and Sebastian proves to be a more than worthy sidekick. Even if you haven’t played the original freeware game, you’ll be able to enjoy The Fowl Fleet and figure out what’s going on in no time at all. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we see of Nelly Cootalot and Alasdair Beckett-King!
8 OUT OF 10