With the recent revival of the point-and-click adventure genre, it’s hard to ignore the influence that some classic games have had on the more recent installments. A good example of this is Jolly Rover, an independent game for the PC and Mac recently released on Steam. With a 2D art style, island setting, and more pirates than you can shake a cutlass at, Jolly Rover was clearly inspired by the early Monkey Island games. Though there can be a fine line between homage and ripoff, Jolly Rover stays safely on the homage side, showing its appreciation for the games that came before while bringing some new ideas to the genre.
Jolly Rover is the adventure of a young pup named Gaius, who inadvertently becomes wrapped up in the pirating lifestyle. The most obvious difference between Jolly Rover and Monkey Island is that all of the characters are dogs of varying breeds. Gaius planned on following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a circus clown, but instead finds himself joining a pirate crew, traveling from island to island in an attempt to thwart the plans of the corrupt and evil mayor. Along the way, he learns voodoo spells, picks up everything not tied down, and tries to avoid being eaten by cannibals. It’s a light-hearted adventure filled with plenty of humor, and though the influence of early 1990s-era point-and-click games is undeniable, Jolly Rover still feels fresh and original the whole way through.
Like most point-and-click adventures, the bulk of the gameplay tasks the player with solving puzzles by using various items and conversing with the locals. Jolly Rover adds another layer of strategy to the core gameplay with the use of voodoo, which allows Gaius to perform certain supernatural actions by completing the requirements of the spells. Gaius is accompanied by Juan, a talking parrot who can point the player in the right direction when stuck. After giving a vague hint, Juan requires crackers, which can be found throughout the game, for more specific information. This system should assure that no one ever gets completely baffled to the point of wanting to quit the game.
The presentation of Jolly Rover is notable, especially considering that it was made by a small team. The art style may not be the most outstanding I’ve ever seen, but it’s still aesthetically pleasing, particularly the way the different breeds of dogs are presented. I was more impressed with the voice acting, especially since some of the voice actors took on multiple roles; Gaius and his counterparts were brought to life wonderfully, which added a lot of charm to the game. I also really liked the simple but effective interface, with the main menu and inventory remaining hidden until clicked on, at which point they would open and reveal their contents.
With a fair amount of collectables, Jolly Rover even has a decent amount of replay value. Pieces of eight, crackers, and segments of the pirate flag can be found throughout the game, though you’ll have to really explore every nook and cranny to find them all. Acquiring these items unlocks concept art, and completionists may want to run through the game a second time just to get those last few pieces of eight and flag sections. Since most adventure games don’t have much replay value, adding collectable items is a great way to get more gameplay out of the title, and I’d like to see other games in the genre adapt the same idea.
Though the game ran smoothly most of the time, Jolly Rover did have a few technical issues. Clicking on an insane pirate in the local pub caused the game to freeze up; I tried this several different times, at different points throughout the early hours of Jolly Rover, and ended up having to quit each time. There were a couple of instances in which it took a little long to load, and even made me think my computer had frozen, though that turned out to not be the case. Luckily, these issues were minor, but they broke up an otherwise immersive experience. It was also a little on the short side, taking me less than five hours to complete the first time through. While this isn’t a terrible length for a game in the genre, it’s much shorter than a season of Sam & Max or Tales of Monkey Island, which are the nearest titles to which Jolly Rover can be compared—though it’s also less expensive than a new season of either game.
Jolly Rover may have a classic presentation and gameplay style, but it also brings some interesting new ideas to the point-and-click adventure genre. The references to Monkey Island should please fans of the classic series, but the gameplay is strong and original enough to stand on its own. Even with a few technical problems, it’s hard not to recommend Jolly Rover to any fan of adventure games, especially those who remember the LucasArts games of the 1990s fondly. I wouldn’t mind seeing more games in the same vein from the creator, and even a sequel to this one would be more than welcome. In the meantime, I’ve got a few more pieces of eight to collect. Yo ho ho!