Indie Spotlight: Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler

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Everyone who is anyone knows there are three arduous trials which must be completed before you can become a great and powerful pirate. Those trials, designed of course to prove your worth or your heroism, are as follows: Winning a sword duel against the island’s resident swordmaster, finding a buried treasure, and let’s not forget, stealing a valuable idol from a governor’s mansion. Anyone who manages to complete those three trials will earn the respect of their pirate peers. Those who fail, will likely end up selling fine leather jackets or perhaps if they are lucky, selling previously used ships and coffins. Duke Grabowski already considers himself to be a pirate so he sets his sights on a loftier goal, the captaincy of the ship he serves on. To prove his value as Captain, Duke Grabowski must first become a mighty swashbuckler! Fortunately, for Duke Grabowski, he has a brightly glowing light to guide his way, the Indie Spotlight.

For those of you that have faithfully followed every Indie Spotlight or other review I have written, you will know that a certain game series has a special place in my heart and in my memories. No it isn’t that one! Nor that one, no not even that one, yes, yes that one, the Monkey Island series! Well today we are not doing an Indie Spotlight on a new Monkey Island game, perhaps one day but that day is not today. Today is dedicated especially to Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler. If you think that name sounds familiar, you are not alone, Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate is often how Guybrush, a Monkey Island character, introduces himself. The name is clearly a tribute to the Monkey Island series. Perhaps you are thinking that it’s just a coincidence. You may for just a moment think this pirate themed, humour based, Point and Click Adventure wasn’t inspired by the old Lucas Arts series… Well I might possibly have been inclined to believe it was a coincidence too if it wasn’t for the fact that Bill Tiller was part of the team that was behind Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler. This is the very same Bill Tiller who was the lead background artist behind the third Monkey Island game, The Curse of Monkey Island.

Duke and Guybrush don’t really have that much similarity between them other than the fact they were both unwitting rubes to some degree. Unlike the weak, but crafty and cunning wordsmith Guybrush Threepwood, Duke Grabowski relies on his muscles rather than his words. Frankly, thinking sometimes can be a little hard for Duke so this is the very reason why, when he put his sword into the ring as the potential new Captain for their ship, the crew decided to send him on a wild goose chase. The crew believed Duke was too slow of wit to ever be considered as a prospective Captain and would fail at whatever even slightly complicated assignment they gave him. Duke, not realizing he was being duped, took the crews quest at face value and accepted the fact that to be the next captain he actually had to go and complete the mission he was given. Unlike Guybrush who had do a few really simple things like beat the best swordmaster on the island or loot the Governor’s mansion to prove his worth, Duke was required to do something far, far more difficult. Duke had to woo three of the ladies of the island. While Duke didn’t even quite understand the concept of the task he was given, and not being very good at talking to ladies having been at sea most of his life, he was still very eager to prove his worth to his soon to be crew.

With the preliminaries out of the way, let’s talk about the game itself. It’s a Point and Click Adventure game that takes place on two islands. Basically in a typical Point and Click Adventure you look around the various game screens to find objects or people you can interact with, use items or combine with other items in order to solve challenges or puzzles. A good example of this is what do you do if you are trying to make your way inside a fortified enemy fort? The first step would be to get past the guards at the gate. Having not packed a gun and having left your sword on the deck of the ship, what do you do? Clearly you can’t talk them out of firing their cannons at you, maybe if you could come up with the right pun you just might be able to wit yourself out of it. Since you can only really rely on your brawn in these dangerous situations, you will have to come up with another solution. Clearly, the best solution here is to play baseball. You merely uproot a massive nearby tree with your bare hands and then simply bat the incoming cannonballs back at the pests firing them at you in the first place. With the gate cleared of cannons, you still have the issue of the gate itself. With the controls on the inside, obviously the best solution is to throw the lady you are attempting to woo over the wall so she can operate the lever for you. Women like being picked up and thrown over walls, right? That will certainly win her affections! Having your lady friend survive as she luckily landed in a box of stolen pillows, and having made it this far in to the enemy fortress, you can’t let something as simple as a chasm stop you now. Perhaps you could think of some way to use a rope and chicken with the pulley in the middle of it to cross the gap, or maybe throw the lady again… although this time she doesn’t seem too keen on that idea. You know you could recover one of those cannons you smashed earlier. You could maybe use it to launch a cannon ball with a rope fastened to it over the gap, but you are not that good at math, so thinking of a trajectory isn’t exactly your forte. Throwing the lady is definitely off the table right? This is where one of the more novel features of Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler comes into play. You have the ability to use the skills/abilities of others in the game to make up for your short comings. Asking the lady, who by chance happens to be very skilled at math, lets you calculate where you need to aim your cannon in order for the ball to land where you need it to go!

Like the Monkey Island series, Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler uses a lot of humour to help make the game more interesting and fun. This humour mostly comes from Duke Grabowski’s own dimwitted nature but the various characters in the game also have witty banter of their own. As a nice touch, every character in the game is also fully voice acted. Talking to every character is rewarded with random dialogue that doesn’t always progress the plot, but it does offer up at least a sensible chuckle. The antics and scenes the Duke gets into all help keep the story moving in a very enjoyable fashion. Not allowed into a club because you are not handsome enough? Wreck the place! Need a new hat? Go win a fight against a gorilla! Sure, the gorilla may be undefeated, but Duke is clearly stronger than some silly giant monkey and getting that sporty hat is sure to woo one of the ladies! Ladies love hats previously worn by apes (especially if they come complete with fleas)!

Graphically this game has almost all the charm of the later entries of the Monkey Island. The backgrounds are reminiscent of the hand drawn backgrounds of the Curse of Monkey Island. This is not surprising because the backgrounds in both games were done by Bill Tiller. There are a few glitches with the text where the drop shadows and text alignment get a little out of sync, but it isn’t that jarring and likely will get patched out soon enough. The 3D models are all well detailed. The character designs are all pretty much unique; none of them really look like the easy copy paste models you can usually find roaming around games today. Also for the most part, the characters look exactly how you would expect a character in that position to look. There wasn’t a vast mental leap required to accept that yes, the Duke looks like someone who you would never want to get into a fight with nor would you want to get hugged by. His cheerful big strong guy look just screams that he is all brawn and no brains and that he has likely unintentionally hugged many small woodland animals to death. The Governor on the other hand has a bit of a lordly air to his looks, which makes him appear important, but also gives the impression he is likely one who isn’t opposed to a little corruption in office. Basically, he looks just like someone you would expect to be ruling the place. Sitting in jail you can find the islands most suave ladies man who promises to teach Duke how to woo women. The irony of the fact is that his jailor, a female sheriff, hasn’t been swayed by his magnetism enough to release him as of yet so odds are his powers are not as legendary as he tries to make them out to be. It’s okay though, Duke never really thought of that himself so he was more than happy to distract the sheriff to allow the ladies man to escape jail. I could easily go on discussing each and every one of the unique and charming characters however; you are not here to read their biographies. I’ll just reiterate that each of the characters in this game has an especially suitable 3D model which really helps keep the immersion going. The voice acting is all clearly and cleanly recorded and particularly suits the design of the character it is associated with. The sound and music in general for this game work very well to help with the feeling that you are actually on a nautical adventure.

The interface of the game works really well. It can be entirely played with the mouse if you are so inclined. You click around the screen to send Duke wandering around. Clicking on things allows you to interact with them by either talking to someone or picking up an item. Right clicking brings up your Inventory, which is basically a collection of all the skills/abilities you can use based on who you have talked to and what you have found. You can easily combine items on this screen as well. Such as loading a cannonball into a cannon to create a loaded cannon. If you really get stuck you can press a button on the keyboard and highlight all interactive objects, but in a Point and Click Adventure the real fun is figuring out what is important and what is not all by yourself. There are no useless items in this game, so everything you find you will eventually use. You don’t need to worry about careful inventory management. While the game lacks a lot of settings available in the settings menu, this kind of game really doesn’t need a whole lot of tweaking to get the most out of it.

Considering the game never claimed to be an epic length adventure, it can be somewhat forgiven for being quite short. I beat the game in a little under two hours. That is beat as in I unlocked every single achievement and seen the post-credits fourth wall breaking scene. It was still a little disappointing that my adventure suddenly ended right when it felt like the story was about to move on to the second act, but that was simply me assuming it was going to follow the Monkey Island multi-part within the same game format. There is also the factor that I am a veteran of the classic Point and Click Adventure games to the point that if I can’t almost instantly solve the puzzle, odds are my difficulty is actually being caused by a bug in the game. I could see this game taking about twice as long for someone new to the genre. There is a bit of silver lining though, the development team is willing to continue Duke Grabowski’s story if the first game sells well, so here is hoping for their success.

So it comes down to this really, should you pick up Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler for yourself? There are a few factors to consider here. First, it is not that expensive being only $6.99 USD. It also has been on sale a couple times already so if you feel $7 is too much for a 2-4 hour long humourous, Monkey Island-esque, Point and Click adventure game, then you could always save your pennies until the next big sale for it if you must. I’d rather, if you are interested in it, you get it sooner rather than later simply so the Developer, Venture Moon Industries, will see there is enough interest in the Point and Click Adventure crowd to warrant the continuation of Duke Grabowski’s story. Perhaps he will find a strange island full of monkeys and the second biggest idol he’s ever seen or maybe even a two-headed, or dare I say, a three-headed monkey? If you are a fan of the Point and Click Adventure genre, this is one of the better made ones. The puzzles don’t really rely on making you click every single arbitrary thing on your screen to find the random hidden item you need, and relies more on you just thinking about it and taking clues from the NPC dialogues. If you like a game where you whip out your sword and swashbuckler your way through legions of soldiers/rival pirates or hordes of the undead, then this game really isn’t for you. You can’t actually get killed in it. Even cannonballs just bounce off your mighty chest, their only real effect is that they make you lose your balance and stagger back a few feet on impact. With that said, perhaps you would like to take your mind off mindless killing every once in a while and use your mind more constructively to solve a few puzzles. The short length of the game and ability to save anywhere actually makes it a great game to pick up and play between your battles. Ladies beware though, you might just find yourself being undeniably charmed by the smooth moves of the great Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler!

From the Steam Store Page:


Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler is a classic point-and-click adventure, created with love by an indie team that includes LucasArts alumni, Bill Tiller (The Curse of Monkey Island, Steven Spielberg’s The Dig, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine). Play as Duke, a pirate who’s had success in pillaging, ransacking, and other forms of piratey goodness, but doesn’t know a thing about women. Help him prove to his crew he has what it takes to become a captain by winning the affection of the opposite sex – a task that is the most difficult challenge this seasoned pirate has faced! Along his journey to “sea-deuce” he’ll have to tame jaguars, fight zombie sailors, and even wrestle a gorilla!
Features:

  • A Sprawling Adventure – Enjoy tropical locations, solve amusing puzzles, and revel in comic pirate mischief.
  • Full Voiceover – Every wild character Duke meets comes to life with the work of talented voice actors.
  • Amazing Art and Animation – Duke comes to life with 3D animation and interacts with beautifully realized 2D backgrounds.