Where does it come from?
Hmmm, a game from the Czech Republic? Sounds interesting! I've enjoyed games from unusual European countries before; The Longest Journey, Faust (Seven Games of the Soul), and Rally Trophy (okay, that's about classic rally driving, but still a game) spring particularly to my mind.
So, I've done a little research. Not enough to spoil the game, but something to be going on with before I get my sticky little hands on the disk... now hang on, is this based on a story, called "Gooka and Yorimar," by Richard D. Evans, or by Vlado Risa? Confusion reigns.
Okay, lets get this straight. It's "Gooka: The Mystery of Janatris", but that makes it Gooka 2; there was a Gooka game published in 1997 too. It's based on a novel by Vlado Risa, or his Western European pseudonym, Richard D. Evans. Aha! Now I've got it!
Next problem, is this a point-n-click adventure game (as indicated on the back of the box), or an adventure/RPG hybrid, as I've discovered having completed it.
Confused? Yes, I was. Thankfully, once I started playing the game, things got better.
What is it?
As I've already said, the back of the box gave me the impression that this is a point-n-click adventure. However, once you get into the manual, it becomes clear that there's a degree of character stats development, and combat. Now, we're not talking about a reactions-based, laser-blasting, gore-fest, but combat it is. I'll come back to this later.
So, after my moment of confusion, I set off for my adventure in the land of Janatris.
This game actually is, for the most part, a point-n-click adventure, but from the third person perspective. Just like Grim Fandango, The Longest Journey, Syberia, and many more excellent games, we watch our hero, Gooka, progress through an environment that could have come straight out of Medieval Europe. Except... there are bits of future tech dropped in seemingly at random!
The graphical content, both environment and characters, is nicely modelled, and well rendered (on my 2-year-old graphics card), but the character animation is a bit sluggish, and Gooka is not good at opening doors - he reaches out to them, but they then open without his holding the handle - and in many cases, without his hand being even close to the door.
For the most part, the world is quite natural in appearance, the buildings medieval, and the creatures quite believable. All the creatures, except the rats and the humans, are fictional. The special effects, particularly as used in the combat sequences, are really rather nicely done, with subtle volumetric effects and swirling colours, even on my old graphics card. The overall look of the graphics approaches that of Schizm II, or Broken Sword 3 - quite coherent environments with attention to detail and vegetation that works close up.
Is there a plot?
You want plot in an adventure game? Well, you got one here; fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles... well, almost all of that. And I'll leave it to the reader to discern which one isn't in the game. ;-)
The story works something like this: in Gooka's absence, someone has attacked and burned down his house, injured his wife and kidnapped his son (Yorimar, of the original book's title). Upon Gooka's return home, he has to fix everything. Just as you'd expect from an upstanding citizen, really.
So, it's off to the monastery to find out what's required to save Lidra, and what's happened to Yorimar. Suffice it to say that both these tasks require Gooka to travel to various parts of Janatris (the planet) and cooperate with and fight against a variety of people and creatures to reach his goals.
How do you play?
The game play here is generally quite linear, with periods of wandering, trying to achieve larger plot milestones. However, the milestones occur in a particular order, and you can't go backwards through the story, nor skip milestones.
The environments encompass a variety of settings: buildings, towns, beech, dockside, countryside, jungle, caves, a ship, and low- and high-tech castles.
You can use your mouse to achieve everything in the game, so perhaps this is the reason for the 'point-n-click adventure' description. There are keyboard alternatives to most actions, so you can mix and match mouse and keys to suit. Also, the Escape key is used to skip dialogue lines, which is handy as much of the dialogue is laboriously voice acted. The subtitles option is rather handy to get the story without waiting an eternity for the dialogue to finish. The Escape key also enables you to skip some animations (like rolling dice, or opening doors), but beware! therein lies a game crashing bug. This is rather more serious, as the use of the 'Escape' key is particularly useful to skip slow animations, but if you use if at particular animation transitions (I had trouble pinning down exactly which ones), the game will crash.
The combat sequences in the game are turn-based; you, your allies, and your opponents each get to take turns choosing an action to perform. The order of action is determined by the relative speeds of the people concerned. The fastest go first, the slowest last. I found that it was reasonably easy to learn how to do combat like this, but even the earliest fights are quite hard. Thank goodness for the AutoSave that happens before every fight. Although the game manual does describe the combat, it is lacking in the screen shots that would clarify that description.
Many RPGs involve the use of magical powers as well as swords and so on. In Gooka, we have the unusual feature of telepathic powers. However, when it boils down to it, they're basically magic spells by another name. Most of the time, Gooka's telepathic powers are used to boost his performance in combat - some powers are attacks, some are defences, some are temporary 'power-ups'. Many of Gooka's opponents and allies (whose actions during combat are also controlled by you, the player) have Mind skills, which the opponent character AI makes use of quite effectively.
The most unusual aspect of Gooka's combat skills, was the ability to shift power from his physical (Body) to mental (Mind) score, or vice versa. But the downside for me was that it seemed that the only way to win the majority of combats was to use a particular strategy which emphasized just one of those way beyond the other.
The puzzles do have a nice variety: some involve inventory items, one is a series of three timed sequences, one is audio, one is a small maze, some are pattern based and some numeric. For me, it was the dice game (no-one tells you the rules and I've never played that game before!) and the combat-based puzzles - especially the unavoidable milestone combats - that caused me the most difficulty. Until, that is, I discovered the combat strategy that worked, almost without fail, for the remainder of the game.
After playing this game for a few days, I began to get to like it, in a general sense.
The weaknesses are the frustrating combat issues and the dice game, the voice acting (dull & lifeless), and the lack of dramatic sound effects - a shipwreck should cause some distress in the characters involved, and make some noise to say the least! Furthermore, there were a number of times when the game would hang with a confirmation dialogue box back on the desktop, complaining of 'vertex errors'. The game didn't crash with these bugs, and clicking "OK" brought the game back. The 'Escape' key bug I mention during the dice game is rather more serious, and would be a serious candidate for patching.
However, I would say the real strengths of this game are the plot and variety of puzzles and environments. After two weeks playing, I can say that, because of these elements, I would go back and play Gooka again, which is more than I can say for many pure adventure games.
Overall grade: B.
What do you need to play it?
- Pentium® III 733 MHz or Athlon™ 733 MHz
- 32MB nVidia GeForce2 / ATI Radeon video card
- 256 MB RAM
- 400 MB Hard Drive
- CD-ROM or CD/DVD-ROM drive 8x
- DirectX certified sound card
- Windows 98/2000/XP with DirectX 8.1
- Pentium® IV 1.5 GHz or Athlon™ 1.5 GHz
- 64 MB nVidia GeForce 4 / ATI Radeon 9600 PRO video card
- 512 MB RAM
- Sound card with 3D sound support
- Windows XP