I think the best way to do a puzzle game is to disguise the fact that that is in fact what you’ve made. Bejewelled and that sort of business are all well and good, but I find it so much more interesting when I’m playing something that pretends to be something else. This is probably down to my penchant for the more hardcore side of gaming, but even I am willing to admit that Hamilton’s Great Adventure is rather darn good.
The story – and yes, it’s actually quite a sweet one really – concerns the now retired Hamilton babysitting his grand-daughter. As all tykes are prone to do when left with a grandparent, this one wants him to tell her a story, and he does so by reading to her from his journals. Turns out that in his youth, Hamilton was a veritable Indiana Jones, jet-setting from one end of the Earth to the other on the whim of The Professor. The plot nicely frames the puzzles but, as you might expect, is largely superfluous. You’ll be playing this game for the puzzles, if anything, so you are likely at a minimum care value when it comes to the story, yes?
The puzzles are, for the most part, light on the whole frustration thing. Hamilton moves around the world in a sort of tile-based pattern, shifting from a walk to a run as you build up momentum over a couple of tiles. At first glance, this can trick you into thinking that the game will routinely allow you plenty of time to plan your steps – something that you will need to do to some degree to maximise treasure collection, the best loot hidden behind collapsing platforms and locked doors that afford only a small window of time to do your tomb raiding. Just as you settle into this mindset, however, you get dropped into puzzles with timed components, ones you won’t usually notice until they’ve made the level unwinnable.
When I hit the first of these, the resulting profanity could be heard outside. What were they doing suddenly plonking me in the middle of a time trial? It was going so well! Then I hit restart level in a huff and realised that, joy of joys, it was instantaneous. I know this sounds like an odd thing to praise, but I’ve often found that the most annoying thing about failure in any game is when it has to reload a checkpoint. You get to sit and watch as the loading screen mocks your failures, and then you want to put your fist through the monitor, and then you have to go to casualty, and then the doctor mocks you, and so on. Puzzle games already have that annoyance of not being smart enough to solve a puzzle, but compounding it with a loading screen gets right on my wick. Hamilton avoids this, which joyously keeps your failures as motivation to do better, rather than an irritation.
That’s not to say you’ll fail often. The simplest route through most of the puzzles is usually quite easy to spot, and the hazards are all clearly marked so that you will very rarely stumble onto something that unexpectedly kills you. It’s when you go after some of the more out of the way treasures that you’ll start to cock things up.
Every puzzle is concerned with you grabbing a giant gold key and navigating your way to the exit with it in hand. Along the way you can pick up coins and gems and whatnot to add to your score, and do that you fill because they tend to be along your way anyway. But then you spot that one gold coin, balanced so precariously at the far end of a series of collapsing walkways. You’ll think you can grab it easily, stroll all the way out to the platform to pick it up, and then, as you turn around to continue your march to freedom, notice that you’re trapped. The walkways have crumbled behind you, leaving you trapped on a floating wooden island. And worst of all, you should have seen that coming.
It is a nice balance between risk and reward for the completionist, and working out the perfect route is part of the fun. Judicious use of your pet parrot becomes more important as time goes on, flicking switches to open doors and squawking to distract stompy robot men, which I find lets the game down a little bit. More than once, the bloody parrot crashed face first into a stone plinth and simply refused to inch round it just enough to flick the switch I wanted. A minute or so of aggressive clicks later, and the thing could finally be manoeuvred into a position where its little beak could reach. It’s not a big problem, and rarely will you get into a position where the bird just will not do what you want. The thing is, the rest of the game is so smooth that you can’t help but feel a little disappointed when you happen across things like that damned bird.
But overall, I think I’m a little bit in love with Hamilton’s Great Adventure. It has a nicely distinctive look, silky smooth controls, and just the right amount of brainteasing to make it accessible to pretty much everyone. There are odd moments where the camera can be irritating, but the puzzles tend to be designed to play with this, hiding some of the better loot behind bits of the environment as little surprises. The parrot can also be aggravating at times too, but you’ll get over that.
As adventures go, I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to say that Hamilton’s are pretty great.
MLG Rating: 8/10
Platform: PC Release Date: 31/05/11
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Hamilton’s Great Adventure for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.