nellynellyThey say there is only one true pirate adventure game/game series, the rest just tries to take a piece of its glory for themselves. They are a little bit more forgiving, though, when the game in question is intentionally a love letter to the classic adventure games of yore. Yet there also exists a certain title that is a piratey love letter in both this and a quite different meaning of the expression.

Yes, it’s all true! Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! – the game in question – was made using the freeware AGS engine specifically for the girlfriend of its creator Alasdair Beckett (but don’t worry, YOU can play it too)! Well, actually Alasdair doesn’t really try to hide who is the game’s primary addressee any more than the fact that it was heavily inspired by the Monkey Island series. How could he do that anyway, when the game even borrows the icon coin interface known from Curse of Monkey Island. A very heartfelt tribute to Monkey Island then? Yes, but under the familiar trappings there is much more – the creator’s own characteristic sense of humor and other unique touches. For example, you wouldn’t expect to find leprechauns in a pirate story, now would you?

Let’s start with the music (click play and you may actually hear it in the distance). Nelly has a really great soundtrack by the veteran indie composer (and designer) Mark Lovegrove, stylized to resemble classic midi adventure games scores. Overall, the atmosphere of the tunes stays the closest to LucasArt’s (or rather Michael Land‘s) interpretation of the Caribbean. The main theme is particularly memorable (that’s the one you hear).

The graphic art presents very pleasant mix of simplicity and wackiness with a touch of deranged perspectives and nice play of large color blots. It reminds me a bit of a certain type of illustrations used for fairy tales and a bit of Paper Mario. The (vector) animation is as professional as other aspects of the game, with very convincing representations of movement and weight. Of course it’s not exactly what a dozen of avid animators is capable of doing, but that doesn’t bring the game down in the least.

Puzzles are very well thought out – logical, never frustrating, yet original and humorous enough to immerse even experienced players. They’re usually inventory based and include among other things opportunities to wear a few neat desguises and a very literary interpretation of a cat burglar’s equipment. For a different kind of diversions, there is one fun pirate code decoding logic puzzle (which could do with a reset button!), a carnival prize-snatching mini-game, and finally a complex machinery device you have to operate to set yourself free from a trap.

- A species of vegetable.

Q: -What is this Spoonbeaks? A: -A rare vegetable.

The game is more about the presentation of funny, imaginative situations and expression of whimsical ideas rather than about some deep smashing (or smashing deep) narrative. Even the premise reflects this right away as a ghost of the famous corsair Captain Bloodbeard asks the nice pirate lady Nelly Cootalot to take on a quest of finding mysteriously missing Spoonbeaks from the Barony of Meeth (a small island in the Caribbean). Nevertheless, the main heroine is lovely, the villain is dastardly, his wife is even worse, the quests are often very piratey (treasure hunting!), other times they are something entirely different – what more could one hope for?

Nelly remains at the top of all freeware, underground (it would be strange to call it amateur) adventure games I ever played. The game shines in all departments, but possibly its best quality is its humor (specifically the dialogues) in which aspect it matches in my opinion classic LucasArts games and does it without resorting to reusing their ideas or overly referencing pop and adventure gaming culture.

My Score: 4+/5 Starks

Note: There’s already a Nelly Cootalot II in the making! Great! I hope Roger will get a cameo like he did in Part 1. That one was superb.

Dealing with these ladies is probably my favorite portion of the game

Dealing with these ladies (and their rocket) is probably my favorite portion of the game.