I enjoy old-school point-and-click games, a dying breed nowadays with action-oriented titles in the forefront. It’s refreshing to me when traditional graphic adventures like The Mystery of Woolley Mountain come along, but that doesn’t save the game from dropping into common genre pitfalls.
The story kicks off as Van Damme, a member of time-traveling group “The Helmholtz Resonators,” is captured by the evil witch of Woolley Mountain. The rest of the game follows his fellow member Garland on his quest to rescue both Van Damme and a group of kidnapped children. Despite its interesting premise, the game squanders the first two-thirds of the storyline. Although Garland is gung-ho on solving this mystery, his cohorts – which include a scientist, robot, and alcoholic – could not care less. You spend the first third of the game trying to convince them that saving children is more important than, say, drinking a beer. Seriously, children are about to die, and these heartless monsters are more concerned with finishing a movie. Once they finally join you, they get distracted again during the game’s second act, forcing you to complete silly missions like sabotaging a karaoke contest and spraying a disturbingly gross aroma just to get them back on focus. I needn’t mention that in the grand scheme, Garland’s partners contribute little to nothing to actually advance the plot.
Enough about the selfish Helholtz Resonators, though. Odd side missions are commonplace in the adventure genre, but most games circumvent it by incorporating humor. While I appreciated the intent with The Mystery of Woolley Mountain’s jokes, a combination of retro references and insult comedy, they only made me chuckle at most. At least Garland’s English voice acting delivers a keen sense of wit. The whole game is fully voice acted, which is a solid step towards immersion into the adventure. However, I could not get past the animation quality, reminiscent of old Flash browser games. The wacky-looking button-eyed characters and hideous bubble font look like they fit in a nursery rhyme cartoon, which works if children are the intended audience. However, I’m not quite sure whom this game was made for, since the teen-rated humor doesn’t mesh with the ‘80s/‘90s references or the kid-oriented art.
While the game’s story or presentation doesn’t hold up as well, the gameplay is classic point-and-click. An on-screen cursor guides our hero; clicking anywhere on the screen alerts Garland to either check something out, use an item, talk, or walk. The cursor is fairly slow, but you can speed it up or enable convenient touch screen controls by playing in the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent while playing on the TV.
Throughout the game, you are tasked with solving a multitude of puzzles. While some solutions are easy to figure out, others are, to put it mildly, esoteric. For instance, in order to get one of your teammates to assist you in the library, you must first prove your friendship. The developer’s logic insists that the solution is to win a retro game inspired by the old arcade title Breakout to somehow generate a friendship bracelet. Keep in mind that your own teammate is refusing to help you save children unless you win a magical arcade game that spawns physical prizes. The inconsistencies and illogical fallacies left me stumped for much of the six to seven hour playtime. I often resorted to simply guessing and checking every combination of items and environment until something happened. Oftentimes I just didn’t have whatever item I needed and wasted time while Garland rudely spouted out how ridiculous my ideas were.
The puzzle quality varies, too. There are some highlights, like a trippy dream sequence where Garland must spell words out with Scrabble tiles to alter the environment (complete with a Donkey Kong arcade parody). Then there are some less exciting but still tricky brain teasers that require combining several items that you must locate. I wasn’t as fond of the puzzles where you have to find one small item that only exists in a remote area. Luckily, you can press a button to highlight all clickable objects to make the pixel hunt less annoying. There are only a couple of time travel challenges, which is surprising since the Helholtz Resonators are, by trade, time travelers. It’s a shame considering LucasArts’ classic Day of the Tentacle built an entire adventure around cause and effect through time.
The Mystery of Woolley Mountain offers a traditional fantasy mystery premise with old-school point-and-click gameplay. However, it falls into the same traps that have plagued the genre for years. The game’s internal logic is hard to follow, the puzzles incorporate too much trial-and-error, and the plot is contrived and inconsistent. This is all combined with cheap-looking Flash visuals. The game isn’t a lost cause and its nostalgic playstyle may still appeal to the most hardcore graphic adventure fans. Otherwise, the crew of the Helmholtz Resonators are on to something: there are probably better things to do than solving the mystery of Woolley Mountain.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!