The best comedy adventure game out this month! And that's saying something!
March seems to be the new home of adventure games. This month we’ll have seen Shardlight, Deponia Doomsday, Day of the Tentacle: Remastered, Samorost 3, The Walking Dead: Michonne Episode 2, and now Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet. Up against the popular and established likes of Telltale, Daedalic, WadjetEye, Amanita Design and even bloody LucasArts does poor old Application Systems and writer Alasdair Beckett-King have a chance? Yes, yes they do. Nelly Cootalot is the best new comedy adventure I’ve played in quite some time and should absolutely not be dismissed.
Nelly Cootalot Trailer
Set sail for a fowl adventure with many bird-based puns! It's a hoot!
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Nelly Cootalot looks and plays rather like a cult British classic TV cartoon series that under-40s get T-shirts of. Nelly is a pirate girl looking for fame and fortune and is a friend to birds everywhere, who she can talk to. While working on a post ship in the hold she gets a message from the ghost of her old friend, Captain William Bloodbeard. Bloodbeard’s brother, the nefarious Baron Widebeard, is in search of Bloodbeard’s greatest secret: the Treasure of the Seventh Sea, and has enslaved a huge army of water fowl to get it. Nelly has to stop Widebeard and the Fowl Fleet at all costs!
I’m not afraid to say I loved every moment of Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet, and that’s mostly down to it being one of the funniest adventure games I’ve played in a long time. While the adventure game may not be dying a decent comedy adventure is harder to find, certainly one that actually succeeds in making me laugh rather than just attempt it. I laughed more during Nelly Cootalot’s tutorial than I did over four whole Deponia adventures. In fact in my opinion Nelly Cootalot in terms of comedy is up there with the best LucasArts adventures. It’s got a very British sense of humour (there’s a character called ‘Commodore LXIV’ for example), and also a surprisingly adult one in places given the cartoon-y art style. Whatever, all I know is I laughed loud enough to wake my sleeping wife at the line “it’s a padded envelope, presumably for criminally insane letters”.
The great part about this password is that Nelly says it phonetically.
So it’s hilarious, hallelujah. What of the puzzles then you ask? I’d say they were somewhere around the mid-tier of adventure game difficulty - not a breeze, but not as insane as some of the more extreme examples of the genre. Despite leaning towards the more cartoony logic of titles like Discworld or Day of the Tentacle they are actually really well designed, with clear goals that actually push forward the plot, never feeling arbitrarily thrown in, and most importantly are satisfying to solve.
While hardened adventure game experts like myself won’t be tearing their hair out they will get that buzz at the knowledge of a puzzle well solved. Several times during Nelly Cootalot I found myself stuck and was really thrilled when I managed to think my way through it instead of just using random items on everything, and that’s the sign of a well-designed adventure game. That such puzzles include fixing a race between snooty richfolk (‘The Toff Races’), making a folk singer write a song about Nelly, beating the villain at a game of Operation, and translating pirate jargon for a dictionary writer is just icing on the cake.
What a cad!
Furthermore Application Systems and Mr Beckett-King are the only adventure game developers this month to load their game with all the modern conveniences of the genre that should be standard but aren’t: namely In-Game Hints, left and right mouse clicking (left mouse uses, right mouse examines), and an Interactive Object Highlighter. Hooray. Even my beloved WadjetEye haven’t bothered with hints or a highlighter, and their games could really use the latter. Additionally Nelly Cootalot’s hints system is a real hoot (yes, pun intended) as it requires asking Nelly’s fowl companion Sebastian for advice.
Which brings me neatly on to the voice acting, as Sebastian is voiced by none other than Tom Baker, aka Most Popular Doctor Who That Isn’t David Tennant and That Slightly Pervy Voiceover Guy From Little Britain. Baker’s one of those wonderful actors, like Brian Blessed, whose voice is utterly unique and makes you smile just by hearing it. And he does a good job too, presumably he’s been doing voiceover work long enough to know his business. The rest of the actors do pretty well too, despite there obviously being only a handful of them. The main actress who plays Nelly (credited as “herself”) does a pretty great job most of the time, bringing out Nelly’s lovely caring and mischievous character well, often with an excellent sense of comic timing, although occasionally she does veer into “would you like another take on that?” territory.
Of course the game does address some important real-world problems too.
Graphically I think Nelly Cootalot might be a little love it or hate it. As mentioned it’s in the style of a kid’s cartoon show, and while all the backgrounds are hand-drawn everything is rather simple and with not much detail. I personally like this style but the animation can be a bit basic too. It’s quite forgivable as it’s all done by a very small team but don’t expect the same quality you’d get with Daedalic or LucasArts. At the very least the speech bubble-style text boxes are delightful. The music is equally simple but it’s cute at least, and the songs have all been stuck in my head since I heard them. Particularly that damn biscuit song. It’s all very charming and lovable.
So do I have any complaints? Some small ones. While the writing is awesome and often hilarious there’s an annoying amount of “that’s not right” or “I can’t do that” style comments from Nelly. My only real complaint though - the game needs to think bigger. I don’t advocate padding games out but there are a few major scenes and locations that have far less of an appearance than they deserved. A courtroom for example where Nelly’s on trial for stealing every valuable in town is over in a matter of minutes, as is foiling Widebeard’s plan, and even the ending is similarly brief. It took me about 6 hours to get through Nelly Cootalot without any assistance, and while I’m happy with that length since I loved all of it there are plenty of times where I was left wanting for more. That’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem.
NELLY COOTALOT: THE FOWL FLEET VERDICT
In a month full of high-quality adventure games from some of the most respected names in the genre, relatively unknown newcomer Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet could be my favourite of the lot. It’s incredibly funny and charming, with a lovely kid’s cartoon feel to it. The puzzles may not be the most challenging but they’re well thought-out and still satisfying to solve. The characters are all wonderful, with Nelly in particular being a lovable scamp of a protagonist. My only real complaint is that there could’ve been more of it, and when that’s the main problem a game has you know it’s something special. If you’re an adventure game fan you owe it to yourself to try Nelly Cootalot. And if you can get that damn sugar biscuit song out of your head you’re a better man than I.
TOP GAME MOMENT
“I’m a French Comte!” “If you say so.”
Superbly funny writing with some wonderful lines and great characters.
Well designed and satisfying puzzles.
Charming kid's TV style, but with the occasional adult joke to spice things up.