Review: Duke Grabowski: Mighty Swashbuckler

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The brawn to Nelly Cootalot’s brains, Duke Grabowski: Mighty Swashbuckler is the latest in a long legacy of pirate-themed adventure games, this one from Bill Tiller and a crew of former LucasArts veterans at Venture Moon Industries and Alliance Digital Media. A Kickstarted spin-off of Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island and an ode to Monkey Island, the game stars none other than Duke Grabowski, a dim-witted, brutish pirate who is ascared of the ladies and has trouble speaking in complete sentences, and whose problem solving skills involve hitting, destroying, throwing, or eating whatever obstacle stands in his way. Did I mention he’s not very smart?

Dumber than an empty bottle of rum though he may be, Duke still has ambitions in his life on the high seas. His number one goal is to take over captainship of the Brazen Blade and its crew from their dearly departed Captain Amerigo. Crewmate Slewface has eyes (actually just one eye) on the job himself but doesn’t want to rile up the ornery oaf, so he sends gullible Duke on a wild goose chase to sea-duce three wenches living in Fabulous Bodacious Bay, promising that if he can accomplish the task he will prove he is a suave ladies man that has what it takes to carry on Captain Amerigo’s mantle as a true swashbuckler. Really it’s just a ploy to distract the oversized dullard while the crew repairs the ship for Slewface to sail off with, because no one believes Duke has a chance to actually win over the affections of the opposite sex.

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Duke proves to be a loveable lummox, which, of course, is good news since he’s the star of the show. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Bodacious Bay is home to a large cast of eccentrics and oddballs, I can’t say that any of the supporting characters Duke G meets and chats with are especially memorable. The writing is often snappy and full of slapstick humor–not laugh out loud funny, but routinely good at drawing wry smiles and inner chuckles–but even with a strong cast of acting talent on board, many of the voice-over performances are missing the passion and vigor to bring the roles to life as vividly as they could be. Similarly, the 3D character animations are a bit too stiff and rough around the edges, lacking the expressiveness needed for the characters’ outlandish personalities to fully resonate. The 2D background scenery, on the other hand, is a treasure chest of eye candy, each locale around Bodacious Bay captivating the imagination with luscious colors, charming art direction, and rich attention to detail. A cheery score of tropical, Caribbean-y tunes maintains an upbeat, happy-go-lucky tone throughout.

Controlling Duke on his grand quest of sea-duction is done using a traditional point-and-click interface. Left clicking on characters and objects calls up a menu plaque with icons for eating/talking, examining, or interacting/punching things. Right clicking (or pressing the I key, or clicking an optional on-screen treasure chest icon) opens up Duke’s inventory, which is actually more of an idea board where certain interactions with items or characters inspire a thought or ability to use elsewhere to solve a puzzle. It’s the same idea as typical inventory-based puzzle solving, just with a slightly different twist that feels more clever and logical. Conversations with NPCs follow the usual listed structure of dialogue options to pick from, though don’t expect any player agency as far as making choices that alter an interaction or influence the story along different paths. Supposedly Duke Grabowski’s adventures are going to continue over future episodic installments, though the story told in this first game feels complete and self-contained, albeit small in stature.

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In an effort, I assume, to thematically match the IQ level of its star, Mighty Swashbuckler falls on the lower casual end of the difficulty scale. Whether you’re helping Duke to recue kidnapped children from zombie pirates, hurling a jaguar at a gang of monkeys to scare them back into the jungle from loitering around the local fruit stand, figuring out a way to sabotage a wresting match against a gorilla named Queenie, or busting LL Sweet T out of jail so he’ll teach magic words of flirtation that a dancer from the Gnarly Narwhal won’t be able to resist, the puzzles are simple, silly fun.

Experienced adventure game players should be able to breeze through this swashbuckling romp within a couple hours as the straightforward puzzles have obvious solutions that generally only follow a single step of deduction. The only potential stumbling block is a particular dialogue puzzle where you have to repeatedly engage in conversation with a certain group of NPCs a certain number of times to trigger an event that opens up progression in another area. However, not all of the puzzles are scripted into a rigid progression, so certain steps can be taken without being boxed into following a specific order.

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Duke Grabowski: Mighty Swashbuckler is a solid, carefree point-and-click adventure that fans of the genre should find wholly enjoyable and worth playing. There is a charm to rollicking and stammering around as Duke for a couple hours that is easy to get swept up by. At the same time, the game as a whole is just missing that special spark, that magical something, to make it truly stand out like the jolly pirate adventures that have come before it.

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Pros:
+ Duke is a loveable oaf
+ Idea-based inventory is a clever twist
+ Gorgeous 2D environment backdrops
+ Some smart writing and slapstick comedy

Cons:
– Character animations are a bit stiff and expressionless
– Voice acting lacks spark, personality
– Supporting characters are largely forgettable
– Straightforward puzzles are a cakewalk for experienced adventure gamers

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac
Publisher: Alliance Digital Media
Developer: Venture Moon Industries
Release Date: 10/6/2016
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: Steam for $6.99

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!