Review: Hamilton’s Great Adventure

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There are games that make you glad that you own a PlayStation 3.  These shining beacons of interactive content make it clear that your Sony home entertainment hub is more than just a Blu-ray player.  The kind of titles that make you forget all about how the Online service for the console was shut down for an inexcusably long period of time.  There are absolutely those games.  And then there are games like Hamilton’s Great Adventure which make you wish that the PlayStation Store was still down.
 
Set against the backdrop of a seasoned adventurer telling stories of his younger self’s exploits to his granddaughter, this PSN downloadable game is a puzzle game that disappoints on just about every level.  Hamilton tells the tale of how he worked with a professor to explore a bunch of ruins in the Amazon jungle, Himalayan peaks and other vanilla locals in order to find treasure and deal with the plots of nefarious individuals.  There is no real voice acting to speak of. Blocks of small text spring up at the bottom of the screen, sometimes accompanied by a grunt or squeak that lets the player imagine what the character might have sounded like had the developer bothered to record any dialogue.  Some good voice acting might have made this game bearable and its characters interesting.  But as it is, Hamilton and the few other characters are completely unmemorable.  I will bet the little girl who sits on old Hamilton’s knee for a strangely long period of time has a name, I don’t remember it.  If you somehow mistakenly play this game, you won’t either.
 
In his great adventure Hamilton will seek to grab gold, silver and diamonds scattered about a given level, attempting to get to the next level.  Players will actually accomplish this by moving him up or down and left or right on the map with either the d-pad for the left analog stick.  Getting to the next level means gathering a golden key and making it to the exit without dying.  It’s all two-dimensional movement all the time.  The graphics dress them up a little, but there are obvious and discrete tiles to walk on and avoid.  Hamilton’s movements are not very snappy, so unless the timing is spot on, holding down a cardinal direction of movement may cause Hamilton to unintentionally spill over into the next square, bringing doom most of the time.
 
The challenge comes in finding the best possible route to the exit.  While the game can be completed without gathering all of the treasure, in order to get the best rating for a level all treasure must belong to the bomber-jacketed-hero.  Various traps will stand in his way, the most common being scaffolds that will fall away once Hamilton steps off them, leaving no safe path behind him.  These will usually have a coin on them, so the goal is to determine how to only have the adventurer step on each scaffold once and still make it to safety.  Also impeding progress are traps that will grant a brief second to pass through them (i.e. passing under a mountain goat jumping up and down in one square, forever) as well as enemies that have predictable patterns.  Touching either an enemy or a trap will make the story come to an end and raise the query of whether players would care to restart the level or quit to the main menu.  Add into that conveyor belts and silver keys that are required to unlock secondary doors to advance within a level, and the maps will grow increasingly complex until the end.
 
Two sentences ago I did not just use the words “restart the level” without care.  No, either getting stuck in a level or getting touched by a trap will leave but one recourse: restarting the level.  From the beginning of the level; there are no checkpoints.  Any.  While this is not that big a deal in the first half dozen levels, as the game goes on with its poor controls, it becomes very possible to hit a trap and have to repeat an entire level.  Many times.  Which, when you have a somewhat obsessive desire like I have to get the best rating for a level, can lead to multiple attempts at the same level.  Knowing that if you don’t do everything just right, you’ll have to do it all over again is not particularly fun.  Hitting the switch to open the gate, crossing over the scaffolds to get every coin, waiting for the right moment to get off the conveyor belt, collecting the diamond that is out of view, not staying too long on the quicksand tile and crossing over to pass the trap tile in the one second giv—-crap.  Do it again.  To add insult to injury, the game keeps track of the number of attempts made in a level.  Even if one were to forget all about getting the best rating, the levels eventually get to the point where even finishing with the minimum amount of treasure will take multiple attempts.
 
Games like Super Meat Boy and I Want to Be the Guy can get away with this kind of masochistic gameplay, but those games have great controls and it only felt that one lost because you, the player, were not good enough (or did not know that fruit can fall up).  Here, the game just feels cheap and frustrating.  The one silver lining to the gameplay is that with the press of a button Hamilton’s squawking parrot friend can be controlled.  She can fly all over the level, in three dimensions no less, scout ahead and even distract some enemies.  But primarily she is used to hit switches that are beyond the reach of a certain character that is bound to the X and Y axises.  Not having her aspect of the gameplay featured more prominently seems like a missed opportunity.
 
Hamilton’s “great” adventure looks and sounds appropriately cartoony.  While he looks like the love child of Indiana Jones and Deathspank, Hamilton is right at home in the few generic cartoon adventure worlds he will visit.  The jungle levels look like any jungle on the Cartoon Network and have appropriate drum beats playing in the background as old wooden platforms fall to their doom on the forest floor, presumably making some undiscovered spider species extinct.  But everything is so generic that given the frustrating restart-it-all gameplay, the bland visuals and uninspired tunes will not encourage players to spend a lot of time puzzling out the best run in any given tile level.  Getting all of the Trophies by getting a Gold rating on each level is the only genuine replay value to be had here.
 
To be fair, in my time with the game, I did not encounter any technical problems and the load times were snappy.  A rare few of the creature designs, like a trio of jumping lemmings on some tiles and the fattest Lovecraftian elder god I’ve ever seen, are cute.  But just because it doesn’t crash does not make it a fun game, and if you can imagine a morbidly obese green guy with an octopus head and very stumpy tentacles where his mouth should be, then you’ll probably get a funnier image than what is featured in this game.  About the best thing I can say about Hamilton’s Great Adventure is that it is a competent game.  It is not creative, fun or memorable, but it is a finished game that you can download.  Except to those who insist on seeing and loving everything in the high adventure genre, and people who rewatch at least one Indiana Jones and Mummy movie every night before snuggling in with a life-sized Lara Croft action figure, I cannot recommend this game.
 
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Pros:
+ Using the bird to help Hamilton is a good change of pace
+ There is a co-op multiplayer mode

Cons:
– No checkpoints in levels
– Easy to get stuck or die near the end of a long level

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN; also available for PC
Publisher: Fatshark AB
Developer: Fatshark AB
Release Date: 8/23/2011
Genre: Adventure / Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.