The 1990s saw a real surge in the popularity of adventure games. The limited vocabulary of 80s text-based games had passed and the advanced point and click interfaces of titles like Monkey Island made them accessible to a much wider audience.
The success of Monkey Island inevitably led to a number of pretenders seeking to steal the crown; games which took the format of Monkey Island (funny dialogue, daft puzzles) and applied it in a different environment. Flight of the Amazon Queen was one of those games.
Taking its lead from the films of the 40s and the Indiana Jones adventures, Flight casts you in the role of pilot Joe King. Charged with flying famous actress Faye Russell safely to her destination, disaster strikes when Joe's plane crashes in the jungle. It's up to you, as Joe, to get everyone out of the jungle alive, using only your wits to solve the many puzzles that (apparently) lurk in such places.
In some ways, time has not been particularly kind to Flight of the Amazon Queen and it's a shame that the game hasn't been given more of a make-over. Similar games re-released on Apple's systems have been given some extra polish on re-release; through the provision of extra scenes (Broken Sword) or by updating the graphics and sound (Monkey Island). Flight of the Amazon Queen is simply a port of the original game and, as such, comes with none of the flaws ironed out.
The graphics were never the greatest in the world, but were at least serviceable in the 1990s. Almost twenty years on, they look positively dodgy. There is a certain retro charm to them (you can show them to your children and say "hey kids! This is how bad computer games used to look!"), but the 2D backdrops are serviceable rather than real works of art and the characters look really very pixelated on the iPad's HD screen. The scaling as people walk in/out of the screen is particularly awful (although in fairness, it wasn't great at the time of release).
Sound also comes across as a bit dodgy. The spoken dialogue is fairly low quality and a little bit rough around the edges, whilst some of the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. Various tunes accompany different scenes and these are again typical of the plinky-plonk tunes of early/mid 90s games and tend to grate on the ear. Given that the spoken dialogue is also reproduced on the screen as text, it's perfectly possible to play this game with the sound turned off - an option I often use.
The humour - one of the big selling points of a game like this - also feels a bit tired and whilst some of the dialogue is amusing, it lacks that same easy going charm and silly banter that made Monkey Island such a delight. At times you feel it was written by a bunch of six-formers (the main character is "hilariously" called Joe King, for goodness' sake) who have just put in what amuses them. Sometimes this works, sometimes it comes across as silly and childish. Certainly it lacks the inspired insanity of Monkey Island or the amusing sarcasm of Broken Sword.
What has been implemented well are the controls. The slower-paced nature of adventure games make them well-suited to touch-screen devices. Effectively, your finger takes the place of the mouse so you can use it to "click" on the screen to move Joe to a particular place or to select an icon to perform an action. It takes a little while to get used to how long you need to press on an icon to select it, but after just a few screens it becomes second nature.
Puzzles are a bit of a mixed bag. Some of them are fairly straightforward and logical (tie some sheets together to form a "rope" so that you can escape a locked room); others less so (talk to a gorilla blocking your path and convince him that he is in the wrong part of the world and therefore cannot possibly exist). They can be deeply frustrating because some are so obtuse that they defy logic and require you to do things you would never think of in your wildest dreams. As such, there is much experimentation and there are plenty of times when you have to resort to the old tactic of combining every item with every other item in the hopes that something will happen. Alternatively, of course, these days you can just turn to the internet to find out what the heck you are supposed to do. Like most adventure games, there can be a lot of aimless wandering between locations racking your brains to try and work out your next step.
On the other hand, the puzzles are still fun and solving them brings a sense of satisfaction (even when you only stumble upon the solution by accident). There are plenty of puzzles in the game ranging from the ridiculously easy to the impossibly tough, so you certainly can't argue that Amazon Queen doesn't offer a challenge. If you play it right (trying to get through it yourself, rather than just following a walk-thru), it's going to keep you going for hours and offer as much enjoyment as it does frustration.
Of course, like most games of this type, there's not much in terms of lastability. Whilst the game offers plenty of challenge and gaming time in the short term, in the long run, it offers little. Once you have completed it, there is no replay value, no additional challenges or hidden levels to unlock and when the final credits roll, it's unlikely you will ever load it up again.
Whilst it might not be the greatest example of the point and click adventure, Flight of the Amazon Queen is still a lot of fun to play. The puzzles will keep you going for hours and at only £1.49 to download, you can't complain that you are not getting value for money. It might not be in the same league as Monkey Island or Broken Sword, but for fans of the genre, it's still worth playing.
© Copyright SWSt 2013