At a quick glance, my first impression of Hamilton’s Great Adventure was that it was the first of what is likely to be quite a few ilomilo imitators. This notion, it turns out, is quickly dispelled once you put your hands on the game that Fat Shark has put together.
The graphics in this game are remarkably varied. They range from the illustrations that serve to tell the story, to the vividly colorful cel-shaded pickups, to the well made 3D models of the players, enemies, and environments. All three visual techniques are executed extremely well, coming together in a way that vaguely brings to mind the art style of Up. When you find yourself evoking Pixar, you know you must be doing something right.
The game will take you through a series of environments, and to the developer’s credit, they took the time to remake virtually every aspect of the game to suit the different settings. Shambling sentinels come in different flavors, from rocky relics to abominable snowmen. Enemies and allies are presented with personality and humor, like the bouncing goats who wear ski goggles or the lemmings that have the good sense to pack parachutes. The camera can zoom and rotate, allowing you to look around the fully 3D environment to see all of the detail, and for that matter, the hidden items. It really is a very attractive, well made game, graphically speaking.
Hamilton’s Great Adventure is a puzzle game, deceptively easy at first, but quickly becoming fiendishly tricky to play well. You primarily control Hamilton himself, using the wasd keys. He moves from tile to tile along the game board, collecting treasure to score points and silver and gold keys to open doors. Along the way, he will encounter various pitfalls. Chief among them are flimsy tiles that disintegrate after being stepped on once, or in some cases twice. These alone would make for an excellent puzzle game, as they require you to carefully plot out a route that will take you across all treasures while not cutting off your path to the keys and exits. Next you’ll find switches that, when stepped on, toggle doors or hazards. Rather than simply acting as a point on the board you need to reach, often such switches are positioned on tiles you’ll need to cross repeatedly, meaning you’ll need to pick your movements such that you cross it the correct number of times to leave the appropriate door open. Before long you’ll be tackling Sentinels that must be avoided (or destroyed), conveyors that force you constantly in one direction, quicksand that will destroy you if you linger, goats that you must quickly move under, piranha or lemmings that you must quickly run over, rolling boulders, spring panels, and agents that try to home in on you. A typical game might use each of these as a hazard type, and it would be fine, but Hamilton really ups the complexity by allowing these things to interact. A sentinel can press a switch or cause a collapsing panel to fall. A rolling boulder can roll across a one time use catwalk, collapsing it before you can reach the precious treasures scattered across it. As a matter of fact, a boulder can even roll over its own activation button, causing an additional one to come out. Timing gets a lot trickier when you have to enter the travel time of a spring panel into the equation. Even the doors that must be opened with keys are more complex than they appear, because only the side with the keyhole can be used to open it, requiring you to approach from the appropriate direction. Eventually, though, you’ll get to the gold key, and use it to open the final door, ending the level. As you progress, you’ll unlock items to help you out, like a spyglass that shows you a safe path forward, or a pair of boots that give you a serious speed boost.
All of the gameplay I’ve described, keep in mind, is done entirely with the left hand (unless you are using the keyboard in a REALLY awkward way.) While it is doing its thing, your mouse hand is controlling Sasha, Hamilton’s bird. This animal is a key tool in solving different puzzles. For one, only the bird can operate certain switches. It has a handy squawk which can be used to redirect enemies. In the case of the bizarre gyro-copter puffer fish that show up to harass poor Sasha, a properly timed squawk will cause it to drift away. While Hamilton is collecting jewels, Sasha is going after little pink containers and tracking down a (frequently well hidden) treasure chest.
I played the game solo, which isn’t very difficult, but to really master the levels, having a friend control Sasha is an extremely helpful tactic. This is because each level is scored not just on the amount of treasure you collect, but also the amount of pink doodads, the number of retries, and the SPEED. Let me tell you, unless you are a champion multitasker, moving swiftly and safely across those tiles while flitting around the map to collect the pink pellets simultaneously is next to impossible.
Four stages with plenty of levels each will keep things interesting for a while, and as your cumulative score increases, you’ll start unlocking even more challenging optional levels, which means pumping up your scores actually nets you a reward, rather than just bragging rights via the built in leader boards and social networking hooks.
The sound in this game is extremely well matched to the rest of its presentation and style. The music fits the various settings. Rather than fully voicing the story, brief little exclamations accompany each line of dialogue, illustrating the mood and disposition of the speaker quite efficiently. Hazards have useful audio cues, like the sandy sound made by sinking hazards or the chipmunk-esque squeals made by the lemmings. Nothing about the audio leaped out at me as particularly exceptional, but nothing was out of place, either.
The story is cute, presented as a grandfather, the elderly Hamilton, describing the exploits of his youth to his young granddaughter. In those days he was a great explorer, and he was partnered with a great inventor. The two of them worked together on an invention, but just before it was activated, a key one-of-a-kind component discovered by Hamilton during the prologue is stolen by a shadowy, fishy agent. Hamilton must follow the trail of the web-footed rapscallion to retrieve the gadget and complete the device. Along the way you’ll find out more about the people that Hamilton works with, the people trying to stop him, and the mysterious lost world that he has been seeking for ages. It is a pretty good story for any game, but for a puzzle game – a genre which can usually get away with a paragraph on a menu screen – it is above and beyond the call of duty.
Hamiton’s Great Adventure is a unique title that combines multitasking, timing, planning, and speed into a game that has infinitely more replay value than your standard puzzle game.
8.5 / 10: A fun puzzle game with features that will keep you coming back to past levels.