Review: Al Emmo and The Lost Dutchman’s Mine

Adventure games haven’t always been about shooting stuff from behind conveniently positioned cover, performing elaborate air-assassinations or exploring massive worlds. Believe it or not, there was a time when the adventure genre consisted of text and a limited list of commands. When graphic adventure games made their debut, they were little more than static backgrounds, command prompts and lifeless characters, but the artwork somehow managed to liven up the story-based gameplay and quickly popularized the genre beyond its tabletop roots. The leading player behind the innovative advancements was Sierra Entertainment, the development team behind the King’s Quest series, Leisure Suit Larry and many games that defined the adventure genre for years. However, as technology expanded the video game horizon, the point-and-click adventure was failing to capture the hearts of polygon seeking teens with the more advantageous console gaming taking the 90’s by storm. Thankfully in 2006, Himalaya Studios decided to pay homage to the classic adventure genre with Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine; a game that was crafted with such love for the genre that it stands beside the best of Sierra and Lucasarts.

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Our story begins with Al Emmo, an obvious 40-somthing nerd with spectacles and a severe case of male pattern balding. While visiting Anozira, a parody of Arizona, in hopes of returning to New York with his mail-order bride, Al Emmo finds himself stranded in the wild west without a cent to spare. After being refused a full refund on his second-hand train tickets, Al is pretty much screwed — and not the good kind, either. As expected, a second woman catches his eye at the local saloon; a young and financially struggling singer that just happens to be the hottest tail in town. Despite a life-long string of rejections and failure, Al truly believes that Rita Peralto is the love of his life and that he has a chance at owning her heart. That is, until Antonio Bandanna, a slick Spaniard begins one-upping the feeble nerd at every opportunity. The love triangle soon meets an unexpected turn when Al discovers a legend of a lost gold mine somewhere in the desert. Of course, he decides to search for it in hopes of finding enough to money to buy Rita’s love.

The story is entirely absurd, ridiculously raunchy and wholly entertaining with genuine moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity. Al Emmo is the Larry Laffer of the wild west, and is as clueless and charming as the original pervert himself. The entire game is narrated brilliantly, with the purposely-obnoxious host delivering bouts of useful and often farcical information across the adventure. Nearly every object in the world is interactive, offering at the very least an amusing quip that makes exploring the environments worthwhile. Gameplay is of a classic point-and-click design with multiple engaging puzzles throughout. It’s never particularly difficult, but presents enough of a challenge to keep players absorbed in its story.

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The writing is reminiscent of Sierra’s best releases, chock-full of absurd and memorable characters, witty dialog, and an endearing story with a ridiculous premise that somehow works flawlessly. It’s the perfect combination of classic text-adventure storytelling and new-age pop-culture references, making Al’s journey into the haunted mine a hilarious one. The entire voice cast manages to perform the silliness well-enough, though more often than not sound like they’re performing a cold read for an episode of Hee Haw — which in context isn’t entirely a bad thing, as over-the-top performances fit rather nicely within the crazy adventure. The voice of Al himself is nasally enough to make its point as ultra-nerdy, but not so much that the voice becomes bothersome at any point. I personally found his voice amusing, especially with the clearly out-of-place western theme as a backdrop. I can’t comment on whether the new voice is an improvement over the last since this is my first experience with the game, but it’s definitely a suitable voice for the character.

While the writing is spot-on, unfortunately the world it takes place in isn’t quite as polished. The environments are detailed and often beautiful, but they’re also blurry; a distracting case of awful resolution meets prepossessing design. The character design is solid though, and despite being mostly stiff and fairly unattractive manages to fit the comical world in both tone and appearance. On the other hand, the cut-scenes are interesting, coming across as budget Saturday morning cartoons and making for a truly nostalgic experience. While it’s only fair to keep in mind that the game was originally released in 2006, and indeed has its share of graphical improvements, it’s also fair to note that it’s graphics are the weakest link in the adventure. However, the musical score is thoroughly enjoyable despite its western cliches, and helps deliver the story agreeably.

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Closing Comments:

Himalayh Studios delivers a rich, detailed narrative that is always entertaining and often hysterical. It’s an adventure that contains heavy influences from early Sierra classics but forges its own identity with a cast of excellent characters, brilliant writing and engaging gameplay. The new Achievements System encourages those that have already experienced The Lost Dutchman’s Mine to jump in for a second round, and the fascinating story and traditional point-and-click mechanics demand newcomers to experience the adventure genre glory days through this wonderfully crafted tale. Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine is a reminder that while games come in many forms nowadays, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a classic adventure.
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 Version Reviewed: PC