(The images in this review are taken from the PC version of the game)
Being a game reviewer certainly has its ups and downs. There are deadlines, obligations, and the sad fact is that some games are just plain bad, but you have to play them anyway. On the other side of the coin, this profession has some truly eye-opening perks, like being encouraged to play games you wouldn't normally play and occasionally coming to love them. Hamilton's Great Adventure is one of those pleasant surprises.
Puzzle games don't usually have a story, and most platformers are content to leave whatever story they have in the background, but the story is pushed up front and center in Hamilton's Great Adventure. In fact, it's told from the mouth of Hamilton himself to his granddaughter as a bedtime story, many years down the line after our titular hero has put down his adventurous hat. The story isn't a sprawling epic and isn't particularly unique, but the narrative style and characters give it a certain charm I can't deny. It's your typical adventure story; an intrepid explorer - with the help of his friends - has to circumnavigate the globe in search of an ancient artifact that was stolen from him. He believes this artifact will do great things, but, as expected, not all is as it seems. He and his trusty avian sidekick Sasha must traverse tricky traps while solving puzzles and avoiding capture from fishy fiends.
The game may be graphically simple, but its visual style is actually really effective. The story is told through a series of pictures made to look like he was flipping through a photo album; each of these pictures gets a partial voice over consisting of simple sounds like humming or a simple exclamation, like 'aha!'. The narration is cute but reserved, which really fits the tone of the game since it's all about passive meditation and cautious thought. This is further accentuated by the rather muted but tribal-sounding score, which is simple and relaxing enough to help you think.
I want to call this a puzzle-platformer, but it's mostly puzzle based. This means you're probably going to spend more time thinking about how to solve any particular level than actually doing it. There's a rather vast list of traps and pitfalls you're going to have to avoid or outsmart in every level. You play as not only Hamilton but also his bird Sasha, and switch between the two. While Hamilton will be traversing the ground, Sasha can fly around, hit switches, distract enemies, and pick up mystic dust to give power to some of the artifacts that Hamilton picks up during his journeys.
The thing I liked most about the game was the sheer variety of puzzle-solving elements that are on display. There are tiles that can only be stepped on once or twice before collapsing, tiles that launch you or teleport you, conveyor belts, and tiles that suck you in like quicksand if you idle too long. Enemies will go after you or pop up to attack you, certain blocks will shoot at you, and there are even enemies and traps for Sasha to avoid. This means there are a lot of factors for you to consider, because a single wrong move can leave you trapped and unable to continue, forcing you to start over. This really helps to encourage you to stop and think before you act because even if you're careful you're still likely to die a few times, especially in later levels which are as much about timing as they are about puzzle solving.
Like most puzzle games, the first world is actually pretty simple; there are fewer traps, the levels are smaller, and it takes much less thought to figure out. As the game progresses, however, you're going to be doing massive, multilayered levels with literally dozens of traps, keys, and enemies that will take you considerably longer to figure out and even longer to navigate. It was a nice and manageable difficulty curve that never got too difficult and was made all the more manageable by the precision and simplicity of the controls.
Of course, it's only easy if you're just trying to beat the game. In addition to the various dangers you'll encounter and the puzzles you'll have to solve, each level also has a large amount of treasure to find. There are silver and gold coins, as well as massive diamonds to collect. Many of the levels are simple enough to complete, but getting all of the treasure required for a 'gold' rating can really layer on the challenge. By having to traverse more of the level, you expose yourself to two or three times the amount of danger you would have had to have endured had you opted to just find the key and leave the level. I like that you have a choice - I'm not a fan of games that force you to adhere to a pre-determined solution to complete. This game is tight and concise while giving you enough freedom to search for treasure on the side. Of course, if you choose to get all the treasure you will also unlock more bonus levels which ramp up the difficulty for those looking for a real challenge.
The main game lasts about 40 levels total, 10 levels for each of the four regions (Brazilian Rainforest, Himalayas, Egypt, and the lost continent), in addition to up to 5 more bonus levels per world. In the end it took me about 8 hours to complete, and when you factor in the rather cheap price of only $10, I'd say that's a pretty good deal, especially with a game that looks and plays this well.
All in all I can say I was more than pleasantly surprised by Hamilton's Great Adventure. The story was cute and well told, the graphics and sound were pretty much pitch perfect for the tone and mood that was needed, and the gameplay itself was refreshing and just challenging enough to get my mind working without frustrating me. Games like this remind me why I like trying new things.