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by Kurt Kalata - Originally published in the Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures, published on the site December 4, 2014

The Gobliiins series, developed by eccentric French studio Coktel Vision, is a noticeable departure from most point-and-click adventure titles. By stripping down the exploration and narrative, the games all focus almost entirely on puzzle solving. And yet, they are not merely "puzzles games", in the way that The 7th Guest simply used the narrative as a framework for logic conundrums. They are essentially a series of adventure game puzzles, removed from the standard trappings of adventure games. They can also be classified as part of the "escape the room" subgenre of graphic adventures, which became substantially more popular years after the Gobliiins series thanks to numerous web browser-based games. This style of design proves frustrating to many traditional adventure game fans, who enjoy plotlines and merely view the puzzles as means to an end. The games can get monstrously obtuse in their puzzle designs. But the small inventory, pruned every so often, and the contained environments, which are limited to a handful of screens at a time, lessen the pain of the whole trial-and-error method of puzzle solving.

While the puzzles are definitely the focus, that's not to say the games are devoid of story – it's just that the plot is delivered in small doses between certain levels. And despite the sparse presence (and sometimes complete absence) of dialogue, they're certainly not lacking in personality. The humor is not verbal, but instead relies entirely on slapstick. Watching cartoon characters getting beaten up repeatedly is only fun for so long, but Coktel was cognizant of the reason why Road Runner cartoons are still amusing decades after being produced – that is, the facial expressions. Just as Wile E. Coyote glares pathetically at the audience after each failed scheme, the Gobliiins heroes grin, frown and laugh at their misfortunes. They're astoundingly well characterized and animated considering everything is running at a standard 320x200 resolution. The unique character designs straddle the fine line between the comical and the grotesque, as almost everyone in the universe is a malformed beast with sharp, pointy teeth and ferociously frightening hair. Yet there's an adorable quality to them, one that endears them to the player without being off-putting. There are a lot of weird little quirks about the games, too – the series likes to give wacky names to even the most useless of creatures, which lends a bit of personality to someone (or something) which may not ever speak a word. Or an intelligible word, anyway. The characters in the Gobliiins universe speak gibberish, except in the English-dubbed CD versions of the second and third games, which feel like they're missing the point.

Gobliiins and its sequels are distinctly European games, an aspect which was slightly lost on Sierra. They tried to shoehorn them into the rest of their adventure game line, forcing the third game to be dubbed Goblins Quest 3. The only thing in common with the likes of King's Quest or Space Quest is the basic point-and-click interface – the visual style, the structure, the scripting engine, and basically everything else, has little to do with any of Sierra's other games.

During its original run, there were three Goblins games. The number of "i"s in the title denote how many goblins the player control – three in the first game, Gobliiins, two for the second, Gobliins 2, and one for the third, Goblins Quest 3. The fourth game was released in 2009, over fifteen years after the third game, after the rights were released from the Sierra/Activision conglomerate and restored to the hands of Pierre Gilhodes, one of the series' original creators.

Gobliiins (IBM PC)

Gobliiins (IBM PC)


Gobliiins - Amiga, Atari ST, IBM PC, Macintosh (1991)

European Cover

UK Cover

American Cover

The king has gone mad! Apparently, anyway. The truth is that there's a sinister menace from beyond the shadows that's created a voodoo doll of the monarch to create the appearance of lunacy. Three of his subjects are sent into the fray to track down the perpetrator and put an end to the terror.

Gobliiins puts you in control of three characters, each with a unique skill. (Their names were changed for the North American release and are listed in parenthesis.) Oups (Dwayne) is a technician and the brains, the only one who can pick up and manipulate items. Asgard (Bobo) is the brawn, who can punch stuff and climb up to areas where the others can't reach. And Ignatius (Hooter) is a magician, whose spells have a number of bizarre effects. Each and every screen requires that the three work together to accomplish their goal, essentially making it the prototype to the classic puzzle-platformer The Lost Vikings. The events are contained to a single screen at a time, as you are unable to leave until it's completed. However, you will occasionally revisit old areas, usually to solve new puzzles. There are a total of twenty-two screens.

For example, here's an early puzzle: There's a monster at the bottom of a cliff which needs to be bypassed. There's a coffin at the top which, when activated with a magic spell, will unleash a terrifying mummy. The mummy can be used to scare the monster, but during his traipse down the mountain, he'll also scare your goblins to death, so you need to find some way to keep your guys safe. To solve this, you send Asgard down to the bottom and climb up next to face carved into the rock, since he's the only one with those skills. Punching its ear will raise and lower its tongue – don't ask why, this is just something you need to accept in the Gobliiins universe. So, you need to awaken the mummy, have both Oups and Ignatius stand on the lowered tongue, and then have Asgard punch it to lift them to safety while the mummy passes by harmlessly, scaring the monster and allowing you to proceed.

This giant looks flat out bizarre, and this is pretty restrained for the series.

Practically every element is obnoxiously rough around the edges. Oups, for example, can only carry a single item at a time, so there's a lot of unnecessary item juggling. The results of Igantius' magic spells seem almost entirely random – sometimes they'll give a spark of electricity, and sometimes they'll transmute a useless object into a useful one, usually without any rhyme or reason. You won't know until you try.

Because of this, the general philosophy is one of simply messing around with everything until you understand how it all works, but this is made completely annoying thanks to the inclusion of a life bar. While some incorrect actions are harmless, others are outright dangerous, causing the shared vitality meter to drop. Sometimes actions are so severe that they cause you to lose the screen outright. There's never any more penalty other than having to start the level over, but it's time wasting and counterintuitive to the puzzle design.

Other issues frustrate as well. You can wander too close to dangerous characters, causing your goblin to enter a screaming fit and lose some life. They're also slow to respond, making it difficult to escape. Hotspots are hard to find, and you can only control a single goblin at once. In other words, you can't tell one character to take an action then switch to another – you'll need to wait for the first to complete their task, or else you'll interrupt them. The interface itself feels unresponsive. It also adheres by the weird Coktel philosophy of ignoring save games in favor of console-style passwords, although this does allow you to cheat and pass over screens if you're stuck. These issues all add to a game that's hard to play and even harder to enjoy.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Designer:

  • Pierre Gilhodes
  • Muriel Tramis

Genre:

Themes:


Gobliiins (IBM PC)

Gobliiins (IBM PC)

Gobliiins (IBM PC)

Gobliiins (IBM PC)



Gobliins 2: The Prince Buffoon - Amiga, Atari ST, IBM PC (1992)

European Cover

American Cover

Gobliins 2 acknowledges many of the downfalls of its predecessor, and fixes a lot. The trio of playable characters has been whittled down to a duo, and are now more easily distinguishable – Fingus looks like a standard goblin, while Winkle is more like a blue pterodactyl. Both can pick up and use objects, and have a shared inventory in which to store items, but each approaches items in different ways. Fingus is the smart one, able to use machinery, but is wise enough to avoid danger. On the other hand, Winkle is pretty dim, unable to understand the simplest of concepts but can be used as a punching bag to solve certain obstacles. Right on the first screen, there's a sausage hanging by an old man. Fingus is bright enough to refuse to touch it, but Winkle will happily try to grab it, only for its owner to beat him with it and hurl him across the screen.

While it's easier to work the game, the differences between the two characters are still somewhat ill-defined and arbitrary. Sometimes Fingus will refuse to do something for no justifiable reason. Sometimes they'll use items differently, or press different buttons on the same console, with no real logic behind it. You're just supposed to try everything, which is essentially the mantra of the series. At least the game got rid of that God-forsaken life bar. You can never die or fail screens, and while it's possible to waste items on invalid solutions, you can always get more of them, however tedious that might occasionally be.

Both goblins can now be moved independently, which means there are plenty of timed puzzles where you need to wait for one character to fulfill his actions while executing another. While the interface is definitely improved, it still doesn't feel as responsive as it should, and the timing windows are often vague, requiring lots of repetition until you get it right. You are no longer confined to a single room, but instead, each section is usually comprised of a handful of screens you can travel between. It makes it more difficult to narrow down the solutions, but at the same time it's also less restrictive and linear. There's also a proper save game function in place.

This is one of a handful of really trippy dream-like sequences.

The puzzles are still ridiculous, of course, if not quite as tedious. That sausage from the beginning, for instance? You need it in order to beat up a chicken, which will cause it to lay eggs necessary for another task. One area involves infiltrating a castle, which is filled to the brim with guards. They're all asleep, though, and they're too lazy to actually attack you, but you need to use items in crazy ways to manipulate them into hurting each other, or otherwise unintentionally aiding you in your goals.

Many puzzles involve tricking an NPC to propel one of your characters to an otherwise unreachable portion of the screen, usually in unconventional ways. In one area, there's a top shelf out of reach. Just below the shelf is the alchemist Vivalzart, who is friendly enough, and next to him is a garbage can – the kind you open by stepping on a pedal. The chain of events is as follows – you need to steal a piece of meat from the vulture at the top of the screen (a completely different puzzle), and put it in the piranha bowl, leaving you with only a bone. Then, you need to take Fingus and have him stand on the garbage lid. Have Winkle give the bone to Vivalzart, who will think it's garbage and chuck it in the trash. In the process, he'll step on the pedal, propelling Fingus into the air (physics doesn't work like that, but this is a cartoon after all) and up to the top shelf. And this is probably one of the easier ones. At least there's a hint function, which takes the form of limited use items called Jokers. And no, you can't just save the game, use a Joker, and then reload – the game's a bit more clever than that, so unless you do some mucking with your computer's files, you'd better use these conservatively.

Visually the game is about the same as its predecessor, although it's not afraid to get even weirder. A few screens take place in psychedelic dreamscapes, and your journey takes you underwater to mingle with mermaids and other bits of weirdness. The plot is still sparse, as the quest involves rescuing the Prince Buffoon, who's been kidnapped by an evil demon. The graphics are still good at representing your characters' personalities – Winkle has a crooked, dim grin most of the time, while Fingus is comparatively stoic. There are more characters to interact with, and although they still don't speak much, there are occasional instances of wacky nonsensical one-liners. ("Lie down, you fake ninja turtle!") So while it still has some confusing aspects, it's definitely better than the first.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Designer:

  • Pierre Gilhodes
  • Muriel Tramis

Genre:

Themes:


Gobliins 2 (IBM PC)

Gobliins 2 (IBM PC)

Gobliins 2 (IBM PC)

Gobliins 2 (IBM PC)

Gobliins 2 (IBM PC)

Gobliins 2 (IBM PC)



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