Adventures in Netbook Gaming: Indy and Indie
Gaming on a netbook isn’t so bad. Indeed, it has encouraged me to play things that I’d be more inclined to put on the back burner on the more powerful machine, and that’s proven pretty valuable. The following two games certainly won’t be priorities when my PC is back where it belongs, but with Risen, Bully, Riddick, East India Company and The Void idling in still-sealed cases or the Steam download queue for now, I’m relishing the chance to get stuck into these less-prominent members of the ever-growing guilt list.
INDIANA JONES AND THE FATE OF ATLANTIS
Good show to Lucasarts for getting some of their classic adventure games up there on Steam last Summer. Though hardly an expert on the genre, I’ve proven partial to some point-and-clicking in the past, and if there’s one thing they’re known for beyond Star Wars it’s their SCUMM engine. Furthermore, I’ll take any Idle Thumbs recommendation very seriously indeed, so as soon as the Adventure Pack’s price plummeted in the Christmas sale (yep, that again) I took my chance and grabbed it.
Loom, The Dig and two Indiana Jones games – all for a pittance. By far the most beloved online was Fate of Atlantis, so I got stuck right in before giving any of the others a second glance. It begins with little pretence, which is always an attractive quality in games whose focus is split between narrative and mechanics, and it was hard not to be infatuated by the blocky-but-full-of-character visuals, fuzzy voice acting and iMUSE-powered soundtrack. All very lo-fi, but appealing for that same reason. The introductory scene is hilarious, and the game retains its humorous bent afterwards, combining surprisingly sharp writing with almost slapstick animation. The puzzles so far seem reasonable to say the least, so I’m looking forward to finishing it off.
More importantly, how does it fare on the reduced-size hardware? Very well, actually. It’s old enough that it could play smoothly on a graphic calculator, and though it runs in windowed mode, it’s always big enough on screen to see clearly without digging into config files. Besides, leaving it in the smaller resoultion and 4:3 avoids any nasty scaling problems that can cause sluggish-feeling mouse movement.
The slightly washed out colours of the monitor weren’t an issue either, and thanks to extensive hotkey bindings which cover every verb, it’s not a pain to play using only a touch-pad. As always, headphones are the only way to ensure reasonable audio quality on the little computer, but because of the crackly voices and at times repetitious music – which are both, most of the time, to the game’s credit – extended sessions piping the sound directly to your brain can grate considerably. On the whole, though, this is the perfect way to stay entertained and at least somewhat intellectually engaged on an otherwise coma-inducing journey.
CRAYON PHYSICS DELUXE
This I was more sceptical about. It’s a modern game – albeit an undemanding one – but it doesn’t have a dedicated netbook mode like Torchlight, and the titular physics aspect could prove problematic or even conducive to horrible slow-down.
What a pleasant surprise, then, that Petri Purho’s little wonder nips along perfectly.
Again, I bought it in a sale. This time it was exclusive to the game’s website; a first birthday “pay what you want” bonanza following 2D Boy’s experiment last year. I like to think my $5 was fair, for I had been avoiding it thanks to the price. That said, it’s a wee gem that’s probably deserving of more, and the option to donate is always there. My conscience can rest easy this time, it seems.
Most levels are very well designed, the initially gentle puzzling complementing superbly pitched visuals and a physics engine that is realistic enough without taxing the hardware too badly. The overall presentation is incredibly polished, and again, it loses little charm on the smaller screen. It glides along at a smooth framerate everywhere except the overworld map, which, on balance, is probably a virtue because it means the time spent scribbling knobs all over the background is cut to a minimum. It ran at full screen off the bat, and though I don’t think it was at native resolution, it was close enough that there was little difference. On the whole, it very well suits the portable platform. Probably, in fact, moreso than a desktop PC; this is the kind of game people will want to dabble in for a few minutes at a time and perhaps even pass around the room.
Great then, yes? The only caveat is that, using the touch-pad, drawing can be frustrating, with unwanted jagged shapes all too often protruding from an otherwise fine looking circle and, at worst, an arse made of the stage because of this. Luckily I almost always keep my USB mini-mouse plugged in, and unless you’ve got the patience of a particularly tolerant saint, I’d consider it pretty much essential.
Next time: Lumines and Fallout. By Fraser McMillan