The traditional point-and-click adventure went out of favor in the US over a decade ago, but it seems studios in Germany have been keeping it alive for some time now. Between Telltale’s continuations of the classics, Ron Gilbert’s highly successful kickstarter campaign, and quality games such as The Book of Unwritten Tales coming out of Europe lately, the genre is currently enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Deponia is the latest in a string of recent point-and-click adventure games hailing from the old country. Developed by Daedalic Entertainment of Germany, it’s a classic 2D adventure set against a garbage covered, steam-punk inspired wasteland.
While many modern adventure games are going the 3D route, Deponia is keeping it old school with its traditional 2D interface. There really isn’t much to a point-and-click adventure when it comes to controls, but the developers of Deponia decided to include a basic tutorial. The game’s controls don’t stray far from its genre’s conventions and are pretty intuitive, rendering the tutorial a bit unnecessary. One new feature is the incorporation of the mouse’s click-wheel to open and close your inventory, which is nice.
Traditionally, the puzzles in a point-and-click adventure consists of picking up objects, possibility combining them with other objects in your inventory, and using them on persons, places or things within the game. Deponia also includes more literal puzzles as mini-games, including a basic jigsaw type puzzle. Smartly, the game offers a “skip” button on many of the mini-game puzzles for gamers who are, perhaps, not very good at them.
Puzzles can make or break an adventure game. If they are too easy and obvious, the game tends to be short and forgettable. If they are too illogical and outlandish, the game can be frustrating. Deponia’s puzzles fall somewhere in between, but sometimes teeter too close to the latter. In a way, it makes the game even more of a throwback to the golden age of adventure gaming. Even the genre’s best included some pretty heinous puzzles that required an occasional peek at the hint books. I typically try to avoid walk-throughs, but I feel some of Deponia’s more complicated, i.e. illogical, puzzles would’ve kept me stumped indefinitely otherwise. Despite that, I found the majority of the puzzles to be enjoyable, satisfying, and good for a laugh.
Deponia takes place on a garbage-covered planet of the same name. Rufus, the anti-hero of the game, was born and raised in Kuvaq, an improvised town built inside a giant trash heap. Like his father before him, he longs to climb his way to a better life in Elysium, a prosperous utopia built high above the planet’s surface. After making the necessary arrangements, he finds his way onto a train bound for Elysium, and this is where things go awry. While trying to save a distressed Elysium woman, he inadvertently sends her crashing down to Kuvaq, and drags himself into the middle of a politically sensitive situation that could decide the fate of Deponia.
One of the things that has always attracted me to adventure games is the clever writing. In this, Deponia mostly doesn’t disappoint. It’s a character-driven story with the right balance of slapstick and witticisms. Rufus is a self-serving loser who has no ambition in life except to escape to a better existence in Elysium. While not inherently evil, he rarely has the best of intentions. Alongside Rufus, the world is generally filled with rich and colorful characters that make for some humorous scenarios. The inhabitants of Kuvaq, including Rufus’ ex, Toni, the town’s doctor/fireman/police officer, Gizmo, and even his seemingly closest “friend,” Wenzel, don’t really have anything good to say about our protagonist. In the Organonn, we have a comically cartoonish evil organization of nefarious administrators. And Goal, the woman from Elysium and Rufus’ main love interest, is mostly unconscious throughout the game. Unfortunately, the most important relationship, that between Rufus and Goal, wasn’t properly developed and seemed rushed. There are a few plot holes here and there, but with games like this our suspensions of disbelief tend to have to be stretched a little further than usual.
With its beautifully hand-painted backgrounds and top-notch character designs and animations, the game draws gamers into the world of Deponia with ease. The detailed steam-punk settings and machinery, mixed with a combination of old-west, sci-fi, and garbage heap-chic costumery, paints a picture of a fun and unique new game world. The 2D nature of the game really brings us older players back to the heyday of adventure gaming, and in today’s world of photo realistic settings and characters, it’s a bit refreshing to experience the whimsy of a hand-painted Deponia.
Deponia features an excellent voice cast and a great re-occurring folksy theme, sung in a German accent. In addition to do a great job with comedic timing and delivering their lines with believability, the voice actors fit their respective cartoon-selves perfectly. My only gripe is with the sound design of the Organonn characters, who tend to be a bit hot in the mix, which results in a crackly distortion. Their voices also tend to be a bit louder than the rest of the cast, which could have something to do with the inability to understand them at lower volumes, due to the masks they wear. Aside from that issue, the sound effects are well done and help to further create the eccentric world of Deponia.
If you consider yourself an adventure gamer, Deponia is a game definitely worth picking up. It’s also a great game to throw at the kids—they tend to lack the box that we sometimes can’t seem to think outside of. With its great artwork, funny and well-written dialogue, challenging puzzles, and great overall production value, it definitely overcomes its minor shortcomings. The game isn’t without its bugs, including one line subtitled in German and a puzzle that had to be initiated twice for the game to advance, but nothing that’s a total deal-breaker. Overall, it’s a quality point-and-click and a laudable throwback to vintage Lucas Arts adventure titles.