"...the game's utterly failed attempt at humor drove me away almost completely."
At this point, my love for point-and-click adventures is well-documented, especially those of the Sierra circa 1980s and 1990's variety. I was a huge fan of the King's Quest I and II remakes designed by AGD Interactive, and many of the same folks involved with those games formed Himalaya Studios, developer of upcoming Kickstarted adventure Mage's Initiation, as well as the game around which this review focuses: Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine. I don't relish negativity, so let's just get this out of the way: I found this game utterly insufferable.
It's a struggle as a reviewer to talk about this game, because this is a case where my personal tastes have absolutely hindered my ability to enjoy what is, by all accounts, a solid adventure game designed by a team whose work I'm a fan of. Their mastery of this style of game is certainly on display here. If you've ever played a Sierra point-and-click, you'll know what to expect: grab items, mix-and-match, talk to people, and solve wacky puzzles. While the game has been available since 2006, the 2013 version of the game offers spiffy new animated cutscenes, along with altered voice acting and a generally spiffied-up presentation. The cutscenes, while nothing spectacular, are still plenty nice given the size of the team and the scale of the game.
The adventure opens with utterly inept middle-aged man-boy Al Emmo arriving in the western town of Anozira to meet a mail-order bride (in a misguided attempt to impress dear old Dad). Of course, hijinks ensue, and Al finds himself lacking both his ride home and having been given the slip by his not-quite-as-expected bride, leaving him trapped in Anozira with neither means nor motive to guide him. It's rare that I find myself disliking a character so wholly within such a short time, but absolutely everything the game tells you about Al in the earliest moments made me want to bludgeon him with the cursor over and over again. I'm uncertain as to whether that's by design, perhaps for humor's sake, but that's how it shook out.
Even from the earliest moments of the game, its treatment of women and presentation of so many stereotypes made it feel like a relic from a past generation of comedy. It'd be one thing if it were able to at least replicate that style with some skill, but it fails to amuse even within that framework and just comes across as trying way too hard. The writing aims for raunch and absurdism, but merely ends up being offensive. Every character I stumbled across as I plumbed the corners of Anozira (stumbling across, of course, a woman for Al to direct his obnoxious affections at) managed to feel both unfunny and insulting. It also didn't help that the majority of the voice acting was utterly hamfisted (though again, this could be by design) or straight-up bad. To add insult to this Music editor's injury, the music is bland and didn't stick with me for more than a few moments after I had taken off my adventurer's toupee.
To be fair, other than the bizarre-looking character sprites, the artwork in the game is nicely drawn and succeeded in creating a sense of place in the way some of the best adventure games of the past have done. The core gameplay is solid and bug-free, and there's a ton of interactivity, easter eggs, and narrator monologue to uncover by clicking everything in sight — certainly the hallmarks of my favorite games in the genre. Puzzles are occasionally quite clever as well, though there are a few moments where logic gets tossed straight out the window. In short, the bits and pieces making up the "game" part of Al Emmo are all solidly put-together.
And yet, the Al Emmo's utterly failed attempt at humor drove me away almost completely. The whole time I played, I was convinced that the previous male generation in my family would have found the game hysterical, with its absurd presentation of every stereotype in the book and its "guy just fishing for a good time with the ladies" plotline. Whether it's a different sense of humor, a generation gap, or just simply a difference in taste, I found every moment spent playing this game to be utterly repugnant. It's Freddy Pharkas without the charm, and I'm glad to be done with it. If I'm being as objective as possible, though, I must point out that if you think you'd enjoy the sense of humor and writing and you can't get enough point-and-click, you'll by all means find a solid adventure game in Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine.