Remember a game I reviewed a while ago, called Speed Limit? Well, the developers behind that action game are back with a new title. It’s a point-and-click adventure called Paws of Coal. And it’s a sort of prequel-ish game to another game. A game I actually published the press kit off, when I still did that. Trip the Ark Fantastic. This game is actually a sort of demo for the gameplay for that bigger game, while it’s also a stand-alone short adventure. Oh, and there is also a demo for Trip the Ark Fantastic out, so if you want to give that a go… You can. Now, let’s get our hands dirty with coal and dive into this adventure. Since, GameChuck gave me a press code to review this game, but they always welcome my 100% honest and unfiltered opinion… So, here we go. It’s something I like as well. If you have any thoughts/opinions to share about this game and/or the content of this article, you are more than welcome to share them in the comment section down below.
Editorial note: this review is written when v1.3 was released. While writing, “Month 1” update got released.
In this game, you play as Charles. A hedgehog helping a good old friend. Your friend is a doctor in a mining town investigating a strange illness that’s making a lot of the mining rabbits quite ill in the town. The rabbits actually went on strike since they think the government isn’t doing enough to help them cure the illness. Since our good friend doctor Hopper isn’t able to leave the clinic to investigate… Since, yeah, somebody has to care for the patients… Charles got tapped.
There is no voice acting in this game, not even a bit of grunting. Yet, the writing isn’t affected by that at all. The writing quality is honestly top-notch. I was honestly afraid that the writing was going to be weak or cheesy because this game is essentially a side project, but I was quite surprised. Quite often, I got quite immersed, and the writing actually made me forget that there weren’t too many animations going on while the story is being told.
At one hand, I could start complaining on how it would be more fun with animations that acted out what was being told… But, that was before I realized the style they are going for. This game almost feels like a (grand)parent telling their (grand)children a bedtime story. One with pictures and text at the side. Yet, the content of the story might not always fit a children’s book… it felt somehow nostalgic while I haven’t heard the story before.
I also loved how realistic they made the writing for the story being in an animal kingdom. In sayings, things like skin is replaced with fur and the actual personality of the animals is worked into the writing as well. The only negative I have is that in some spots, it isn’t consistent on how dialogue is shown. Sometimes the text that’s being spoken is in the same style is the text used for descriptions. Apart from that, I barely found any faults. Here and there, a very minor mistake, but most of them were missing ending ” ” ” at spoken sentences.
This game plays like your typical point-and-click game. Yet, there is no real tutorial that explains to you the movement keys. Thankfully, they are listed in the menu behind a button. But is it a bad thing that this game doesn’t have a tutorial? Nah, I don’t think so. Overall, the game is easy to understand and learn. Especially when you have played other point-and-click games like Broken Sword for example. The big difference in this game is that this game is somewhat open-world. You don’t go from one screen/area to the next, you have the whole world open to you from the start, and it’s up to you to find the answers to its many puzzles.
It’s a side-game?
At various moments, I felt that this project didn’t have the main focus of GameChuck. The following paragraphs might look like I’m going to “destroy” this game, but it’s because this game and concept has a lot of potential… but it has some missing polish that’s making the game look bad and unfinished.
One of the best examples is the saving system. The game saves after each dialogue, automatically. Which is great! You do also have three save slots where you can manually save outside of dialogues, no problems there.
But if the save/load slots don’t give the information IF there is a save file in there and/or WHERE that save is… Then we are having issues. What if you are testing things with the different answers you are giving, and you want to see if the dialogue changes from other characters as well? You almost need to write down which save slot is what. Also, you don’t get a message if you want to save over an existing save slot. The current implementation works technically, but it leaves out a lot of information visually.
Something I feel quite conflicted about is the music and sound effects in this game. While this game has some nice orchestral music, it plays too few. There are too many moments of pure silence, even between the tracks repeating. Also, there aren’t enough tracks to play as background music, which means that you hear the same track over and over again. A bit more music tracks as background music would have been amazing.
All in all, the sound effects are great. But, at certain moments, I feel that there are sound effects missing. Especially when you do an action that doesn’t or won’t work. A perfect example of this is the first time you get the prompt to press the “J” key to open up your journal. When you are in dialogues, you can’t open your journal. I was mashing my “J” key, and I thought I encountered a bug. But no, it’s just that the journal doesn’t open during dialogues. In those cases, I’d either play a sound effect or show a little pop-up that communicates that with the player. That way, things don’t feel rough around the edges.
This is something I felt here and there. That this game has some very rough edges. The controls are another great example of that. Currently, there is support to play this game alone with the mouse. Yet, I don’t recommend you do that in the current version, since going in and out of doors doesn’t work currently. Also, there is a roll feature that lets you quickly roll from one place to another… Yet, good luck trying to do that with the mouse controls! It doesn’t work. I highly recommend that you play this game mostly with the keyboard controls. They work a lot better, are snappy and extremely responsive. Also, the tooltips shown on the screen relate to the keyboard controls anyway.
Going for more
Listen, according to this tweet… This game is the first part of the Ark Fantastic universe. Honestly, this gets me quite excited. Since, if we are going to see more games with this high level of world building, writing and visual presentation, we are going to be in for a treat.
Yes, the visual presentation of this game is amazing. Like I said earlier in this article, this game looks like a children’s book you are reading at night to your children. It’s colorful, well detailed, and the atmosphere makes the art almost come to life.
The game also has a handy “TO DO” list for when you are unsure what to do next. You can also put your current theory in your journal to try and find the actual reason and cure for the illness going around in the Burrows. It’s a great detective/point-and-click game that makes you think about what characters are saying and really take notes. I even had several notes on the mystery sprinkled in between my notes for this article.
You can investigate so much, it’s insane. The comments you get on various things, helps to build the world quite a lot. Like, you can also inspect almost every art work to learn more about the world. There are also sometimes more ways than one to get the information you need. You can either go research it via books, or you can research it by going around and talking to the other characters. I especially love the moments where things click and when I finally have a new lead to hunt down next.
This game might be rather short, but it also manages to have multiple endings, so it also has replay value for a point-and-click game, even. I have to be honest, I have been playing this game for 3 – 4 hours, research it quite extensively, and I haven’t solved the mystery just yet. I feel like I’m close, but I haven’t beaten it yet. That’s why I’m only writing a first impression.
But, this game also gave me an amazing first impression at the future of this game, and its universe. Yes, it has some things to polish and work out, like at one place in the game, you can see the ending of the map. Thankfully, we have a developer that updates this game with various quality of life improvements and since the release on May 2nd, we got 4 small updates to the game. Here is one they can fix in the next update, since the “month 1 update” removes the version number… It might be great to also remove that toggle to show it or not from the option menu, don’t you agree?
Speaking about those toggles, this game has some interesting settings. It also has a setting that gives you somewhat of a behind the scenes look at how the game works and was created behind the scenes. It doesn’t contain too many spoilers, if any, I think. You can also make this game harder on yourself by hiding tooltips, so you have to find out what you can interact with and how. But if you want to play this game, I highly recommend that you enable tooltips to not get lost.
To avoid me rambling too long about this game and maybe going into spoiler town… I’m going to wrap up my article here with the following conclusion. This game might have some rough edges in terms of UI, sound effects and music… But, all in all, this game works and it works good. I think that this game has something for every adventure/point-and-click game lover. Knowing the studio behind this and how they take feedback to heart, I’m quite sure that this game and the next games in this universe will grow and become even better.
Don’t misunderstand me when I say that this game has some rough edges, they are anything but game breaking. I have played this game on and off during this month and I haven’t gotten any crash and a very stable framerate. I was excited to see what this interesting point-and-click game “Trip the Ark Fantastic” was going to be and now that I got my first taste of it, I’m hooked. If the next game also polishes the save/load UI and has more music and uses more sound effects to communicate things with the player… I may be in trouble as a reviewer since I may not have too many things to critique anymore.
Give this game a chance when it sounds at all interesting to you. It’s a great experience and I’m conviced that with our feedback the developers can bring us amazing games in this interesting and rich universe. Now, I have to write my usual ending paragraphs and publish this article so I can go back to solving the mystery of the illness. Maybe we should discuss theories in the comment section? I’ll repeat it for the last time, yes this game has rough edges but the positive outweigh the negative by a lot here. Besides, a lot of the rough edges can and may be patched in the future… So yeah.
With that said, I want to thank you so much for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to welcome you in another one! But until then, have a great rest of your day and take care!