Deponia: review

Deponia is a lovely point-and-click adventure game that makes all the wrong choices about choices. A surprisingly heartfelt story and art that pops with cartoony talent reinforce imaginative puzzles and a heavy dose of hilarity, requiring a bit of cognitive exertion and– far too often– heaps of patience. Technical bumps in the road and precisely the wrong amount of freedom serve as all too convenient excuses to bail out at every turn, which is a shame of criminal proportions. After all, Deponia could have been one of the best adventure games on the market.

If you’ve ever watched Fry bumble his way through an episode or two of Futurama, you’ll have a pretty fair approximation of who you’ll be spending all of your time with in Deponia. Rufus is a lazy, self-absorbed slob who mooches off anyone stupid enough to fall for his promises twice, and everyone else from the junkyard town treats him like an especially contagious disease. He’s also quite a likeable fellow in his own way. Desperate to get off this dirt clod of a planet, haphazard inventor as he is, Rufus launches yet another reckless scheme to whisk himself off to the faraway floating city of Elysium. This means rooting around the house (mooched off Rufus’ ex-girlfriend of course) for all the necessary supplies while listening to a slew of sloven and silly comments with every click.

Traditional as they may be, puzzles adhere to a satisfying code of Rufus Logic (empty jar + old wasabi peas between armchair cushions = provisions), and when limited to a couple of areas, this works just fine. Unfortunately, three hijinks, a colossal airship, and a mysterious Elysian girl later finds Rufus smack dab in the middle of his sprawling home town with a huge grocery list of inventory items to hunt down. Exploring larger-than-life Deponia and its gorgeous hand-drawn eccentricities is a congenial way to spend an afternoon until obtuse puzzles turn into dead ends with no clear indication on what do or where to go next.

We hope you like the looks of Deponia, because you’ll be staring very hard at it for a long while.

Subtle environmental clues that force you to think one step at a time are all but brilliant on their own, but you may spend half an hour beating your head against a wall only to discover that the required item is hidden behind a string of puzzles on the other side of town. To make matters worse, an inventory that regularly exceeds a dozen items (most of which can be combined with something else) convolutes an already overwhelming array of options. Shortcuts to travel quickly and reveal clickable objects in the scene help to stave off irritation, but scattered animation hiccups and glitches that block progress altogether combat these luxuries with pinpricks of inconvenience.

When the rhythm flows like clear water (a rare and valuable commodity in Deponia’s desolate economy) smiles return as troubles melt away to nothing, but a preposterous logical leap here or a lack of information there grinds the good times to a halt. And yet, just like that, these hindrances are sidestepped when the plot takes hold and sends Rufus on a linear path to success. No longer faced with open-ended frustrations, you’re free to gather speed all the way to the climax, laughing all the while.

In fact, enjoying the story’s considerable charm might be the best argument for shouldering past the dull bits. Although most of the cast is built up of sarcastic jerks who occasionally devolve into pointless name-calling when the humour well runs dry, there are enough hilarious one-liners and shattered fourth walls to coax a fond smile of approval from Monkey Island. This makes it all the more disappointing when spotty translation hamstrings far too many of the jokes, leaving nonsensical sentences and original blocks of German text in its wake. The English voice actors do a superb job of rising above their intermittently garbled lines of dialogue, even if context and recording quality both suffer in the process.

Spoiler: That’s a whale.

Goofy antics evolve into a tale of love and selfishness, concluding with a touching finale marred only by a pivotal moment that– regardless of your choice– forces you down a predestined path. Ironically, the one time a strong dose of freedom would have been welcomed with open arms, it turned out to be a farce. This leaves the dramatic plot arc of self-proclaimed hero Rufus hanging on a proverbial cliff of predetermination, fully deserving of the planned trilogy’s efforts to shed light on a flurry of unresolved issues.

If the puzzle-solving swapped places with the plot, there would be a lot more to love here and a lot less to hate; the former needs a tighter leash and the latter anything but. Nearly everything in this game is worth seeing, but the way it’s communicated stumbles around every turn. Thus is the way of backwards Deponia, a rough-and-tumble adventure game with a lot of heart and a bunch of neat ideas. Not, in fact, entirely unlike Rufus himself.

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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