Some games are obscure enough that only niche players will know them. But some other games are so obscure, only those who happened upon them by chance could possibly have anything to say about them. I guess this would be the case of Galapagos, an unknown game by an unknown developer (Anark... they've become a 3D software company today), which I first noticed from a demo included in an old games magazine disc. Now, I didn't think much of it at the time. Cut twelve years later, and my nostalgia-filled brain tells me to try and find this little puzzler I remembered playing so long ago. But when has nostalgia ever brought good things upon mankind? And Galapagos is not an exception.
The deal of the game is that the titular Mendel, a small spider-like creature, and apparently the world's most advanced AI or something like that, is going to be used for technological warfare. Of course you won't have any of that: so your mission is to help Mendel escape from the obstacles-filled laboratory by manipulating the enviroment, in a sort of Lemmings-like experience. It's kind of an interesting premise, but is never really expanded upon. Then again, you don't expect to see good story in a puzzle game. Although maybe calling Galapagos a puzzler is excessive: the paths are straightforward, and you don't have to think much about what to do next. Instead, the game will make things difficult for you in two simple manners.
The first one is the camera. For a game that relies on enviroment manipulation, it sure moves around a lot. Most situations will require good timing, but if you can't even see the part you're supposed to click, it's useless. Perspective is really messed up at times. This, together with some questionable design choices (did they really have to make bridges stay open for two seconds at most?), will turn even the simplest puzzle into a blind jump. And checkpoints, which also double as save points, are quite scarce. Weird for a PC game.
The second problem is Mendel itself. The manual makes a big deal about it's supposed to have some kind of advanced AI that lets it learn the environment and react to stimuli in believable ways. Honestly, it just acts like an idiot. I'll give Anark the benefit of doubt, and say that maybe their AI system could actually be good for other uses... just not here. This guy will fail to recognize even the most basic situations, often zig-zagging for no reasons whatsoever, and making the player experience hell as they wait for the little bugger to actually go into a decent position for the next jump. The manual says you can sway him to move in different directions by clicking on him, but I've noticed no difference. And if you fail repeatedly and let him die too much, Mendel will become more and more afraid of his surroundings, making his movements even more erratic and slow. Yeah, that's right: the game will punish the player for Mendel's mistakes. Awesome.
At least it looks ok: the worlds are simple on the eyes, ranging from cybernetic to steampunk, and there is support for 3D acceleration. If it weren't for the horrid camera, it could be good eyecandy. Music is completely absent, but that may be a good thing, since it makes things easier to bear. There are some background noises too. The game works pretty well even on newer operating systems, by the way. I don't know how long it is because I eventually gave up on the fourth world, but apparently there are supposed to be five or six. Don't take my word on this though.
Galapagos fails on many levels. It takes a good premise and scenario, then botches it with terrible camera work, and finally puts the nail in the coffin by making the player deal with an idiot critter that will never go where you want. The game would have probably been a little better if Mendel just moved on rails. There are a few times when you feel like trying one more time, and that's a good thing, but frustration will set in soon. As it stands, Galapagos is one to avoid, unless you are curious to see just how stupid an AI can become.
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Feb 21, 2011
Aug 5, 2011 03:33 PM UTC
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