Ratalaika Games has been pretty much killing it lately in terms of quietly porting and publishing little indie games that sometimes pack in a few surprises despite the low budget price points. While there’s a core group of fans who snap up most of these games for fast trophies, once in a while there comes something that’s worth a second look because it taps the right vein in the right place and is more than a simple trophy hunt you can rush through in an hour or so. Welcome to Sick Chicken Studios’ Guard Duty ($9.99, Cross-Buy with PS Vita!), folks.
This is a fantastic albeit brief homage to old computer games from the mid-80’s and the 1990’s and absolutely nails that aesthetic to a T with perfect stylized pixel art and animation, some hilarious (and fully voiced) writing and solid point & click gameplay. There’s a plot that blends in medieval and futuristic elements really well, but I’ll not spoil that for you here as the story works best this way. After an intro that teases that medieval and future melding, we meet Tondbert, loyal Guard to the Castle of Wrinklewood. He’s having a bad day that started the night before as he was stupid drunk while on duty and let a odd stranger into the village, which has led to the Princess being kidnapped. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
But our hero won’t realize this for a short while, as a hungover Tondbert has to find his clothes first. But while leaving his room in one of the castle towers by unconventional means, he gets stung by bees and his face swells up so much he’s unrecognizable to everyone and looks like a weird vagrant clad in just his long underwear. Here come your first set of puzzles, ladies and germs. The game throws your brain a few mild curves, but carefully looking at items and combining a few will set things right. The game should take maybe three hours or so to play if you don’t skip text, but that will be more or less depending on how good you are at these adventure games (or, add/subtract a half hour or more based on your skill level). Don’t cop out and use a walkthrough, please. Skipping to the solutions right away means you’re going to miss out on a few things the dev may want you to check out.
Tondbert gets to deliver the King bad news about the princess, but he’s determined find and rescue her, which leads to a bit of detective work and more funny stuff. Everything you need to do is placed on Tondbert’s intentionally misspelled list, so you’re never at a total loss unless you forget to check your menu screen and inventory from time to time, of course. The writing here is great and often laugh out loud funny, especially when combined with the nostalgic visuals and animation. Well, I’m of a certain age and found the jokes pretty amusing – your mileage may vary.
As mentioned above, this is one game where you don’t want to skip any part of the story, especially some of the side bits a few characters lean into. case in point: Do speak to the Froot seller after Tondbert gets his face back to normal, as he tells a rather lengthy story of adventure and heroism hat would actually make a nifty old school adventure game on its own. I half expected a Trophy would drop after the tale, as it goes on for a bit, but it’s a fine diversion and shows how it pays to do a little digging in a game such as this. A few other characters also have shorter (but still long) stories, but each is well written and add a bit of extra lore flavor to the main plot. The jump into the future works well given the wackiness of the medieval setting and some modern references (for example, there’s a running DLC gag that’s priceless), and there are some surprises as future characters and plot take on a more serious tome, but shhhh, let’s not spoil anything.
We got stuck on one puzzle early on because a room was overlooked until it was found a little hidden in one area, but that was more the fault of improper navigation in the castle and not the game trying to be too coy. The sole complaint here is the overworld map that only shows pictures of an area or character and no text descriptions. While it’s not hard to figure out where you need to go in the game, a few times you might want to fast travel a little faster and you need to get used to having a text-free map at your disposal. But that’s the sole issue that was found that bothered me. In the end, Guard Duty is a great little gem and while it’s not even trying to be the best game on the block, it sure has my seal of approval because it gets that nostalgia meter humming away for what works.
Score: A- (90%)
-Review code provided by the publisher