Thanks to a certain someone, the idea of adventure games and pirate settings go together like peanut butter and jam — a wonderful combination and one we can always rely on. Yet if you think the upcoming Cleo — A Pirate’s Tale is just another pirate adventure game riding the fabulous coattails of Guybrush Threepwood, you’d be sorely mistaken.
In trying the demo for the game’s Kickstarter page, I was left astonished and excited by this funny, warm, well-designed adventure game, which itself is a hybrid with some action-RPG antics that give Cleo — A Pirate’s Tale a look and feel all its own.
Cleo — A Pirate’s Tale came dangerously close to passing me by, and I’m very relieved I discovered and got to try the demo for this hugely promising title. Its music and good looks show the inspiration behind the game vividly and confidently — a dash of Monkey Island, yes, but also a sprinkle of Zelda and a touch of JRPG whimsy. This is all wrapped up in characterful and lovingly animated pixel art that gives the demo a wonderfully unique look and feel.
The game is the passion project of German designer Mr Christoph Schultz, and despite his admitting this is his first full videogame project, the demo for Cleo proves he is going into this undertaking with confidence and talent. The game emanates charm and quirky appeal both in screenshots as much as in motion, and the demo already showcases a polished product well worth any adventurer’s attention.
Our hero, Cleo, is a pink-haired teen who’s become jaded with her life helping behind the bar of her father’s tavern. While the place seems to do decent business, Cleo can’t help but find her ambitions wandering as she reads tales of famous pirates of the past who went on incredible adventures, and it’s this lifestyle she’s seeking in between chores and boredom on her home island.
Cleo — A Pirate’s Tale combines adventure game mechanics with a touch of top-down SNES-RPG style gameplay, but to good effect. There’s never any inherent danger or threat to Cleo, but her world is one you observe from above. This lets the art direction shine — outdoor scenes are underscored by the gentle crushing lilt of the sea surrounding you, and indoor locales are framed by a cool use of negative space that makes the player feel as though they’re peering into a pixellated diorama beneath them.
You’ll use a combination of keyboard and mouse to navigate the charming world of the Cleo — A Pirate’s Tale demo. It’s been designed to be a narrative that spans an hour or less, and designed to go through in one sitting to give you a real feel for the world and the gameplay.
This it achieves brilliantly. Dialogue is snappy and genuinely funny, although in English there are a few minor mistranslations I’m confident can be cleaned up before the game’s launch (heck, if you’re reading this and want some assistance from a native English speaker, Mr Schultz, I’d be glad to help!).
Movement and animations are wonderfully fluid, sound design is top notch and the puzzles are more complex yet not overly stifling when compared to many other adventure games. You’ll need a little lateral thinking, some powers of memory and observation, and a little musical knowledge to make it through the Cleo demo unimpeded. Guess I should have done better than an F in my GCSE Music exam, hmm?
The demo for Cleo — A Pirate’s Tale has proven a wonderful and genuinely exciting surprise, and I’m hugely anticipating the game’s final release, currently projected for the latter half of the year 2021. The game’s Kickstarter page is going at a decent pace in terms of funding, and the story, world and characters here are reinforced by some fantastically witty and heartwarming dialogue and puzzle design that perfectly poises its challenges without running afoul of pixel-hunting or general frustration.
I fully intend to back the project and wish Cleo every success when she finally takes to sea next year — believe me when I say this is one title we all really need to watch out for! May fair winds guide her forth!