Retro-inspired adventure games have become quite common these days, and for good reason. The golden age of the genre happened decades ago, and it’s now comfort nostalgic food. People like WadjetEye Games, Terrible Toybox and Clifftop Games have made some of the very best examples of modern games in that mold with stuff like Primordia, Thimbleweed Park, Kathy Rain, and Unavowed, to name a few. Even if it’s become commonplace seeing point n’ click games with pixely visuals, those guys have managed to go beyond merely aping the style, adding tons of depth that would have otherwise been impossible to program back when that look was new.
Guard Duty from Sick Chicken Studios is the newest of these to come out, and while it doesn’t really delve far from its source of inspiration, its cheeky sense of humor and clever writing makes up for its breezy gameplay and uneven story. It’s an adventure game that can be finished in just about three hours and thanks to that, doesn’t really overstay its welcome. While I could’ve done with less exposition from a number of characters along the way, I absolutely loved the dialogue and tone, especially from its protagonist, Tondbert, a hapless castle guard who’s out to save the princess from the clutches of evil.
Things aren’t as simple as merely beating a king lizard and kissing a mushroom, mind you. The game starts just as humanity is about to be wiped out far into the future, as a mysterious entity threatens a wounded man. We’re then transported back years and years into the past, as our hero the guard has had more than his share of drinks, and unknowingly lets a hooded figure into the castle town. It’s only after he gets sober, finds a way to fix his swollen face, and regains his possessions that he finds out the princess has been kidnapped. Since he knows he’s partly responsible for the whole thing, sets out to rescue her. Only problem is that he’s kind of a klutz and no one thinks he’ll be able to pull it off.
As it’s typical in adventure games of this type, you’ll help the clumsy hero along in his quest by picking up a handful of items along the way and using them in the correct order. There are very few instances of puzzles that go outside the zone of having to merely find a use for certain trinkets outside of a very quick maze you navigate in a certain order so you trap whatever is chasing our downtrodden friend. It’s a good thing that the writing is quite witty, with drops of Monty Python’s Holy Grail and Discworld humor dropped here and there, under the same dark, sarcastic tone one of those movies or books.
In that regard, it’s a bit of a shame the humorous part of Guard Duty doesn’t last for the entirety of the game. After a certain point, the sci-fi element takes over, and the whole thing loses much of the steam it had going, only to briefly circle back before closing things off.
For as much of a disappointment that I felt with that, there’s much to commend the small team at Sick Chicken Studios for their work in this game. Albeit limited, their voice acting group manages to bring a little bit of flavor to the cast. By the end of my time with the game, I grew quite fond of Tondbert’s performance. I can’t say the same about the art, which is really quite all over the place in this game and didn’t really put a spell on me as the rest of it did.
There are other better looking adventure games in this mold out there for sure, but Guard Duty as a whole is — for as cliché as it might sound — more than a sum of its parts, so I can easily overlook the weak presentation. Guard Duty works as what it is: a quick, to the point adventure game that might not be overly ambitious or even huge, but still manages to deliver an entertaining handful hours of play.