German developer Daedelic Entertainment has made a name for itself with beautifully animated 2D adventure games. I largely adored their game, The Whispered World, setting aside its appalling ending. Deponia doesn’t break with this tradition, as yet another 2D animated adventure game that has finally been translated into English. A sequel, Chaos on Deponia is already on the way, but for the English speaking world, this is our first taste of this very strange story.
Deponia on the surface has much in common with one of the classics of the point-and-click adventure genre, The Secret of Monkey Island. It follows a protagonist who has a hapless slacker charm about him, as he tries to grow beyond his station in life. In Monkey Island, this resulted in the wannabe-pirate we all know as Guybrush Threepwood, while Deponia brings us Rufus.
Rufus is a man living on Deponia, a world seemingly entirely built out of junk, leftovers and waste. He refuses to get a job, participate in society, or even help clean up his ex-girlfriend’s house which he is currently squatting in. Instead, he focuses his energy on trying to escape to the sky-borne paradise of Elysium through a number of hair-brained schemes. His latest attempt almost works, until he winds up getting both himself and an attractive female Elysian flung back down towards the earth. From there, the story becomes a partly-charming and partly-creepy tale of Rufus’ quest to win the heart of the aptly named and comatose ‘Goal’, alongside his desire to return to Elysium.
The world Deponia creates is initially fairly unattractive. As creative as a world made out of detritus can be, spending all of your time in what is essentially a garbage dump makes for an environment you don’t necessarily want to explore. This is contrasted by the high-quality of the graphics. Characters appear to be traditionally animated against painted backgrounds, making for a very clean presentation that looks like an interactive cartoon. While I wasn’t a fan of the design, I can appreciate the level of artistry on display. However, the game does draw you in with its characters, from Rufus’ long-suffering ex to his greedy friend. Deponia is very much trying to be a comedy-adventure title, and while the conversations can amuse and put a smile on your face, there’s not a lot here that’s laugh out loud funny.
The gameplay is completely traditional adventure game fare. You’ll find yourself walking around, clicking on everything possible to find objects to add to your inventory, which can then be used on the world around you to solve puzzles. It’s slavish to the formula, which makes for a good classic-style adventure, but is not without its faults. The mental gymnastics you have to perform to achieve your goals are often bizarre – thinking outside the box is sometimes not enough, leaving you to combine everything in your inventory with everything else in the hopes of making progress. There are a handful of mini-game-type puzzles which require more thought, but these can be skipped. All of this is enough to please most adventure game fans who are used to how these things go about their business, but it’s hardly challenging the genre like, say, The Walking Dead.
What’s probably most disappointing about Deponia is its unwillingness to expound too much on its mythology. Obviously, a sequel is coming in which many answers will no doubt be provided, but in the meantime the game just kind of stops without providing several important pieces of information. You get a general gist of what’s going on, but you wish there’d been more effort put into fleshing out the world.
The game’s voice-work ranges from quite good (Rufus and Goal) to ear-splittingly unbearable, as the evil Organons have what must be the worst voice-filter I’ve ever heard, which had me muting most of their dialogue. Each of the game’s three acts opens with a song as well, which aren’t as funny as they’re shooting for, but do end with some nice orchestral music. Speaking of the game’s acts – the longest one is the first, which took me about three hours. After that, the rest of the game is only about another three, and as I mentioned the story just kind of fizzles away and hopes you’ll fork out for the next one.
Deponia has a lot of nostalgic charm going for it, as it aims to be a modern-day Monkey Island. I don’t think it’s as clever or as funny as those LucasArts classics, but the game is still cribbing all of its notes from that library, which isn’t the worst place to start. It’s a traditional point-and-click game for better or worse, and if the premise appeals to you then you’ll certainly have a good time with both this title and (I suspect) its upcoming sequel.