There are few things I love as much as a fresh, sparkling-new title that manages to teleport me back in time to the long-ago video games that helped define my tastes in gaming. The Wardrobe is a distinctly pleasant experience in that it seamlessly captures the point-&-click yesteryear, conjuring forth memories of Lucas Film Games' classic Maniac Mansion and other early-generation SCUMM series. It's a big dose of ‘90s era nostalgia, but has Adventure Productions published an experience worthy of such beloved associations?
The Innate Danger of Plums
In The Wardrobe, players assume the role of Skinny, an animated skeleton who perished at the hands of Ronald, his best friend. It all happened five years earlier, when Ronald and his buddy decided to enjoy a picnic, complete with plums for dessert. Sadly, Skinny was unaware of his deadly allergy to the purple fruit, and Ronald was traumatized by his BFF's sudden, horrific demise. Skinny, our boney protagonist, then found himself mysteriously teleported into Ronald's wardrobe, which served as his home while he watched over Ronald in the years that followed. However, fearing for Ronald's eternal soul, given his denial about the plum-induced death, Skinny decides that it's time to venture out and convince Ronald to confront his unintentional crime.
The highly detailed but amusing environment of Ronald's house is slightly overwhelming at times, but it is an impressive starting point for Skinny's quest, and I eagerly explored all the things. The Wardrobe has a great mechanic which allows players to illuminate all items that can be examined or interacted with (by pressing the middle mouse button). The controls are intuitive and simple to use; right-clicking allows examining, dialog, and other commands, and left-clicking provides quick, brisk navigation around the scene.
Random Objects, Obscure Solutions
One complaint that I have about The Wardrobe is that the gameplay gradually delves deeper and deeper into obtuse puzzle solutions. Instead of using an item in a remotely logical way, players have to experiment with increasingly wild combinations. While I enjoy unique object selection and challenging puzzle solutions, I tend to get frustrated when the design feels intentionally convoluted and confusing, rather than cleverly deceptive. Here is a theoretical example (so as not to spoil): When you need to throw a screwdriver at a person to blind them, rather than using it to unscrew a panel, wedge something closed, or pry something open, the items you encounter start to feel inconsequential rather than entertaining. This tactic often leads to haphazard click-and-drag attempts and backtracking to test everything in your inventory against each object open for interaction. It's an effective way to prolong the gameplay and increase duration, but those are minutes spent frantically throwing stuff together rather than enjoying the quest for solutions.
A similarly annoying, not uncommon issue was a touchiness involving the dragging of items from my inventory to combine them with objects in the environment. Several times, I would have a theory of a combination that would be a solution to a current roadblock, only to try the pair, get no result, and – after a half hour of floundering – come back to the same combination, only to have a different result. It seems that there's a level of finesse required for some of these combinations – a tiny hitbox, so to speak – so, if you find yourself stuck and shocked that your solution isn't correct, be sure to try to mesh the items together in different ways before giving up entirely. [EN: Now, That's What I Call Frustrating, Vol. 7!]
That said, I enjoyed the variety of content within The Wardrobe. The hand-drawn, vividly colored landscape was charming and chock-full of pop culture references. It seemed as though each screen I encountered and every location I graced had some reference to another title, series, or franchise; I especially loved the tributes to other point-&-click hits like Day of the Tentacle, and popular Adventure sagas such as Don't Starve.
Point-&-click titles like The Wardrobe, or any series within the genre, bears an inherent risk of low replayability. The story unfolded, the items utilized, the puzzles conquered – upon completion, few players return to the game for another run, lovely artistic style notwithstanding. Thus there is extra importance placed on the novelty each experience, if the adventure is to stand out in the sea of retro-inspired, pixel-laden, nostalgic options. The Wardrobe manages to pull this off with only a few setbacks, and I don't think that's simply my Maniac Mansion obsession leading me to this conclusion. The story is witty, the vast cast of characters is intriguing, and, while the ending isn’t very satisfactory, the journey is a worthwhile one.
I don't think the misadventures of Skinny and Ronald are enough to convert into enthusiasts gamers who dislike this style of gameplay, but I certainly would recommend The Wardrobe to any point-&-click fans in search of a challenging, lengthy excursion; the hand-drawn world and tongue-in-cheek, slightly sophisticated humor further freshen the appeal of the title, compared to your run-of-the-mill franchise in this classic genre. The pop culture references, smooth controls, quality voice acting, and challenging puzzles made my experience as Skinny a memorable one, solidifying The Wardrobe's worthiness in a library full of infamous series like Sam & Max and Monkey Island.