The title isn’t very inspired but the gameplay in Treasure Adventure Game obviously takes a great deal of inspiration from classic adventure games. In playing through this puzzler/platformer/exploration game, players will see Metroid, Zelda, a pinch of Dig Dug and a good deal of Mario. It’s clearly a loving homage to these classics and the hard work of Stephen Orlando at Robit Studios shows in his first feature game.
Treasure Adventure Game has been in development for close to three years by this one-man developer, and while it isn’t perfect, it is an excellent product certainly worth more than its current price of nothing. The world of TAG has an extensive back-story: many years ago the world was rent asunder by a battle between a great wizard and a powerful demon. Now, this land is composed of a series of small islands, and scattered throughout are twelve mystic treasures that were used to defeat an ancient demon.
Players control a boy (with a case of standard video game protagonist amnesia) who seeks out these twelve mystic treasures. To do so, he needs to sail from one island to the next with the help of his fantastic boat that shrinks to pocket size the moment he’s out of water, and appears again whenever he gets his feet wet. On these islands he encounters a series of charming NPCs. They include helpful townsfolk, grizzled old adventures who offer him guidance and a variety of friendly talking animals.
Often the story and dialogue in games are extraneous, but one of the things that quickly jumps out at players with Treasure Adventure Game is the characters. With only a few lines of text these creatures turn simple fetch quests into more entertaining fare, and it’s also fun to simply listen to a wise old critter tell tales of the old days - even if it doesn’t help with your immediate quest.
Although the story is enjoyable, the gameplay take precedence here. Treasure Adventure Game is a 2-D sidescroller that uses the “You Can’t Go There… Yet” model of level design. As players traverse the islands they will constantly find locked doors, impassable barriers and unsolvable quests. All of these require a new ability or piece of equipment, or a special map to navigate. Savvy gamers know this sort of Metroid design and a little patience will be rewarded if they can just focus on the quest at hand.
The boy that players control begins with basic platforming skills like jumping and climbing. Eventually he gains new abilities such as digging, swimming and crawling through narrow spaces. He has a piratey hook for a hand, and this can be used as a weapon, but also for grabbing onto ledges. The hook jump isn’t quite a wall jump – or a double jump - and gives the game a unique feel amongst other platformers.
The platforming is tempered with some light RPG elements. Aside from the gradual accumulation of abilities the health meter can be increased by finding power-ups, Zelda-style. The coins collected over the adventure can be used to buy items in towns and there is an inventory screen to manage, although this system can be something of a nuisance.
All of these abilities are put to good use because Treasure Adventure Game places hidden doors and crawlspaces everywhere. Plus, it wouldn’t live up to its premise if there wasn’t treasure buried all over the place waiting for some curious adventurer to wonder why that patch of ground is a slightly different color than the rest.
A feature that immediately jumps out at players is the music. Composed by Robert Ellis, this is much more than the standard video game rhythmic beeping. Each area receives a different theme that suits the type of adventure that occurs there, whether it be simple traveling music, exploring dark caves or journeying through an exotic desert.
The music will also change depending on whether it is day or night. Oh yes, it uses a day/night cycle and the sun will steadily rise and fall in the background whenever the player is outdoors. Certain events only occur at particular times of day, and these include shop business hours, mystical doors that only open at midnight and NPCs appearing at a specific time. While this can occasionally be annoying, it’s also a very efficient design as it gets twice as much potential from the levels.
Another distinctive feature is the occasional chance to control a flying parrot. Talking animals are everywhere but the hero’s constant companion is a parrot. It is both an exposition machine and a hint-giver. But it can also be directly controlled by the player at certain points. While these sequences add variety to the mechanics, the flying controls aren’t always fluid. The bird controls like a heavy helicopter and, of all the things found in this game, the parrot levels are the most unnecessary.
Despite its many merits, there are more problems with Treasure Adventure Game than just the parrot. It uses a savepoint system and these points are often set in inconvenient places. The level design can send players plummeting back to the beginning of a section if they make one wrong move, but save points tend to be placed in the middle of levels or the beginning, instead of being conveniently located next to places where gamers are more likely to make mistakes.
Even though Treasure Adventure Game has its share of little problems and the occasional bug, these do not keep it from being an excellent game. It has varied and entertaining gameplay and an interesting world that mixes whimsy with danger. It will be a nostalgic trip for gamers who enjoyed the classics that inspired this game as well as those who are just looking for quality design and execution.
Treasure Adventure Game is available now and can be downloaded for free from Robit Studios’ official website.[review pros="A love letter to classic 2D games, terrific music and interesting NPCs" cons="Clumsy controls when playing as the Parrot, sometimes the next destination is a little unclear" score=91]