Big name graphic adventures are and thin on the ground these days. Thinner in fact than the ozone layer over the South Pole. Thankfully one has flown in for Christmas though.
Imagine this: you're a square jawed pilot with a beautiful 1940s Boeing tri-engined passenger/freight plane and you're about to airlift the most gorgeous actress in the world to the Amazon jungle for a film shoot. You'd feel pretty lucky eh? Until a guy called Anderson comes along and messes things up. He locks you in a room, puts it under armed guard and makes off with the babe. Sheesh!
The opening problem - how to get out of the hotel room Anderson has locked you in without being slung back in by his armed henchmen minus several items of clothing is a good introduction. Not too difficult to get around, but difficult enough to tax your brain and get you in the mood for the following shenanigans in the jungle.
The plot gets thicker as you wade into Flight. The whole idea of the game is that you learn more as you progress through it, in fact in the spirit of true adventure you rarely know what's going to happen next. The acquisition of objects to help you further into the adventure lead to quite an interesting series of sub plots.
Flight Of The Amazon Queen was previewed by us way back in November 1994., when we did an interview with John Passfield and Steve Stamatiadis, otherwise known as Interactive Binary Illusions. It suffered a series of setbacks on the Amiga, despite the fact that it originally started out being programmed on this platform. It was originally due out by Easter '95: and it's here now. At the time they were promising a humourous adventure, and having met them I was in no doubt as to what the sense of humour would be like. Did they pull it off though (no smut intended, honest)?
A bit funny
Well, yes. Flight is in fact quite funny. It's very comic book style humour, drawing in-jokes from the world of adventure and sci-fi movies, mixed with some harmlessly smutty remarks. I say quite funny because unfortunately the Amiga version does not benefit from the excellent range of voices playing the parts of the various characters on the PC CD-ROM.
This was originally planned for the CD32 too but this version has now been scrapped, which is a pity. I've played it on PC and the voices (with Penelope Keith, of all people, included) turned it into a much more interactive experience. This is why we all really need CD-ROM drives folks!
Don't get me wrong though, that's about all that's missing. The on-screen text is the same as the spoken word, and is very funny in places. The situations too are gigglesome as are some of the very odd characters you meet along the way Like listening to Billy Connolly on a Walkman and laughing out loud on a crowded bus, it's not a good idea to play Flight while other people are present. Your constant sniggering will annoy the hell out of everyone else - as will your cries of frustration at not being able to solve a puzzle.
The graphics too are nearly identical to the PC version, and are impressive. All of the characters are detailed and the background scenery is superbly painted (Interactive Binary Illusions originally used DPaint for everything). There are neat, almost unnecessary touches too, like the provision of distant back- ground horizons, barely visible, but beautiful nonetheless. In fact some of the graphic touches come as a very pleasant and unexpected surprise, breaking from the norm and giving you motion or smooth scrolling screens. Quality stuff.
Although voices are absent you do have to do a lot of talking to other characters to solve this adventure. As usual, clicking on the talk icon and then on someone (or thing) in the game will bring up a menu of phrases. The type of response you get will depend on what you say and you sometimes have to delve really deeply into a conversation to pick up an essential snippet of information. Joe's speech menu usually contains both straight and funny phrases, and you can seriously annoy a character by saying the wrong thing to them. Luckily you can also talk your way back out of sticky situations too.
Control is by mouse, using the left and right buttons to select and use icons from the menu bar at the bottom of the screen, with the on-screen pointer as a positional aid. One thing that really puts Flight up on a pedestal as far as gameplay is concerned is the fact that it's not too fussy about how precisely you point at an object. Each scene has a limited number of objects which can be examined and possibly picked up and used - not too many, just a comfortable amount. But because each object has quite a wide selection field you never have any problems trying to click on it. Being too pedantic about pixel precise pointing has marred many an adventure in the past.
At the far right-hand side of the icon bar is the inventory. This is a strip that holds as many objects as you need, but only displays four at a time. If you want to make use of an object in the inventory all you have to do is select the Use icon, then the object, and point where you want to use it. Flight will tell you what you're proposing to do eg, "Throw the chicken at Anderson's henchmen" and then right clicking will make Joe do the deed.
Some objects in the inventory need to be combined to produce other objects and while this is not new in adventure games, the whole process is made smoother by the Use icon. You simply click on Use, then on 'item 1', whereupon a message appears saying "use item 1 on...". Then you click on what you want to use it with in the inventory ie. 'item 2'. The two will then be combined and a new object icon will replace them.
Jazz and jungle
Although there is no voiceover in this version the music is good. Once again though, you'll drive neighbours mad if it is turned up all the time. The basic tune changes with situations and locations, but it has a jazzy feel to it, in keeping with the 1940's theme of the game. The background jungle sounds are good too.
In terms of difficulty Flight Of The Amazon Queen gets it about right. It's so long since I've played a decent adventure that I thought I was a bit rusty, but the logic and the humour of the puzzles brought right back into the flow of things. Although some of the problems are frustrating they never get out of hand. A quick coffee break and some lateral thinking will usually solve the situation. Indeed some of the solutions are ingeniously well planned, so once you've got there you'll feel really satisfied.
In an adventure starved world, Flight is a saviour. I'd rate it as the best humourous graphic adventure on Amiga since Monkey Island: but the cynics would say that there haven't been very many since then anyway. To hell with them. I like it and I've a feeling you will too.
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