I love to play the bad guy. I have spent hours crafting wicked labyrinths to trap helpless heroes in Dungeon Keeper and Dungeons series. Later, I would gleefully punt minions around to do my evil bidding in the Overlord series. If a game involves playing as a villain, bringing down the no-good do-gooders, sign me up!
This is how Goblins and Grottos got my attention. After seeing his family cut down by a Paladin, you take on the role of a small goblin seeking revenge. Trouble is, he’s small and weak, and must rely on traps and trickery to defeat his foes. This flip of the usual Fantasy topes is what grabbed my interest.
A puzzle platformer, the goal is to guide our pixilated protagonist through various stages, each styled on typical Fantasy environments. Castles, caves, dungeons, dark forests, you know the kind of thing. Enemies are, again, the usual Fantasy good guys, Wizards, Warriors, Dwarves, and so on. Our little goblin is not a fighter, so to beat them he need to draw them onto trapdoors, lure them near explosive barrels, or sometimes just drop a rock on their heads! The puzzles aren’t much in the way of complex problem solving, rather they usually boil down to ‘flip the switch at the right time’.
The main challenge in Goblins and Grottos is getting past the enemies. One hit and you’re dead, and they get better. But more on that in a bit. The gameplay process is generally trial and error, timing jumps just right to clamber past sword swinging heroes. A checkpoint system makes sure that you don’t have to go too far back – sort of. Checkpoints, in the form of statues, have a limited use. Die at one point too many times, and the statue crumbles. Usually this wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but there is a tendency to place the checkpoints right next to something that’ll kill you. Like, oh, I don’t know, a Dwarf with a cannon. Respawn, get shot with cannon. Repeat until statue crumbles. That gets very frustrating, very quickly.
Like most games of its kind, Goblins and Grottos is full of humour and in jokes. The whole game is itself based in kind of MMO. All the heroes are ‘players’, with typical player names like BLAST2000, RAGINGBONER, and other such clever word plays. If you die near one of the players, they get XP and level up, usually while complaining about the lack of loot. There are little nods to games like World of Warcraft, like the Leeroy Jenkins moment, as well as general MMO occurrences, like parties arguing and PVP griefing.
While I usually enjoy a bit of humour in my games, the jokes here fall a bit short. After over a decade of the MMO genre being around, a lot of the jokes seem a bit tired. They’re nothing we haven’t seen before, and done better. Maybe I’m just getting jaded in my old age, but where I assume I was supposed to laugh, I usually sighed.
The other jokes also wear quite thin, quickly. Clambering up a wall, our intrepid goblin will mutter “I feel like Spiderman”. A little chuckle first time, not so much tenth time. Accidentally killing your goblin friends to solve a puzzle? A little funny first time around, not so much each time after. Rather than being bemused, I just felt exacerbated.
This feeling isn’t helped by the bugs and glitches. Keyboard controls are very unresponsive, almost to the point of unplayability. Which is unhelpful for timing the jumps and grabs needed. Using a controller, it’s a lot smoother, giving a lot more accurate control over our goblins actions.
The levels themselves are also riddled with issues. Floors often have invisible bumps on them. This means that any object like a crate or barrel, the kind of thing that needs to be moved around in a platform puzzle game, often gets stuck on nothing at all. If you’re lucky, a few wiggles will get it loose. If not, it’s stuck. Restart level, try again. More frustration.
Ultimately, Goblins and Grottos tries to do something fun and interesting, but comes off a little stale and frustrating.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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