It really feels as though the golden era of the humble point and click game is far behind us. Genre classics such as Monkey Island, Gabriel Knight and Sam and Max were all released over 25 years ago. The genre died a death at the turn of the century, but luckily the genre has had a massive resurgence in the last decade.
Despite this, there hasn’t been any point and click games from the past ten years that I’d describe as ‘classic’. Sure, there have been some great releases: Thimbleweed Park, Broken Age, as well as the Blackwell games, to name a few. Before their demise, Telltale probably came as close as anyone in their attempt to make a modern point ‘n’ click classic in creating The Walking Dead adventure series.
But still, no one has managed to come close to recreating those old style titles. Many have tried, but few have captured the feel just right. But Nelly Cootalot comes damn well close.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing about the Nelly Cootalot series. The Fowl Fleet is actually a sequel to an earlier game, Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!, created by British comedian Alasdair Beckett-King. In 2013, a Kickstater campaign for The Fowl Fleet easily cleared its funding goal with over £20,000 worth of backing, and was earmarked for release in 2014.
Naturally, as with many video game Kickstarters, it was delayed and eventually hit PC in 2016. Much like other indie darling of recent years, Nelly Cootalot has been ported to the Switch, and so three years later, Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet is here on console.
Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet is a pirate themed point and click title, and it’s hard not to talk about one of the most famous pirate themed point and click games, Monkey Island. Unbelievably, it’s been a decade since the last Monkey Island game, Telltale’s Tales of Monkey Island, and while it looked and sounded the part, there was something for me that just felt off.
Back in the 90s, 3D polygonal games became very popular, leaving sales of 2D titles in the dust. This meant many point and click games also made the change, but often it didn’t really work. Luckily for me, Nelly Cootalot manages to keep its gameplay firmly on a 2D plane. Backgrounds are wonderfully drawn and designed, filled with detail and knick-knacks, many of which aren’t even part of the game — they’re just there to add character.
The backgrounds of The Fowl Fleet bring up memories of the likes of Day of the Tentacle and The Curse of Monkey Island, which had highly stylised cartoon visuals mixed with wonky, often exaggerated landscapes. Nelly Cootalot isn’t as stylised as either of those earlier works, but the art design is clearly inspired by of those games.
I initially thought that the whole game was 2D, but I now think I was wrong. I could be mistaken, but the actual character model of Nelly is likely a 3D character made to look 2D. It’s very cleverly done if so, but what makes me lean in that direction is that you can use the analog stick to move Nelly around. A bit of a novelty for a point and click game.
Of course, the Switch has two playstyles. Playing in handheld mode is easier than via the TV. Handheld mode plays much like point and click mobile titles, and sees you tapping away at the screen. Tapping anywhere on the screen moves Nelly to that location, while tapping on an interactable item, like an object or point of interest, brings up two icons. There’s the age old ‘look at’, and the other one is an interact icon, so ‘use’, ‘pick up’, ‘speak to’ etc.
Playing via docked mode isn’t quite as smooth, but the decision to make Nelly an actual movable character is a masterstroke. I’m sure many games would’ve plumped for adding a cursor controlled by the left analog stick, something that the recent Switch port of Mainlining overlooked. You move Nelly toward the object or item you wish to interact with, and use the buttons on the right Joy-Con to examine, use, bring up the inventory, or easily locate points of interest.
The cast is particularly strong: Nelly herself is positive and quirky, and her supporting cast are as fantastically bizarre as you’d imagine — each of the main characters you interact with manage to be larger than life. This is helped immensely by the script, written by Alasdair Beckett-King. It manages to have all the sharp wit and silliness of the LucasArts adventure titles and marries it superbly with British humour — The Fowl Fleet reminded me of the 90s Discworld games on a number of occasions.
The soundtrack is suitably pirate-y, too. While I’ve probably drawn one too many comparisons with Monkey Island during this review, it’s difficult not to, especially as the LucasArts classic came to mind when hearing The Fowl Fleet’s brilliant music. It’s the little bits of background music I love; they really manage to suit each scene you find yourself in, and capture the feel of the art.
Puzzles wise, as you can imagine, there are a few to be had here. None are overly difficult, so expect to breeze through The Fowl Fleet at a fair old pace. That’s not a bad thing. Old school point and click games often had such an insanely outlandish series of puzzles that it made progression near impossible (looking at you, Discworld). Nelly Cootalot isn’t a long game either, so don’t expect to be playing this one for hours on end.
Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet may be a short game, but it is one high in quality. The love of those classic point and click games is apparent here and Alasdair Beckett-King and Application Systems have not only paid homage to the genre, but built upon it. The Fowl Fleet is a lot of fun and filled with bucket-loads of charm. If you like point and click games, or even if you like quirky, fun titles, then this game is definitely worth a look.
A perfect homage to an older genre, Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet is filled with humour and charm. A must buy for those who love classic point and click.