Review: Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet

A fearsome kooky pirate out to find a mysterious treasure before her great enemy can do so with his army of birds! No, it’s not Monkey Island, you fool, it’s Nelly Cootalot!

Genre(s): Comedy | Adventure

Developer: Alasdair Becket-KingApplication Systems Heidelberg

Publisher: Application Systems Heidelberg

Release Date: March 2016

Played: Full story

Platforms: PC

Purchase At: Steam

Good:

  • Charming characters.

  • Great humour.

  • Strong voice acting.

Bad:

  • Forced hints.

Review

Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet is the sequel to Spoonbeaks Ahoy. To be honest, I didn’t know about this series until I received the review code for The Fowl Fleet. Now that I’ve finished it, I am curious enough to try the original, which you can download for free from the Adventure Game Studios site.

When the game starts we find Nelly working on mail ship, sorting letters and generally annoyed at the un-pirate-ness of her life. But when she reaches for the mop, the water in the bucket bubbles over and the ghost of her mentor, William Bloodbeard, appears before her. He warns her that their nemesis and prolific bird hunter—and big bad in Nelly’s first adventure—Baron Widebeard is sailing to find the Treasure of the Seventh Sea, Bloodbeard’s last treasure. With nothing but her wits and odd sense of humour, Nelly packs herself for delivery to the nearest island to begin her adventure!

Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet

With a name like that, I’d be sick too!

The plot of Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet surprised me. I expected a lighthearted pirate romp with weird characters and silly jokes. While the game does deliver that, and trust me, it is fantastic at it, with self-referential, self-deprecating humour, pop-culture references and wicked puns; it also has a deeper theme going throughout the experience. It’s a story of regrets, of lost opportunities and what people are willing to do to make up for their mistakes, for the bad decisions or the simple accidents of fate that led them astray. In this regard, it’s a powerful story, beautifully disguised in Nelly’s antics, hypnotised bird armies and ghost Pirate mentors.

The ending lacks a bit of punch though. While the secret of the treasure is great, the last act felt a bit rushed and didn’t give proper time to introduce certain key characters. Also the final revelation for the villain was lacking.

Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet

Widebeard, the wife and El Mono, the shamanistic monkey plushy!

As with most adventure games, characters make or break the game and Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet’s characters are terrific. Nelly is clever and too witty for her own good, but has a naiveté and silliness about her that makes it impossible not to like her. Sebastian, Nelly’s right wing man—he’s a bird, see what I did there?—is both the serious companion and loyal follower and at the same time snarky friend, with clever comebacks to Nelly’s more ridiculous ideas. The villains are suitably clueless in their nefariousness, hunting for “supposed gold,” and I love how they play Widebeard’s ludicrous plans with a straight face. It’s taken as deadly serious and it just adds to the fantastic atmosphere.

On a related note, voice acting is superb. Nelly’s actress—whose name remains anonymous as the game credits Nelly’s voice as ‘herself’—does a wonderful job and instills a sense of obliviousness to Nelly’s voice when she’s saying something odd or dropping an obscure reference. It makes the character sound sillier. Sebastian is none other than the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, and I recognise that voice anywhere, one part stern parent and many more parts joyful willing accomplice. Having said so, Baker never feels like the Doctor, it’s not a shameless cash-in but a genuine performance of a big blue talking bird!

Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet

“It’s my mother’s maiden name!” So good!

I loved the visuals. Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet has a storybook look, with characters and environments having a paper-like quality. The most notable is Nelly’s red hair, which looks hand-drawn. It frankly brilliant and made it feel like an adventure book you might read yourself or to your children. The fully animated cutscenes follow the same visual style further reinforcing it. The battle of the two armies is a brilliant moment, the execution of a farfetched concept. I was laughing a lot.

And right there is Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet’s greatest strength: humour. This is a game that kept me chuckling, giggling and just rolling with laughter throughout the experience. From Nelly’s non-sequiturs and references to the “Great Game of the Seas” and the ending song, the humour is spot on and most importantly it supports not only the narrative but also the gameplay. Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet follows the Monkey Island School of puzzle design, with seemingly lunar logic puzzles hidden behind clever wordplay or just silly puns. The “prophecy” puzzles in act three are all about the humour.

Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet

The Toff races!

Puzzles are mostly of the inventory variety and while they aren’t exactly brain-friers, some will need careful observation and hearing to pick up the right clues. Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet makes sure you always have a clue for the puzzle, even if it’s just a character mentioning something offhandedly. This keeps the puzzles within a good difficulty range, not too hard and yet not mindlessly easy. Having said so, the third act could’ve been meatier in terms of puzzles. The ones you have are too straightforward and make the last segment of the game feel rushed as I mentioned before.

The first act has another problem: forced tutorials. Most adventure games have a hint system and Nelly isn’t any different but while others generally give you an option to disable tutorials, Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet makes you go through it, telling you what to click, where to use it and more. The sequence is short, but it still feels unnecessary. Tutorials should be optional at all times.

The best puzzles though are the logic ones, where the game gives you a few clues, sometimes a list, otherwise a visual cue, and you have to solve a riddle with them. These will really make you think and I had the sudden urge to pull out pen and paper to write down all the references. The first one of these, dealing with ship schedules is the best.

Conclusion

Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet is an amazing adventure game. Its story has surprising depth, the characters are lovable, the puzzles are great fun and it wraps it all up in a layer of fantastic humour!

TMA SCORE:

4.5/5 – AMAZING!

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