It's not something I'd admit to on my CV, but large portions of the time I spent in the library at school was used not to study the great literary works of Shakespeare, but instead going through the collection of Magic Eye and Where's Wally? books with friends.
Not the best preparation for assessing a game entitled Hamlet, yet there's a greater link between my choice of reading and Alawar Entertainment's interpretation of Shakespeare's classic than there is between the game and the play.
That's because in the amusingly titled Hamlet or the Last Game without MMORPG Features, Shaders and Product Placement knowing where to look is key.
There is, of course, reference made to the play, although fans of England's greatest playwright will spot where the game strays from the path. To begin with, you don't play as Hamlet, but an alien that crash lands on top of him, debilitating him in the process.
As this unexpected extraterrestrial, you're tasked with the challenge of winning Princess Ophelia from the clutches of King Claudius by solving a series of puzzles. These aren't everyday puzzles, naturally.
In essence, each level – which consists of nothing more than largely static screens, with a clock counting away in the corner – is an interactive picture, waiting for you to set off a chain reaction or two to get things moving.
For example, the first act involves infiltrating a tower. This requires changing the weather several times to cause a flower to grow from the rain that falls as a result. Said flower sprouts a seed, which is caught by a bird who then drops it into the soil to grow into a vine. It's this vine that lets you scale the tower and climb inside.Unreal world solutions
If that sounds ever so slightly nuts, it is.
There's no way on Earth that, on first glance, you'd be able to deduce that such actions were required. Still, there's a certain sense of satisfaction to be had when you manage to crack the game's code – even though all you've done is tap everything that looks vaguely interactive.This obtuse sort of puzzle-solving comes with few hints. Tapping on the alien brings up vague clues that do little to help you figure out the task at hand. Instead of aiding you, they serve to highlight the incomprehensible nature of the game's scenarios.
It's easy to give up when even the slightest thing goes wrong. There are several levels where you have no idea what to do, and if you haven't made a breakthrough within a few taps there's little reason to continue playing.A madness to the method
This makes Hamlet a polarising title. While it has a classic adventure gaming feel to it, the absurdity of its puzzles and lack of a useful hint system prevents it from being digestible.
With a little bit of user-friendly tweaking here and there, Hamlet could be the kind of adventure game that blows away the genre's cobwebs and sets the standard for all those that follow with ease.
But by being so brilliantly unyielding, it plays the part of those Magic Eye books that once so fascinated me - a pretty piece that only folks with a certain eye will truly appreciate.