Every so often, a Kickstarter campaign comes along you regret not backing. Sick Chicken Studios’ launched their project for Guard Duty in February 2017 but the first time I heard about it was in January when Emily Morganti kindly got in touch with the offer of a key.
The full game has now been released since that preview and I’ve had the opportunity to play it through to the end. The previous build focused on Tondbert Roughskin, part-time-drunk and three-quarters dwarf, in medieval Wrinklewood. After slacking on his duties at Night’s Watchman as the result of partaking in a few too many birthday beverages, he unwittingly lets a mysterious stranger into the town and wakes up in the morning to a quest to save the kidnapped Princess Theramin.
Now jump a thousand years into the future to 2177 where Agent Starborn is Lieutenant General of the Guardians of New Haven, a resistance group embarking on a last-ditch effort to overthrow an alien-like evil and take back Earth. How are the fates of Tondbert and Starborn intertwined? Can they help each other across the span of time to save humanity? And most importantly: can Tondbert save the Princess and get a kiss from her at the end of the game? You’ll just have to play to find out.
If you like the classic point-and-click adventures and love Simon the Sorcerer in particular, then Guard Duty will be one for you. There’s something nostalgic about it which makes you feel as though you’re stepping back to the early 1990s despite it featuring a streamlined interface to bring it up to date. The visuals certainly help this sensation: for example, the forest reminded me of the similar setting in the first Simon instalment, and some of the characters throughout the title look as though they’re related to those in the Sorcerer’s world.
The Simon the Sorcerer poster stuck to the dartboard in Tondbert’s bedroom that I noticed while playing the preview has sadly been removed, but there are plenty of references to older games and films to keep fans happy. There were a few times I genuinely chuckled after hearing a line from a movie and then the protagonist remark on how cliched it was. It all serves to wrap you up in a lovely warm blanket of nostalgia as you work your way through both Wrinklewood and New Haven for just over five hours.
And what are those hours filled with? Well, it wouldn’t be an adventure without puzzles. The thing that struck me was just how logical they are: use a rope if you want to climb out of a window, grab that hot cup of stew from your inventory if you need to melt some ice. It’s all very intuitive. The gameplay takes a more contextual turn when you step into the shoes of Agent Starborn and this gives is an almost ‘cinematic’ feel, which suits the 80-style futuristic titles and the Lieutenant General’s save-the-world personality.
Guard Duty isn’t as challenging as a lot of other point-and-clicks so if that’s something you’re looking for, then you may come away slightly disappointed. But for me, it was great playing an adventure game that wasn’t trying to be difficult – and it was a pleasure to complete a title without having to turn to a walkthrough once! There’s also none of the mechanics which usually lead to frustration, such as needless backtracking and pixel-hunting, and Sick Chicken Studios have done a good of job modernising the genre.
Adventures can sometimes be overwhelming and the nature of their puzzles can make it seem as though you have an endless to-do list. Fortunately though here, Tondbert is scribbling notes throughout his journey and I found myself looking at these whenever I needed to check my current objective. Having them written in the protagonist’s handwriting, complete with silly doodles and spelling mistakes, was a lovely touch that adds to the personality of his character.
As handy as these notes are, over the course of the game it becomes clear that they aren’t just there for player reference. I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody planning to play Guard Duty – and I’d highly recommend that you do – but it’s revealed just how important they are towards the end of the title. The narrative may be short and players might not get to spend as much time with Starborn as they do with Tondbert, but it’s wrapped up in a way which nicely ties everything together.
In fact, it was the story that was the highlight for me as Sick Chicken Studios’ release sort of takes you by surprise. It’s very unassuming game with the pixel-graphics and light-hearted nature we’ve come to expect from point-and-clicks; and its tale of knight-wants-to-save-princess at first seems like standard genre fare. But these factors actually hide a very touching plot with a great message and you’ll be feeling all warm and fuzzy inside by the final credits.
Hopefully we’ll get to see Tondbert and Agent Starborn in a sequel in the future. And if the developer ever decides to do a Kickstarter campaign for it, they’ve already got their first backer right here.