Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet is a charming, hand-drawn landscape full of pirate themes, a cast of fantastically voiced characters, and an unfortunately lukewarm story.
This Point-&-Click adventure title is the follow-up to Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy, the free, puzzle-based video game that introduced us to our bird-loving explorer. This nautical story was developed by British comedian and filmmaker Alasdair Beckett-King after a successful Kickstarter campaign and published by Application Systems Heidelberg on March 22nd, 2016, for Windows, Linux, and Mac.
And you call yourself a pirate?
Nelly Cootalot is, if she is to be believed, an intrepid young pirate out to make a bigger, more infamous name for herself. Since The Fowl Fleet is a sequel, we already know that Nelly has a history in piracy and adventure, and she’s quick to tell other characters you encounter along the way about her status as a buccaneer. Ambitious to increase her fame and prowess, Nelly sets off for adventure only to be distracted by a strange plot by Baron Widebeard to enslave birds as a hypnotized avian navy.
The trouble is that the plot is wholly uninteresting. Players are rushed into the first act and tasked with finding passage onto a ship only to chase after Baron Widebeard for reasons that feel uninspired and forced. Nelly has to finagle her way into becoming a sailor – which means posing as a boy, of course – and the steps required to do this feel tedious and contrived. I found myself entirely unable to care about the story; I wasn’t at all concerned about figuring out why the Baron wants this fleet of zombie birds, nor did I particularly want to stop him.
As the plot progresses, you meet more and more eccentric characters with motivations that could be seen as quirky or unusual, but I found them to just be contrary for the sake of intrigue without any enjoyable believability. On top of that, the amount of “pirating” going on is negligible, and Nelly consistently makes decisions that are decidedly un-pirate-like for the sake of high morals, such as paying for goods she could have pickpocketed or trading tasks and labor for booty.
Wait, what’s the recommended age group?
Having never played the original Nelly Cootalot video game, I was initially perplexed by what the target age group is for The Fowl Fleet. The whimsical, cartoon-style graphics and the manner in which the tutorial portion takes the player in-hand to guide them made me think Nelly Cootalot must be intended for a younger audience. However, the language used by the characters relies on a fairly advanced vocabulary, and quite a bit of the tongue-in-cheek humor seemed designed for mature gamers. Is this simply a clever combination of kid-friendly puzzles and interactions, packaged in a way that adults can enjoy with – or without – child gamers in tow?
The puzzles are very easy, and most challenges are actually just a repetitious process of chat dialog-based elimination; repeatedly, I had to go back and hunt for new conversation options after receiving a new item in order to progress. As a veteran point-&-click gamer, I have zero problems with needing to go through dialog in order to figure out my next step, but this felt far more monotonous and unnecessary than most adventure games require. Nelly’s interactions seemed to walk a thin line between having solutions hand-fed to the player, which is often the case with games for a younger audience, and being so obtuse that they seemed more cumbersome than satisfying.
It’s definitely a family category choice, and I think this title would be a lot of fun to play with a younger audience. There are some character names, comments, and other off-hand statements that could be interpreted in more mature fashions, but I never encountered anything that would make me think twice about having kids give it a go; however, there are mild references to (and use of) alcohol, which tends to lead to a Teen rating at the very least with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), though I couldn’t find an actual rating on their official site.
Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to enjoy this title as a stand-alone point-&-click adventure, it really left me hanging. I just couldn’t get invested in the story, and I lost interest very quickly after running through dialog options over and over again. This was further augmented by numerous bugs; I had several instances where my ability to hit the spacebar to see “interactive item” indicators disappeared, and since the in-game cursor doesn’t change when you hover over an item, I missed that feature and needed to reload. I had several instances where the program completely locked up for a minute or so, choking as I tried to transition to a new area of the map or select a new dialog prompt.
Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet has some of the best voice acting I have found in a point-&-click adventure. It’s extremely compelling, and arguably one of the best elements of this chapter in Nelly’s ongoing saga. There’s tremendous variety in the character voices, and the line delivery is witty and endearing – it’s certainly one of my favorite aspects of the The Fowl Fleet. Pairing it with the fun, brightly colored, hand-drawn environment, this title feels like an interactive cartoon from a Disney Channel afternoon line-up. I dare say that it’s a package that, while possibly not intended for kids in particular, could help ensure that children will really enjoy Nelly’s quest. In fact, the sly humor and subtle jokes really do make this the perfect family point-&-click adventure to play together, with a little something for everyone -- but arguably, probably not enough to actually satisfy anyone.