Bare Boned

HIGH Getting the pistol.

LOW The ball machine not breaking the church window.

WTF So after the focus on downspouts I’m going to use a rope?


On the second floor of the music shop in Bone Town, a triangle is mounted on the wall. While a triangle is typically played with a specific striker, any old piece of metal will produce a sound, which is what needs to happen at this moment in Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town.

Not having a striker in my inventory, I proceed to go through everything metallic – a nail file, some scissors, a hammer – but none of it works until I use a tuning fork, an item that I was sure would not work because it famously produces its own sound.

This is well-worn territory for adventure games, and not necessarily a negative. Letting the player have a library of plausible tools for a task that will only accept one specific answer is an opportunity to dish out a pithy line or an amusing animation, along the lines of Grim Fandango’s “Run you pigeons, it’s Robert Frost!” Unfortunately, Willy Morgan doesn’t make use of the opportunity. The other possible tools fail with nothing more than a generic message, making the incident an exercise in futility and frustration.

I mention this because the Adventure game is among the oldest genres. Colossal Cave Adventure was released in 1976, and many of the style’s towering classics are now over twenty years old. The rise of independent development has led to an explosion of entries in this once “dead” genre, as developers who comprehensively understand the fundamentals of the form expand its boundaries with unique art styles, deep and affecting stories, and interesting riffs on the core verbs.

Willy Morgan has none of those things. Its wisp-thin story of a teenager trying to track his missing father’s last steps lacks both plot and characters well-defined enough to produce emotional resonance. The customary salve for this is humor, but very little in Willy Morgan rises to “wry smile” territory, and nothing surpasses it.

Although the name, presumably unintentionally, suggests a Leisure Suit Larry homage, Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town is meant to evoke a Monkey Island-esque world of pirates. Unfortunately, the town itself looks generic, and aside from constant jokes about grog and one or two pirate-themed locales, the intention doesn’t get followed through.

As for the puzzles, well, see the above. Nothing in Willy Morgan is particularly egregious, and typical of modern adventure games, there’s a way to highlight every hotspot and collectible object. Simply cycling through the available areas and trying to combine inventory objects with each other will generally solve every puzzle, or at least produce a hint as to the intended approach.

Though there’s nothing in the puzzles of Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town that offends, there’s also nothing that surprises or delights. The story and visuals equally lacked anything to seize my attention. Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town is a passable few hours of adventure gaming, but its design would have been below-average in the ’90s and is well behind the curve of what’s available today.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by imaginarylab and published by VLG Publishing and WhisperGames. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a home-built Windows X PC equipped with an AMD Ryzen 2700X processor, an ASRock X470 motherboard, 32 GB RAM, and a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card (driver version 452.06). Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: As of press time this game has not been rated by the ESRB. It contains Alcohol References, Comic Mischief, and Use of Drugs. All of this is relatively mild – the drug use concerns some hallucinogenic mushrooms consumed accidentally by a secondary character. I feel the game would be suitable for most children, and would rate it E10.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled and there are no essential sound cues. The appearance of the subtitles cannot be adjusted, and they appear next to the character speaking, which can occasionally makes text difficult to read.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. Interface is a typical point-and-click, and requires holding a mouse or keyboard button for various functions. Controls are shown below.

Sparky Clarkson

Sparky Clarkson

Sparky Clarkson grew up in the hot lands of Alabama, where he was regularly mooned by a cast iron statue. He played his first games on a Texas Instruments 99/4A computer, although he was not an early adopter. He eventually left Alpiner behind, cultivating a love of games that grew along with the processing power of the home computer. Eventually, however, the PC upgrade cycle exhausted him, and by the time he received his doctorate from the University of North Carolina he had retreated almost entirely to console gaming.

Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.
Sparky Clarkson

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