Review: Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town Will Make You Go “Meh” Rather Than “Arrr!”
Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town is a fine game. Not the “damn fine” felt driving a herd of cattle all the way to Montana pastures under clear, blue skies without losing a single head. More of the “plain and tall” variety. It’s adequate. There is a story that moves from A to B, gags that make you say “that was indeed a joke,” and puzzles. But there are no moments of revelation, no outright guffaws, and no head-scratchers to untangle and feel proud after the fact. And that’s fine.
The game is a LucasArts-like adventure following young Willy Morgan on the trail of his missing father through his last known locale, Bone Town. Players explore Bone Town, a shanty village steeped in pirate lore and living in apparent ignorance of double entendres, questioning its quirky residents and unraveling the town’s mysteries in the process.
In an industry where anyone with a little drive, know-how and elbow grease can make a game, the aforementioned “fine” could easily be a euphemism for “bad.” There is a glut of adventures and stories vying for our attention. Thousands of new titles are released on Steam each year and “fine” does not set a game apart from the pack. Player libraries bloat with each seasonal sale, games get buried under waves of cheap buys, and a “fine” title floats to the bottom. But, by virtue of the point and click adventure boots it straps on, Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town benefits from its fineness, particularly in its puzzles.
The game’s puzzles steer clear of wild solutions out of left field, but neither does it feel like you are sleepwalking through the game. It’s a solid tightrope walk to keep the game moving. I never felt like I had exhausted all of my options and should spam items just to progress. I also never felt like I was playing a visual novel with extra steps. The puzzles are the game’s foundation and require at least some base-level problem solving. Things like fast travel and item hotspots cut down on a lot of the filler of going back and forward across a map, or clicking without abandon for an unfound puzzle solution.
While an even-handed approach works well for the gameplay, it weaves less wonders on other elements, like its humor. The game pulls heavily from the LucasArts adventure stable, but it never really commits to the playful tone. It keeps one foot in with some fun gags in the background or the occasional snappy comeback, but they feel few and far between. While the characters are portrayed as kind of goofy, the dialogue’s humor felt so sparse I wound up debating how many jokes were just extremely subtle or entirely oblivious. Nowhere is that more apparent than the game’s chosen setting. Bone Town.
A game acting as an homage to a series of titles known for their humor takes place entirely in Bone Town, and nobody bats an eye. The game never misses an opportunity to remind you where you are: Bone Town Square, Bone Town Library, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a Bone Town Monopoly. It’s enough to make you doubt your sanity, and makes obvious, deliberate jokes come across flat, even if they fall short of being eyerollingly bad.
While the humor of the game never finds its footing, a lot of elements are detailed and have a lot of love put into them. The art is a perfect match for the game and the backgrounds never feel bare. The sound also helps everything feel fleshed out. Never obtrusive, the score is the perfect synthy, soft pop mix for quickly mulling over a riddle, with some background white noise and bird effects to keep you in the island setting.
Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town plays free of any noticeable bugs, clocking in at eight hours, give or take, for a full playthrough. The tepid “fineness” of it all makes it tricky to decide who is meant to play it though. Should point and click adventure aficionados seek it out? Possibly. It’s not going to offer them much more than they’ve already seen, but devotees might appreciate the game purely for the love for the genre, its shared ties with LucasArts titles, and how competently it’s put together, even if it is nothing earthshaking. Genre newcomers? Sure, if you managed to miss out on heavy hitters like Myst or Grim Fandango but have always been curious, it’ll offer a fun enough ride for those with nothing else to compare it to, with more approachable puzzles to boot. Lapsed adventure fans? Maybe less so. My heart didn’t exactly pound waiting for the story to unravel, but I did enjoy myself enough to consider some adventure titles that fall by the wayside and maybe warrant a second look. That being said, Willy Morgan may not scratch that same itch for everyone.
The game is a freshman attempt by imaginarylab, a small group of some clearly passionate people. Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town may not be a slam dunk out the gate for the team, but all the signs of talent are there. With a little more resources, time, experience, or even polish, there’s a lot of potential for imaginarylab’s future. Willy Morgan probably isn’t the game that will take them there, though. At the end of the day, it’s decidedly…fine. A movie of the week that won’t ruin your evening, but it probably won’t make it either.
Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town is available now on Steam.