I used to believe that graphic adventure games were bimodal when it came to quality. Either they were good or they were bad, with the line between the two so fine that there wasn’t room for any middle ground. Now that I’ve played The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle: Episode 1, I may need to rethink my hypothesis.
The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle is a point-and-click styled adventure game starring the eponymous Mr. Fiddle and his one-eyed man-servant, Gavin. Mechanically, the game is quite sound, sticking to the tried and true formula of exploring environments, grabbing everything that isn’t nailed-down, and then using said items to advance further. That said, it doesn’t add much of its own to the mix. Normally, this would be a problem, but this style of adventure game has always banked more on plot and puzzles than unique mechanics, so I’m willing to give it a pass.
Speaking of which, the game thankfully avoids the typical pitfall of “moon logic” puzzles that is all too common in the genre: every puzzle has a creative but entirely logical solution. Moreover, the game is quite good at dropping hints without ever feeling like it’s spoon-feeding you the answer.
Visually, the game is a mixed bag. The art style has a nice mid-90’s Nickelodeon vibe to it and does a good job of setting the tone. Unfortunately, between the muted palette for backgrounds and every other environment being the dull and lifeless streets of Victorian London, the environments quickly start to feel repetitive.
Of course, the main draw of these sorts of games is the story. Our adventure begins with a suspicious letter asking our protagonist to assist with a personal matter for a shady, but wealthy, individual. Mrs. Fiddle, however, doesn’t approve and instead tasks our heroes with taking her dog to the groomer, but then they get their bag mixed up with that of a stranger on the street, and somehow the whole thing spirals into a hunt for a serial killer…
If that attempt at a summary didn’t tip you off, the story is a tad unfocused. Several plot threads are introduced very early on and then immediately shunted off to the side to make room for the next one. Now, this can actually work quite well with a mystery plot, as what originally seemed like completely unrelated occurrences are slowly woven together into a tapestry of intrigue. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens here. Instead, Bertram and Gavin wander the streets of London, happen across an item on their to-do list (entirely by accident), decide they really have nothing better to do, and then move on to the next scene to repeat the process with little rhyme or reason.
Unfortunately, pacing isn’t even the writing’s biggest weakness. The concept of an English gentleman and his stalwart man-servant going on an adventure in London immediately evoked the image of one of my all-time favorite literary works, P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster series. The thought of a similar duo starring in a point-and-click adventure game sounded like a smashing idea.
Unfortunately, Jeeves and Wooster they are not. Simply put, neither the protagonist or his sidekick are particularly interesting. There’s little in terms of discernible characterization for either of them and what little is there is just plain uninspired. Bertram is a globe-trotting explorer, and an amateur sleuth, and an inventor. In short, he’s not just a gentleman adventurer, he’s every gentleman adventurer…and that’s it. He’s not particularly smart or stupid, he’s not a lovable loser a la Guybrush Threepwood, he’s not a likable jerk, he’s just a gentleman adventurer. His sidekick, Gavin, is even less interesting, only offering advice in the form of proverbs from his homeland.
That’s not to say that there aren’t interesting characters in this game; there are several. The problem is they’re in and out of the story so quickly, they never really get much time to shine.
Most of the humor consists of [insert clip of Bertram saying “terrible puns”] and poorly-executed, pop-culture references, but the few times it does stray away out of its comfort zone, it’s actually pretty decent. Like I said before, many of the odd folk the protagonists encounter during their adventure are entertaining and I’m always a sucker for the “the solution to one problem comes back to bite you later” gag.
Oh, and this happened. [Show picture of two Bertrams] This isn’t the only graphical glitch I encountered either.
So in summary, The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle: Episode 1 is a mechanically solid point-and-click adventure game that features good puzzles, so-so writing, and distracting glitches. All of these factors balance out to lead to a completely average, perhaps even mediocre, game, which for a game of this genre is an odd sort of accomplishment. That said, I would say that the asking price of $5.00 is completely fair.
I give The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle: Episode 1 a shrug.