City of Fools tests your wits with old-school adventure design and new-school hidden-object elements
City of Fools, a self-proclaimed light-hearted and clever detective romp, is a welcomed thematic departure from the macabre mysteries that populate the hidden-object, puzzle-adventure (HOPA) genre. Absolutist can be applauded for attempting to break the thematic mold, even if the barrage of jokes about bodily functions falls flat and the execution is the most reminiscent aspect of classic adventure games (meaning, you’re at the mercy of the dev’s logic). The gameplay mainly consists of the townsfolk (or townsfools in this case) sending the player on meaningless retrieval tasks interspersed with a few puzzles and hidden-object scenes.
The premise of the story sounds promising: you are a clever, sneaker-clad journalist sent to track down and then interview the mayor of Tundel who is suspected of harboring an object sent by alien life forms. But almost immediately upon disembarking at the Tundel rail station, it becomes clear that the majority of your time will be spent on carrying out fools’ errands (retrieving lost items, settling feuds, and repairing appliances) for money rather than conducting an expose. The mayor purportedly lives on a private island, and you must earn enough money to charter a plane to the island. But perhaps this is by design. Tundel is a city of fools, after all.
Earning money is not a bad thing. In fact, this bit of added strategy greatly contributed to the game’s overall fun factor. Many of the items you’ll need are found in Tundel’s specialty shops and must be purchased with hard-earned cash. It’s up to you to determine which of the townsfolk’s tasks you can complete on wits alone, and after they pay you for a job well done, you can buy objects to complete tasks.
Another pleasant surprise was the hidden mini-games, such as the roulette table and soccer kick, where one could earn additional money at any time. The “money mechanic” would’ve been better integrated and could’ve kept the mystery alive if the townspeople of Tundel offered any information about the mayor or the alien object.
I was excited to find that Tundel is an open town where I could travel to any house and discover which tasks awaited me. An open town also means a non-linear plotline, which is a breath of fresh air in the casual space. However, navigating the streets of Tundel is much like navigating a labyrinth if you don’t take advantage of the Flag function on the map screen. The city map indicates your location with an X, but you cannot choose your location from the map screen. What you can do, and I highly recommend that you do, is move the Flag icon in the upper-left corner to the building/area you wish to travel to. That way, helpful white arrows will appear alongside your navigation arrows and lead you to your target destination.
Your other BFF in this game is your context-sensitive notebook. New tasks are added to the list at the beginning of the journal and their entries are added to the following pages. From the notebook’s Table of Contents, you can click a task to see the description. From within the notebook, you can click Contents to return to the Table of Contents. However, this functionality is easy to miss because Contents doesn’t look like a link or button and the pointer doesn’t clue you in. (In the game world, the pointer turns into a “grabby” hand when you can interact with something.)
The journal also functions as the in-game hint system (except for hidden-object scenes which use the traditional hint system). It was unintuitive to me to press the hint button while in the journal screen, so I missed this useful function (I’m only aware of it as it was pointed out to me after my play). Tundel has many buildings, which are only marked on the map by building number, making it impossible to remember which tenant lived where. I took meticulous notes on where tenants lived (or where townsfolk were hidden!) and which items they needed (I had 70+ inventory items at one time), which is typical adventure-game work, but atypical casual-game work.
The game promised to be entertaining, and I was looking forward to the absurdist spin on a HOPA, but the truly clever moments were rare. There were some funny celebrity spoofs, but most of the humor relied on flatulence and excrement. I “ran into a turd” several times. This mishap functioned like a penalty. My screen was covered in “poo” and swarmed by flies. Townspeople donned gas masks and refused to talk to me until I found a water source to wash up. I was even fined $3 by the obtrusive pop-up town cop for not showering fast enough.
City of Fools doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its premise, but it does offer a lengthy game that is unique in that it straddles genres. Just be sure to read through the tutorial section, even if blocks of comic sans-like text makes you cringe. Like the adventure games of yore, the in-game functionality isn’t always apparent. If you can’t bear the thought of reading a tutorial rather than playing one, rely on your old-school tactic of clicking on everything.