Game Name: Terry Pratchett's Discworld
Media: 1 CD-ROM
Publisher(s): Psygnosis
Developer(s): Perfect Entertainment
Genre(s): Adventure
Release Date: 1996
Serial Number: T-11302H-50
Region: PAL

Discworld Screenshot Sega Saturn PALLicensed video games are a dime a dozen, but ones with a license from a book franchise are on the rare side. It’s sensible; after all, how many video gamers read? (For that matter, how many people read, period?) If the notion in general is an odd one, translating the Discworld to video game form makes a certain amount of sense, and this wasn’t even the first crack at it – that happened way back in 1986 with the text adventure The Color of Magic.

But “translating” is not the best term to use in this case, since Discworld for the Saturn (also on PlayStation and PC) makes no attempt to recreate the social and philosophical explorations and human camaraderie which lie at the heart of the Discworld novels, and instead takes the well-worn path of fantasy parody. This is not to say that the game is wholly detached from Terry Pratchett’s books; the plot is loosely based on Guards! Guards!, a good dozen characters from the novels are present, mostly in-character, and it’s not as though parody is an element alien to the novels. But after playing through Discworld, I didn’t honestly feel that the essence of the Discworld experience was in there.

Discworld Screenshot Sega Saturn PALOf course, unless you’re a Discworld fan, your concern will be not with how closely the story follows the source material, but with whether or not it’s any good. Well, basically, the game starts strong but goes downhill from there. Though here I must note that the game’s low point is unquestionably the opening cutscene, in which a bunch of robed figures repeatedly chant “Dragon!” Inexplicably, one of them instead chants “Drag – ag – gon!” You have to hear it to comprehend how obnoxious and irritating this is, and the animation is terrible to boot.

Anyway, the story begins and ends with the humor, and while I was laughing a fair bit early on, the jokes fall into a rut. The basic formula of two characters discussing a fantasy trope with the same terms and tone with which one discusses a 9-to-5 job is repeated over and over, to the point where I had to remind myself that these dialogues are meant to be funny. Your mileage will vary according to how much appetite you have for this formula, of course.

Discworld Screenshot Sega Saturn PALMoreover, a good deal of the script’s faults can be overlooked thanks to the presentation. The graphics are a colorful mix of animated sprites and hand-drawn backgrounds, and the animations are funny when they’re meant to be. Better still, the game is fully voice-acted to perfection, by a cast headed up by Eric Idle as Rincewind. Each character is voiced with consistent personality and enthusiasm, enough to make all but the game’s worst jokes at least pleasing to the ear.

But Discworld really stumbles on the gameplay front. For starters, it lacks support for the Saturn mouse. Sadly, this is not an uncommon malady among Saturn point-and-clicks, but it nonetheless bears mention.

Discworld Screenshot Sega Saturn PALThe puzzles follow the simple formula of “get item here, use item there”, occasionally with “combine item with other item” thrown in the mix. The only spark of depth or originality is found in some of the L-space puzzles, where you go back in time to partake in events whose resolution you already know. Despite this, progress is anything but quick and easy, because the developers forgot one of the foremost rules of gaming: the player’s actions must have foreseeable results.

For instance, in one puzzle you must use a frog on a drunkard. When you do this, the frog jumps into the drunkard’s mouth, causing him to breathe funny, which lures a moth near so that you can capture it. No, I’m not making this up. The problems are obvious: How could the player know the frog would jump into the drunkard’s mouth? Or that odd breathing would cause the moth to come closer?

If this were an isolated problem, it would just be par (well, bogey, anyway) for the course for 1990s point-and-click adventures. But puzzles where using items has strange, improbable, and otherwise unforeseeable results are practically the norm for Discworld. For me it reached the point where I felt trial-and-error was the only way to progress. As charmingly as Eric Idle enunciates them, the voice clips “No, no I can’t seem to do that” and “That doesn’t work” do wear thin.

Discworld Screenshot Sega Saturn PALOn top of nonsense puzzles, there are necessary items which are only visible when you move the cursor over them (causing their name to appear), and a common case of poor direction. In Act I you’re given a figurative grocery list of items to obtain, and in Act II such a list is at least implied, but in Act III different people provide different lists of things you need, and some of the items on these lists are red herrings. This makes knowing what you’re looking for just as impossible as getting it once you’ve found it. Blessedly, you can skip cutscenes and dialogue with the “x” button, and you’ll be making use of that quite a lot, since the game gives little indication as to when new conversations open up.

Discworld is hard enough to recommend on its own terms, but the biggest strike against it is the existence of Blazing Dragons, a Saturn game with everything Discworld has – point-and-click puzzle gaming, a fantasy parody setting, full voice acting with top British talent, cartoonish hand-drawn graphics – but better at every level, most especially the puzzles.

Of course, you may have already played Blazing Dragons and be clamouring for more; I was. But even from that perspective, Discworld isn’t satisfying. If you don’t fancy spending countless hours working on the game’s more irrational puzzles, the only way to play is with a walkthrough, and that takes all the fun out of adventure gaming.

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