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Hamlet: The Video Game

Man of action or man of inaction? Inaction, but in this case, that's a good thing.

Hamlet, or the last game without MMORPG features, shaders and product placement is by no means an effort to directly adapt Shakespeare's play. Instead, the game is a point and click adventure set in a surreal landscape that might be Denmark. But it probably doesn't matter too much.

Indeed, the game begins when a nameless, bean-shaped time traveler accidentally injures the Prince of Denmark, and in order to set things aright, that same traveler finds himself playing the surrogate role of hero in Hamlet's ostensible tale. I say ostensible because the plot here merely derives from its literary inspiration some loose semblance of the original's plot. Here our traveler must stop the evil Claudius from absconding with Hamlet's girlfriend Ophelia. You know, like the original Hamlet, sort of.

This “sort of“ approach to adaptation is largely this game's charm, though, as sequences in the game's plot have loose connections to the original. Yes, Ophelia will sink into a seeming watery grave -- where she and the game's protagonist will then luckily be swallowed by a giant fish. Yes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will meet their end as the result of sea voyage, bot not due to a cleverly penned letter by Prince Hamlet. Instead, they will be devoured by a giant octopus. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, indeed.

Oh also, you will fight all the “big bosses” that you remember from the play, including the aforementioned Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as well as Polonius, Laertes, and Claudius.

The visuals match this wacky approach to representing classic literature with renderings of people and places that are reminiscent of the grotesque style of a Ralph Bakshi cartoon. From Ophelia's cantaloupe-sized breasts to the protagonist's mincing little walk, everything is exaggerated and viscerally represented in service to an absurd aesthetic.

The gameplay recalls the great debate surrounding the hero that is absent from his own game. The question of the nature of Hamlet as man of action or inaction seems to resolve in the favor of inaction in this “version” of Hamlet, as the player spends most of their own time largely in time spent in repose. The game favors pondering the puzzles placed before that player with only casual clicking to figure out what objects can be manipulated in a given environment. The puzzles here are challenging but by no means impossible. A little persistence and a commitment to patience and chin scratching will resolve most of them in time. A timed hint feature that allows the player to click a question mark in the lower right hand corner of the screen after five minutes generally eases frustration as well, offering clarity on puzzles for the most part rather than simply giving their secrets away.

The notable exception to the favoring of a less active pose for the player to occupy in resolving the obstacles in his path are a couple of puzzles that require some nearly inhuman reflexes to pull off. The man of inaction will have to leap rapidly into the role of the man of action at these moments. Otherwise though, this is a relaxing adventure, in which the player can enjoy the scenery and ponder the beautiful absurdity of the world that mif2000 has charmingly drawn.

As a result, Hamlet turns out to be an extremely pleasing puzzler, made all the more pleasing through its outrageous homage to Shakespeare and its equally outrageous visuals. The only real rub here is the price tag, which at $9.95 actually seems a little steep, given that it is a game that is only likely to occupy an afternoon. A free demo of an hour's worth of play is available from Alwar and is definitely worth checking out: http://www.alawar.com/game/hamlet/.

Any replayability that the game has likely lies in the fact that you may want to show off its zany sequences to friends and family. A fair amount of enjoyment can be derived from just watching someone else delight in its strangeness and offering clues and hints to get them headed in the right direction if they are stuck. The desirability of “playing” the game alongside someone else in order to share its charming weirdness, though, speaks well of the strength of its design and its surprisingly high level of player engagement in its world.


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