Friday 25 October 2019

Switch Review - Detective Gallo

With its comic-noir story, surreal abstract humour and blatant onscreen pointer, the inspiration behind ‘Detective Gallo’ is hardly subtle.  But during a point and click renaissance do adventure game fans need yet another LucasArts and Sierra tribute?

Developed by Footprint Games
Released in 2018

A chicken in a detective outfit has just used a pot of maggot infested yellow paint on a ceramic chest in an attempt to woo woodworms. Despite it being large enough to climb inside, the Poultry Poirot still manages to place this chest in his pocket and continues on his way. In most other game genres, such absurdity would encourage the raising of an eyebrow, but for adventure game fans this is not unusual. It’s certainly something Italian brothers Francesco and Maurizio De Angelis are used to.
“We are true fans of graphic adventures” says Maurizio. “We’ve played a lot of adventures (and we’re still doing it) for a very long time.” Given Maurizio’s favourite game growing up was ‘Day of the Tentacle ‘
And Francesco’s was ‘The Secret of Monkey Island’ it’s no surprise that when they came to create a game as Developer FootPrint, pointing and clicking would be involved.

After securing €15,000 on Eppela, the Italian crowd funding platform, the brothers divided up creation responsibilities: As an electronic engineer Francesco became the “technique soul” creating the User interface.  Maurizio meanwhile was the “artistic soul” working as scriptwriter and illustrator. With support from Mauro Sorghienti and Gennaro Nocerino, ‘Detective Gallo’ was the end result of the brothers’ hard work. 

‘Detective Gallo’ is very much a point-and-click traditional adventure in all respects. 

For modern players, the game can be played using touch screen controls when the Switch is in handheld mode. However when docked, the interface will instantly be familiar to anyone who’ll recognise a code-wheel. The left analogue stick moves an onscreen cursor, the Y button is the primary interaction used to pick up objects and the B button is used to inspect. Items stored in a top-of-the-screen inventory can be used in an environment or combined together. Finally as a helping hand to the A or L button highlight all interactive elements. It’s deliberately mechanically familiar, consciously trying to fit an established template, a familiar hug for aging LucasArts fans.

It’s a game clearly inspired by the adventure genre’s golden era and like its forebears, the puzzles won’t go easy on you. As you meander around interactively-rich locations, you’ll acquire a great number of items, which are used to solve the many, many narrative roadblock puzzles. The challenges in the game are overcome by two ways. If talking to someone doesn’t remove the problem, using the right inventory items on the right things at the right time should solve a conundrum. Of course to do this you’ll have to scour all locations for anything that’s collectible and you’ll also have to subscribe to the game’s own brand of logic.
True to the genre, ‘Detective Gallo’ lacks flexibility, there’s only one way to progress through the game and if you don’t use a specific object in the Developers intended way you simply won’t be able to progress. To criticise this would feel slightly like criticising the genre as a whole though. Using every item on everything in sight is a tradition in point-and-click games. You wouldn’t condemn a bullet hell shooter for being too hard for example. That being said ‘Detective Gallo’ does include many items that are very similar but behave in very different ways. For example, to make a paintbrush handle you could use a golf club, fork, extendable trimmer, wooden leg or spray paint can. Only one of these will work and too often finding the right one feels like trial and error. Frequently you’ll be able to imagine how to solve a puzzle and then have to find the right combination of random things to make it a reality. In some even more frustrating situations, the correct combination of items can’t be used until you have said a specific thing to a specific character, even if that dialogue tree may feel utterly irrelevant. 

Thankfully it’s impossible to be permanently stuck in the game, if you find every item you can always progress. There is however an instance towards the end of the game when exact timing is required and that’s when ‘Detective Gallo’s PC origins become far more obvious. Regardless of control mode, it suddenly becomes incredibly frustrating on the Switch as your protagonist doesn’t respond quickly enough to your input. It’s a short section but it does sour the experience of an otherwise relaxing game. 

There’s also lot of backtracking required, exacerbated by the fact that there’s not a huge number of locations to visit. Travelling from the mansion to the dump is only possible by passing through four different areas for example. Admittedly, it doesn’t require too much effort to move between locations as you can fast travel by double-tapping on the edge of the screen. However, even with this it’s still exceptionally Monotonous, especially when you only have to return to a previously visited location to use one object on a specific environmental feature. A world map could have streamlined the whole process. With more locations, the objects needed for puzzles could have been given a more natural home. More locations would mean more space for new faces; in so doing some of the existing multi-purpose characters could have been simplified by dividing their narrative responsibilities amongst several NPCs. Instead the solution seems to have been the “everything for everybody” emporium, which ultimately is just an elegant way of disguising a dumping ground for single use inventory items. Similarly phoning a trusty informant, seems to be an equally convenient method of giving the player narrative exposition. 

Spanish speakers will already have noticed that Gallo means Rooster, and appropriately the game’s protagonist is a grumpy avian private-eye struggling with a very tricky case. He works in a surreal, exclusively poultry populated, world of crime and corruption. 

The story bizarrely focuses on solving the murder of five exotic plants. With the support of his cactus assistant, Thorn, it’s up to Gallo to investigate, interrogating bizarre characters and venturing into a gritty world of gangsters inspired by 1940’s film noir. “Since the very beginning, we had the idea to create a comedy-noir game” says Maurizio. “So, we needed to base the story around a protagonist who would well represent the comic contrast between the noir movie style [...] from that, we laughed thinking about a rooster playing the role of a tough detective!” But classic Hollywood and classic point-and-click weren’t the only ingredients in this comedy melee. Francesco also thanks the TV series ‘Duck Tales’ and cult-comic ‘Dick Tracy’. According to Maurizio ‘Defective Gallo’ is a fusion of the brothers’ great loves. “We’ve mixed together thriller-noir moods from Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Rex Stout with the most famous “comic detectives” of videogame history, such as ‘Sam & Max’, ‘Tex Murphy’ and [Anachronix’s] Sly Boots !“ 

With his laid back stride, detective suite and penchant for shooting objects, Gallo certainly echoes Steve Purcell’s famous canine Detective, but while he has Sam’s dry wit he lacks his warmth. “Gallo hates everybody. He’d kill everybody, but he can’t” says Francesco. “He knows he must behave like a civil rooster.” Our protagonist seems to have a comeback for every slight and a sarcastic comment to make on every ludicrous player suggestion.  With such an engaging focus it’s easy to get lost in the world of ‘Detective Gallo’. Much humour comes from Gallo referencing his own life defining rules, and there’s a wonderful self-aware postmodern humour.
The Gumshoe willingly points out the illogical nature of some puzzle solutions and the unbelievable circumstances that arise. Even the traditions of the point-and-click genre are ripe for ridicule; the titular hero points out that there’s “no limits to a standard pocket” as he picks up a comically large curio. While Gallo’s understandably the stand out character in the game, others certainly cause a giggle. There’s laughs a plenty as the informant amusingly attempts to avoid talking to Gallo, Phil Chloro’s bluster will prompt a smile and a will always laugh at a Latino love god that looks a lot like a cactus wearing sunglasses. It’s largely family friendly humour, where realism never blocks silly.  Two scenes especially stand out for their memorable outlandishness: one where you create a hallucinogenic    cocktail to extract information from someone’s psyche. Another comes after you waste so much electricity that the supply gets cut and you then must deal with the repercussions in complete darkness.

Considering this game was originally Italian, the localisation has been superbly handled By Jack Allin. Allin is a writer and content manager for Adventure Gamers; the largest English-language website devoted to coverage of the genre. If anyone knows what’s funny in a point-and-click it’s him.

Obviously the best dialogue is only amusing if it’s delivered well and Gallo is 
pitch-perfect. His grizzled world weary voice, conjures up a mental image of David Hayter in a fedora. Others stand out less and unfortunately a small number of financial backers get cameos. Thankfully they are brief enough to be forgivable but they still stick out like sore thumbs. To be honest it’s a practice I wish developers would stop doing, as while it may encourage a meagre €150 crowd funding pledge, it compromises the game indefinitely.

Gennaro Nocerino’s score could never be considered unprofessional though. This Madrid-based composer has produced music for movies and his involvement was much trumpeted during the funding campaign. As Francesco boats “He has perfectly captured the mood of the game, expressing it with a series of excellent jazz/blues tracks!” The game boasts over 50 minutes of original music and there’s enough of it that it always feels fresh. Some locations favour more upbeat and playful, reflecting the more comedic characters. Others offer a more typical film noir style, with slow saxophones and strings setting a moody tone not unlike that heard in LA Noire’. It creates an atmosphere suitable for a world bathed in constant moon light, and the art style certainly supports this despite the cartoon aesthetic. 

“‘Detective Gallo’ is a point-and-click adventure, wholly hand-illustrated and hand-animated” Maurizio De Angelis reminds us. “I am the living proof that [...] Animations are made frame-by-frame according to “old-school” animation principles: we chose that method in order to give our game a true cartoon style. “  Visually the game feels like a surreal fusion of 90s LucasArts and nickelodeon cartoons from a similar time. Architecture purposely veers off at odd angles, along with ambient touches like flashing signs and hovering flies. While many locations are static, they’re so rich in detail they somehow continue to feel alive. 

At times the game lacks polish though. Transitions between locations are jarring with music ending suddenly and black loading pauses interrupting the games flow. While the overall presentation of the game is certainly eye-catching, there are noticeable bars at the top and bottom of the screen which makes ‘detective Gallo’ feel like it doesn’t literally fit the Switch’s screens. The scale and into-screen depth makes the locations feel majestic but often Gallo doesn’t actually feel integrated in them. He jumps in sizes as he moves towards the background unaffected by lighting and shadow. It’s of course impressive that such a Title was created by a small team, but such short comings wouldn’t be forgivable in a big budget Point-and-click by companies like Double Fine or Revolution so it doesn’t seem fair to Completely ignore them here.

According to Francesco De Angelis ‘Detective Gallo’ was originally made using AGS (Adventure Game Studio). “We choose it because it is functional to realise old-style adventures, even if I managed to increase the resolution to Full HD and totally changed the interface to a new, more user-friendly version for the players.” celebrated modern point-and-click developers Wadgeteye games have said the struggles they’ve had porting their AGS games to consoles, so it’s to Footprints credit that they have achieved this via unity. The Switch is increasingly becoming a home for independent point-and-click games, and ‘Detective Gallo’ should sit proudly amongst the best.  Fans of point-and-click adventure games will likely enjoy the 5 or 6 hours it takes to complete ‘Detective Gallo’. It’s a traditional adventure game that has an undeniable charm, primarily down to its memorable lead character, attractive graphics and a soundtrack that rivals much bigger budget games. The story is utterly bizarre and may take a while to get anywhere but the conclusion is incredibly funny and makes the, at times, convoluted journey worthwhile.  

As the studio’s first foray into their much loved adventure genre, Francesco and Maurizio De Angelis Should are proud of ‘Detective Gallo’. I can certainly imagine children today will love their game as much as they adored the LucasArts titles of their youth. 

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