Encoyda is a charming and quirky point-and-click adventure, in the vein of classics of the genre like Monkey Island and Sam & Max. During the game, players take control of two characters, the nine-year-old Tina – an orphan living on the streets of the dystopian Neo Berlin – and her only friend, her robot minder SAM-53. What starts off as a fairly routine day for Tina soon turns into a series of extraordinary events revolving around her parents’ legacy, cyberspace – an addictive virtual reality used by the authorities to control the population – and the odious Mayor of Neo Berlin, Mr Rumpf.
In terms of gameplay, if you’ve ever played a point-and-click adventure before, you know what to expect: investigate the environment, talk to NPCs (non-player-characters), collect various bits of bric-a-brac and use all of the above to solve puzzles the game throws in your way. As such, puzzles are a make-or-break area of games such as these, with the puzzles from the better games in this genre feeling intuitive once you’ve figured out all the various components, and those from the poor games feeling nothing so much as downright frustrating and deliberately obtuse (including nonsensical use of items). That said, the more intuitive puzzles can feel simply ‘too easy’.
Encodya walks an interesting line between the two. The puzzles themselves are quite intuitive, and lead to a satisfying sense of ‘a-ha! That’s how it all slots together!’ when you’ve managed to figure-out all the relevant components. Where difficulty enters into the equation is on just how hard it is to find certain components of the puzzle – requiring razor-sharp attention to detail – and a number of deliberate red-herrings that through me off the correct answer to a puzzle for quite a while. This leads to the puzzles being a mix of easy and intuitive, and hard (and sometimes frustrating). Interestingly enough, two of the hardest puzzles in the game revolve around a linguistic riddle (complete with red-herring), and a sonic puzzle which put me in mind of the absolute killer puzzle from Myst. All in all, the puzzles in Encodya are a nice mix of easy, mid and hard difficulties, achieved without ever resorting to illogical answers or strange use of the items to hand, and are definitely satisfying to solve.
For players looking for an easier challenge, there is an easy mode which gives players fairly easy-to-decipher hints as to what to do, but counts the number of times hints are used. You see, the game has various achievements (such as using no hints, finishing it within a particular time, finding all the secret items hidden throughout the game) which, in turn, unlock various rewards. These range from concept art and a shot of the developer’s to-do-list, to a trailer of Robot Will Protect You, the film that the game is based on.
That’s right, in a rather round-about way, Encodya is a film tie-in, which actually has a fairly interesting genesis. The game grew out of the work of the Italian film director Nicola Piovasen. Following the success of his indie short-film, Attack of the Cyber Octopuses, Nicola created another film set in the same universe but 17 years prior to Octopuses: the animated short film Robot Will Protect You. Part of the Kickstarter strech goals was the creation of a game, and Encodya (which itself raised nearly double it’s Kickstarter goal) was the result.
This has some interesting implications for the games. Firstly, as the game was actually created by the film-maker himself, this is far from the shoddy tie-ins gamers are used to. Secondly, in terms of art-style, the result is a unique looking blend of cell-shading, 3D and hand-drawn art, giving Neo Berlin a distinctive gritty feeling. Thirdly, Encoyda’s world and story (the story being a fairly linear yet enjoyable adventure) has a feeling of depth to it, with things in the world feeling integrated and presented in a matter-of-fact manner. While familiarity with the previously mentioned films would probably enrich the experience, as a complete newcomer to Nicola’s work, I didn’t feel like I was missing something that would let me enjoy the game.
Another feature of the game that stands out is the comedy. This isn’t the zany comedy of games like Sam & Max, but an altogether more subtle use of humour likely to result in a wry-grin, including breaking the fourth-wall, self-referential asides (such as certain characters knowing they are part of a computer game, much to the confusion of other characters), and loads of sci-fi and pop-culture references, ranging from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to classic video-game cheat codes. Simply put, the more you know, the more you bring to the game, the more you get out of it. In the humour department, there are also several stand-out characters including a Chef obsessed with Bavarian-Japanese fusion cuisine (bratwurst dipped in soy-sauce, anybody?), a crazy Traffic Bot, a slightly snarky secretary bot (“of course this building opens late, it’s a government provided service) and a crazy Observation Drone (well, it doesn’t start off that way and I may have had something to do with the personality change). The humour works well in the game, and also helps lightens the tone and keep Neo Berlin from feeling too drab and depressing.
All in all, Encodya is a charming, well constructed point-and-click adventure, in the best traditions of the genre. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, and you have a good knowledge of pop-culture, then Encodya may be a good starting point. On the other hand, if you’re already familiar with the genre, then Encodya is definitely worth checking out. ■