When is a pirate not a pirate? When they’re a ‘treasure hunter’, of course! Sailing, swashbuckling and grog is all fine and dandy, but finding long lost booty is the meat of the matter. Of course, most modern pirate-themed games include this, as they should. But often it’s with the aid of a detailed map, HUD and quest markers. Bilkins’ Folly by Webbysoft takes it firmly back to basics, embracing the maps, methods and mania of a true treasure hunter.
Percival Bilkins is the young heir of a line of famous treasure hunters, eager to live up to the family name. His mother and grandfather disappeared when he was just a young boy. Now of age, he sets sail with his faithful dog Drayton on a quest to find them. But a dreadful storm finds the pair shipwrecked on a deserted island without bearings or supplies. Using only his wits and his dependable pup, Percy must navigate his way through unknown lands to save his family. And pick up something shiny along the way.
A Pir—I Mean A Treasure Hunter’s Life For Me
Monkey Island meets The Legend of Zelda in this puzzle-driven adventure. Despite Percy’s strong objections to being a pirate, Bilkins’ Folly captures the feel of a pirate adventure while remaining completely combat-free and mostly PG. Journeying from island to island, Percy converses with many weird and wonderful characters, showing off a flair for witty and snappy dialogue. Some quests they give will present him with choices and they will remember your decisions. Like a certain Mr Threepwood, Percy is only a budding treasure hunter, starting with only the most basic of tools.
Throughout his journey, he can be given or sold hand-drawn maps to buried loot, plus more advanced tools as the game progresses. These maps start out simple, but attention to detail of your surroundings is key to solving their secrets. This is where the cartography set comes in.
Once found, this set equips the map screen with a ruler, eraser and several markers. These can be used to draw lines on the map to plan out routes and mark areas where hidden treasure may be buried. There is a real satisfaction to putting in the graft to solve these mysteries and being methodical. And with no time limits, you can take your time and find the best approach!
This also transfers over to skills like lockpicking and fishing, presented as a block-fitting and a path-finding puzzle. Sadly fishing falls a little short as the tutorial is a tad confusing, but for the most part, the satisfaction stays high. But what’s the greatest asset to our quest?
Man’s Best Friend
Loyal Drayton is of course the best doggo who deserves all of the pats. Always. But he’s also integral to Percy’s progress. The more bonding time spent with him results in gaining experience and learning new tricks by leveling up. Pulling switches, jumping large gaps, sniffing things out, there’s no obstacle he can’t (eventually) help Percy overcome. He’s also an excellent sniffer dog, seeking out things to dig up.
Okay, it’s pretty much all junk, but talking to the right person makes this worth your while. The only downside is he’ll intermittently get caught on the environment and disappear. Every so often, you’ll be following his woofs for a while before being reunited. But who can be mad at that insanely adorable face!
Tongue-Tied and Sticky Situations
As mentioned earlier, Bilkins’ Folly has a vast array of colourful characters. All are voiced through a mix of sounds and fictional language. A choice that should work well given the highly stylised setting; series’ like The Sims and Klonoa for example use this to great effect. And indeed the tone of voice for each character is very well matched. Old sea salts have a gruff, world-weary edge, spirits have a haunting, ethereal echo. However many of the inflections and stress in the voice overs are often greatly at odds with the written dialogue.
The result is very jarring and difficult to invest in over lengthy play sessions. Thankfully the voice volume can be muted and the dialogue stands perfectly well on its own. In fact, being VO-free would not have been a disadvantage, given the characterful writing.
Incidentally, while much of the game is smooth sailing, occasional technical blips can slow things down considerably. Even stop entirely in one instance. Being able to turn off auto-advance text is very useful—especially if voices are muted—but this proved problematic with the fishing mini-game. On catching a fish, the text would not manually advance and Percy remained perpetually brandishing his catch in triumph. Link, eat your heart out! As the main quest involves catching at least one fish, this brought things to a grinding halt.
Control-wise, the game is fully controller compatible, but again this is not without its niggles. The responsiveness of the Examine button is inconsistent with certain terrain items and characters. It can take several presses to initiate interaction and the items sometimes disappear from the screen before being able to examine them fully. In addition, using the ruler function on the map screen is a little clumsy. Trying to put it down after using it also takes a couple of tries, often resulting in accidental line draws. Keyboard and mouse control is much more slick. Hopefully these blips can be balanced out in patching.
Island Vistas and Catchy Shanties
Webbysoft truly have a knack for downright charming pixel art animation as Bilkin’s Folly is quite the treat. Character designs are unique and brimming with personality. Percy’s jaunty and bouncy walk is very infectious, Drayton’s boundless and lolloping energy fills you with joy. Indeed all of the varied interactions with Percy and Drayton – petting, hugging, carrying – exude a huge amount of warmth. It’s impossible not to love them! The supporting cast too are larger than life in their animation, complete with comic book-style sound effects for laughs and exclamations. Har-hars worthy of the Mêlée Island Pirate Leaders and woofs worthy of the floofiest of boofers!
The soundtrack is equally as joyous. Lively Caribbean sounds give way to ominous echoes and rattles as you make your way from a picture-perfect seashore into a deserted and ransacked lighthouse. There’s also a great use of dynamic music throughout. Depending on what kind of terrain you’re traversing, a different track will play. Even the pause menu has its own signature track! Some of these are surprisingly touching in unexpected ways. The latter half of Leeky Harbour’s theme had me standing still for a few minutes just drinking it in and feeling wistful, yet ever so slightly tinged with sadness.
A Grand Adventure
For those looking for a venture to sink more of their teeth and time into, Percy and Drayton’s expeditions will certainly deliver. The main quest takes roughly 13 – 15 hours to complete, depending on your puzzling skills and affinity. A plethora of side quests and treasure hunts will give at least another 5 hours of adventuring if you’re hungry for more. There’s also scope for replayability to see the outcomes of different choices play out. So altogether it’s a runtime that surpasses a good number of AAA titles!
All in all, Bilkins’ Folly is a highly enjoyable not-a-pirate romp with charm in spades. The logic puzzles are well executed and the cartography and navigation mechanics are wonderfully immersive and satisfying. VO aside, the graphics and audio lend themselves perfectly and showcase delightful eccentricity. The technical hitches are hard to ignore, particularly when they halt things completely, but the love that went into this game shines through. It’s well worth a purchase.
Therefore it receives the Thumb Culture Silver Award! Best make sure Drayton doesn’t chew on it, though.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.