Sierra vs Lucasarts is one of the rare videogame rivalries that never seemed that polarising. Unlike bitter clashes between things like Call of Duty vs Battlefield, I never remember any Lucasarts fan suggesting unbecoming things about the mother of a Sierra supporter. It was a rivalry based on begrudging respect, that even the most hardened fan of Monkey Island can still boot up Space Quest and enjoy without feeling like they're blaspheming. But still, point and clicks were alays neatly divided in two, with Lucasart's dialogue puzzles and tightly mapped environments contrasting with Sierra's inventory shenanigans, sprawling, yet detailed maps, and myriad insta-deaths.
Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine stakes its claim firmly on the Sierra side of the camp, presenting a Wild West homage to the Leisure Suit Larry series. You play as the titular Al, a forty year old virgin who, fresh from being kicked out of his parent’s house, buys a mail order bride and heads out to the dusty streets of Anozira to finally get his rocks off.
The game was originally released way way back in the ancient history of 2006, and, while playable, suffered from a few faults that really prevented it from being revered as a true indie classic. Well, one fault, mainly—the voiceover for the main character, which was somewhere in between a pre-puberty Pee Wee Herman and a Howler Monkey. Look up a Let's Play of the original release on Youtube and see how long you can stomach it before you’d go properly oldschool and mute the voices. Wisely, Himalaya Games have seen fit to redub the main character for this re-release, with Al now resembling the quirky tones of Sierra's own Larry Laffer and making you less likely to gnaw through a speaker cable or stab yourself in the eardrums with a pointy stick for blessed relief from the torment. The rest of the cast is pure Sierra, however, especially the narrator, who Himalaya have imbued with a unique, often funny, comment on virtually every possible interaction in the game.
Along with vocal reconstruction, cutscenes have also been given a lick of paint. The 3D rendered cutscenes that seemed dated even in 2006 are gone, replaced with decently done cell animation. The remastering, however, has created a slight graphical disparity, making the cutscene art style clash with the rendered sprites in-game—which, in turn, clash with the hand-painted visuals of the backgrounds and character portraits. Then a fourth comic panel style is introduced for later cutscenes, which really confuses things. It's not massively problematic and won’t really hinder any playthrough, but it would have been much better to spend more time remastering the lot, keeping to one graphical style and avoiding any jarring clashes.
The main game hasn’t been touched, and this is both a blessing and a curse, as puzzles were distinctly hit and miss in the original. Many have decent logic to them and are obviously presented—in an early puzzle, you need a flower from the top of a tall cactus. There's a bull over there. There's a red flag back in town. Not hard to work out what to do. Others, however, strain credulity (to get the red flag you have to pretend someone's died and then squirt mustard all over it), and others just seem random and bizarre (want to distract the sheriff? Why not convince someone to kill themselves?). The rigidity to the Sierra style of adventures (maze-like maps and a huge amount of objects to use—almost nothing is nailed down and casual theft reigns supreme) compound the problems, but it's never quite as ruthless as they used to be. I never encountered any deaths (something Sierra games were infamous for), both in my original play through of the 2006 game and this re-release.
Proper long-in-the-tooth adventure fans would have already made up their mind the moment Al Emmo was compared with a Sierra game, really. It follows the aesthetic fairly rigidly, and with a bit more polish on the graphics would easily be mistaken for one, which is ultimately a win for the Himalaya team as that’s undoubtedly what they set out to accomplish. Yet, it also makes it somewhat hard to recommend to the modern gamer, their only exposure to the world of adventure games coming from modern iterations like The Walking Game or Heavy Rain that, while good, virtually play themselves. Al Emmo is a game for the old school adventure fan, and with so many indie throwbacks like Deponia or Resonance being much closer to the Lucasarts template, makes quite a refreshing change to those who fondly remember playing through the Sierra Quest games. That is, if those memories aren’t soiled by having to check all four tyres before driving off in a Police Quest cruiser. Damn you, Sonny Bonds.
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