The video game world is possibly the most fluid and constantly changing landscape in modern media. With more and more independent and crowdsourced games popping up every day it’s quickly becoming the most creative way for an everyday artist or developer with an idea to make it into a reality. Now all this is not a thesis, this is fact; a fact that most gamers in 2019 don’t need to be reminded of. But for a strictly “major name” platform gamer, it’s something you need to see to believe. A game like Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet proved to be the perfect first step into the world of indie gaming.
With its beautiful hand-drawn and cel-shaded visual style, the game catches the eye right off the bat. It’s as if a children’s book came to life and you were in control of the story. The visuals harken back, at times, to the days of original hand-drawn animated films. Creator, Alistair Beckett-King even says in the games commentary track that one of his background drawings took its inspiration from the Disney classic 101 Dalmatians. It’s a nice change from the world of hyper-realistic 4K graphics (it’s also mentioned in the commentary that the game was not even originally rendered in HD, which is worth noting because it, very obviously, benefited from it.) The game not only resembles a children’s story in visual style but in dialogue as well. This is where Nelly Cootalot really shines.
The distinctly British style of humor is really where the strength of the game lies. It’s cheeky, sarcastic sensibility had me laughing out loud at multiple points and very quickly became its main selling point. Best of all, the dialogue did not rely on being “aimed at adults but okay for children” it’s just plain silly across the board; something that everyone, of all ages, could easily appreciate. What is a game, however, without its gameplay? Sadly, it is the only spot where Nelly Cootalot falls slightly short. The game was a crowdsourced PC gaming “point and click” title released in 2016 which has now been ported over to the Nintendo Switch three years later. While it doesn’t particularly show age at all, it is clear from the start that a console is not exactly the right platform for its playstyle.
Very often you’ll find yourself unclear of how to access the maps and items or how to even bring up the pointer. Being a mostly “docked” Switch player I even tried converting to handheld mode and while it does help by making use of the touch screen, I still found myself fumbling around buttons. That being said, however, eventually I got the hang of it and I hesitate to dock any real points from the game because I just found it so relentlessly charming.
While playing Nelly Cootalot you’ll find yourself both frustrated and determined at the same time. While part of me wanted to walk away from the tedious puzzles and wandering back and forth between loading screens, another part of you just can’t stop. You’ll to feel that satisfaction of solving the puzzle or getting the item. The styles of puzzle also varied quite a bit, which kept the game moving and didn’t feel like you were doing the same thing over and over. There were puzzles that involved memory, close listening, combining items and even playing a game of off-brand “Operation” (which was a rare moment when playing on the Switch actually added to the experience, as when you touched the sides, the HD Rumble of the Joy-Cons would go into full effect.)
At the end of the day, the measure of a video game is how much fun you had while playing it. The animation can be beautiful, the game play outstanding, but none of it matters if it’s not fun. If you had to sum up Nelly Cootalot: The Foul Fleet in one word, it’s “fun.” Even with its shortcomings, it has more than enough irreverent and funny dialogue, silly characters (one of which is voiced by Doctor Who’s Tom Baker, which makes for a welcome surprise) and creative heart. It’s a good time, and though single player, it can even be shared with friends with whom you can figure out puzzles. Even if you’re not a total indie convert, it’s a start and without a doubt, hopping on board with Nelly on this quaint little adventure is a worthwhile one.