A Gobliiin in London (and elsewhere)

by Austin Auclair

originally posted on www.SpectacleRock.com on July 8, 2009

Before I get into writing about the Goblins series, let me first thank my girlfriend, Liz, for her patience with the journey it took to actually get a copy of the newest installment, Gobliiins 4. 


In early March, while conducting my usual search for upcoming adventure games, I stumbled upon a sparse listing of its impending release.  After scouring the internet for release information, I eventually found the game’s official website, but unfortunately, it was in French.  After having Google translate it, my heart sunk.  The game was being released in Europe in March 2009 but there was no scheduled release date in the U.S. 




I don’t remember exactly when or how I first discovered the Goblins series.  The first game of the series, Gobliiins (an “i” for each member on the goblin team you control), was released in the U.S. in 1991.  It was designed and produced by the French company Coktel Vision.   I loved Sierra On-line games (who later bought the license from Coktel Vision) so I probably saw it in one of the catalogues the company would send me.  The Goblins series are point-and-click adventure/puzzle games.  While the storylines featured in the series are laughable, the puzzles are top notch.  They require the player to manipulate objects in a room or rooms to move on to the next set of puzzles.  The games are a lot of fun and pretty silly.  I simply had to try and get a hold of the latest installment.


I emailed the companies involved several times begging asking for any information about a release in the U.S.  I received no reply.  I looked into ordering the game from a European online distributor and having it mailed, but with no luck.  The European video game vendor websites that I found (that could be translated into readable English) weren’t listing Gobliiins 4 at all.


But wait!  Liz and I were taking a three week vacation to England at the end of April!


“In the world of video game markets, does the UK count as being part of Europe?” I wondered.  I seemed to recall reading somewhere that the UK was its own market but I ignored that thought and hinged my hopes on being able to pick up the game on our trip. 


Late April quickly arrived and Liz and I flew across the Atlantic.  We started our trip in London and were going to be traveling around the country visiting as many places as we could.  Our first day, severely jet-lagged, we walked around London non-stop knowing that if we stood still, we’d fall asleep.  We explored a large chunk of the city that day and after a while, walked past a video game retailer.  I had mostly forgotten about Gobliiins 4 in all the getting ready for the trip and seeing the store quickly brought it back to my mind.  I asked Liz to wait a moment; I wanted to check for a game.  Seeing that she was confused about why here in England I’d want to buy a video game, I explained the whole exclusive European release thing.  Being the great girlfriend that she is, she smiled, rolled her eyes, and followed me in. 


No luck.  I comforted myself with the fact that it was a pretty small store, mostly geared toward console games and big-title PC releases, but as we came across more game stores in London it didn’t get any better.  No indication of the game anywhere.  As we traveled city to city we would see the sights and stop in every video game store we passed. In the city of York, after finding an internet café, I decided to check the UK retailers’ websites for a release date. 


Finally!  One of the sites was showing an on-sale date which was only days away!  I still couldn’t help myself and kept checking any stores that I hadn’t yet gone into – just in case they had the game early.  Eventually the day came but the game still wasn’t in stores.  Checking the internet yet again, I found that the on-sale date had been changed – to the last day we’d be in England. 


That fateful day came and ever patient with my search, Liz was fine with us braving the morning rush hour on the Tube, and a torrential downpour to get over to Oxford street mere hours before our flight.  We arrived at the store and the game wasn’t on the shelves.  I had come too far to leave empty handed and I asked the store clerk about it.  He said he hadn’t heard of the game but started checking the store release date files. 


“Sorry, it appears that the game isn’t supposed to be released until next week,” the clerk said.  Pausing, “Hang on a sec,” he mumbled.  He went to the back of the store, opened the office door, and began speaking to the store manager, who replied that, yes, it was supposed to be released that day.  The clerk came out and started unlocking various drawers beneath the display case behind the counter.  Finally, after opening the fifth drawer, he pulled out Gobliiins 4.

 Got the game and my girlfriend didn’t hate me – good trip!

In the first installment of the series, Gobliiins, the goblin king has been attacked by mysterious malevolent magic and you guide three goblins to try and save him.  Each goblin has his own set of special actions he can perform.  One is a magic user whose magical blast either transmogrifies objects or causes them behave in odd ways.  The second goblin is an athlete of sorts and can punch and climb.  The third goblin is the only one who can pick up and use objects.

Levels consist of a single screen (22 levels in all) and the goblins must solve their way through each to move on. 


The game isn’t terribly hard.  It just requires the usual random thinking needed in playing adventure games.  Though one drawback is often after figuring out one step in a puzzle, it is unclear what you’re supposed to do next.  In some levels you’re looking for a quest item that will help save the king, others you’re just trying to move on to the next screen, but it never actually tells you that.  It would have been nice if each level had a title like, “The Escape from the Dungeon” or “The Search for the Magic Plant” to give you a little guidance.  Most often, the only way to determine the goal is to try the goblins’ abilities on random objects and see what happens – eventually you’ll get the “level complete” message.


I remember my friends didn’t like the game because in this installment, you’re penalized for each wrong decision you make—your health bar diminishes when you open a jar containing an angry bee, you don’t get out of a lumbering zombie’s way, you press the red button and one of your goblins gets bonked on the head with a falling rock, etc.  When you’re out of health, you lose the game, a factor that never really bothered me as you get a password after completing each level.  Once you figure out how to beat the level, you can load the code and get through the game without loss of health.

Overall the game remains fun to play even today.  Each level is unique and quite nice looking and the characters have cute reactions.  The game can be a bit buggy but nothing that’s too devastating.  There’s no music, but since the sound effects that it does have are pretty bad, that’s probably a good thing. 


The second installment, Gobliins 2 – The Prince Buffoon was released by Coktel Vision in 1992.  The goblin king’s son has been kidnapped by evil demons and it’s up to two goblins, Fingus and Winkle, to rescue him. 


In this sequel, both characters can pick up and use objects but each uses them in different ways.  They also interact with the world differently – an NPC may have a more positive reaction to Fingus than Winkle or Winkle is able to dodge a trap where Fingus gets flung across the screen.  The puzzles in Gobliins 2 are much, much harder than in the first game.  In Gobliiins only one character could move or perform actions at a time.  In the second episode, both characters can move and act at the same time and often puzzles require you to have them do so – i.e. Fingus has to distract the giant while Winkle takes the giant’s key.  This mechanic sometimes can be quite frustrating as the characters don’t always respond to your commands as quickly as you need them to.  It’s especially annoying when a certain puzzle requires the goblins to act with precise coordination.  These buggy moments aside, having your goblins work simultaneously adds a different dimension to the game and overall works pretty well.


Even with its faults, Gobliins 2 is a lot of fun and remains one of my favorite puzzle games.  No longer using passwords, this edition has a save function which is extremely helpful.  Some levels have long chains of puzzles which reset if you do something wrong – it’s nice to be able to save as you successfully complete each step.  The graphics are much improved over the first game and levels span several screens, requiring you to really spread out your thinking.  The sound effects are fantastic and the music is pretty good too.  The game is very long – just when you think you have it beaten, you discover many levels still to go. 


I first got this game around the age of fifteen and playing through it again now I had the occasional flashback, especially on the really difficult parts.  Of course I couldn’t remember how I got through the hardest of the puzzles, just that I remember being really stuck in those sections back then too.  The biggest memory flash was at the end when I finally beat the game.  The same feeling of accomplishment washed over me now as it did originally.  I definitely prefer to be alone when I beat Gobliins 2, since I can’t help doing a little trash-talking to my computer screen. 


Goblins 3 (also known as Goblins Quest 3 from the Sierra On-line re-release) was released by Coktel Vision in 1993.  When I first played Goblins 3 I wasn’t sure how to feel about it, and playing through the series again, I still don’t know.  Its graphics, music and sound are great and an improvement over the first two games.  The game features only one goblin with an occasional sidekick to facilitate puzzles that require simultaneous actions.  The levels are made up of panoramic scrolling screens instead of the separate panels of the second game. 


My biggest criticism of Goblins 3 is that it holds your hand a little too much.  The game has an “aim of the screen” feature which alone is very helpful.  It spells out very plainly what you’re trying to accomplish on each level – rescue the lady goblin in distress, escape the underworld, etc.  But then the game goes too far.  Clicking on NPCs or objects will often elicit hints on how to solve a puzzle.  Sometimes it’s not just a clue but a straight answer.  I can see how having an option for clues would be attractive to some people but it should be not be directly written into the game.


Another complaint I have is that the game tries too hard to be cute.  Other Goblins games just are.  Lastly, even though the series isn’t exactly known for its gripping stories, the plot of this game is pretty weak.  You seem to be a goblin journalist who’s out looking for a good scoop and you get caught up in a wacky adventure.  I think.


Despite all of this, Goblins 3 is still a great game, and avoids some of the annoying glitches that were in the first two games.  When the player isn’t being given the answers, some of the puzzles are quite challenging and the levels are designed in interesting ways.  I think a lot of my problems with the game stem from the fact that I didn’t play it as much as the first two and my nostalgia isn’t making excuses for its shortcomings.


I began playing Gobliiins 4 with a bit of apprehension.  It had taersonName w:st=”on”>kenersonName> international travel to get this game.  What if it wasn’t very good?  The official website’s description of the game includes, “An 8 year old child is between one hour and two hours to reach the end of each level”.  Grammatical errors caused by the translation from French to English aside, the point of the sentence is clear enough.  Would the game be way too easy for me?  Or would I totally embarrass myself by struggling with levels that an 8 year old child is supposed to be able to handle?  If so, maybe I could just console myself with the thought that perhaps French children are especially adept at problem solving.


Liz and I actually ended up playing the game together.  She wanted to see what all the fuss was about and I was excited to introduce her to the video game genre that I love.  It ended up working really well.  She brought a fresh mindset to figuring out puzzles and my long time experience with the Goblins series helped identify solutions to problems that I had seen in the previous installments.


The story of Gobliiins 4 revolves around the goblin king’s pet aardvark going missing and a goblin trio has been hired to track it down.  The original three characters of Gobliiins are back with their unique abilities.  Tchoup, the goblin who can use items, now runs a detective agency. 


Gobliiins 4 is the first of the series that’s in 3-D.  Graphically it’s pretty good looking – not the most amazing thing out there but totally acceptable.  The music is great and fits very well with the game.  Gobliiins 4 remains true to the series and is very, very cute.  Its story is a little more relevant to the game play than it has been before, giving you some direction as you progress through each level.

                               Mole customer service is terrible.

Gobliiins 4 isn’t the hardest game of the series but it wasn’t easy either.  It took about an hour or two for Liz and I to get through each of the later levels – about the same as those French children.  It does borrow some puzzle mechanics from the first three games but generally brings a unique approach to the problems it presents.  There are points where you’re required to have two goblins act at the same time, but those moments are rare and the game is mostly generous with the required timing.  Gobliiins 4 does mark a return to single screen levels which is slightly disappointing.  However the single screens are richly designed so it wasn’t all that big of a let-down.


My only problem with Gobliiins 4 is that it reverted to a password system which is very unusual for a game these days.  I’m not sure why, with all the modern elements in the game design, a save-game function was left out. Strangely, you’re asked to create a profile but the game doesn’t seem to do anything with it – you still have to enter in a password to get back to your level.  Maybe a save game function had originally been intended but time/money ran short.


Overall Gobliiins 4 is a fantastic game and was well worth scouring England to track down.  It can easily stand alone and appeal to people new to the series, or in Liz’s case, people who are new to adventure/puzzle games in general.  For fans of the original series like me, it is very faithful to the first three games and yet is entirely its own game.


I’ve always enjoyed the Goblins games for their unique puzzles and colorful atmosphere.  I’m glad that the latest installment in the series stuck with what worked and took my search for adventure games to a new level.