Hamilton's Great Adventure Hands-On PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 21, 2011
Designing a puzzle-platforming title around the Hamiltonian Path principle probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think, “Gee, you know what would make a great foundation for a puzzle game?” But that’s precisely what inspired the developers at Fatshark (Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Old West) to design their upcoming downloadable puzzler Hamilton’s Great Adventure.
In case you aren’t familiar with Hamiltonian paths (and don’t feel bad if you aren’t), it works like this: you create a large circuit consisting of various pathways, and you have to navigate from a starting point, through the circuit, and back to the start by using each path just once. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, when it’s expanded out in the context of a puzzle game (minus the return-to-the-start requirement), this seemingly straightforward principle leads to some incredibly challenging and brain-paining situations.
Hamilton’s Great Adventure tells a Pixar-ish tale of an explorer named Ernest Hamilton (a sort of spiritual lovechild of Indiana Jones and an overly romanticized version of Ernest Hemingway) who, in his youth, had…well, great adventures. So great in fact that he decides to recount his epic escapades to his granddaughter, and this serves as the jumping off point for the game’s story.
On the surface, the game is pretty simple: Follow paths, avoid enemies, and maneuver puzzles/traps to reach the end of each level. The rub comes compliments of the aforementioned Hamiltonian Path design, which manifests itself gameplay wise by way of path segments that have certain limitations on how many times you can walk across them.
For instance, the most basic segment can only be walked on once before it disappears, while another can be passed over twice. Some segments have switches that clear your path or lower obstacles, which can sometimes clear the path for enemies too. Other segments will catapult you over gaps (or into the jungle abyss below). It makes much more sense when you see it in action, so here’s some gameplay from the first level of the game (plus a bonus section themed after a classic arcade title that we'll talk about in a second):
Get it now? While the first handful of levels were admittedly rather straightforward, we were in for a rude awakening when we hit the later levels of the first map. It’s amazing how sharply the difficulty curve ramps up. We jumped ahead to some of the later levels, and our brains had their asses handed to them. It wasn’t pretty, but, despite the embarrassing failures, it was admittedly quite fun.
You may have noticed in that gameplay video the little parrot, Sasha, that we occasionally jumped to and controlled. Well, you know that old adage about behind every great man is a great woman? So it’s kind of like that…only with a parrot. Sasha not only lets players get a “birds eye view” of the map, but she also can flip switches beyond Hamilton’s reach. In single-player, you jump between the two characters (and on the PC version you can even control them simultaneously using the keyboard to guide Hamilton and the mouse to guide Sasha), and in co-op, each player controls one of the characters.
The game is set across four exotic locales, from lush tropical jungles to snowcapped mountains to arid deserts, each one comprised of a variety of stages. We were only able to play though the first level (jungle), but we watched a couple maps from the snow level and one night level, which included some nice lighting effects thanks to Sasha as she carries a lantern to light your way in the dark.
The final map we saw, which you saw at the end of the above gameplay video, was a devilishly designed homage to Frogger, only the cars have been replaced by boulders. The stage requires you to navigate the rocky traffic in order to pick up three keys. After numerous failed attempts, I handed the controller over to our media wrangler Donell Tucker, who, despite having a clear opportunity to beat the stage, decided to risk it and nab all the gold pieces on the stage, even though had he just completed the level, he would have been only the third person to date to have done so (the other two being Fatshark developers). While upsetting, this scenario perfectly demonstrated the game’s risk/reward system, which will encourage players to keep coming back to try to reach the top of the leaderboards.
Fatshark definitely surprised us with its previously released Wild West inspired multiplayer-centric shooter Lead and Gold, and the team has certainly piqued our interest yet again with Hamilton’s Great Adventure. We’ll know for sure if the IQ-testing puzzler is the real deal when it ships for PC and PlayStation 3 in April (and possibly to Xbox Live Arcade sometime after that).