Spoiler alert! Hamlet or the Last Game without MMORPG features, Shaders or Product Placement probably wins the title for the longest game name in the App Store. The game evolved on other platforms and its translation to the iPad could have been smoother, but if you’re up to the challenge it’s a great game. If you can’t solve one puzzle, however, you’re stuck at that level forever and ever. Amen. Alas.
Games with a real sense of humor are rare. Lots of games try to be funny, some succeed in being glib, but few demonstrate a high level of wit, subtlety and sophistication. Hamlet or the Last Game without MMORPG features, Shaders or Product Placement succeeds on every level, if you can get to them.
When I originally planned on doing a summer game special I had conceived of covering the best of the best and (because I was playing it at the time) Hamlet was one of them. But twice I stalled at levels and finally had to contact Alawar for help. Neither time were their answers helpful.
The first time it was fairly early in the game, so I reinstalled and made it past the level. The second time I was well into Act 4 and I didn’t want to do it all again. So let me start out by saying that when you’re up to the challenge the game is a hell of a lot of fun. But I’m a smart guy and I don’t think the game is dealt from a straight deck.
I wouldn’t say I’m a smart guy if every one I knew didn’t assure me I was a smart guy when they were about to screw me over. “Phillip, you’re a really smart guy and nobody deserves a promotion better than you, but I’m giving the job to my nephew who dropped out of high school.” “Phillip, you’re a smart guy, there’s nobody smarter, but smart and sexy aren’t the same thing and I’m dumping you for Joe because he’s really sexy.” “Phillip, you’re a smart guy, it’s just pure dumb luck that I’m never going to pay you back the money I owe you.”
One of the jokes behind Hamlet is that it’s an old school game based purely on brain power. Alawar isn’t resorting to any digital wizardry to cover up the fact that the game challenges nothing but your wallet and your fine motor skills.
This isn’t the Hamlet you studied in high school. Not really. It adapts about as much of the play as anyone remembers from high school—there’s a guy named Hamlet, some girl named Ophelia, some old farts and a skull. Hamlet’s a brilliant play, but the developers play well off the fact that to get students’ interest you need an alien and some sea monsters.
Hamlet understands that you can’t stick with the original script if you want to keep people interested. The game starts with the play people know and then drops the alien into the play.
In Hamlet or the Last Game without MMORPG features, Shaders or Product Placement, Hamlet arrives in his flying saucer, and he must rescue Ophelia from danger after danger, much as the heroes in the old movie serials.1 You will tackle ray guns, underwater crabs, fires, giant octopi, the villainous Polonious and the even more villainous Claudius.
What makes Hamlet challenging is that each puzzle is different, you get no instructions, and only one hint which may or may not be helpful. And if you know how to find the walkthroughs on the web, they don’t all work with the iPad version of the game.
This is probably the easiest of the puzzles, if not the most obvious. It’s one of the few puzzles where the answer is literally right in your face.
So let’s look at some of the challenges, which began with trying to figure out how to get Hamlet into the castle. You will have to decode passwords, pick combination locks, do math with a monkey, find a sure way to win at rock, scissors and paper, and work your way through more than one maze until the final showdown with Claudius brings the game to an end.
Did I mention these puzzles are tough? These are the toughest puzzles I have attempted and, to be honest, I’m not sure the solutions are on the level even when I find them. I certainly feel that many of the hints confuse the issue more than help.
When I came to Act IV, I found Hamlet lost in a maze of corridors with the only hint being left and right arrows (duh). This was when I went on the web to look for solutions, and I found two different solutions. Neither worked. I wrote Alawar and they gave me a third solution (go left then right) which didn’t work.
Tap the character to learn your task. The puzzle is spelled out (and sometimes a hint to the solution) in the thought balloon. Unfortunately, I never found the solution to this puzzle, even after weeks of trying, trolling the web for game hints and direct contact with the developer. Their solution led to different results each time, but never the route through the corridors.
Even worse, I tried the solution several times and the results were always unpredictable. When I wrote them again they said that was all the information they could give me. And here is where I get a little angry; to be able to solve a puzzle, the same move should always produce the same result so that you can finally figure out the correct sequence of moves.
Even better if you can detect a principle or pattern (in this case there was none).
So while I would like to say Hamlet or the Last Game without MMORPG features, Shaders or Product Placement is a best buy, it’s really more of a gamble. Could Alawar solve this? Yes, with one simple step.
Hamlet needs a skip level feature. Yes, I know this pisses off purists, but when a game is this demanding customers should have that option. Purists may want to solve all the puzzles, and they can simply not skip levels. Other players simply want to see their way to the end of the game.
Many will then go back and try the harder levels. Others may decide it isn’t worth their while. But they bought it, they should decide how to play.
Of course, even if you wanted to go back and replay levels, you can’t because Hamlet must be played from beginning to end. There is no levels map, and this again is a big disappointment.
Alawar could have a screen at the end reminding player they skipped levels, and that their win was “tainted” (to take a cue from Mondo Solitaire, who ultimately allowed players to turn that option off). They could tie it into game center with levels achievements. But more than anything else, players need more control over what levels they wish to play.
Bottom line? If you want to show your MENSA level puzzle solving mojo and are willing to spend hours tackling one problem, Hamlet is about as good as it gets. If you’re a casual gamer who wants puzzles that will challenge you without stumping you, then I have plenty of other games you will enjoy over the next two weeks.
Jenny Manytoes rates Hamlet.
Jenny’s a superficial gal and likes to play games she can win, so she left Hamlet in the litter box (and my iPad with it) after the first level. But fortunately I have final say and after I cleaned my iPad off well enough to use it, I can be more objective and give it a purr.