Alawar is, in many senses, the second of the big HOPA movers, Big Fish obviously being the biggest but with both retail and development on their own end, Alawar probably clocks in as a distant second. But they’ve never really been a big part of my hobby as I get what I need from Big Fish Games and faster to boot, most of the time, so what little interaction I’ve had with them is through their own developed games such as today’s game Weird Park: The Final Show.
There’s something strange going on. When a young boy mysteriously goes missing and his house is taken over by living toys, as a journalist you just have to find out what’s going on. But nothing could’ve prepared you for what would happen when you stepped into a wardrobe and was transported to a twisted carnival in an alternate dimension. It would seem like Louis and Dudley are at it again… or are they? The wicked clown is nowhere to be seen and it would seem Dudley has his own agenda this time. Can you find Louis and stop Dudley before it’s too late?
With Weird Park: The Final Show, it would seem like Alawar decided to stick a fork in the franchise and consider it done. If the name itself wasn’t enough of a clue, needless to say this game definitely ends the story told up until this point. We’re finally given a more detailed explanation of who, or rather, what Dudley is and how he ended up in the employ of Louis, the villain of the franchise up until this point.
Which is partly what’s been missing in the franchise since both of them were particularly bland. It was just an evil clown with an evil doll without anything to really set them apart from all the other evil clowns (meaning all of them) and evil dolls (meaning most of them). It wasn’t even the first HOPA I played that took place in a twisted circus or carnival and even it had been, that’s a particularly overused setting in media in general.
So that extra bit of oomph the game needed never showed up and as such completely failed to stand out. And starting the game up, though a bit more interesting than the two installments preceding it, seems to follow the same path to mediocrity. It doesn’t take long for the first circus big top to show up and any number of circus related paraphernalia slightly twisted to start popping up in the scenery. As always, you even start out chasing after Dudley, the demonic little doll up to no good.
But then something happens. I can’t really put my finger on when but it was probably when the big twist was revealed: that Dudley and Louis had a big falling out. When you come across a securely locked away Louis, the entire plot changes from having to save yet more children from Louis and Dudley to getting rid of Dudley once and for all. Or Loki if you prefer.
And more than anything, much of the story is told with much more style than ever before. While the 3D work is pretty impressive, it’s really the 2D art that stands out and not because it’s hi-def, rather the opposite. Suddenly the game dared to have character and personality, the cutscenes alone infusing the game with much needed levity. Because when we’re talking about circuses and clowns and similar it’s important to never lose the humor as it’s a driving factor in how we define them. Ultimately a clown is a childish thing and robbing him or her of that trait simply makes him less interesting. Most of the time.
Louis always struck me as a very boring clown antagonist simply because he never seemed like a very good clown to begin with. But here his relationship with Patrick, the missing child, betrays a side of him we’ve never seen of him before and gives him duality: the side of him that’s childish and the side of him that’s dark. Dudley also gains character but this merely upgrades him from pointless to two dimensional. There isn’t much to his motivations except being evil as the bonus story proceeds to properly cement. It still makes him more interesting as a villain than Louis and he has a plan that actually adds some immediate urgency instead of the slog the two previous whatevers were.
It also helps to conjure up some pretty off-putting imagery of a child being turn into a doll bit by bit which is infinitely more twisted and dark than anything the previous two games managed to pull. The initial reveal of Patrick’s transformation is spot on and deserves all the cred in the world as it actually made me do a double take.
Added to that is an extra level of care and quality to the graphics that simply wasn’t present in the previous games. Granted, this game does have the benefit of being the latest but there are things that simply speak of a better design throughout. The environments themselves tell an interesting story of an imaginary world gone completely out of control but the highlighting to draw your eyes is an immediate step up from previous games as well. So not only is it more fun and interesting to explore, it’s also made easier.
Perhaps the only real complaint I have is that sometimes the solutions to proceed are just a bit too weird to really work. There were a few times where I had to proceed using the true and tested method of trial and error which simply shouldn’t be necessary in a well designed game. Granted, the player also has to make an effort to understand the logic of the world they’re experiencing but there are limits to how far you can take it. And occasionally the game was simply too set on a single solution when I conjured up a few more that would’ve worked just as fine… logically.
The bonus chapter was especially guilty of this and it also came off as rather abrupt. There really isn’t any explanation of what the bonus chapter will be about even as you start playing it though it does eventually become clear how it ties into the story of Dudley, answering the question many have asked for a while: how did Louis and Dudley meet?
As such it doesn’t even leave the door open for a prequel so it really feels as if Alawar was dead set on never touching the franchise again and considering it’s been two years since it was released and not a sound has been uttered, I’d say it belongs to the annals of history.
But regardless of how good the story is, a HOPA stands or falls depending on the gameplay and this is by far the biggest change for Weird Park. The over-reliance on standard hidden object scene is gone and in are a whole slew of different kinds of scenes, including, but not limited to, riddles, fragmented objects and silhouettes.
And the puzzles were not only interesting but very fresh as well.
While many of the standard puzzles appear, there are also a lot of fresh takes and some that are simply more fun to do than they have any right to be, such as the above pictured. Nothing too complicated but the style and the uniqueness of it gives it a much needed boost. Although the game never really becomes too difficult, it never drops the challenge either and one or two puzzles I ended up skipping simply because they made the old head brain hurt too much.
That’s one area where the old games simply didn’t measure up, none of the puzzles really stood out to me. But in this one there’s a few good examples of how you can put a fresh spin on an old puzzle and make it interesting again. Of course, it’s up to personal taste what kind of puzzles you enjoy or dislike but to me this fit much better.
I only wish the toys themselves played an even bigger part as they seemed like a very interesting bunch to have around. Instead they end up playing small parts instead of properly supporting characters which is odd. The intro mentions a whole army of toys and yet we see very few of them and even fewer in actually important roles. This could’ve gone hand in hand with the kinder side of Louis, showing the living toys and dolls in some kind of conflict with each other. Granted, living toys isn’t the most original thing ever, there’s a whole HOPA franchise based on that very thing, but it still could’ve added additional depth to the struggles between Dudley and Louis.
Oh, and more Batman, please. I kept expecting him to show up after this… or maybe… I am Batman!?
But throughout playing the game, and enjoying myself, a single question constantly sprang to mind: How? As in how did the third game in a mediocre series suddenly turn around so sharply and end up as a favorite? And I think the answer lies with the developer. No, not Alawar, but rather Epic Star. Normally I’d link to the developer’s site but for all my sleuthing I’ve found virtually nothing about them except that they developed at least one other game, Alex Hunter.
How does this change things? Well, the previous games were developed by Diesel Puppet, seemingly another studio. All three games were developed together with Alawar since they’ve acted as publishers since the first but the distinct change in style and, quite frankly, competency definitely seems to relate back to the studio developing the game. If I know Alawar, both studios have no doubt been swallowed up and put to working on their next free-to-play game which is a great shame, at least as far as Epic Star’s concerned.
That may sound harsh and I may be entirely wrong, could be the exact same people behind it but nothing from my research would suggest that. And it is ultimately how I feel.
So, where does that leave us with Weird Park? Well, if Alawar were to revive the franchise and continue it, I highly recommend this as a template instead of the first two. And that goes for HOPA players as well, this game is fairly disconnected from the first two and you can easily play it with no knowledge going in. And I’d say it’s worth it. The only thing that could make it more worthwhile is if you actually got to keep the soundtrack… which you don’t. For some reason. But I think Alawar has always been stingy with this.
And it’s always struck me as very strange to not let us save the soundtrack to our computers or tablets or phones or whatever. Do you really think I’m going to boot the game up just to listen to the music? No? Then it’s not REALLY an extra, is it? So cut this crap out, I’m not paying the higher price for some desktops and 50 minutes bonus gameplay!