Review - Legend of Kyrandia: Book 3 - Malcolm's Revenge (DOS, 1994)

Westwood's Legend of Kyrandia series has already set high standards in the fantasy adventure field for graphics quality, voice acting and ease of gameplay, while also showing occasional hints of a rare and offbeat sense of humor. I'm pleased to tell the followers of this series that not only have none of these elements fallen into disrepair with Book 3: Malcolm's Revenge, but most of them show drastic improvement! Rather than just being used for a little spice here and there, the humor dominates in this game, and the tone has changed from lighthearted to downright nasty.

That's not really a huge surprise, since the game's focus and protagonist is Malcolm, the ambitious and demented jester accused of murdering the king and queen. Through the course of the previous two installments, Malcolm was captured, turned to stone, and used as a somewhat macabre lawn ornament in front of the castle. But at the end of Book Two: The Hand of Fate, Malcolm was freed from his rocky prison, and vowed revenge on the royal family. Unfortunately, he also discovered that he had none of the magic left from his theft of the Kyragem, but this is one resourceful guy, despite his somewhat doubtful taste in clothing.

The epic adventure (of sorts) starts in Kyrandia proper, and eventually makes its way to the Isle of Cats, and, finally, to the Ends of the Earth! You will face the constant danger of being caught and forced to make lace doilies, not to mention the lethal kissing snakes, and you won't have much at your disposal except the ability to make characters laugh, and a nut on a string. So who said life in Kyrandia was fair?

Malcolm's Revenge lets you learn the motivations behind this maniac in motley. It may surprise you to learn that Malcolm was framed for the royal murders. Sure he did a lot of nasty stuff, but not that specifically. So, while dodging the residents of Kyrandia who might recognize him, he must try and clear his name. This basic plan is made a little more difficult by the fact that Malcolm receives frequent obnoxious advice from his bad conscience, Gunther. Once, there was also a good conscience to balance the scales, but that didn't last very long.

So, for perhaps the first time in computer adventure game history, the player takes the part of a real jerk, and gets extra points for discovering new ways to torment the surrounding characters. Hopefully the offensive maneuvers will also be funny, but why limit yourself? Just go with petty abuse when the spirit moves you. If you find yourself doubting your humorous abilities, you can toggle on the studio audience. You'll get a cheerful laugh track reacting to activities as mundane as picking off fleas. If that doesn't get you in a goofy enough mood, you can press the helium button and make all the characters talk like Alvin and the Chipmunks. I'll admit, these are somewhat irrelevant gimmicks, but they're lots of fun, and they're also unprecedented in the field.

There's another, more practical feature that is also very much in keeping with Malcolm's character. Added to the traditional Kyrandia menu bar is a gauge called the "moodometer" that let's you choose how Malcolm will react to various characters in dialog. When the needle is all the way to the left, the meter reads "nice", which actually means kissing up to the person in question. Drag the needle to the right, and Malcolm lies his belled booties off. In the middle, he's his usual smartassed self. By the way, that menu bar now only pops up when you drag your cursor to the screen bottom instead of just sitting there through the whole game. Nice touch, that.

While we're talking about actual improvements over the previous Kyrandia games, the best of these has got to be the "second chance" key that pops up when you inadvertently buy the farm. Some of us still haven't quite got that "save" reflex down pat, so its great to be able to jump back into the game just before you get snuffed.

While not necessarily improved from the first two games, the music is still excellent. There are a number of different themes for the different locations, all orchestrated very well. And don't think I'm talking about your typical medieval lutes and flutes, either. The first music you hear hits a rockin' hip-hop groove. Go figure.

Malcolm's Revenge is a very unusual and entertaining game. It will probably delight fans of the series, but you don't need to be familiar with the setting to enjoy it. Be warned, though, if you don't go for cruel, surreal and occasionally gross humor, you won't be a very good Malcolm.