Group projects were my worst nightmare back in university. Coordinating schedules with people I didn’t know very well, the uneven division of labour, awkward oral presentations, and a generally sub-par end result made these projects the least favourite part of my studying days. Breda University of Applied Sciences must be taking a different approach in this necessary evil of higher education, as Bone Voyage, the title created by a group of Breda students dubbed Team Cobblestone, is a charming swashbuckling adventure with a high level of polish and attention to detail. While a few rough edges are still present in the title, this throwback to old-school adventure gaming is well worth a look.
Bone Voyage centres around Arthur, a man who has recently passed away. Waking up floating upon the ocean, he is scooped up onto the vessel of Captain Murray, a ship manned entirely by a cheerful crew of skeletons. Discovering he has become a skeleton himself, Arthur searches through the ship to find out if there is any way he can return to the land of the living, making friends and solving puzzles along the way.
As an ode to adventure games of the past, the gameplay in Bone Voyage revolves around communicating with other characters and helping them resolve an issue. Chris the crab is addicted to the knowledge found on bottle caps and needs Arthur’s longer reach to help find them. Steve Seagull will give gameplay advice, but only if Arthur brings him a cooked fish, which will require catching the fish and finding someone to cook it.
The puzzling is pretty straightforward, with a focus on conversation chains where helping one character get an item will help the next. The process is perhaps a bit too linear and would be made more dynamic by utilising something like the rule-of-threes present in old school LucasArts games. For example, in the original Monkey Island, for protagonist Guybrush Threepwood to achieve his dream of becoming a pirate, he had to prove his skills in sword fighting, thievery, and treasure hunting. These goals can be tackled in any order, allowing the player to step away and try something else if they get stuck. In Bone Voyage, on the other hand, the only puzzle available at a time is the current one. While getting stuck is rarely an issue, offering more choice in what to do would result in more dynamic gameplay.
An interesting twist to the formula Bone Voyage introduces is how Arthur moves around the world. As a skeleton, he can pull off an arm grab something out of reach, or pop his head off to explore small spaces. I love the idea, but in practice, the free-roaming head caused some problems, with the vent system being frustrating to navigate and the small size of the head causing it to get stuck in the ship’s geometry. I was unable to finish the game because of this problem, unfortunately, because Arthur’s head got stuck in a cabinet while trying to snoop around the captain’s room. A ‘return head to body’ button would be helpful in avoiding this problem.
The Steam page cites partial controller support for Bone Voyage, and for the most part, it works. The tutorial omits controller explanations, but the inputs can be found in the pause menu. While most of the game can be played with a controller, code entering scenes only work with a mouse, and the camera is much too sensitive for the control stick, particularly in the tight vent sections. Adding a look sensitivity option would be helpful. A toggle for running would also be a better choice than holding down the left stick, which can become uncomfortable after a while.
While the game had a few issues with the controls, I was absolutely blown away by the presentation. The models are just beautiful, a colourful cel-shaded interpretation of the afterlife. The wind passes by in curly white gusts, and each character looks distinct despite their boney appearance. The style reminds me of Rare back in their prime, with larger-than-life characters, stylish transitions between scenes, and cheesy but enjoyable humour. The script has a few typos, with the smooth-talking Jazz using his music to ‘woe’ the ladies, but nothing to the point of confusion.
The music of Bone Voyage is similarly impressive, big stirring off-to-adventure type stuff. I was reminded of the type of music Zelda titles feature, that promise of the great unknown.
Overall, I was really impressed with Bone Voyage. The puzzles need a bit more work, and I was disappointed that I was unable to finish the title due to a bug, but the head popping off mechanic was really interesting, and I found the music, art and writing to be top-notch. I’m excited to see what these talented young developers will create in the years to come.
Community Discord user Dismount that Dinosaur also checked out the game:
“I played some of the game, and keeping in mind that it’s free it isn’t bad, in fact, they could probably charge a few pounds for it. The art style and sound effects are nice and ‘cutesy’, but I wish there was voice acting and that the conversations were more dynamic than a speech box and a 2D drawing of the character’s upper half. I always loved the voice acting in old 3D point and clicks (like Syberia or Longest Journey)”.
Thanks for your thoughts, Dismount! Next week, we’ll be taking a look at Mutropolis: Mars Episodes, which is a public speaking simulator in which you have to convince investors to fund your archeological mission on Earth. The game can be picked up on itch.io here. Discussion will be happening in the Discord server, or you can email me.