Flight of the Amazon Queen

Developer: Interactive Binary Illusions
Publisher: Renegade Software

When it comes to adventure games, it's safe to say that for many gamers, LucasArts has become the de facto standard upon which other releases are judged upon. I'm sure many will disagree and raise valid points in favor of Sierra On-Line or other prominent studios. I would however argue LucasArts seems to hold a more widespread influence currently rivaled only by Telltale Games.

I bring this up simply due to how much Flight of the Amazon Queen resembles a LucasArts title. It features an art style, humor, gameplay and story that is best described as Indiana Jones meets Monkey Island with a dash of Sam & Max.

The tone quickly is established in a comic book style intro featuring several clichés one would expect from a vintage Saturday morning cartoon. Despite being chuckle-worthy, most cutscenes sadly feature an unappealing art style, simply put, the character's faces and expressions look off. Taking place in the 1940s-1950s players control Joe King, pilot for hire who is tasked with flying fictional movie star, Faye Russel to a photoshoot in South America. Joe never reaches his destination though as he soon crashes his airplane, the titular Amazon Queen deep in the Amazon jungle.

Before reaching that point, the game's mechanics and controls are subtly introduced during the first 20-30 minutes of gameplay which take place in Rio de Janeiro hotel. It's here I realized the inventory management leaves something to be desired. Only four inventory items can be shown at once, but considering how much stuff there is to collect, cycling though them soon becomes a thankless task. Although this area serves as little more than a tutorial its bohemian visuals and characters were in stark contrast with the jungles and temples permeating the vast majority of the game. In fact, I was a little disappointed Joe never got to properly explore a 1950's Rio, a location and timepiece which to my knowledge has never been featured in any title.

Regardless, exploring the Amazon and meeting its cast of colorful characters provides an entertaining and fulfilling experience, reminiscent of the third act in Secret of Monkey Island. Unlike Guybrush Threepwood's simian populated island, the Amazon is surprisingly densely populated with explorers, natives, amazonian tribes and even an evil organization bent on taking over the world. The latter quickly takes precedence as Joe soon forfeits his task of escaping the jungle in favor of preventing an evil scientist from creating an army of amazon/dinosaur hybrids. 

Yes, the plot is very silly and makes very little sense. The villains take a cue from Indiana Jones who while are essentially Nazis despite never being directly referred to as such. Even their leader, Dr. Ironstein's goals are never entirely made clear; At one point he urgently declares the need for more amazonian test subjects, but once his forces capture the entire tribe he is content with holding them ransom.

It's easy to ignore all plot faults simply because this is not the sort of game one takes seriously. All characters share a fair number of jokes and situational humor is very present. In one early example, players can logic an ape out of existence when informed the species hail from Africa, not South America. The dialog is witty and often hilarious, my favorite part being when Joe meets the Grim Reaper and successfully teases him. 

The humor and puzzles can be surprisingly adult at times. This includes an inventory puzzle featuring a presumably ex-girlfriend taking a shower and the amazonian mating rituals. The latter becomes something a running gag as you come across male prisoners who refuse to escape their shackles due to constant copulation with their all-female captors. This is a style of humor which may not appeal to everyone though nothing is ever explicitly shown or told, just heavily hinted at.

Complementing the strong writing is an equally capable voice cast. Joe features a strong, almost comedic Brooklyn accent, Dr. Ironstein is clearly doing a cartoony mad scientist routine while his soldiers all share over-the-top German accents.

MacGuffins are often introduced at the last minute with little rhyme or reason. One example of this is during the second half when Flight of the Amazon Queen becomes less Monkey Island and more Indiana Jones. Here, Joe has to track down a Crystal Skull (a full 13 years before Kingdom of the Crystal Skull I might add) by exploring a vast intertwining temple. Sadly this point features a massive tonal shift. Suddenly there are hardly any NPCs to dialog with and what few you meet have a tendency to wander off and disappear. Instead you must discover explore, backtrack and discover the solution to dozens of puzzles all by your lonesome self. Sadly, this was when Flight of the Amazon Queen started to lose me, this section was by no means bad, just underwhelming when compared to the first half.

Flight of the Amazon Queen can almost be considered a stealth LucasArts release, all its missing is the famous logo. From humor to graphical style, everything is made to emulate their formula going as far as to thank them during the credits sequence. Its humor may border on the adult at times and the second half may be quite as good, regardless, this a hidden gem more people should experience. Thankfully, the game is free on both GOG and ScummVM.

Trivia 1: Did you know the CD version contains a short 15 minute mini game? Here, players control Joe King once more and interview the game's creators. The creators mention Monkey Island as one of the inspirations behind Flight, and even show a sneak peak at their next title which sadly was never released. To my knowledge this demo is not in either the GOG or ScummVm releases.

Trivia 2: Did you also know Dr. Ironstein is played by William Hootkins? He also played Jek Porkins in Star Wars: A New Hope.

- Captures the LucasArts style of advemture games
- Good humor and witty dialog make all character interactions a joy
- Strong voice acting

- Second half of the game is a little underwhelming
- Inventory management is needlessly tedious
- Some humor can border on the adult and may not be for everyone

Final Grade: B+

The cover features a realistically drawn Joe King and Faye Russel staring into what I assume it to be Sloth Island temple entrance. Of course the issue here is that Faye never actually accompanies Joe when this happens but we can chalk that up to artistic license.

I find myself conflicted regarding the art style. On one hand it's colorful, visually appealing and well drawn, however, it's juxtaposed with the cartoony approach featured in the game. I assume this was a decision based on Monkey Island 1 and 2's covers who also featured realistic covers, contrasting with the games contained within, an artistic choice which I was never fond of.

Inside the box for this Ms-Dos CD version you'll find a manual and jewel sporting the same previously mentioned cover, an installation reference card and a Time Warner registration card.

The manual briefly provides a brief Flight of the Amazon Queen synopsis going as far as to dating its events to 1949, something the actual game never does.

Most of its the manual's contents are relegated to control mechanics, moving, interactions and dialogs. While the information isn't terribly interesting the writers were kind enough to wrap it in a humorous tone, making for a smooth, light reading.

Each page is adorned concept art for several characters and locations, all of which drawn with the same realistic style and proportions found in the cover. This actually makes me wonder what Flight of the Amazon Queen would have looked like had it taken a more serious tone.

It may not come with any unique extras, but the manual and box art are well rounded enough to stick out on a shelf and serve as a conversation piece. I may not like how the cover clashes with the game, but by itself, it's still an attractive, nicely drawn depiction.

Packaging Grade: B

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