Alum is an AGS
(Adventure Game Studio) game that features colorful pixel art in 320x200
resolution. It takes place in a fantasy world called "Land of Tide."
However Alum is also a game with strong religious themes. They may seem
subtle at first, but become more blatant as the game progresses, to
becoming downright preachy toward the end. The parallels between the
"Unfeigned Altruist" and the Christian God are obvious. The
protagonist's attitude at the end of the game is such an abrupt
about-face that the sudden shift seems to happen solely to push the
game's message of the "Altruist" being an all-forgiving deity. The
emphasis on religion will probably be a deal-breaker for some, including
those Christians who'd rather their games be more of an escape than a
recital of someone else's interpretation of Christianity. However if you
don't mind the religious aspect and enjoy retro style games that use
pixel art, Alum is worth a look.
Characters and Story
For most of the game you play as the
title character, a young man named Alum. Alum's wife Esther is suffering
from "The Vague," which appears to be a form of depression. Esther no
longer speaks to Alum or shows any interest in their lives. When Alum
hears of a "cure" for "The Vague," he embarks on a quest to cure Esther.
Alum and Esther live in Kosmos, a
city in the "Land of Tide." The "Land of Tide" is a freezing cold,
inhospitable place. Inhabitants of Kosmos are protected from the
freezing cold by fantastic "heat pillars" which spread warmth throughout
the city. The people of Kosmos are also threatened by evil black shadow
creatures. The Mayor of Kosmos, Mr. Glym, controls robots known as
E-bots which chase away the shadow creatures when they attack the
townspeople. Mr. Glym is considered a hero. However more and more
townspeople are succumbing to the influence of "The Vague" while Mr.
Glym denies the existence of "The Vague." Fairly early in the game you
realize Mr. Glym may not be as benevolent as the people of Kosmos have
been led to believe.
Throughout the game, once Alum has
been "saved" (from both freezing and "The Vague") by the old man called
"Symmetry," he will occasionally hear the "voice of Altruist" advising
him as an aqua-colored cloudiness encroaches on the edges of your
screen. Sometimes Alum does what the "Altruist" suggests, sometimes not.
Predictably, it's always a bad idea not to do as the Altruist says, but
the player has no say in whether Alum heeds the Altruist's advice or not
-- even if it's perfectly sensible advice that amounts to "don't try to
fight an army with nothing but the clothes on your back and your big
Besides Alum, you occasionally play
as Dashu, the leader of the "Rogations," a group that wishes to "spread
the word" and cure the people of Kosmos who have "The Vague." During the
final chapter of the game, you are able to switch between Alum and Dashu
to solve puzzles.
Non-human characters include two
"fallows," which live in a magical pool of water under the Vivit Oak
(the tree that supports Symmetry's home) and appear as giant green heads
with the rest of their bodies hidden underwater. The water from the
Vivit Oak has healing properties, though it's unclear whether it helps
keep the fallows alive. One fallow is good-natured, while the other is a
grouch, but you must deal with both of them to solve puzzles and
progress in the game.
Another non-human character of note
is Gobo, a cute little orange robot shaped like a cube. Like the
fallows, you must interact with Gobo to solve puzzles. Unlike the
fallows, he is small enough to put in your inventory.
Your biggest nemesis is "Insidious
Umbra," the embodiment of evil, which can take the form of either an
intangible black human shape or a large black cloud. The shadows that
attack the townspeople and "The Vague" are manifestations of "Insidious
Umbra" and Mr. Glym receives power from it.
Graphics and Environment
Alum is an AGS game (made with
Adventure Game Studio) with beautifully rendered 320x200 resolution
pixel art. Game locations include Kosmos, with its glowing heat towers
and pipes that suggest the energy in Kosmos is as much steam-driven as
electric. The E-bots emit steam from pipes in their heads, and seem to
run on some combination of steam and electricity. Other locations
include the Rogations' hideout, the Vivit Oak (the tree where Symmetry
and the fallows live), the city/town of Slip Town, a prison, Colemin's
garrison, a dark tower, a sewer that connects to several locations, and
a handful of small locations in "Outer Tide." Mountains separate "Outer
Tide from "Inner Tide" and the only way to cross between them is through
a gap that is guarded by Og the giant.
The puzzles in Alum are mostly
inventory-driven. They start out fairly easy, but the puzzles in the 7th
Chapter are quite a bit more challenging than those in the early
chapters. Although there is a "Hint" feature, it doesn't always tell you
what you need to know. The only time it was of use to me was when it
inadvertently led me to realize I'd missed a screen exit. Although most
puzzles are inventory-based, there are some where you have to interact
with other characters or interpret instructions for operating machinery.
Your most important inventory item
is your "rushlight," which seems to be an aqua-colored liquid
manifestation of your character's faith. The rushlight can be used on
other people to "cure" them of "The Vague," though they have to be
willing to drink from it. The rushlight will also chase away "Invidious
Umbra's" shadow creatures, provided they aren't the souped up versions.
The rushlight can occasionally be used on objects to illuminate dark or
obscure areas. Using it in inventory usually allows your character to
commune with the "Unfeigned Altruist" and may provide a clue.
There are also some
action/timed/arcade-type puzzles. Two of these can be skipped (you are
given the option to skip after losing). I gave both a try, but ended up
skipping the 2nd one (the one that involved shooting). In another
arcade-type puzzle, Alum is falling from a building and has to grab a
teleportation potion before he hits a ledge and goes kersplat. I must
have kersplatted poor Alum about 20 times before I managed to click on
the potion at the proper time and place. Of course the person playing
the game on YouTube was able to click the potion right away, which just
goes to show the problem with arcade-type sequences in adventure games –
the dexterity level of adventure gamers varies too widely to assume
something will be easy. Another action sequence involved a swordfight.
Again Alum suffered quite a bit because of my lack of coordination. Why
offer puzzle skips to two of the action-based puzzles but not the
others, especially since the first skippable puzzle was so much easier
than either the bottle drop or the fight?
Sound and Voice
Background sounds and music in Alum
were good. Voices seem to have been performed by friends and family of
the developer, with uneven results. The main character, Alum, sounded
like he had "The Vague" throughout the game, which was OK in the
beginning, not so much later on.
The developer, Crashable Studios,
maintains on their website that "Our vision is to make an all new
"point-and-click" adventure game with the same feel and vibe as some of
the classic games we love (Quest for Glory, Roger Wilco, Monkey Island,
etc.) but with our own twist." Their "twist" sems to be the Christian
emphasis. Despite what they say, 320x200 pixel art and inventory-based
puzzles don't automatically create a game with the same "feel" as a game
from LucasArts or Sierra. The strong religious thread that runs through
Alum gives it a completely different character, and it is certainly not
a lighthearted, humorous game in the style of Space Quest, Monkey
Island, or Sam & Max. Which doesn't mean Alum is a bad game, only that
it's not quite as advertised and may not be what you expect if you go by
The ending of the game seemed
forced. Alum's decision seemed to come out of nowhere, and was
inconsistent with previous behavior. Maybe giving the player control
over Alum's decision would have been better. Combined with the annoyance
that had built up during the swordfight, the game didn't have the most
satisfying of endings.
If you have strong feelings about
religion being mixed with your games, Alum is probably not the game for
you. If that aspect doesn't bother you, and especially if you enjoy
pixel art, Alum is a decent length, has many fun puzzles, an imaginative
environment, and is worth consideration.
played the game on a computer with:
Windows 7 Ultimate, 64-bit
Intel Core i7 - 3820 CPU @ 3.60 GHz
8 GB RAM
Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti with 1.25 GB VRAM
Realtek High Definition Audio (onboard sound)
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