Sometime in the middle of 15th century, in a Dutch city called s’Hertogenbosch, a man was born who was destined to become one of the best and most enigmatic painters of all time. More a medieval moralizer than a renaissance libertine, and obviously someone without a too high opinion of his fellow humans, he passed to posterity a number of truly fantastic paintings. Among other things, his works had been regarded as an ultimate criticism of the human race, a shiny mirror that, without any cushioning, reflected all our combined folly, corruption, and decadence – straight to our shocked faces.
His name was Hieronymus Bosch.
Fast forward a couple of centuries and it’s 2017. An independent developer and a genuinely funny guy called Joe Richardson, decided to make an old-school point-and-click adventure game based on works of Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and other Flemish, Italian and Dutch masters of the 16th and 17th century (as well as few other notable examples from the history of painting – check out the credits at the end to see all the names involved). Armed with these shiny examples and, also with a healthy dose of irreverence, Richardson, just like Bosh in his time, wanted to expose the failings of human nature and behavior.
Now, if you’ve thought that Richardson’s critique will be as unbending and severe as Bosch’s you’re very much mistaken – his intention is just to discreetly point out our innumerous flaws and ridicule them in his hilarious knee-slapping way, but always with a measure of heartfelt sympathies and understanding, even for the greatest sinners and mischief-makers. Although Richardson obviously knows that all these things are wrong and he certainly doesn’t condone them in his game, he still kind of understands why people succumb to their baser urges. To err is human, to forgive divine, as they say, and that’s certainly one of the keynotes of his delightful little satire.
In particular, one painting by Bosch served as an inspiration for this title: it shows an eye of God, with seven deadly sins reflected in its cornea, and in the corners are Death, The Last Judgment, Heaven and Hell, the four things that (by the opinion of medieval moralizers and theologians) await us all. The name of the painting is Tabletop of a Seven Deadly Sins and Four Last Things. Sounds familiar, isn’t it?
Although it would certainly be absurd to expect historical accuracy from a title such as this, by the look of it, the game takes place in the 15th century. You play as an anonymous tramp who, after a particularly disturbing dream that involved Adam, Eve and, inevitably, an apple (with God and Devil in supporting roles), decides to urgently confess his many sins. A commendable idea, no doubt, but there was just one problem: he sinned all across Europe, from Oslo to Nuremberg and Lübeck, so the helpful clergy had to turn him down, since things he did were outside of their jurisdiction. However, if he would kindly repeat his sins in their parish, they would be more than glad to confess him and forgive his sins. Now, being a true man of the world, he’s guilty of all seven cardinal sins, so, with your gallant help, he will desperately try to repeat them all.
Thankfully, the people he’ll encounter in his frantic sinner’s pilgrimage will be more than happy to oblige him. The parish and its surroundings are a true cesspool of second-rate human material, so the little tramp will relatively easily exploit their own weakness. For instance, he’ll help a crooked lawyer to swindle a group of people and take three-quarters of their inheritance – and that will be almost ok because that merry group is celebrating a death of their cousin and benefactor who left them all his belongings. Anyhow, that will scratch Greed off his list.
The fact that the tramp would go to any lengths to make an appropriate sin will serve as a source of several really inventive and comical puzzles. In order to make a sin of Pride, he’ll deface a public statue and carve it his own image. The problem is that he actually doesn’t know how he looks, so he’ll need something for reference. He’ll find the solution in a blind portrait painter, cheat him for two coppers and receive his exact portrait, which he’ll use as a reference to make a statue of himself, thus committing the sin of pride. Now, the puzzles range from extremely simple, to relatively complex that require strolls to multiple locations. The life of a sinner can be quite difficult and stressful at times (at least according to this game), but when you finally manage to sin, you’ll be able to enjoy the sight of Bosch’s Tabletop of a Seven Deadly Sins and Four Last Things spinning like a wheel of fortune – when it stops, it will mark a particular offence you just did.
Although the game is pretty short, it’s nonetheless full of absurd and funny situations, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since Richardson states that one of his greatest inspirations was the famous Monkey Island series. That’s why you can expect a volley of witty, cheeky, often even profane humor that really succeeds in highlighting human flaws, as well as absurd bureaucracy and dishonesty of the church and its clergy.
As for visuals, if you like the works of Bruegel, Bosch, van Dyck, van Ostade and other wonderful painters, you’ll also adore the graphics of this game. Richardson used paintings of Renaissance and Baroque masters as backgrounds and animated their figure clippings in the style of Terry Gilliam’s famous Monty Python collages. The result is a colorful jumble of different paintings, amusingly mixed as in some renaissance fair, with a bunch of characters, images, and sights that lovers of Renaissance art will no doubt find very familiar. Music and sound effects are also extremely enjoyable, not to mention suitable for this concept since they contain melodies and classic compositions that can be found in public domain.
Bosh believed that sins will ultimately triumph over virtue. As the protagonist of the game said on one occasion: „Living without the sin would be duller than not living at all”. Comical and easy-going, this game still saves a dose of surprisingly bitter, even cynical truth for the end, coming from the mouth of none other than St. John himself. Of course, we won’t tell you what it is, so you’ll have to play this impertinent Monty Pythonesque little masterpiece and find out about it for yourself.