REVIEW: Bilkins' Folly combines professorial puzzles with Monkey Island shenanigans beautifully
It's no secret that one of my many idols in life is Mighty Pirate Guybrush Threepwood. Take from that what you will about me personally, but his goofy shenanigans and groan-worthy joke telling are what I aspire to.
So when I heard that there was an indie game coming out that evoked Monkey Island vibes, emphasized puzzles above all else, and heavily featured an adorable little pup who helps you in your treasure-hunting journey... the call of adventure sang to me once more.
Bilkins' Folly turned out to be all it promised and more. Take 2D Legend of Zelda, Monkey Island, and Professor Layton and toss it in a blender and you've got this delightful, brain-busting indie.
Just the Facts
Publisher: Armor Games Studios
Platform(s): PC*, PlayStation 4 and 5, Nintendo Switch *platform reviewed on
Release Date: October 2, 2023
Review key provided by Player Two PR.
Bilkins' Folly comes to us from a tiny little island called... Australia. Luke Webster, the sole developer and lead at Webbysoft, is a former teacher from Tasmania, Australia, who sought to bring some joy to the world in what felt like unbearably tumultuous times — and so was born this enchanting treasure-hunting game. Webster has brought so much of himself into this project, from his love for the dogs he's had in his life to the brain teasers he built for his students back in his teaching days.
It's the kind of project that feels so small and intimate but slowly reveals itself to be a dense and epic adventure worthy of its Zelda inspirations. Bilkins' Folly is everything I could have asked for and more.
Percy Bilkins, Not A Pirate
In Bilkins' Folly, you play as Percival "Percy" Bilkins, a young adventurer from Ireland who has finally grown old enough to embark on an adventure of his own. He leaves the comforts of home to embark on a journey to find his mother and grandfather, a pair of legendary treasure hunters who've been missing for some time now. Percy fancies himself a bit of a treasure hunter too, and with the help of his trusty hound, Drayton, he chases after the elder Bilkins to find out where they went — and hopefully unearth some booty along the way. (The hidden treasure kind.)
What ensues is a series of seafaring shenanigans not unlike a Monkey Island adventure. Full of heart and a little silly, Percy serves as a wholesome foil to Monkey Island's Guybrush Threepwood. Where Guybrush is lovingly foolish, a little incompetent, and overly confident, Percy is actually quite good at the thing he's trying to do and surprisingly humble. He's just as capable of stirring up chaos, though, as you'll see him stumbling into silly situations and finding even the most innocent situations twisted against his favor.
While Bilkins has some handy maps, a shovel, and a ship to aid him on his adventure, the greatest thing working to his benefit is his trusty dog. Drayton plays a prominent role in Bilkins' Folly, providing not only companionship as Percy chases down his family, but help in treasure seeking as well. You get to see the bond building between the two and how important Drayton becomes to Percy's overall adventure. It provides a powerful depth to an otherwise light and fluffy narrative.
You may be excited to hear that petting, hugging (for as long as you'd like!), or interacting with Drayton are mechanics not merely built to get the game shared on the Can You Pet the Dog? social media accounts, but actually help you strengthen your bond and Drayton's abilities. Sharing some well-earned adoration with your pup can help him gain skills like sniffing out treasures or helping you with puzzles by tugging on ropes or sitting on buttons. I have nothing but respect for a game mechanic that incentivizes you to constantly tell Drayton that he's a very good boy.
X marks the spot
In Bilkins' Folly, the story goes beyond what's literally written on the page. As Percy digs up treasure across several islands and seeks to uncover what his family has been after all this time, he's asked to interpret treasure maps and old journal pages to find the treasure waiting at the end.
It starts with simple markings of easily identifiable landmarks that you'll track down to find treasure, and advances to you having to mark very specific angled lines on your map after deciphering strange scribbles. You carefully count paces, mark Xs on the map, and use your trusty shovel to unearth the treasures. These puzzles expand the brain in fun ways.
But it's not only a great puzzle mechanic, it's a solid storytelling one. You begin wondering the logic behind these placements, behind these maps. You start identifying patterns in how treasures are left behind. This synergy of narrative and gameplay makes for an experience that feels the most pirate-y of all pirate games out there, an ironic twist of fate considering Percy is a humble treasure hunter and not actually a pirate.
Bilkins' Folly has some clear inspirations, including that "mighty pirate" of Monkey Island notoriety, and this game has a special ability to mine out the best of its influences to create something new.
In an interview, Webster stated that if you just gave Percy a sword, it'd look and feel just like a classic Zelda. And he's not wrong. Percy's already got access to bombs, a shovel, and a lantern, so he's basically halfway there. As a fan of the more adventure game logic-filled releases of the series, like Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, it's great to see more games pull from those gameplay concepts and bring new versions to life in the indie space.
Bilkins' Folly pulls this off by truly capturing that vibe of exploration. Of unearthing great secrets in the hills and caves of the islands Percy explores. Of feeling the push to find more treasures to earn more cash to buy new tools and just keep diving deeper into the puzzles. It may not have boss fights or combat, but the puzzles here stand up against the best in any point-and-click game or Zelda adventure.
Bilkins' Folly offers a dense puzzle experience. Every part of the game's world feels like it's hiding some puzzle, and every new mechanic unlocked adds variety to the experience in a meaningful way. Whether you're placing down shapes to fill in a lock in the lockpicking minigame, placing books in just the right order in a bookcase to unlock some secret compartment, or perusing a series of fun treasure maps, Bilkins' Folly constantly has you thinking and engaging that puzzle-solving part of your brain in really fun ways. Some people may find that overwhelming across a 10-15 hour main story, and there were moments where I felt a bit lost amidst the piles of quests the game delivered to me in the final act. But there's enough new variety introduced all throughout to keep you from feeling too in over your head.
You've got treasure maps; Korok-like visual patterns to catch onto that have hidden treasures underneath; fun bespoke puzzles like a word scramble where you decipher a long message by shuffling letters along rows and columns. There are even puzzles I still don't understand, etchings in walls that I can't comprehend, and locked doors I don't know how to open. Some puzzles may be just a bit too obtuse or it might just be my tiny brain, it's hard to say.
Tough puzzles are putting Bilkins' Folly on the map
As a point-and-click veteran and someone who fancies himself a certified puzzle-minded Smart Cookie, I decided to play the game in hard mode. On this difficulty level, Bilkins' Folly limits hints and makes the information you're given for every puzzle a bit more cryptic. It removes some details from treasure maps to make what they're hinting at a little harder to uncover, characters are a little more vague when handing you quests, and even things like the pace-counting system are changed: As opposed to the game numerically and visibly counting out each step for you, it simply notes each step you take and leaves the counting up to you.
For all my confidence, I had a hell of a time deconstructing some of the game's hardest puzzling challenges. Probably ninety percent of the game's main story puzzles weren't too hard to crack — but side content, like the treasure-hunt challenge you can participate in on every island and the zombie songs you need to decipher to find special treats for Drayton (look, there's a lot happening in this game), can deliver a hefty challenge.
Tie that to a few technical issues, like treasure maps that linger on the screen after you've tried pulling them away, or crucial mapping notes disappearing, and you've got the makings for some frustrating puzzle work at times. These will get optimized over time, no doubt, and a reload always helps get things back on course.
Some of the puzzles I had the biggest issues with were the ones that emphasized precise mapwork. There were instances where I could completely understand what was being asked of me, but doing the puzzle several times over still had the angle or measurements off by just a margin, and I'd be left so confused and lost by the end of it. There's a puzzle that I sat with for hours, certain I'd figured it out, only to repeatedly find myself unable to find treasure at the end of it. No amount of extra information can help in a situation like that, and some of these more frustrating puzzles can bog things down.
Needless to say, these puzzles are not to be taken lightly. But in nearly every other aspect, lightness is exactly what the game calls for. From the cartoony pixel art aesthetic to the bouncy animation style to the vibrant color palette, Bilkins' Folly does lets you know clearly that it's here for a good time. You know a game gleefully doesn't take itself too seriously when its protagonist stares right into the camera after a joke. Small things like that go a long way in giving the world of Bilkins' Folly its wonderful personality.
It comes through in the game's soundscape, too, crafted by composer Jamal Green. The punchy strings and booming percussion bring to mind all your favorite pirate soundtracks. I couldn't get enough of the momentous jingles that play alongside Percy's attempts to dig for treasure, either ending with a fun flourish or a flat deflating note when you hit the bottom with no treasure to speak of. And the silly "almost words" gibberish spoken by every character you meet adds some much-appreciated buoyancy to the text-heavy game.
Bilkins' Folly may break your brain with some difficult puzzles, but it does so with a smile.
Bilkins' Folly is a wholesome puzzle adventure that sticks to its strengths and mines so much cleverness out of a few basic puzzle concepts. It centers on the bond between a man and his dog and tells a story that's just as wholesome and lighthearted as you'd expect from something that calls Monkey Island and Zelda its inspirations.
Some of the most difficult puzzles may baffle even the biggest puzzle fans, and people who are looking for a more adventure-focused Zelda-like may find the puzzles a bit much. But if a game that evokes the best parts of adventure games, 2D Zelda, and Layton-level puzzles sounds like it might appeal to you, don't skip Bilkins' Folly.
Amid the absolute deluge of AAA and indie releases hitting this October, Bilkins' Folly stands there, a shiny and enticing treasure chest just waiting to be enjoyed.
Video Games Are Good and Bilkins' Folly is . . . GREAT. (8.5/10)
+ a wholesome puzzle adventure that keeps things light, pirate-y puzzles that expand the mind, a very good dog who helps you
- only the biggest puzzle fans need apply, even then some of the puzzles are a bit too abstract and finicky, a few light technical issues
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