Available on PC
Albert and Otto: The Adventure Begins is about a telekinetic boy with a shotgun and a magical stuffed rabbit in Germany, 1939. Well, at least that’s what it says on the tin. Really, it seems to be set in a land filled with cogs, boxes and thorn bushes and populated exclusively by giant birds, wolves and sheep. Has something terrible happened to 1939 Germany? You know, something worse than what was already happening?
Your goal is to find a girl with rabbit ears, who you see briskly whisked away by shadows in the first few seconds of the game. Who is she? What does she mean to you? Why was she kidnapped by ghosts? If you’re hoping for definitive answers to these questions, you might be disappointed. What little story Albert and Otto contains is told through stick figure drawings and a single smashed-up family photo, and it ends with a big “To Be Continued.”
But boy does it have puzzles. You’ll spend most of your time in Albert and Otto going through some very familiar motions; stepping on pressure plates, turning on switches, etc. Many of these are arranged in novel, interesting ways, and get increasingly complex as more and more moving parts are introduced. There’s also a bizarre amount of cruelty to sheep that’s required.
For a puzzle game, though, Albert and Otto seems a little too eager to kill you. Landing on spikes will predictably kill you, but so will giant birds, wolves, fire and bottomless pits. This becomes a problem when death starts to feel punitive; a missed jump near the end of a multi-step puzzle might send you back to the beginning, for example, making you re-do the lengthy process of moving boxes, activating switches and tossing rocks.
This problem, while merely irksome for the majority of the game, crescendos into two mind-bendingly frustrating sections set on a fast-flowing underwater river. They’re timed challenges: to progress, the player must rapidly solve puzzles to open up gates, allowing Albert to ride a raft down the river. The raft on which the player rides will keep going whether or not the player is on top; if you take too long, you’ll be left behind or knocked off to your death, and have to start at the beginning.
The imprecise controls, particularly of the telekinesis Albert uses to move objects, were the source of most of my vitriol here. Boxes, for example, spin when levitated. Sometimes, this means that instead of resting on a pressure plate that will open the next gate, they will tumble off upon being dropped, wasting my precious time with their realignment.
And some puzzles along these sections seem to require at least one death. One box-based pressure plate puzzle, for example, did not include an actual box. I had to have brought said box with me from the previous puzzle, which I couldn’t have known until it was too late. This part of the game was such a sudden spike of poor design that it nearly bucked me off entirely. I had no narrative motivation for continuing, no momentum pushing me forward. It would have been easy to walk away.
This isn’t to say that Albert and Otto did not have rewards to be reaped. It doesn’t do too many new things with its art or design, but it does execute familiar ideas well, most of the time. It’s not perfect, but most of the time Albert and Otto: The Adventure Begins manages to be a perfectly serviceable puzzler.