07th Jan 2018 | 1,168 views
Excalibug is a Western RPG based in a fantasy world populated by insects. In the times of the legendary King Arthur, a fragment of the holy sword Excalibur falls to the ground and ends up in the bug world, a small and adorable version of medieval fantasy. Said fragment turns into a sword, and is called the Excalibug (get it? because it's Excalibur for bugs?) and is the only weapon that can defeat the upcoming darkness. The dark magician Mordregon is invading the Free Kingdoms and only out group of misfits can save the day: The old and wise Searemoon the moth, the brave and strong Sir Owen the beetle and the smart rogue Mirna the ant. These three unlikely heroes will be forced to join forces to defeat Mordregon and his right hand Moldark.
On the surface, this seems like a very generic story, and it really is. The characters and plot are very typical for a game like this, even back in 2001. It feels very tabletop-ish, like you'd find this kind of adventure on a D&D manual, and you know what's going to happen at every moment. This game needed more characters, or develop more the ones it had. The setting itself is the highlight of the game in this regard. Even though the graphics don't hold up the best, (which is something a lot of 3D games suffer from) and the story is very cookie-cutter, the dev team tries to add tons of detail into the world. The maps are filled to the brim with detail, from spiders, lizards and mice looking like gigantic beasts in the background, boots and common-day utensils form massive fortresses (hell, the lair of the final level is located inside of a human skeleton, which makes for an amazing visual, at least at the time), little strolls of water become impassable rivers... The dedication to the atmospheric elements must be commended, even though it sometimes harms the experience. From time to time, you'll find yourself fighting with the camera because a tree branch is hiding the enemy you want to take down, or the treasure chest you want so badly is just between that pile of rocks. A better compromise between atmospheric detail and mechanical clarity would have been needed. The villains are generic in extremis, to the point not one of the dynamic duo says a word during the whole game! This is beyond dumb, but it’s not a very long game, and they try a “knowing them through other people’s dialogues” so that’s that.
The gameplay is similar to games like Diablo or WoW in terms of mechanics, only very simplified. Your characters have a very limited inventory and can never change weapons (except when they find the Excalibug), and have a very limited pool of moves they can pull off. The interface is simple and intuitive, but it's perhaps too simple, an option to mapping the keyboard with options would've been nice. With the exception of Searemoon, which has a decent variety of spells he can use, the other two are melee based, although there's an exploit with Mirna that can allow use her distracting move of throwing a rock as a ranged attack. Our characters follow the three basic archetypes of this kind of fantasy games: Mirna is the rouge, fast, nimble and attacks with stealth and thievery, but weak against melee attacks. Sir Owen is your typical knight, strong in melee and with a decent defenses, but no ranged attacks. Searemoon is your wizard, with access to a very decent pool of spells and enchantments, but it's awful at close combat and it can barely defend itself. Over the course of the game you'll get other characters, but they usually don't last more than one level (with exception of Ballard the Mite, wich becomes your run of the mill barbarian, even if it technically is a soldier too). The enemy variety is not that good either, especially considering how many species of bugs they could've used. Most enemies are either mosquitoes or various types of ants and beetles. Considering some of the species we face later in the game are very cool, like the Amazon Wasps or the Pretorian Guard of Scorpions, it's very sad how overused the bad guys are here. And speaking of bad guys, there are big bosses in the game. Without counting Mordregon and Moldark, we fight a couple of giant beasts, even though they are not that much of a problem. It's such a shame they lack variety too: in one level we see the remnants of a fight between the army of Mordregon and a feral Salamander, and we can see the lizard dead on the ground, impaled by countless swords, with the carcasses of the fallen bugs around it. I wanted to fight that, not a bigger version of a scorpion!
The level design is okay. You'll see the best the game can throw at you at the first half of the game, and then most of the levels will follow a pattern of "find all the keys, then continue to the next level". And there are only a total of 15 levels in the game, so they could've done much more to make each of them more unique. They are pretty expansive, though, and full of neat things to discover, but again, these things are mostly for decoration. And you are able to see all the map from the start, which takes away from the initial awe. Items are very limited, but they get the job done. You have your typical set of potions and enchantments, foods and pseudo-foods, you've seen them before in other games. Excalibug has a very neat twist here, in that it uses white and brown sugar as silver and gold respectively, and you can eat them both to replenish health, so it's money and currency both at the same time! Very useful indeed, although you quickly learn that the brown sugar is infinitely more valuable, and you'll replace the white sugar as soon as you get the chance. There are also many “hidden” traps around the maps, but they are pretty obvious. The dangerous ones are the ones powered by magic, those are hidden well and activated by close proximity, they need the Magic Shield spell to counter, and that takes a lot of mana.
One very important detail of the game is the difficulty. If you have any kind of experience with other RPGs, DO NOT START IN EASY MODE. The AI there is quite inept and the power of your units is way stronger than the enemies. Even in normal you can outsmart the AI easily, so don’t touch the easy option.
Sound design is fine. With the exception of the main theme, which I like quite a lot (very fitting for a fantasy world) the OST is generic and you probably won’t remember it once you turn off the game. Voice acting is ridiculous, very generic performance, although you can hear they’re having fun with this hammy script.
There is multiplayer in this game, but I haven’t played it. According to the instructions, it’s basically replaying the single player levels, but with other two players. Neat, but it’s an old game and it only works on LAN.
One thing I want to mention is the aDeSe Rating. aDeSe, for those who don’t know, is a very old Spanish rating system, from the days before PEGI. The game is rated aDeSe 18, which is the highest rating before “Adults Only”. And this is… weird. At least by today’s standards, this game is extremely vanilla. There are a couple of scenes of violence in the background, but nothing that would justify something more than an aDeSe 13 rating. Considering those were the days with paranoia around videogames and violence, though, and you realize why it’s like that, although the story definitively doesn’t push any kind of mature theme, so it has to come from the scenery.
Overall, a mediocre game that would be a rather good introduction for children to this kind of WRPGs, even with the aDeSe rating. Veteran players won’t find anything that they haven’t seen before, so you may think it’s not worth bothering with finding a copy of this and making it work in modern PCs.