Gooka: The Mystery of Janatris

Developer:  Centauri Productions
Publisher:  Cenega Publishing/Red Ant Entertainment (Australia)
Year Released:  2004

Review by Steve Ramsey (September, 2004)

Despite a rather odd name (at least to us Anglos), Gooka is a rather interesting outing originating in the Czech Republic. Based on a comic book character, it has action, adventure and role playing elements which all come together to ultimately add up to an entertaining challenge.

Judge Gooka is an honourable and respected man in Janatris, but there are those who would oppose him. He returns from a long voyage to find his house in ruins, his wife gravely ill, and his son missing. Gooka must first uncover what happened, and then set about putting things right. The real world, and his dreams and visions, must both be conquered.

Early on, the great god Glux will appear to Gooka and explain how he can use and manage both his mind and body. Gooka (and you) would do well to pay attention, and not just because it's never a good idea to ignore the gods. Manipulating both mind and body will be a key component of a successful campaign.

Janatris is a big world, populated by strange and exotic beings and beasts. High tech android-like beings conduct cloning experiments alongside female warrior tribes and giant wasps. It's a pastiche world, and Gooka must survive all its extremes.

Fight them on the beaches!
Gooka will have to fight to succeed. As he wins, his physical and his mental prowess might increase, depending upon how he has fought the battle. His health will also improve, making for a more formidable character as the game goes along. He may also receive items and skills from vanquished foes.

And foes abound, some more magical than physical, so combat occurs often. It is turn based, although Gooka and/or the enemy might get more than one turn in a row, depending upon their physical attributes. It might be 1 on 1, but can be 5 on 1 or even 1 on 4. Whilst there is a lot of it, I thought it was rather nifty.

Your physical and mental attributes determine how you fare in the fight, as does the enemy's. A high body strength means you will sustain less damage from each attack, although you will tire as the fight goes on. A high body strength also means you will cause more damage on each attack. So too with mental strength. Of course, the ultimate damage sustained or meted out will be determined by your own attributes as well as those of your opponent. So it pays to study your opponent.

You have a variety of physical attacks at your disposal, each with different cause and effect, and you pick up more as you go along. So too will you acquire different weapons, and these will also affect your attributes. Some will add to your health but detract from your strength, and so on. You will be armed at all times, and you can change weapons through the inventory, but not once a fight has begun.

Apart from physical attack, you may have a variety of mental skills at your disposal, and these can be used on yourself as well. Some increase strength, others prevent mental attacks, others slow down an opponent, some are used to heal. Others of course are a deadly mental zapping. You can also transfer skill points from physical to mental strength. When fighting with comrades, you control them as well, and you can use your skills on each other to cure or to enhance your efforts.

If all that sounds like a satisfying arsenal with which to do battle, so it is, but your enemies all have the same things at their disposal. Just when you think you are on the verge of victory, the enemy might heal itself and then it's game on again.

Fools rush in
A fight, therefore, is more than just hack and whack. You will discover as you go some useful strategies to employ against opponents with certain attributes. You might have to die to fine tune some of them, and you might have to take a few risks to see what works best. "Revenge" was one of my favourites, and the "Mirror" spell worked a treat when fighting with a group.

Despite its intricacies, combat is all managed in a very simple way. The characters all appear on screen and running your mouse over them will reveal their attributes. When it's your turn, a small headshot of each character appears at the bottom of the screen, and the active character is highlighted. Toggling through a menu of available skills or items lets you pick the one you want, and each is accompanied by a summary of what it does. Once selected, click on the character who is to be the recipient of your chosen action, and watch the fun. Everything, including the use of mental abilities and their results, are accompanied by little effects and animations.

The fights don't all play out the same either. You will find that once you die and reload, the attack patterns aren't necessarily the same and nor are the attributes of the enemy. Which is just as well, because on a few occasions the opponents went first and before Gooka had a turn he was dead. I panicked the first time, but soon learnt that eventually I would get a fight which gave me a turn. Of course, using that turn wisely then became paramount.

When fighting in a group, you only have to keep Gooka alive. So long as he is the last one standing, everyone else springs back to life, health restored, and you move on. Your colleagues' attributes may also be enhanced by the experience, and they may well have different skills to yours.

You can acquire skills and weapons as a result of successful fights, but you might also be given them if you have completed a particular quest. You will meet many people who will be grateful, and perhaps generous, if you assist them. You don't have to, and completing every quest is not necessary in order to save your wife and son, but you might be pleased you did when things get sticky.

You can also buy things from merchants and shops, including healing potions and herbs with interesting properties. Again, you don't have to, and might not be able to if you haven't enough money. Other more mundane things are essential purchases in order to complete tasks, and some task are, of course, essential to move the game forward.

All of this indicates that Gooka has high replayability value. You could choose to do everything the same, but even then, the combat will play out differently.

The completion of tasks, and finding and using the right items to do so, provides much of the "puzzling" involved in the game, although there are a few outright puzzles including a music one and a short maze variant. Like most games, I occasionally resorted to trying things because I had them, but generally knew what I was doing, even if I did have to spend a fair bit of time wandering around trying to find the place or thing needed, or the person I needed to talk to.

The outright puzzles aren't too difficult either, but a couple of little arcade like games may hold you up for a while. The fire trap took some doing, hopping from spot to spot trying not to be roasted. They are all in one place though, and once through them, that's the end of them.

It's probably true that the combat provides the biggest challenge in Gooka, but the rest of the game is by no means a doddle. The end sequence, in particular, offers a nicely constructed and challenging situation which stumped me for quite a while. So too did the music puzzle, but that's because I loathe them. And the dice game.

Craps by any name
I must mention the dice game. Seemingly straightforward (win at dice) it had a mind of its own. I don't just mean that there is little you can do to influence the outcome; apart from choosing which dice to keep, the computer rolls the dice, and I swore more than once when it just happened to roll three sixes on its very last throw. What made this game so ornery was that either it had unfathomable rules, or else it was bugged. In my day, 4 fives beat 3 fives, but the game was just as likely to declare 3 fives the winner. It worked for and against me, but it added to the frustration.

In the end, though, a simple strategy got me past, and to that extent the previous few hours was somewhat my own fault. But it wasn't fun all the same. Plus it wasn't at all clear what I had to do - win once, win twice, win all his money? A fly in the ointment indeed.

Gooka is played in the third person, using mouse and keyboard, and gameplay is simple and straightforward. Gooka will "notice" things he can interact with; press enter and he might comment, or pick it up, or examine it. Select an inventory item at the same place and press enter and if it's useable, Gooka will use it accordingly. You can also use some items in the inventory and combine them with others.

Your inventory is only a "tab" press away, and contains all of your items and weapons as well as listing your physical and mental skills acquisitions. Highlighting a skill with the cursor brings up a short summary of what it does, and the same with inventory items. Highlight a weapon and all its attributes, and how it will affect your character, are displayed. There is also a notebook which automatically records important details of your quests.

Save game slots are more than adequate, and the game also autosaves before a potentially fatal event. You can save at will, but not in the middle of a fight. Judicious saving will help with the arcade sequence, and with the teleportation maze.

Like other third person games, the camera angles in Gooka are sometimes a pain, but never during combat. I did find getting out of one house almost impossible as the camera kept changing and disorienting me, but that was the only time it was anything other than a mild nuisance.

There are some clunks in the proceedings. Now and then people were doing things for me that I didn't know I had asked for ("here is that crab you wanted"), and why Gooka didn't just pick up the battery cover he dropped instead of finding another one remains a mystery (perhaps it broke). But again, they were only mild bumps.

The graphics were fairly detailed if bit sharp edged and angular, particularly noticeable on some of the characters (and for some reason the trees). Light and shadow is done well, and Janatris is a dynamic world, with thunder and lightning, rain, and night and day all coming and going. Gooka occasionally intersected an edge, and would do an odd little shuffle to open doors depending upon where he was positioned. Lip synching is non existent, but the voice work is all rather good. So too the sound effects, and the music is at times exceptional and generally excellent.

Everything is subtitled if you want it, and you can tweak various settings, including whether you want blood in your combat. There are also 3 difficulty settings, which affect the combat and the puzzles. With respect to the latter, the only difference is that if you have selected an inventory item and it can be used in your current location, it will light up. Having selected it though, the chances are that you will be trying to use it, so it's not really much of an aid. In battle though, easy fights mean weaker foes, and hard fights mean their characteristics are not displayed. I played on normal and found that knowing thine enemy was a key element in how I attacked, so not knowing would have made a difference. I suspect it would also have made it a bit more hit and miss, more frustrating than challenging.

The loads between screens were quick and usually preceded by a cutscene, and cutscenes accompany the combat and much of what goes on. I experienced no crashes or operational bugs of any sort, but some of the places through which Gooka moves are large and there is much happening and I did experience some slowing down of proceedings. The game was obviously right at the limits of my system specifications.

It is a long game and it is one I thoroughly enjoyed. It had a bit of everything, and whilst for some players it might not have enough of the thing they like most, or have too much of the things they don't like, for me it was a well put together blend of different styles and elements, and one which made the Janatris mystery well worth solving. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98/2000/XP, Pentium III or Athlon 733 Mhz (1.5 Ghz recommended), 32 MB nVidia Geforce 2 video card (64 MB Geforce 4 or Radeon 9600 recommended), 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended), 400 MB disc space, 8x CD ROM, DirectX 8.1.