There was a time when you could ask any OHRRPGCE’er to name a couple games and the first ones likely to come to mind would be Wandering Hamster and Monterey Penguin. Monterey Penguin is considered by many to be a classic OHRRPGCE game, and for a good reason. When it was first released back in 1998, it received the highest review score of that time (RPG Online). Even though there were only a handful of “decent” games back then, it was still no question that Monterey Penguin was a respectable OHRRPGCE game due to its innovative ideas and features.
Most extremely old OHRRPGCE titles I’ve played have not stood up too well to the test of time (the Ends of the Earth series, for example), so I was a little bit nervous about re-playing Monterey Penguin. After completing the demo today, however, I can honestly say that it is every bit charming as I remember it being when I first played over 10 years ago.
At this point most seasoned OHRers are familiar with the game, but here is the rundown of the story if you are not familiar with it. You begin as Monterey, a penguin who is caught and shipped off to live in a zoo, though you never actually make it there. Your crate is mistaken to be something it is not and is in turn delivered to a landscape completely different than Monterey’s home. Obviously this is bad for Monterey, so he begins his search for a way to get back home.
The story is about as good as you would expect starring a penguin, a super hero cucumber, and an egotistical chicken, but don’t let the strange cast and lack of depth fool you. The characters are quirky and the dialogue is both witty and relatively error-free, which results in surprisingly pleasant time.
Although I would have liked a bit more of a challenge, Monterey Penguin’s combat is pretty well balanced overall. Random encounters can give you trouble if you aren’t prepared, and the same can be said for most of the boss fights. You probably won’t completely die from any one encounter though.
The graphics range from being okay to pretty good, even by today’s OHRRPGCE standards. All of the landscape has a nice Wandering Hamster-like feel to it, which I liked very much. I also appreciated the variety of NPCs and enemies as some games can have excessive carbon copies or palette-swapped sprites. Monterey Penguin is still one of the most cutscene-heavy games I’ve ever seen, with one or two dozen used in the demo alone (and they are all fantastic).
My biggest complaint about Monterey Penguin is the soundtrack. I’m not a huge fan of classical music in games like this, though it does work well in some instances (ie. Walthros). I think my issue here was that the music ranged from Classical pieces to original music to…Eye of the Tiger? Are you kidding me? Regardless, it wasn’t bad enough for me to mute the sound, though I do wish different tracks were selected for some areas.
The thing that makes Monterey Penguin shine the most is its use of several clever elements that were groundbreaking for its time and are surprisingly underused today. The cutscenes are great and I love how there are spots where it fakes FMVs. In addition, many of the NPCs are “lifesize” and/or animated, neither of which is often used today.
I also liked the way the sand sharks would run away on the map after being defeated, though they would re-focus on you after a short time. I appreciated how you could fight random enemies as well as run into certain enemy npcs wandering the map. When you think about it, most of these things are fairly simple to replicate today but are still oftentimes overlooked. What fascinates me the most is that Monterey did most of this in a time where it was pretty difficult to utilize.
Monterey Penguin is by far one of the best old games I’ve played recently and with it being well over 10 years old now, I’d say that is quite a feat. It is a great example of an OHRRPGCE game that has aged well, and my only regret is knowing that it will likely never be finished.