Review: Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore

Meme, myself and CD-i: The first good comedy game

It’s always interesting to encounter a throwback to a sub-sub-genre, a scene of which I am limited in knowledge. As you all know and frequently scream at me in the street, I am essentially the God-King Guru (not Larry) of retrogaming. But even I, the Great Mind, have gaps in my knowledge. And the Philips CD-i happens to be one of them. And yet: I know the type. I know what Arzette is. I know what it tries to be. What it very much succeeds at being. A type of platformer that marries a particularly… let’s say slapdash feel to a much more contemporary expectation of game structure, level design.

It’s the meme-riffic Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, as seen in several billion “YouTube Poop” videos; crass, scatalogical and – most of all – absurd, dada compilations of footage from cartoons, video games, live action TV, even pro wrestling – overlaid with all manner of memes, many of which were birthed from previous YouTube Poops. It’s a community, dare I say a religion. I’ve spent afternoons in absolute tears of laughter at, for example, creator ITeachVader’s Dr. Robotnik Poops. But oddly enough, the Wand of Gamelon stuff, all taken from its off-kilter, amateuris animated cutscenes, never quite entered my radar. I was aware of it, naturally, due to cultural osmosis and the odd appearance in unrelated videos, but I’ve never quite been on board.

That said, the animated content of Arzette: Jewel of Faramore is wonderfully sly. It captures the ramshackle and somewhat cheesy nature of the Zelda CD-i title, but is notably wittier and more self-aware. It knows precisely what it’s doing and precisely how to subvert it in just the right ways. Strong character designs assist with this intent, because you can’t write it off as that usual “comedy game” trope of simply hanging a lampshade on the thing you’re doing badly. You know, how The Bard’s Tale: Remastered and Resnarkled has the main character bemoan the tedium and familiarity of having to head into the cellar of a bar in order to beat up rats – then making you do it anyway. The Futurama game making fun of bad mine cart stages before forcing you through possibly the worst one ever created.

Arzette, though, is not only genuinely funny, but also well-designed and enjoyable. Stages are start-to-finish linear, but you’re able to revisit them in order to find and open up new paths as you collect Sacred Candles which in turn allow you to access each area’s boss fight. There are hidden items beyond these, and a bonus round in each level that apes the underappreciated Hotel Mario, but most of the time it is a duly straightforward romp. Enjoyable to play, but the main appeal for was seeing which insane character would show up next; Arzette herself is very much the Bud Abbott to the rest of the cast’s army of Lou Costellos, many of which will task her with a mission she’ll need to polish off before returning to them. In that respect it’s a little bit like Shantae, but there’s something smoother about the whole experience. The difficulty level isn’t pitched too high – you can choose between an easier and harder mode but the latter still gives you unlimited lives – though the game is scoped for speed-running and it’s very difficult to get lost, with a map that will show you directly which areas still hide secrets.

I had a good time with Arzette, and that’s despite my lack of familiarity with the source material. Based on YouTube videos (not Poops this time), I can assure you that while Arzette apes the look, sound and to some extent the feel of Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, it absolutely does not ape its overall low quality and lack of enjoyment, being a polished labour of love that I’d recommend even to those unversed in its specific lineage.