Girl Genius: Adventures In Castle Heterodyne (shortened to Girl Genius) is an open-world, action-adventure game developed and published by Rain Games, also known for Teslagrad and World to the West. Based on the award-winning comic book series written by Phil and Kaja Foglio, you play as Agatha Clay/Heterodyne as she heads to the titular castle to search for both answers and power. However, because she is a "Spark" (essentially a mad genius), there are people out there who would rather see her captured, enslaved, or dead… like her former university professor Silas Merlot and Zola, who wants everyone to think she is a Heterodyne.
Now, that was just the basic set-up for the game, and it sort of skims over some important bits, like why the antagonists want Agatha dead or why they're in the castle in the first place. If you wanna know more, there is a Lore section in the pause menu… or you could flat-out read the comics, which are unlockable in-game. Already, that's some serious bonus points. The overall writing is pretty good, with some light humour and black comedy. The dialogue should satisfy fans of the comic.
As for graphics, they work. It obviously draws from the steampunk-like world of comics, and the character models do a good job of replicating the art style of the books. It won’t test your graphics card, but it suffices and won't grate your eyes. Even though Girl Genius mainly takes place within the castle walls, there are nice and diverse-looking rooms that won't make you feel like you're getting lost.
However, in order to actually navigate through the castle, you'll need some tools. You'll start off with a Dingbot, who can get into places Agatha can't normally, but it won't be enough to conquer the castle. You'll find blueprints throughout the place to craft and create gadgets to help in your adventure, such as a Grapple Gun and a Power Lantern. They can be further upgraded using resources found throughout the game, such as more damage or bigger areas of effect. You'll also need to hunt down artefacts scattered throughout the castle to upgrade Agatha's health, stamina, and energy. It’s all pretty standard stuff, but there's more to these tools than just navigation.
It isn't all about thinking your way through. Sometimes, you need to crack some skulls with a giant wrench. Combat isn't the main focus here, as most enemies and boss fights are treated as a problem to solve rather than a head-to-smash. Most enemies can be defeated by just spamming attacks and the occasional dodge roll, but it works for the type of game this is. I would like a lock-on, but it works for what it is. You can also use the various tools you craft throughout the game to help make dealing with enemies easier. For example, the Power Lantern can stun enemies for a short time, as well as power doors. If you need help not dying, there's a combat arena to help refine your skills and health potions are very easily upgraded to max in only a couple of hours.
Once you have control of the Castle (who is a separate character, by the way), a whole new world is opened up. Not only can you set off traps, but you can also use special pads to create objects like jump pads and cannons to help solve puzzles. Just… don't stand too close to them while summoning them, they can crush you.
Now, as much as I am kind of giving praise to Girl Genius, I do have some issues with it. The energy meter takes way too long to recharge, which is fine in combat, but not so much outside of it where I want to use it to unlock a door or a gate. It is a minor annoyance, but an annoyance all the same. Also, the end goal of a puzzle is sometimes a little unclear. The game does give you a quest objective, but something like "Explore the Plunder Room" isn't exactly the most straightforward task to be given. It took me way too long to solve that room. I also encountered a softlock where using a jump pad at the wrong angle led to me being stuck in a crate, which made me have to restart. Oh, by the way, all the puzzle elements reset after death, which is sort of irritating, especially when trying things out led to me accidentally flinging myself into a bottomless pit.
As for technical performance, it stayed pretty damn smooth. I have an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER and an AMD Ryzen 7 3800X 8-Core Processor, and I had 60 FPS all the way. Other than that softlock from earlier, I encountered no glitches or anything that affected gameplay.
Girl Genius feels like a good PlayStation 2 game. If it had voice acting (a goal that was sadly not reached in the Kickstarter), it wouldn't be all that dissimilar to the likes of Ratchet & Clank (2002) or Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. There may not be a jump button, which feels very weird to me, but it reminds me of those games for a lot of reasons. The graphics, the controls, the UI. It's a sort of nostalgic feeling, with some modern additions here and there. It could've used more gadgets, though, but I know it might make the puzzles much more complicated. For fans of the comic, this is a great game and a must-buy. For ignorant fools like me who only realised this was a real comic when I stumbled upon the reading area, it is a fun time full of adventure, romance, and mad science.
Girl Genius: Adventures in Castle Heterodyne released on the 5th of September 2023, and is available on Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam and GOG.
Girl Genius: Adventures In Castle Heterodyne (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Girl Genius: Adventures in Castle Heterodyne is a great game for fans of the comics and a good time for those who haven’t read it yet. It’s like a good PlayStation 2 game from back in the day.