What would a stunningly beautiful 17-year-old girl be doing on the deck of a luxurious cruise ship on a hot, sultry day? Getting a tan, maybe? Not at all for So Blonde’s protagonist: she is getting bored! Who on Earth would prefer a relaxing sail on the sapphire-blue water of the Caribbean Sea over a frantic afternoon of compulsive shopping? Especially if, while you’re stuck on this dull cruise for your parents’ anniversary, your friend Kimberly is ransacking Manhattan shops in search of the latest fashion designer shoes! Poor Sunny. Her adolescence is surely a nightmare: her father wouldn’t even allow her to build a tree house in their Upper East Side apartment.
Does all this sound like a cliché? If so, you’re absolutely right. And do you know what Sunny Blonde would reply if you pointed that out to her? “I love clichés!”. Little does Sunny know, however, that her life is about to be turned upside down, leaving those tired clichés far behind.
So Blonde does indeed start out like the most stereotypical Hollywood teen chick flick, until Sunny gets swept off the ship by a violent storm and finds herself stranded on a savage tropical beach. She is totally alone and her make-up is a total mess and her precious beauty-case is nowhere to be seen. Her cell phone doesn’t work and, when she approaches a lonely boy sitting on a rock, she finds out that he’s unable to point her to the nearest hotel or fully-furnished mall. In fact, much to her astonishment, the boy has never even heard of such things and certainly doesn’t know what a cell is. Worse still, other island inhabitants are dressed like pirates and a large galleon is moored in the bay. Sunny clings to the tiny hope of being in a 17th century themed resort, trying not to face the uncomfortable truth that she’s somehow actually ended up in the past.
As she soon finds out, there aren’t any five stars hotels on Forgotten Island. There is an inn in the town, but with a pig scampering in the room it hardly matches the luxury standards Sunny is used to. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, since she has no money in any case. When some of the locals, listening to her complaints, suggest that she find a job, Sunny gasps: she is trained for nothing (except shopping, of course) and what can a “dumb blonde” – her words, not mine – do to survive in such an inhospitable environment?
First of all, she has to quit her spoiled manners and discover what her real nature is, because there is something big going on and almost everyone intends to use her as a scapegoat. Years ago, an evil tyrant, the short but cruel pirate One-Eye, took over the rule of the island. He and his gang of thugs, led by the enormous Diablo, are frightening the islanders and making slaves out of them to work in pits and caves. The other authorities – the Mayor of the city as well as the Chiefs of the indigenous tribes – have no power against his ferocious domain and no choice but to submit to his will. What’s worse, the worshipped spirit of the island, Atabey, seems to grow weaker and weaker as the days pass and there are rumors amongst the villagers of an evil curse laid upon them. Given that everyone has a (more or less) secret agenda, Sunny must rapidly learn to function on her own, because it will be up to her to set things right on Forgotten Island and, at the same time, find her way back home.
By now it should be clear that the game moves far past its original clichés. Indeed, there is much more to So Blonde, and to Sunny herself, than first superficially meets the eye. This is a common feature of the game: when it initially introduces the player to something – a character, a situation, a new location – it indulges in stereotypes, then slowly but steadily, the superb script scrapes the opaque patina off and reveals the depth beneath the clichés. Sunny is a perfect example in her own right. She starts off like the typical high-class, spoiled girl whose greatest hope is to be Queen of the Prom and, in the end, she turns out to be one of the most well-rounded protagonists seen in an adventure game in a long time. The same can be said for the rest of the cast: from the beautiful but tormented captain Morgane to the yearningly romantic Juan, Sunny is surrounded by colourful, multi-faceted and likeable characters. Moreover, the writing by Steve Ince is always fitting and often brilliant, at times amusing while at other times movingly heartfelt as it manages to highlight some deep, serious themes by means of the laughter. Sunny’s adventure on Forgotten Island is not only a classic coming-of-age tale, but also a story with some meaningful undertones about tradition vs. modernity, reason vs. superstition, even about female emancipation and social gender conventions. Most of all, it is a compelling story that will enthral the players up until the very end.
Perfectly blended with the tone of story, the luxurious graphics are a real treat for the eyes. Forgotten Island is wide and varied, from the sunlit coral beach in the southern part to the grim, foggy forests of the northern end. The cartoon-like hand-painted backgrounds are so richly detailed that sometimes I stopped playing to stare astonished, soaking in the additional ambient touches like butterflies fluttering about, smoke rising from chimneys, and shutters waving in the wind. When we get the chance to see the island by night, the graphics offer some really spectacular lighting effects, with eerie purple and azure-blue lights, and breathtaking panoramic views.Continued on the next page...