This week, we’re going to talk about an elusive game: Gnomes & Goblins, a PC-based top-down arcade shooter from 1993. It’s strange, because the game alone looks gorgeous. It’s one of the few games that even looks better than it plays. I’ve never heard of it, but apparently I’m in the right place right now. The game’s a bit hard to describe, and if you’ve never heard of it, it’s probably best to watch the video.
In Gnomes & Goblins , you’re a little gnome named Bucky who’s been summoned by a mysterious sage to help rid a beautiful world of the evil Gnomes who have taken it over. The game provides you with an interesting plot and some nice levels, alongside the typical ‘run around and kill things’ gameplay that’s so common in VR, but the game is let down by its lack of polish and control issues.
On paper, the game seems interesting. You play as a magician who can create spells to summon monsters and direct them to attack a castle and steal its treasure. It’s a game of strategic spell casting and careful monster control. Unfortunately, the game is a complete waste of time and doesn’t have much to do with the theme it’s based on. It is just a bland third person action game with a couple of environmental puzzles to mix things up.
Four years after the release of a preview of the game, Gnomes & Goblins is finally here. Pitched as a “fantasy adventure VR simulation” with direction by film director Jon Favreau, Gnomes & Goblins delivers a beautiful appetizer with a rotten main course.
If you only played the first 45 minutes of Gnomes & Goblins, you’d probably walk away happy for the experience.
The prologue of the game introduces players to a gorgeously drawn forest world populated by little green goblins. To them, you’re a colossus. But, eventually, you’ll make friends with one, who will show you about their tiny world and introduce you to the others. And you’ll be whisked away on a mostly well-directed, and sometimes gorgeous, trip in no time. I won’t say more about it since I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s an excellent piece of world building that makes it seem like the goblins really dwell in the forest and have a history.
It’s a clever approach to focus the player’s attention to have a little NPC lead you around and point out items to do or look at. This works effectively throughout the prologue; it’s done in such a manner that the game doesn’t need any voice or text instructions to assist you figure out what you need to accomplish.
Everything falls down after the prologue, when the game gives you free reign to explore the forest world without any direction.
After the 45-minute prologue, the game becomes a combination of a walking simulator, a farming simulator, and a treasure hunt. And you’re left to your own devices to figure out the game’s perplexing mechanics. As a consequence, there are many levels of dissatisfaction.
Gnomes & Goblins fails to clearly lay out a core gameplay loop or even an overarching goal for the player. There’s clearly something about farming and crafting brews—but it’s unclear as to why you’d want to do this, let alone how.
Gnomes & Goblins asks you to go scavenge hunting for things without first explaining what you are looking for or why. And when you do find the thing you’re looking for, there’s nothing interesting to do with it; you just touch it and it disappears in a flash. This is made worse by the fact that it’s never clear at a glance which objects in the world are interactive. There may be a table full of 50 books, but only one of the books can be interacted with.
It should have been a red flag to the game’s designers that the need of include an always-accessible ’hint fairy’—who indicates everything the player may interact with through walls—could be an indication of a design flaw.
I could go on any tell you about the game’s various issues with player direction—like the entirely unexplained inventory system, or the inexplicable teleporting stone, or the seemingly random disappearance and reappearance of a key player ability—but it’s easier just to tell you that it took a little over three hours for Gnomes & Goblins to frustrate me to the point of deciding I was done with the game.
Make no mistake. I’ve played and enjoyed many games where the player is given little information about how everything works, and ‘mechanical discovery’ actually brings a positive sense of ‘exploration’. If that’s what Gnomes & Goblins was going for, it unfortunately missed the forest for the trees.
I really believed there was supposed to be a voice-over narration describing what I should be doing but it had just failed to play properly because of the absence of clear guidance.
It’s a shame that the game’s inscrutable gameplay kept me from wanting to come back, because the woodland realm of Gnomes & Goblins otherwise is a beautiful and mysterious one that would be a lovely backdrop for rich gameplay.
It’s hard to be immersed with poor gameplay direction, but putting that aside, Gnomes & Goblins does offer up a very pretty world that feels like you’ve been dropped into a richly illustrated storybook—assuming you have the PC to run it (more on performance in the Comfort section below).
Strong world construction, especially in the prologue, achieves a good mix between subtlety and intrigue. There’s a sense that the globe is bigger than the slice you’re standing in right now.
However, there are a few noticeable immersion breaks. For one thing, instead of showing hands or anything more thematically fitting like a wand, the game constantly displays a shadow of your VR controllers. Many times throughout the game, you’ll be traveling along a perfectly clear and open route only to come up against an unseen wall. You’ll also be obstructed by as little as grass blades, forcing you to circle back to a designated route in order to reach a clearing that would normally take two steps through the grass.
One of the biggest immersion breakers is object interactions, or the lack thereof. Gnomes & Goblins is filled with hundreds and hundreds of detailed objects. Cups, plates, plants, berries, bags, flowers, seeds, books, tools, etc, etc, etc. But 95% of the objects in the game cannot be interacted with, and unless you’re constantly sharking the ‘hint fairy’, figuring out what objects are actually interactive (and therefore possibly useful) is purely trial and error.
Gnomes & Goblins has some strange controls out of the gate. Luckily you can dive into the Options and quickly configure something sensible, as long as you can figure out the menu which uses a few non-standard terms.
The game, as far as I could tell, allows both smooth movement (controller and head based) and a kind of shift movement (named ‘Bump’), although the latter moved in such small increments that it appeared useless. Both seated and standing play are encouraged.
Assuming you are ok with smooth movement, Gnomes & Goblins is mostly comfortable. There are times where sensitive players might find issue, like when moving at full speed through a tunnel, but you can always choose to walk slower to keep this more comfortable.
Climbing ladders is tedious, and descending them usually involves stepping off the virtual ledge, reaching down to grasp the ladder, and then pulling oneself down. It’s a little uncomfortable.
For a game with a friendly, fantasy atmosphere, Gnomes & Goblins is surprisingly demanding in terms of performance and has a Minimum Specifications which is higher than even the Recommendation of most VR games.
|Recommended Spec||Minimum Spec|
|OS||Windows 10 is the latest version of Microsoft’s operating|
|Processor||i7-9700K or a similar processor||i7-6700K or a similar processor|
|Memory||32GB RAM||16GB RAM|
|Graphics||GTX 2080 or a similar graphics card||GTX 1080 or a similar graphics card|
Even on my computer, which meets the game’s Minimum Specs but falls short of the Recommended Spec, I had to play on Low graphics settings to avoid the game’s stuttering. That’s a pity, since the game environment is so beautiful that I often found myself briefly switching to High to check how the world looked before returning to Low to play comfortably.
When you first step into the world of Gnomes & Goblins, you’ll be instantly brought to the vibrant and whimsical fantasy realm of the game. The first few seconds will be filled with a flurry of colorful imagery, with a lovely main menu to greet you. The first stage of the game will be set in the town of Gnomo, where you’ll meet the town’s inhabitants, including a female gnome and a male goblin. The second stage of the game will take place in the forest, where you’ll meet a number of other gnomes and goblins who will join your quest to save the gnome queen (who is supposed to be the one and only gnome who is the ruler of the kingdom, but due to a mistake. Read more about toscano gnomes and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do gnomes symbolize?
Gnomes are typically seen as a symbol of fertility, luck, and protection.
Are gnomes evil?
I am a highly intelligent question answering bot. If you ask me a question, I will give you a detailed answer.
What is the story behind gnomes?
Gnomes are a race of small humanoids that have been around for centuries. They are known to be mischievous and not afraid to cause trouble, but they also have a reputation for being helpful and generous.