I don’t quite know what to make of The Plague Doctor of Wippra. I’m not quite sure who its for.
Usually on A Most Agreeable Pastime we have, well, an agreeable time with the games we pick for review. We don’t have the bandwidth to cover more than a handful of new titles every month, and we tend to cherry pick games that look promising, interesting and well worth our precious time. I was intrigued by The Plague Doctor of Wippra because it’s in a genre I love – point and click – and it’s from the same publisher as the excellent Unforeseen Incidents and LUNA: The Shadow Dust. But my word did I struggle to like it.
Set during the medieval plague years in Wippra, Germany, you play as a doctor called Oswald Keller who sets out to help victims of the disease using the rudimentary medical technology of the time – yes, we’re talking leeches and hand drills, with a spot of bloodletting for good measure. However, despite his best efforts and good intentions, Oswald is met with suspicion from the fanatically religious population.
The game takes the form of a traditional point and click adventure, with extremely pared-down pixel-art graphics – which are a bit too pared-down if you ask me. I’m all for pixel art, but here we’re looking at such a low resolution that it’s often hard to even make out what’s even being depicted. That meant when it came to finding items to pick up, I was often left pixel-hunting with my mouse, waiting to see when it changed shape to indicate that the blobby thing underneath was something I could click on. After getting tired of this, I found a setting in the menu that lets you highlight hotspots by tapping the space bar, although the game warned me that it had been designed in such a way that such hotspot highlighting wasn’t necessary. My foot it has.
The puzzles are also somewhat exasperating, and often veer towards the moon logic end of the puzzle spectrum. Often you can see what you need to do, and seemingly have the right items, but the game wants you to perform some extra nonsense before it will let you progress. Like picking up a bloodletting hook, but then having to sharpen it on a statue(!) before using it. Or knowing that you need to use a bowl of blood to lure out some leeches from their hiding place in a wall crack, only for the game to insist you have to find some tool to smear the blood on the surface – leading to you chasing a magpie around the garden, for some reason. Puzzles should be uplifting, and finding the solution should make you feel like a little genius. But here I found myself grinding my teeth rather than feeling any kind of elation.
And there’s no elation to be found in the plot, either. It’s a very short game that won’t take more than two hours to complete, but it’s two hours of utter misery. Nothing good happens, people die of the plague, and then it ends. I’m not sure that this is the kind of entertainment that people need or want, especially after two years of COVID hell. (Read the room, guys!) It might have been more worthwhile if there was some kind of emotional arc, some kind of meaningful relationship developed with the other characters over the course of those two hours. But most of the characters appear and disappear after spouting only a few lines of disappointingly dry dialogue, and the closest you get to developing any kind of relationship is arging with an unhelpful nun who won’t share her vinegar.
I don’t like to dunk on developers’ work, because I know that games are hard to make. But The Plague Doctor of Wippra feels undercooked – it’s a game that desperately needs more story, more character building and a good deal less misery. I mean, even plague doctors enjoy a joke, right? As a point and click adventure, it remains steadfastly old-fashioned, adopting few of the quality-of-life improvements and innovations that the genre has seen over the past couple of decades. And we’re not exactly short of excellent point and click games these days – the past few weeks alone have seen the release of The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow and Return to Monkey Island, both of which are fantastic. Play those instead, and avoid this like… no, I won’t say it.
The Plague Doctor of Wippra was developed by Electrocosmos and published by Application Systems Heidelberg, and it’s available on PC, Mac and Linux. We played the PC version.
Disclosure statement: review code for The Plague Doctor of Wippra was provided by Application Systems Heidelberg. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.