Originally an episodic series comprising of three chapters released separately for PC, Baobabs Mausoleum arrives on Xbox as one complete bundle in the form of the Grindhouse Edition, containing all the chapters and more. Baobabs Mausoleum Grindhouse Edition is one of those games that ticks all the boxes of a cult classic, with this release probably being its most mainstream outreach yet. At a glance it’s easy to see how this could slip under the radar of many, but truly as a complete experience and package, this is one of the coolest, most bizarre, and utterly unique gaming adventures on Xbox, or anywhere else.
Baobabs Mausoleum Grindhouse Edition is an adventure game at its core, but this only serves as the basic context for the complex yet versatile game design; one that blends several contrasting video game genres into one roller coaster of an adventure. Originally released separately, Grindhouse Edition offers all three chapters right from the main menu, and players can actually choose to play these in any order they wish, although it’s probably wise to play them in the correct order. There are trinkets and extras too, such as in-game achievements (which generally tie in to Xbox achievements in any case) as well as other secrets which are usually in the form of collectibles or mini-games. As a value proposition alone, this release throws in everything including the kitchen sink.
It goes without saying that this game is surreal and bizarre, and gets into the weird stuff right from the intro graphic. When you jump into the first chapter you find yourself in the role of Agent Walpurgis, an Eggplant working for the FBI. Yes, you read that correctly. In a recent conversation with a friend, I very nonchalantly said how I was playing a game about an Eggplant, and he had to stop me to back up for a bit in case he had misheard. So yes, in this game you are a living, breathing, walking, talking, and fully sentient Eggplant.
At the start of the game Agent Walpurgis finds himself in an unfortunate roadside incident, and while in the process of looking for help, he finds himself trapped inside a strange town called Flamingo Creek; a town which only appears exactly every 25 years. In a series of unfortunate events, Agent Walpurgis finds himself in the middle of all the town shenanigans, and in the process of trying to get out for his own sake, soon finds himself in the middle of a kidnapping which leads to other twisted and surreal events. Where the first chapter has players get familiar with the setting, as they try to make sense of it all, the storyline really picks up from the second chapter before taking all kinds of twists and turns as the narrative unfolds. There are several smaller story arcs during Walpurgis’ adventure, but the main overarching mystery is simple: who the heck is this resident “64” that everyone in town keeps rambling about? And why does it even matter?
The setting and themes feel like a mix and mash of a lot of different pop culture tropes, and one could spend all day drawing comparisons with different shows, movies, and games. For me personally, Baobabs Mausoleum is like Deadly Premonition (Xbox 360) meets Pulp Fiction, with the sense of humour and writing straight out of Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Although the game features a cast of oddball characters with no rhyme or reason, and presents its game world with a strong surrealist tone, it never gets to the point of contrived convolution. Although there are some bizarre story beats and unexpected plot devices, the overall narrative manages to say on course even through the chaos of the third and final chapter.
The best part is that Baobabs Mausoleum presents a game world you can’t help but enjoy losing yourself in, with lots to explore and plenty of characters to meet; everything from kangaroos to a talking donut. The simple sprite-based graphics are used to create a vibrant setting, and there is plenty of fun artwork and occasional 3D segments too. The music does tend to get a bit on the repetitive side, but the tracks featured in the soundtrack have a whimsical old school charm about them. With the unique style of presentation, it goes without saying that game’s creator Jacob Jazz is cut from the same cloth as Suda51 (No More Heroes) and SWERY65 (Deadly Premonition). There’s a bit of Tarantino-style gore humour too, with fluffy animals exploding into chunky bits like they do in Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
Much like the premise, the game design of Baobabs Mausoleum draws from all sorts of different video game genres with nods to very familiar games. Although it is an adventure game in the vein of PC point and click classics, it largely feels like a top-down action adventure similar to the 2D The Legend of Zelda games. Much like those classic Zelda titles, there’s narrative-based puzzles to be solved and even dungeons to be explored, complete with a dungeon key and even a dungeon boss. In between, things also shift into a FPS-style gameplay similar to the many, many shareware Doom II hacks, and even gets into some turn-based battles straight out of Japanese RPGs. Later on, you even get to experience a creepy yet fully functional FMV adventure akin to a SEGA Mega CD game. Although not all of these gameplay ideas are necessarily fleshed out or polished (platforming in the FPS segments can be annoying), they all come together nicely to create a holistically varied and diverse adventure.
There are some caveats of course, as at times the game’s progression can feel a little opaque. It’s a little old school in this approach, yet it can be rewarding to figure out how to progress the adventure. Some of its ideas don’t translate as well as they once did either, for example a puzzle in the first chapter requires you to obtain a code from a specific source or website which no longer remains accessible, which means the only solution is to Google for the code. There are a few setbacks and road bumps like this, but they’re not necessarily deal breakers.
Baobabs Mausoleum Grindhouse Edition on Xbox is one of those underground sleeper hits likely to become a future cult classic – if it hasn’t already done so. This release comes packed with all the chapters and other extras, and it is the best way for the uninitiated to jump right in and experience a game world and adventure like no other. With a captivating and bizarre style, and an entertaining blend of different gameplay styles, Baobabs Mausoleum Grindhouse Edition is one of those games you will definitely regret missing out on. If that isn’t enough to convince you, then the idea of being a cigarette smoking FBI agent, who just so happens to be an Eggplant, certainly will grab your attention.