Malcolm, the evil court jester, who had been defeated in the first part of the Kyrandia trilogy, is freed from his stony prison by lightning and he plans to take revenge on Kyrandia's inhabitants. Malcolm's journey takes him to the mysterious island of cats, into limbo (the world between life and death, which is also the realm of the fish), to hell and back to the world of the living. Though when he returns back to the island of Kyrandia, everything has changed. Can Malcolm save the inhabitants of his home country, clear his name and finally take his well-earned nap?
Gunther, the evil side of his consciousness, is always on Malcolm's side. His consciousness' good side, Steward, has been squashed by a big boulder in Malcolm's childhood. When Malcolm returns from hell back to Kyrandia, Steward is freed by chance and so, the player can select whether to play with the angel, the devil or both in the finale. Also, all through the game, you can select whether Malcolm should be nice, normal or lie towards people. This, apart from the jester's staff, a useless inventory item, which can be found in a special slit of the inventory, is the only specialty of the interface. Compared to the predecessors where you could either use the four capabilities of the Kyragem (in part 1) or had a magic book and a magic kettle to brew potions (in part 2), this is a bit of a let-down.
The game would really be a great sequel, but it is really spoiled by annoying puzzles and three scenes artificially stretching things a little too much. The worst part in which the game is just artificially prolonged must be the jungle on the island of cats which turns out to be a labyrinth. On each screen, you have to clear the undergrowth with a machete and look out for snakes beneath to kill them with the machete as well. Finding a way through the jungle maze is extreeeemely annoying. Also, you don't just need to cross it once, but again towards the end of the game.
Sure, there was also a maze in Legend of Kyrandia – Book 1, the Serpent's Grotto, which you had to traverse using the fire berries, but that one was at least suspenseful and atmospheric. The jungle in part 3 would be unbearable if it weren't for the fabulous background music by Frank Klepacki.
The second thing which can really get on one's nerves is the part in limbo, the realm of the fish. There, Malcolm wears a magical necklace with which the fish queen calls him back to her with great frequency to play a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. You have to lose the game to be free again to move around for a short time, which isn't even easy, because the queen plays extremely badly. This repeatedly disturbs your game flow and you will soon be fed up with it.
The third thing which makes the game annoying at the end is the trading with Herman. He will always only trade very specific objects for the ones he offers. So you have to return to the dumpster again and again to collect stuff and get back to the pawn shop, enter and leave until herman asks for exactly what you happen to have in your inventory.
Basically, part 3 of the Kyrandia series is a decent adventure and the general story certainly is interesting on a basic level – especially in the context of the complete Kyrandia cycle – but the game never manages once to get even remotely close to the amazing amount of locations of Hand of Fate.
Malcolm's Revenge only consists of a a small part of the island Kyrandia (only the area around the castle which we already know from part 1 – only extended by a couple of adjacent places), die very small island of cats, the end of the world, which is nothing but a big waterfall, and the limbo (meaning: the tiny realm of fish). Also, Malcolm's journey through these places feels without substance. Just being on Kyrandia, then quickly get some support, get banned (which is really only an exhausting endeavour) and there you're already back on Kyrandia. Not exactly great.
The first two Kyrandia parts offered unbelievably beautiful graphics made by the late graphics magician Rick Parks. Nobody matched his skill in designing lighted surfaces in VGA pixel look. Colourful, with an eye for detail and pixel perfect. All this was unfortunately abandoned in Malcolm's Revenge. Even though Rick Parks still participated, Westwood decided to give the game a 3D rendered look. The rendered locations and objects are not badly done, but they do stand out. The beauty of the previous games isn't reached even remotely.
The legendary Frank Klepacki is once again reponsible for the music. Appropriately for the tone change in the plot towards light comedy, he added funky beats into the music. He also composed a couple of dreamy melodies which have remained timelessly beautiful to this day. Something Kyrandia fans may very well gush about. Certainly, the main theme is different compared to the predecessors, but it is a delight nevertheless.
In conclusion, Fables & Fiends: The Legend of Kyrandia - Book 3: Malcolm's Revenge certainly is the weakest part of the series. Where Book 1 was an enchanting fantasy adventure with a good dose of humor, but above all presented the beauty of the realm of Kyrandia and Book 2: The Hand of Fate was a large, turbulent and funny adventure all through a complete fantasy universe (not just the island of Kyrandia), Book 3: Malcolm's Revenge replaces this whole fantasy feeling with cartoon-like comedy which unfortunately goes a little over the top. Some may consider it the logical followup to the lively humor found in Hand of Fate, but I personally consider it a bit of a break in style.
In any case, it is obvious that Malcolm's Revenge wasn't supposed to be the end of the series, because many of the popular characters from the predecessors only appear briefly. More than anything, this installment seems to be about whitewashing the character of Malcolm and to see where this would lead the game world. Thanks to EA, this never happened – and now we will probably never be able to have an appropriate farewell from this amazing fantasy world. A fourth installment in style and extent of Hand of Fate would have been perfect.
The third and final entry of The Legend of Kyrandia series finds Malcolm, the "evil" jester from the first game, escaping his stony imprisonment due to a timely stroke of lightening. Once again, he's looking for revenge on the Kyrandians who despise him, but this time out it's justified: he's actually innocent of the murders he was originally imprisoned for, and his thirst for revenge is secondary to his desire to clear his name once and for all. Guiding him on this journey is Gunther, his bad conscience, who's always popping up with suggestions for more mischief. Stuart, Malcolm's long-absent good conscience, eventually makes a reappearance, and Malcolm's many complications are further compounded by the never-ending voices in his head. Can't a poor jester just get a well-deserved nap at long last?
Despite this intriguing setup and many worthwhile moments, this concluding chapter nevertheless leaves something to be desired. Though the plot is far more connected to the first installment than the second one was, Malcolm's Revenge is a very different beast when compared to the initial two entries. The biggest change is in tone - the game goes out of its way to not take itself seriously. Anachronisms and meta references abound, and the fourth wall is frequently broken. There's even a studio audience laugh track enabled by default, who laugh at random lines whether they're intended to be funny or not - which is apparently the entire point of it. One positive change, however, is the introduction of tasks with multiple solutions. There are six different ways to leave Kyrandia in the first level. All of them are amusing and worth seeing, so replayability is encouraged.
Then there's the matter of continuity, as Malcolm is wildly different than his previous incarnation. No longer is he evil-incarnate, as he clearly was in Book One. This Malcolm is a misunderstood wiseacre, whose penchant for extreme mischief led him to be mistaken for murder. Though this change was absolutely necessary in order to make Malcolm a protagonist (you clearly can't have a cold-blooded killer at the center of a light-hearted adventure game), it is nevertheless a major retcon. Taken on his own merits, however, this new Malcolm is an absolute delight, and Eric Randall's excellent voice acting makes the character truly memorable (unlike the first two games, this installment was only issued on CD-ROM, so no version without digitized speech was released).
Malcolm wasn't the only element to receive a makeover - the land of Kyrandia is also very dissimilar to the place so thoroughly explored earlier. Bizarre, bubble-shaped buildings abound, along with teleporters, retro-style diners, Harry Potter-esque newspapers with moving photographs, and characters donning baseball caps. Again, though enjoyable on its own merits, it's easy to forget this is Kyrandia you're visiting. Far more contemporary than magical, little of the original fable-like atmosphere is present, and the 3D rendered graphics make the differences even more obvious.
A number of familiar faces reappear alongside Malcolm, including Brandon, Zanthia, Kallak, Herman, Darm and Brandywine, along with a host of new characters. Though all the old faces are welcome presences, the characters who don't appear also stand out. One of the Royal Mystics, Brynn, is not only absent but is never mentioned, as though she never existed. Though admittedly it's hard to picture her in the plot as presented, her importance in Book One is hard to forget. As one of Malcolm's victims, surely she should play an active role along with the others in wanting to see Malcolm banished? Then there's the matter of the Fish Cream Parlour, which is populated by many characters introduced in The Hand of Fate. Though amusing to see all these recognizable characters, most of them weren't actually Kyrandian citizens; they were encountered after Zanthia had journeyed elsewhere. Where are the likes of Nolby and Merith, who ARE Kyrandians yet are nowhere to be seen? Surely inserting their sprites into the throng wouldn't have been difficult? The disregard for previously established story points only highlights the game's disconnect from its predecessors.
None of this is to say that Malcolm's Revenge isn't worth a go. If taken on its own terms, it's a laugh-out-loud funfest. Though different in appearance, the rendered graphics hold up well, and certain locations really stand out for their beauty (The Isle of Cats, though a frustrating maze, is gorgeous to behold). Frank Klepacki's music is as memorable as ever, and its digital presentation as opposed to MIDI really makes it pop. It's only when one remembers that this is a concluding chapter of a trilogy that things get shaky, as Malcolm's Revenge feels more like a parody than a direct sequel. Tonally, the piece seems to foreshadow the likes of Shrek, along with other wacky fairy tales that delight in making mythical locales as modern in sensibility as possible.
If you're a fan of the first two, by all means give it a whirl, but don't go in expecting the Kyrandia you've come to know. She disappeared piece by piece in The Hand of Fate, and clearly didn't come back right.
The third installment of Westwood's popular Adventure series picks up where the first part ended: Brandon has defeated the evil court jester Malcolm and turned him into stone. Brandon became king and everything was well (well, apart from the fact, that the former king and queen are... dead). A lightning frees Malcolm from his prison, and now it's time to 'hear his side of the story', as the intro states.
You'll have to play the game to the end before you actually get to hear his version, though, because apart from the occasional unfounded claim not to have killed the king and queen, Malcolm doesn't really do much to clear his name. Instead, the player guides him on a wild goose chase all around the world (including metaphysical planes) which seem to be driven more by immediate needs ("I need to get off this island") than a final goal ("I need to prove I'm innocent"). On his journey, Malcolm is accompanied by his 'bad conscience' Gunther whose head pops up occasionally to give him 'bad' advice. As we learn, Malcolm's good conscience was knocked out and buried under a rock years ago.
Putting the change of perspective aside, players of the first two games can feel right at home in Malcolm's Revenge. The single-click controls and the handling of the (limited) inventory are still the same. The only small addition is the existence of a gauge used to set Malcolm's behaviour (from nice to lying).
What strikes the player as a positive development is the amount of interconnected things to do immediately in the first location (Kyrandia). There are a lot of puzzles, it all seems to be completely non-linear. Turns out this is, because there are various ways to solve this first episode, i.e. to get off Kyrandia. Very much appreciated, because it maintains the motivation to explore even more after having found one way.
Although the following episodes of the games are more linear and limited, this beginning leaves a really good impression. On the other hand, the quality of the puzzles themselves leaves a lot to be desired. Twisted, illogical and completely unmotivated actions which leave the player wondering how he should have come up with that particular idea are required in most of the cases. Those are padded with non-puzzles (e.g. opening countless locks with the same object) and tedious, repetetive and stupid activities (e.g. slashing away with a machete through amazingly fast-regrowing jungle plants - in a maze).
On the bright side, again, you can't really die. If you do, there's always the possibility to undo the last action. So experimenting (which is required due to the nature of the puzzles) is never fatally sanctioned. However, due to the inherent problems of the game engine, it all gets tedious once again: The limited inventory forces you to walk long distances just to retrieve a particular object you dropped somewhere all the time, the non-intelligent cursor forces you to click wildly all over the background pictures to search them, and often, you'll even need to enter certain locations again and again until the object you're looking for is randomly placed there at last (if the junkyard right at the start of the game annoyed you, let me assure you there's another one waiting for you later).
The audio-visual presentation is, as expected, very professionally done. All dialogue has been recorded with appropriate voices, and everything looks colourful. Personally, I don't care much for the rendering look which replaces the hand-drawn backgrounds of the predecessors, but that's certainly just me. At times, the makers seem to be a little too much in love with their rendered animations, though, as you're forced to watch quite a few of them time and time again with no option to skip them.
It's a pity that the game design is so shoddy. Playing the bad guy is a refreshing change, and it's good to see the game making fun of its own clichéd plot. I really want to like the game, but due to the nature of its gameplay (for the third time, but it can't be said often enough: tedious), it's close to impossible. Pity.