Bilkins’ Folly is a near-perfect Zelda-like adventure – if you’re looking for a game that only asks you to explore thoroughly and use your intellect to solve puzzles, stripping out the combat completely. It’s compelling in a way few nonviolent games are, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t “difficulty spikes” – of a puzzle-related sort – that can derail your progress and give you time to nitpick other flaws.
Bilkins’ Folly stars the young, dimpled, Irish treasure-hunter Percy Bilkins – seemingly irresistible to pirate ladies – and his faithful treasure-sniffing hound, Drayton. They’re searching the Caribbean (during what seems to be the “Golden Age of Piracy”) for his mother, who went missing on the hunt for his grandfather, who went missing searching for an ancient artefact.
Things don’t go to plan, however, when Percy and Drayton are shipwrecked on a tiny island, with only a talkative spirit and solitary palm tree for company. This event sets off a lengthy quest to find civilisation, acquire new gear, a new ship, and a crew – all after jumping through several dozen hoops – before they can track down his missing family members and discover the true meaning of “Bilkins’ Folly”.
There might only be a handful of narrated cutscenes and a whole lot of reading – with mumbling I swear they stole from the villagers in Age of Empires – but Bilkins’ Folly offers up decent storytelling and even light role-playing elements. The writing is often painfully cheesy yet mostly charming; the cast you interact with is diverse and weirdly endearing; while the expressive sprite-work animations are impressive given the limitations of the art style.
Several times during the quest you’ll get to make dialogue choices or decisions that rarely affect the flow of the main quest, but they do alter many smaller interactions, lock you out of some areas for a while, and it feels like you have a direct impact on both Percy’s personality and the fate of several secondary characters.
When it comes to gameplay loop, it’s worth noting up front that Bilkins’ Folly often feels like an endless succession of puzzles, with very few filler activities that don’t wrack your brain in some way. Earning coin from buried treasure, completing sidequests for new gear, upgrading Drayton’s abilities, and solving a chessboard-style puzzle are all but mandatory to complete a lengthy 15+ hour story. It can feel intimidating when your journal eventually overflows with clues, treasure maps, and riddles – but you’re constantly gaining new tools, abilities, and the experience needed to solve them.
As someone who enjoys gaming on the Switch before bedtime, it’s a taxing game that could put me to sleep in record time but, if you’re in the right mood, Bilkins’ Folly is a lot of fun and far more engaging than the innumerable combat-free, farming- or crafting-focussed indie games that simply demand repetition and routine.
When you’re not talking to a selection of weird townsfolk, menacing pirates, imperialist redcoats, and the undead, you’ll be exploring small but dense islands using a selection of gradually unlocked tools and Drayton’s abilities; you’ll dig for buried treasures and secret entrances using crudely drawn maps, by solving riddles, or counting Percy’s steps; and you’ll engage in a range of minigames to activate devices, decode messages, pick locks, herd sheep, or fish.
Simplistic tasks are kept to a minimum. Drayton will occasionally bark and point out potential buried treasures; any part of the environment that looks vaguely like a circle or cross is also a prime target for some exploratory digging; while glittering rocks are a source of silver and gold nuggets once you have a mining pick. It’s just enough to keep aimless exploration interesting and provides ample opportunity to lavish praise on Drayton to boost his companion level.
The upside to this design is that completing most quests feels like a significant achievement as they’re often multiple puzzle layers deep. You’ll be searching for clues in the environment, reordering puzzle pieces, lining up crudely drawn maps, figuring out the correct landmarks in a riddle, using rulers and markers to plot intersecting lines on the overview map – all tasks that feel involved and engaging. Even simple dialogue-driven investigations will have a twist like trying to spot distinctive NPCs in a crowd or figure out how to reach them.
Now most minigames can be skipped after a few tries (with a mocking trumpet tune I did not care for) and many have no consequences for failure. However, there were a handful of maps and clues on the critical path that left me stumped for ages, with no way around them.
Now the toughest puzzles are truly optional and force you to return later with new tools or Drayton abilities, but the consequence of this design is that whenever I was stuck on a main quest, there was often nothing to do but double down on trying to solve it through brute-force methods or returning to it over and over again until something finally clicked.
It was during these frustrating periods of no progress that I found it too easy to spot trivial flaws like repeating or misaligned assets in the environment; rage at the slow digging and mining animations; question why the developers would use “yards” for the overview map scale; and struggle to understand what was going on in the background to cause the Nintendo Switch version to chug so horribly, so often.
Who is it for?
Now despite a few roadblocks that briefly stalled my playthrough, there are very few non-violent games out there quite like Bilkins’ Folly. It’s a swashbuckling pirate adventure about finding ancient treasures, with all the exploration, clues, puzzles, traps, and quirky characters you could hope for, but without the usual assortment of stabbings, shootings, cannonball-ings – oh, and no repetitive resource-grinding tedium. If that sounds like a good time to you, Bilkins’ Folly is easy to recommend, but if you’re thinking of grabbing it on the Switch, maybe wait to see if the performance issues are patched out first.
Bilkins’ Folly was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC and PS4/5.
Bilkins' Folly (Nintendo Switch) ReviewBilkins' Folly (Nintendo Switch) Review
- A swashbuckling, combat-free, Zelda-like with light role-playing
- Ton of maps, riddles, ciphers, and minigames!
- Charming writing and visuals
- Drayton the treasure-sniffing hound!
- Getting stumped can kill momentum
- Some painfully slow animations
- Frequent performance issues on the Nintendo Switch