As any hopeless romantic will profess, matters of the heart can be quite convoluted – primarily when the man is a narcissistic, lower-class lout, and the woman an idyllic model of beauty that needs to be rescued … from the man, mostly. Such are the roles prescribed to the main characters, Rufus and Goal, of Daedalic Entertainment’s recent point-and-click adventure trilogy. Their paths cross after another of Rufus’ botched attempts to escape his home planet, but Deponia’s bizarre puzzles bury its claims to fame – bold, hand-drawn art and inventive writing – beneath mounds of putrid garbage.

Metaphorical garbage, mind you. Deponia (the planet, not the game) is a junkyard, a scrapheap, a continent of waste where citizens value fresh water above all else. But Deponia’s inhabitants have etched out a living from the rust and refuse. Their tones sting with a caustic bite, though that could be the battery acid they drink. Generally, a contented smile shines through their dejected exteriors, similar to the game’s vivid color palette. Radiant blues and verdant greens offset potent shades of brown and red, and the eye-catching characters share the sharp animations of classic early morning cartoons. The upbeat visuals drew me to Deponia. Knowing nothing about the series, its story, or gameplay inspirations, I readily made my purchase.

One of the many screenshots that swayed my buying decision. 

Amid all the cheery colors, one thing remains constant: no one leaves Deponia. For Rufus, however, the rules (and laws of nature) rarely apply. Rufus is a self-absorbed tinkerer defined by his bad luck. Where people see bubble wrap, fridge magnets, and car keys, he sees another harebrained scheme to jettison him off-world. Where others see rubbish extending as far as the horizon, Rufus only looks skyward. Elysium floats high above Deponia, a picturesque paradise in the sky where clean floors or fresh food are bountiful, not fictional. Rufus longs for the city in the clouds, his resolve growing ever stronger once he meets Goal.

Goal is the polar opposite of our pompous inventor, a yin to his yang. She’s headstrong, caring, and bathes at least once a week. And like the rest of the people in his life, Rufus brings her misfortune, leaving Goal unconscious and her living arrangements up for auction during her early expedition to Deponia (Rufus having “saved” Goal from the clutches of the Elysian military). Now Rufus must wake the girl if he has any hopes of reaching Elysium, even if the puzzles are the textbook-definition of obtuse.

Need a distraction to get close to Goal? A fire should do the trick. 

Deponia rarely allows you to be clever in logical ways, as the tutorial quickly taught me. While Rufus gathers provisions for his rocket’s inaugural flight, his radioactive toothbrush leaps into the nearest cupboard. I combined every item in my inventory, clicking feverishly to pry the cabinet open. But the suction from a plunger, ignoring various laws of physics, ripped the door off its hinges, exposing me to a new world of abstract puzzle solving.

Deponia's brain-teasers often end with players wandering aimlessly, clicking every pixel in sight. The developers do not convey objectives effectively, which might be mentioned in a cursory NPC conversation or stumbled upon by accident. Yes, holding down the spacebar reveals every interactive object on-screen, but the puzzles require needless intermediary steps, too. Why should I steal a sponge, soak it in water, and clean a car’s filthy windshield to verify the owner’s name and hobbies before I get his key? Why not use the lockpick or dental drill in my possession instead?

When solutions do click, at least, few adventure games boost your self-esteem like Deponia. In my eight-hour playthrough, I brewed espresso from oil, gunpowder, and peppers; anesthetized a parrot with balloons of laughing gas; destroyed light fixtures with a chewing-gum slingshot; and fooled Elysium’s military with a disguise MacGyver’d from a flag, greasy mop, and glass bowl.

Anyone that knows Rufus learns to fear that smile. 

I still applaud anyone who completes Deponia sans walkthrough, though I was more than willing to endure any mental stress for Daedalic's comedic writing. Rufus is not a protagonist players should pity. His abrasive ego and disregard for human suffering make him a deplorable anti-hero. Other Deponians merely tolerate Rufus, like a fly that steals their belongings and sets occasional fire to their homes. He deserves to get dragged through cacti fields or fall hundreds of feet into a pile of needles, yet his enthusiasm proves infectious. Rufus comes out of each life-threatening experience smiling, more determined than ever. His perseverance and wit are endearing, in the most unlovable ways possible.

Equally unlovable: minigames. The minigames, such as piecing together a broken mosaic, interrupt your point-and-click escapades, yet the developers alleviate further complaints by letting players skip them entirely. Technical issues, meanwhile, surface in the subtitles. Improper punctuation marks or a German sentence or two irk my inner editor, but Deponia’s English translation loses none of its scathing sarcasm.

Deponia’s scathing sarcasm is a rarity nowadays. Few developers would bet their cards on a self-centered protagonist, and even fewer could adapt him into a comic relief character that you hope fails and succeeds. Deponia is a game of small stumbles and major hurdles, however, and were the puzzles a little forgiving, the trilogy’s first arc would stand alongside Lucasarts’ renowned adventures of yore.

Originally written for