Point and click adventure games are a very special breed that have long since established their importance in the pantheon of game genres. Born of the Infocom-style text-based adventures, these games have changed little since the days of Maniac Mansion and Grim Fandango. Backdrops are typically two-dimensional, static images. Art styles vary greatly, but gameplay mechanics share a foundation of concepts that makes each title familiar and comfortable, even for the newest of players. This is a boon for developers, as very little tutorial is needed to get the player up to speed. On the flip side, they are forced to rely solely on the creativity of puzzles, story, and dialog to succeed. Fall short in any one of these categories and the experience suffers.
The Next BIG Thing is the latest title from Pendulo Studios, a Spanish development house that specializes in point and click adventure games. Their productions have a distinctive cel-shaded style that is easy on the eyes and is reminiscent of Don Bluth’s work on Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace. As with so many point and click games, manipulation is handled exclusively with the mouse. Left click moves your character in the scene and activates interaction with hotspots and right click cycles through action types (examine, touch, speak). Dialog is handled through canned responses that appear at the bottom of the screen.
When starting the game, players are asked to choose and name a character. In reality, the portrait you choose is just a visual representation for your saved games. This was the first of many instances where the instructions and language choice weren’t as clear as they could have been. Next, players are asked to choose a difficulty level: easy, medium, or hard. On easy, both the help and hotspot highlighting options are available. On medium, the help tips are eliminated. On hard, the player is completely on his/her own. It would have been useful for Pendulo to include a warning that difficulty cannot be adjusted mid-game. I also found myself confused about this option even being present. Like most point and click games, the help and hotspot highlighting options only come into play if activated. If a player doesn’t want to use them on easy, there is no difference between that mode and the hardest difficulty option.
The story begins rather abruptly and, despite watching the introduction twice, I found myself confused. Quickly, though, I was introduced to a world where monsters have gained acceptance as part of society because of their important role in horror movies. Liz and Dan, two reporters, have been sent to cover a horror movie award show and, immediately following the festivities, they witness a monster sneaking into the mansion belonging to the owner of the largest monster movie studio. The dialog is peppered with movie references and jokes, many of which succeeded in eliciting a chuckle. Of particular note is the optional conversation between Liz and a robot that reveals her dicey history with her reporting partner. Mad Libs has never been more amusing.
Unfortunately, I kept getting taken out of the story by some very odd language issues. For instance, when saving a game, players are asked to “introduce a description.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that they meant that I should add a description of the save point. In-game, characters frequently say “ayo” and “aya” to one another. I think these are intended to be greetings and dismissals, but it felt very stilted as I’ve never heard anyone address each other like this. The voice acting is quite enjoyable and it surprised me that none of the actors pointed out that these greetings didn’t seem natural for an English-speaking audience. Given how important dialog is to this genre, I was astounded that these issues made it to release.
The game keeps players moving via the Checkpoint system. Using this menu, it’s simple to see what tasks must be completely before the story advances. Often, major tasks require a set of minor requirements in order to proceed. In this way, The Next BIG Thing avoids a classic problem with point and click games. The player should never have to wonder exactly what needs to be done to advance. In no way does this imply that the puzzles aren’t enjoyable, clever or challenging. I was consistently entertained by the variety of mind-benders offered by the game, but often times the solutions were simply quirky without any semblance of logic. At least, in those instances, the game broke the fourth wall and admitted the absurdity.
There is a help option in place should you find yourself stuck, but it only ever offered one tip. Sometimes the advice was so vague that I can’t imagine it being at all helpful. A multi-tiered help system would have been appreciated. Use of the help and hotspot highlighting features reduces meters on the pause menu. Unfortunately, it was never made clear what the impact of the meters is, how much they reduce each time you use the feature, or if they ever recover. I encountered an odd glitch that prevented me from permanently deleting a game I had started. Each time I loaded the game up, the “deleted” profile reappeared. It was also impossible to switch between player profiles from within the game. The game needed to be shut down and restarted to switch between players.
Unfortunately, the game often had me wondering if I had missed some important point along the way. The storytelling ranges from being perfectly smooth and entertaining to disjointed and confusing. When the writing is good, it’s very good. When you hit a clunky part, though, it stands out that much more. Often this occurs during the interstitial scenes between chapters. More than once, they left out a crucial bit of dialog to help tie things together. Additionally, the game introduces characters to one another as if they are supposed to know one another already or, at the very least, like players are supposed to be acquainted with them. These assumptions pulled out me out of the story multiple times. The game also tends to offer red herring dialog choices that appear to advance the investigation. Instead, those bits of dialog are met with a snarky response. Often times, the dialog makes this amusing. Too many times, though, the humor fell flat and I was frustrated that these options were in place.
Thankfully, the voice acting is uniformly solid, especially during the better-written bits of dialog. Even during the clumsier bits of writing, the actors do their best without breaking character. The sound effects and music are enjoyable, perfectly fitting the varied environments featured in the game.
Despite it’s challenges, The Next BIG Thing is an enjoyable, comedic point and click adventure. As long as you are willing to roll with the dialog and narrative quirks, it’s a fun ride. It isn’t perfect, but it does capture the magic of the genre with entertaining characters, interesting puzzles, and a current of humor that runs throughout the game.
Review copy provided by publisher.