I'm a Published Writer! - UPDATED 22/08

I'd like to tell you how honoured I am that I have now become a published writer, as my review of Ben There, Dan That! has been used as a Featured Review on The Escapist.

Thankfully, now that they've apologized and fixed the errors they introduced thanks to their editing, I actually can! I've actually printed off the e-mail they sent me, claiming that I'm 'passionate about my reviews', which made me very happy indeed. The fact that I was slightly drunk at the time is completely irrelevant.

You can read the review here. Enjoy!

Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please! (Reviews)

Deja Vu?

Sort of. I'm trying to get this used as a Featured Review on The Escapist, and when I submitted the original version of my review, I asked for feedback. Which I got. As a result, I rewrote about 80% of the review to incorporate this feedback, resulting in a much improved and better flowing piece.

For the record, there were three comments.
1) Is this one game or two?
2) Are you writing from a checklist?
3) What's the plot of the games?

I'm just copy-pasting this from The Escapist, so this one'll include pictures. I normally remove these from the reviews I post here, but I honestly can't be arsed this time.

I first heard about Ben There, Dan That! in an article in PCGamer UK, where one of the game's authors wrote an interesting article about its creation. I never bothered to actually try the game, but after playing MI:SE recently, I developed a taste for classic adventure gaming, and during my searches for good free games, stumbled upon Ben There, Dan That! by Zombie Cow Studios. Once I'd finished that, I immediately went and bought its sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please!. If this were a just and righteous universe, you would all do the same.
Please don't ask me to go back the way I came. PLEASE.
Please don't ask me to go back the way I came. PLEASE.

Ben There, Dan That!, like the recent Tales of Monkey Island, opens at the tail-end of an adventure staring the two title characters, Ben and Dan. Tragically, Dan has managed to end up deadified, and having completed a whole load of off-screen adventures, the player-controlled Ben has finally gotten him all ready for resurrection. All that remains is to stick a firework up Dan's bumhole and shoot him along an incredibly long piece of twine over a bottomless gorge and into a shack full of corpse-reanimating equipment. But that's far from the end of their adventures.

Upon returning home after a funky title sequence, the pair settle in to watch Magnum PI. Or they would, had Ben not been forced to use the aerial in his attempt to bring Dan back from the dead. A makeshift antenna to stick out the window is hastily made, and the pair are promptly zapped aboard an alien ship full of doorways leading to parallel universes. In order to return home, the two have to venture forth into these alternate worlds and find the two pieces of a yin-yang, which will open up the door back to their own world. Along the way you'll kill a Priest, cause a miniature Death Star to fry a dinosaur, travel through the rear end of a cow and absorb a man with a sponge.

If any of this sounds offensive to you, chances are that this series are not for you. Which is a real shame, as it's brilliant. The sheer amount of charm the central characters exude more then compensates for any distasteful actions they, and by extension you, take. These may be some of the most offensive adult games you'll have played, but they're also absolutely hilarious, far more so then many other so-called 'comedy' titles released in the last few years.

One of the major factors crucial to this is the writing. Having to get past a Priest by killing him would seem cruel, even offensive if taken straight. Doing so by not only whacking him over the head with his own bible, but then expressing a forlorn hope that he's just sleeping (when really, you're not fooling anyone, not even yourself), and then developing that action even further, turning the act of inadvertently killing people while trying to get things from them into a running joke, takes a LOT of balls. Thankfully the writers manage it with aplomb, and that's not even the worst they have to throw at us. The darkest side of humour is evident throughout the game, but because everything is played for laughs, it's actually surprisingly difficult to become offended at the actions taken by Ben and Dan. The blank expressions permanently worn by the pair, coupled with the dry comments offered by the two really endear them to you, and it's hard to hate such a pair of lovable scamps, even if they do swear a tad too often.

Also taking a large amount of the edge off of things are the graphics. While you'll inevitably think the two leads seem incredibly basic, they quickly grow on you, and you'll find that their oddly distinct animations make them hard to hate, even as they inadvertently kill someone via the gift of toilet cakes. And while the characters may not be particular highlights, the backgrounds are the real stars of the show. The parallel universe angle means that there are several different versions of the London skyline, all lovingly rendered with jaded angles and straight lines. It's a wonderful throwback to classic LucasArts games without being generic, as other games made in the same vein can end up being.

Fear not! We shall have no need for such useless items!
Fear not! We shall have no need for such useless items!

I mention LucasArts adventures for a reason. One of the highlights of those games were the puzzles, something Ben There, Dan That! does relatively well with. The tried-and-tested 'pick up everything not bolted down and combine it all with everything else' technique will show just how much care has gone into the game, as almost every combination possible has a custom response. Trying to use a crowbar with a dinosaur will warrant a 'I'm not Gordon Freeman!' comment, while trying it on a PC will warrant a concern that that'll crash the computer. Unfortunately while these responses are funny, there's no real hints or tips as to what to do in any given situation, and it can be a bit hard to get into the frame of mind the designers had while making the game. Once you do stumble upon the answer though, it all makes a wonderous kind of sense.

Another point against Ben There, Dan That! is the music. Or, rather, the lack thereof. While the theme tune is certainly funky, it's also pretty much the only piece of music you'll hear throughout the game, aside from the lift music that crops up in a horrifically long elevator sequence. There's background ambience in certain places, such as keyboard tapping in a software development office or the blurred-out commentary of the big game in a pub (or, rather, bar), and you'll get a little musical flourish whenever you unlock a new universe to explore, but that's about as sophisticated as it gets. The developers weren't able to afford to have someone score the game, which is a shame, as it really could have enhanced the game a great deal.

In the end though, these negative points don't really do that much to damage Ben There, Dan That!. It's still an entertaining game, and you'll have hours of fun with it, but compared to its sequel, you get the feeling that it could have been just that little bit better.

Time Gentlemen, Please! opens up with a recap of the events of Ben There, Dan That!, and immediately impresses with a full-on attention grabbing musical piece and fantastic artwork accompanying the text. From there, the game only gets better, as Ben and Dan try to find the setting of their previous adventure in the hopes of utilising some left-over technology to undo the inadvertent mass destruction of the entire world. Finding a way back in time, they attempt to stop coathangers from being invented, but in the process wind up allowing Hitler to take over the world with the aid of an army of cloned Dinosaurs. If such a thing is possible, the game only gets weirder from there.

As we've come to expect from sequels, the game looks even better then its prequel, not just in the higher resolution artwork, but also thanks to the additional new-fangled flashy effects. A great example of this is the opening sequence - the rain coming down over a now devastated London (accidentally brought about by the lead character's actions, naturally) looks absolutely stunning, and really push the AGS engine used by both games to new limits. Thankfully Ben and Dan both look the same as they did before, although they now have more then one expression, which is used to great comic effect at times.

Also much improved are the puzzles, which now have a much more imaginative flair about them, making use of an old-school text-based adventure game, ageing or de-ageing inventory items and even altering the very fabric of time itself. If any of the puzzles seem too hard, dialogue from the lead characters will often nudge you in the right direction, drawing your attention to items that can be picked up or nudging you about certain things you should try. It's a sort of in-game hint system that you can't turn off, and though sometimes you'll already know that you should do something, more often then not you'll appreciate being told that you should use a different inventory item instead of the one you're currently trying to use, or that Dan is capable of doing something that Ben is not. That said though, sometimes this hint system will fail you and you'll be left wondering what you've missed, and given how much bigger this game is compared to its prequel, this can mean a lot of running around trying to find that one item. Fortunately there's a new map included which lets you zip around the world, but even so, it's a shame they haven't managed to completely overcome the genre's biggest problem.


The final item on the checklist is music, and this too is much improved over the first game, in that there actually is some. From the remastered theme tune to the party mix that plays during the stone-age disco, there's a surprising amount of mileage to the soundtrack, especially so given that most games made using the AGS engine are relatively simple, featuring rather basic tunes or stuff ripped from different sources. You can even alter how loud it is in the options menu, something very few, if any, AGS games have at all. As a result the whole feel of the game is incredibly professional.

These games really do push the boundaries of adventure games, both in content and in style. They're ludicrously adult, frequently absurd and gleefully over-the-top. And they're both some of the best games I've played in years. I cannot recommend them enough. Go and play them, you simple-minded fools. Where else will you see a battle-mech striding Hitler in command of an army of cloned dinosaurs? Nowhere, that's where.

The first game, Ben There, Dan That!, is absolutely free, so you've got no excuse not to at least try it. The second game, Time Gentlemen, Please!, isn't free, but it's only £2.99 (around £3.35 including VAT, which the website shockingly didn't mention you'd need to pay!), which is around $5ish. If you do the math, that's WAY less then the Monkey Island remake, and they'll last you as long, if not longer. Go and play them already, I want to see a third one.

Addendum: At the request of the Ben (of Ben & Dan fame, folks!), I'm adding a score for Metacritic. Three out of... Nah, kidding. 9/10 for Ben There, Dan That! and 10/10 for Time Gentlemen, Please!.

Screenies from the Zombie-Cow website and softonic.com. Thanks guys!

Okami Wii (Review)

Another day, another review. I'm trying to get through the fairly large number I originally posted on that wonderous forum of legend. This one's quite short, mostly because it feels extremely similar to a Zelda game and when you've played something so often, you tend to forget about the most obvious things. I should probably go back and rewrite this, beefing it up a little, but eh, whatever.

When I went into Okami, I wasn't all that sure what I was going to get. I hadn't done a lot of research beforehand, and even if I had, I doubt it really would have prepared me for what I was to encounter. Simply saying it's pretty steeped in Japanese culture, for example, really doesn't get across just how different it is from most games.

Okami is very Japanese. It doesn't so much embrace the culture as take a photograph and wear it as a mask, claiming that this is it's real face. The character designs, the levels, the dialogue, the menus, the gameplay, everything is as Japanese as you can get without going over there and ordering a round of sake. And this, I feel, is it's biggest flaw, because as you're starting the game, it's just overwhelming. There's no respite, save for a wacky 'sidekick' of the American persuasion, and even he seems to be a Japanese version of a spunky partner. There's so much to take in all at once, you can't simply ignore it - you have to embrace it. Once you do so though, there's a brilliant game lurking underneath.

Rather then play as the standard action hero #4,562, you actually play the reincarnation of a god, taking the form of a White Wolf. As such, you don't use weapons in the standard fare. Your basic attack is a simple headbutt, while your major assaults will be made by using a paintbrush to 'paint' the attack you wish to use. Again, it's a lot to take in at first, and it will confuse you to begin with, but once you get the hang of it, you'll start to really enjoy the different style of gameplay.

The most important aspect of any game like this is the combat, and it works fairly well, though there's a few minor niggles. Holding B to ready your brush and then moving the remote while pressing A to actually paint your move works great once you get the hang of it, though making the B button a toggle rather then a holding option would have made things a bit easier on the hand. Also, sometimes the game has trouble recognising some of the moves you make, and the close combat, which requires you to shake your remote to do the headbutt move, is a very finicky tactic I have yet to master, despite playing the game for hours.

Graphically, the cell shading looks good at first, but after a while the odd character designs and interesting application of the art style will cause people to rethink their stance. Unlike other games using similar techniques (Zelda: Wind Waker is the obvious example), this game does actually seem to age, and it hasn't done so as well as it could have done. The low resolution, presumably carried over from the original PS2 version of the game, certainly doesn't help the cause, and the odd cases of pop-up, where plants and animals suddenly appear about a meter in front of you while on the move, are more jarring then anything else.

The plot, while having a very Japanese twist, is little more then 'the bad guys were sealed up in the past, seal has been broken, go beat them back again' fare that many games have, but there's enough charm and personality behind it to keep you going, even if it is just to see where the supposed village hero pops up next, and he's a cliché himself. The people who inhabit the villages and fields you visit all have a personality, and you never mind helping them, out with the problems they have, but after a while it'll dawn on you that these are little more than the fetch quests of old. It's never enough to make you stop playing, but there's a distinct feeling of deja vu through a fair bit of the game.

Oddly, the game seem custom made for the Wii, even though the console wasn't out when the game was first released. There may be a few problems, and the actual gameplay itself may not be as revolutionary as it claims to be, but in the end there's a great game buried here. It's just a shame there's so much Japanese smothering it.