A very childish part of me hates it when other people succeed. That someone has fulfilled their dreams while I’m still sat in this bloody bedroom waiting for oodles of rejection letters in regards to my novel while, on the other side of the internet, some talented person is getting the praise he deserves. Over the years, this has led to me stubbornly ignoring some well-received indie title, only to curse myself later when I actually force myself to play it.
This is what happened with Time, Gentlemen, Please.
When Ben There, Dan That was released, I was still a reasonably active member of the AGS boards. I didn’t post much, but I lurked (as I believe in the phrase). I’d had a brief foray into offering my writing skills, and I was on the cusp of surrendering to the talent of the forum when Ben There, Dan That popped up in the completed games section. Needless to say, jealous-child-me decided that nothing that those people liked could be any good.
Turns out that I’m an idiot. I massive tool, really. I finally managed to ignore the childish little voice in my brain and played through Ben There, Dan That and Time, Gentlemen, Please back to back, and it was glorious.
I tell you this odd little story so you understand my mindset when I went into the game. I wanted to dislike it, so that my juvenile ignorance would somehow be justified, but after five minutes of BTDT (the acronyms are coming out now) I was hooked. But this isn’t a review of BTDT, that’s old news, this is for TGP.
It’s only fair to expect more from a game you have to pay for, even if that price is delightfully low. Zombie-Cow seem to have understood this, however, as they have indeed provided.
TGP follows on from the ending of BTDT but, thanks to a ‘previously on’ segment, you can be up to speed with the bizarre back story in about two minutes, which is nice. Then you are introduced to your British Bill and Ted, time travellers with wit and the odd bit of complete obliviousness. They are aware of their role as adventure game heroes, right down to the comments on constant burglary and item combination that are so central to the genre.
It is this genre awareness that makes TGP so good. Every step of the way, Dan and Ben are commenting on how normal it is to be collecting the severed arm of a corpse, or a snotty tissue, and they manage to make it believable. Of course I’ll need that tiny little dress, naturally the arrow from the floor counter on an elevator will come in handy down the road, obviously you’ll need a special tool to remove that one wonky nail in that board. The sneaky blighters manage to make you think outside the box in the way some of the older games never really managed.
Lucasarts, from who Zombie-Cow make no secret of drawing inspiration, have been guilty of creating some ludicrously hard puzzles with solutions that no normal human could ever have worked out. TGP is no less guilty of this sin, but cleverly avoids any real ire in this regard by practically spelling out the answer. For some of the more oblique puzzles, this is quite welcome, but there are moments where the helpful hints are going a little too far, and the characters themselves even comment on this. Still, in this case, it is much better to have the odd puzzle spoiled by overly chatty characters than the whole game spoiled by one annoyingly obtuse puzzle.
What it boils down to, really, is that TGP has some outstanding writing. One of the big problems with indie adventure games, as picked up on by Dan in-game, is that people won’t want to spend money to read text. That TGP has managed to completely smash this fear by genuinely witty and funny dialogue, characters that work and the odd smattering of independently hilarious lines, is a testament to how well Zombie-Cow know their audience.
It’s not all good of course, there are issues. I can’t remember what they were, but there definitely were some. Like all good games, mainstream or indie, the pros outweigh the cons so well that when you look back you can only see the good bits. In all seriousness, the only real problems come from the Lucasarts-inspired formula, and that’s only a flaw to people who don’t like adventure games, and they won’t be interested in this game anyway.
Ultimately, it’s all an issue of price. The Zombie-Cow website makes a fine point that, had they received a single pound from everyone who downloaded BTDT, they would be pretty wealthy about now, so charging for TGP seems natural. They want to make this into their livelihood, and I can’t blame them, but they can’t do that without some cash.
If TGP were your usual AGS production, the things that litter the forum, it would be hard to justify a price. BTDT was good, but I’m not entirely sure I could have recommended it had you been required to purchase it first. TGP is such an improvement on its predecessor however, and so much more professional in its presentation, that I feel fully justified in recommending it. The music is good, the writing is good, the art is good, the animation – well, isn’t, but it does the job amicably and is certainly no slouch.
What TGP is, is a game where Zombie-Cow have played to their strength, veiled their weaknesses and, above all, made a professional product worth a lot more than the £2.99 they are charging.
Guys, if there’s any justice in the world, you’re going to make a killing.