Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Mr. Bill & Lela
The thing that immediately grabs, and holds, your attention here is the story. Michael B. Clark, the sole creator and producer of this game, is obviously a very talented writer. For he has taken a rather implausible plot, and by delving into the hidden motivations and psychology of the people involved, he has managed to make it not only convincing but also downright absorbing. And when you add to that his original music, and some solid well-integrated puzzles, you have all the basic ingredients needed for a fine little adventure game. As he says, all you have to do is "find you dog, solve some puzzles, and save the world... no problem!"
You are out walking your dog in the park one evening, when he runs into some bushes and disappears into thin air. And as you search for him, you discover a camouflaged hole in the ground that leads to an underground tunnel and closed door. But when you go down to open the door and investigate, it suddenly closes again and locks... behind you.
So now you find yourself, with no means of escape, inside an elaborate and spacious, nicely furnished underground home that has been built like a fortress, or bomb shelter. It's a labyrinth of color-coded interconnecting rooms, with many hidden secret places... all designed to foil potential intruders. And your dog is nowhere in sight. Who could have built this extensive complex, and why? What possible reason could someone have for such secrecy?
It doesn't take you long to discover that what you're dealing with is a madman, a once normal person driven over the edge by his feelings of guilt, grief and rage. Did he really kill his own parents? And if so, how... and why? It is imperative that you find the answers to these questions, and very soon, if you are to have any hope of saving yourself... and the entire world... from a similar fate. But first, you've simply got to find your dog!
This is a relatively short, 1st person, point & click game, on only one CD, with a smart cursor and an easy interface. The left mouse button is used for all movement, conversation and inventory, and a simple right click brings up save, load and quit. And although you can't die in the game, there are unlimited save slots, all listed in easy-to-find descending order.
The game sets itself to play with 640 x 480 full screen graphics, and then automatically restores your previous desktop settings when you quit. Inventory is accessed by simply passing your cursor over a small unobtrusive button located in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, which causes it to temporarily appear in a drop down box. All of the items are labeled, a magnifying glass is provided for a closer inspection when desired, and to use something you just drag and drop.
The puzzles are varied and imaginative, often with some unique element or approach required. Most of them have to do with the extensive security system of the underground home, and solving them allows you to access new areas and/or gain additional insight into the psyche of the people involved. Some are challenging, but they're all logical and abundant clues are provided if you're observant and take notes during your explorations. Sound effects are sparse, but excellent, and the original music seems appropriate for the surroundings. Potentially useful items are fairly easy to spot without pixel hunting, and there are no red herrings, timed, arcade or music sequences. There is one unusual matching puzzle, one short disorientation puzzle in a cornfield, and one unique door maze... but that's been deliberately limited in scope and made easier by providing clues on the doors themselves.
The game has many strong points, along with a consideration for the player and an eye for important details that is remarkable in a first game. It ran without a hitch and we encountered absolutely no problems while playing it. And the story is fascinating, an in-depth look at the gradual development of a dysfunctional father/son relationship, and the mutual suffering that it leads to. It's a very sad, indeed a heartbreaking, tale of wasted lives and lost love.
But because only one man created the entire game, with little or no financial resources or help, it does have a couple of weaknesses. The slideshow style graphics for one. To design them, Michael used a mix of whatever programs were readily available, and consequently the quality varies greatly in the different areas, with a decrease in quality becoming particularly noticeable in the cave area and in the final scene. It causes the game to have an amateurish look, especially when compared to other independent games of the same time period like Rhem and Dark Fall that were produced using more sophisticated programs.
And although he is an excellent writer, his voice acting does leave a lot to be desired. There are only two characters that you interact with in the game, the villain and a ghost, and unfortunately Michael does both of them. Plus the ghostly voice is achieved by using distortion to make it appropriately eerie. But that also makes it more difficult to understand at times, and there are no subtitles.
On the other hand, you may find his homespun approach refreshing, and there are places where it does seem to work in his favor, as in some of the later videos for example. But either way, neither of these minor shortcomings is anything that a little money and help couldn't cure, and neither really overly detracts from the game.
Overall, the game is an admirable first effort, and certainly well worth the nominal asking price. Michael B. Clark is a very talented young man, and we look forward to seeing his next creation.
Developed (2002) by Michael B. Clark.
Rated: NR for Not Rated
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Windows 95 / 98 / ME / XP; CD-ROM Drive; Color Graphics Card; Sound Card; 400 MB of Free Hard Drive Space; Mouse
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