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Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds (Windows 3.x)

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Written by  :  Mr. Eight-Three-One (1507)
Written on  :  May 30, 2014
Platform  :  Windows 3.x
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Summary

It may not hold up as well as the later games, but it's still a great play

The Good

Previous review: Putt-Putt & Fatty Bear's Activity Pack

Info and discussion: http://www.mobygames.com/forums/dga,2/dgb,5/dgm,197698/

DOS was phasing out. Microsoft saw potential in what Humongous was up to, and wanted a way to help promote Windows 95. That's where today's topic of discussion comes in. This game has gone on record for being one of the first to demonstrate the capabilities of Windows 95 (and by that I mean they gave it autoplay). The game would still run on 3.1, yes, but it required installation of some tools first, where 95 had them out of the box. That game is none other than Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds. Pixel art was entirely phased out this time; every single frame of animation in this game was hand-drawn. This level of detail was unheard of back then on the still emerging multimedia machines. Does it still hold up today, though, or have we come a long way?

This time, the plot is about a talking yellow fish named Freddi. Her grandmother, Grandma Grouper, has had her kelp treasure stolen and has no food. With the help of her small green comic relief friend, Luther, they discover a bottle leading back to the treasure. Turns out these bottles were actually put out by the thieves themselves, two sharks, as a way to retrace their steps. Now it's a race to get back the treasure.

The plot is actually darker than it initially appears. Apparently this is the only food left in the entire ocean, because Freddi actually says if they don't find it, all the fish are going to die. Those are exact words, too -- they actually use the word "die" in this game. That's still appalling all these years later, especially since the later games made very sure not to do the same. As overly dramatized as it is, the plot is interesting enough and works well.

The last two games I reviewed were more reminiscent of actual games as far as graphics were concerned. You were free-roaming and characters had basic walk cycles to go from place to place. This game goes a completely different direction; when going from place to place, you get a fully animated transition scene. The characters will always go to a particular spot on each screen and no longer free-roam. It works alright, but there isn't a way to skip them in this game which can make it drag. Luckily the later games fixed this.

The fully hand-drawn graphics were definitely a sight to behold back in 1994. Of course, the backgrounds are just as detailed as before, if not more so thanks to the higher resolution, but the fully animated scenes are what truly shine. Humongous did not take any shortcuts here, every frame is hand-drawn the way an animated movie would be done. When you consider the fact that includes the click points and minor scenes, you really begin to appreciate the work that goes into it all. Unfortunately, since this is also the first game they did to use hand-drawn animation, it also shows its age in many other areas. Characters very commonly go off-model in closeup scenes, and it gets quite far into the uncanny valley at times. The animation is also a lot looser, especially noticeable if you're used to the later games. Still, it's a huge step up from pixel art and it is still pleasant to look at.

Now, graphics aside, the gameplay is largely the same. Freddi has a basic inventory system along the lines of Fatty Bear, represented by bubbles at the bottom of the screen. The puzzles have increased in difficulty over Putt-Putt this time. A few of them finally require item chains, for one. If you get stuck, there are always hints to go around if you try to talk to the characters. Even if you flat out refuse to do that, though, the Freddi or Luther will randomly give a hint if you wander long enough. Overall, I think the difficulty is fairly balanced and it isn't too helpful nor not helpful enough.

One aspect Humongous finally got right this time around was making the characters memorable. I'm not going to say they're all well done, but most have a distinct personality. Freddi serves as a voice of reason, Luther is a clumsy dim-wit but still fun loving youngster, and even a few of the side characters manage to bring some life into the game. You have a grumpy eel, a singing crab (appropriately named Fiddler Crab), and a manta ray who manages to get crap past the radar and play a back alley salesman. They help provide life into the game world and you enjoy talking to them even if you're not doing it because you are stuck.

The Fat Man returns to compose music for this game, and although I think Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon has a better score, that doesn't mean this one isn't good. When this soundtrack shines, it really shines. It even includes one of my favorite themes from any Humongous game, the sunken ship. There are a several lackluster ones thrown in which prevents me from saying this is a fantastic one, but it still has a lot of great ones and it suits the environment quite well.

The minigames are not exactly too memorable. There is a feeding minigame that plays like a 2D shooter where you feed jellyfish to hungry critters. It's fun for a few seconds, but gets tiring fast. There is also a math one where you answer math questions. Riveting.

I have to continue stressing that attention to detail is where the Junior Adventures shine, and this game is no exception. The click points are fun to play with, especially when they interact with each other. There are also other things to keep you occupied, such as a movie theater that plays a bunch of ridiculous acts and more rewards for poking around. The replay factor is also much higher for this game; the bottles change locations every time you play, allowing for a different experience. It also shows its earliest form though; puzzles are not adjusted to accommodate for changing paths, which can lead to red herrings, a rarity in Humongous games outside of Spy Fox.

The Bad

(If you would be so kind, ignore this very attention-grabbing text)

The Bottom Line

While I don't think it holds up as well as the upcoming games, Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds is still a good entry in the Junior Adventure lineup. Although they show their age, the expressive hand-drawn animation is still fun to watch and it does well with replayability. I can't say I recommend it at seven dollars, but it is worth picking up if you ever see a good deal on it.

The promotion Microsoft helped with would push this game into successful territory. Humongous was finally a known company, and they were ready to pump out more great games. The next one would end up being adored by the executives for years to come, perhaps even for unprecedented reasons.

(Up next: Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo)