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SummaryStill iffy, but an improvement
The GoodPrevious review: Putt-Putt Joins the Parade
Info and discussion: http://www.mobygames.com/forums/dga,2/dgb,5/dgm,197698/
Still a struggling starting company, Humongous was determined to get their name known. Enter one of the more unusual entries in the Junior Adventure lineup, Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise. The reason it's unusual is because it stars the only Humongous character that got only one game of his own, not counting spinoffs. This game still shows a lot of some time spent getting used to game making, but there definitely is some improvement going on here.
The game stars a teddy bear named Fatty Bear, who comes alive the night of the eve of his owner, Kayla's, birthday. He and Kayla's other toys want to help plan a surprise for her by baking a cake and decorating the house. The entire game takes place in and outside of Kayla's house. Throughout the game, it turns out it may not be so simple to accomplish everything -- the ingredients for the cake are spread throughout the house and a puppy, who was supposed to be a present to Kayla, is let loose and starts causing all sorts of problems.
Unlike Putt-Putt, Fatty Bear only houses a simple inventory system as far as navigation is concerned. He doesn't have any bells and whistles to help him in his quest, not that it's necessarily a bad thing. The puzzles in this game have much improved from Putt-Putt; there are still no item chains, but there are a lot more that require items in order to solve. There is also a better attempt at varying the gameplay with each playthrough now; one of three selected tools for the cake will be stray instead of in the cupboard, and midway through the game the puppy will run off with three letters that would normally spell "Happy Birthday" on Kayla's bulletin board. These letters will be in different locations of the house each time you play.
The graphics have gotten quite a bit better compared to Putt-Putt Joins the Parade. The backgrounds have better detail this time around and are drawn with a better sense of perspective. The animation has also improved some, featuring more cartoon-like scenes especially in the click points.
Once again, the characters are all acted well, though I wish Fatty Bear would be a lot better at conveying emotion. Unfortunately, they still are lacking depth. However, it is forgivable with the attention to detail that Humongous was great at. Just to give one example, when you let the puppy loose, the game doesn't forget you did so; she shows up around the house at random times and even interferes with a few tasks. If you go to the garden, for instance, she will be digging it up and you will have to bathe her.
One reason I bring up attention to detail is that one thing I think this game excelled at was encouraging you to toy with stuff. There are several rooms that don't serve a whole lot of purpose other than to just see what everything does. The click points have gotten some development; there are few that interact with each other. Go to the study, click on the painting, and use the bow-and-arrow carrying statue and see what happens! There is also a drawer full of costumes in the attic that you can play dress-up with. To me, this is the one Humongous game that got click points perfected. Later games left them as nothing more than background gags and put them in less-than-obvious locations. This game seemed to have been built in such a way that it wanted you to play with stuff.
There are four minigames this time around, a bowling one, a Mr. Potato Head-styled activity, a piano to play with, and the actual cake decorating. They're nothing too special and still aren't much more than distractions, but I enjoyed them a little more than Putt-Putt's minigames. The cake decorating part was always one of my favorite parts of this game.
There are still a few issues with the game, though. One large issue I have is that there are a few puzzles that can easily be skipped. If you never go to the garden when the puppy is out, you never have to bathe her. If you take the chocolate chips out of the cupboard when the puppy isn't out, she won't run them to the attic (a shame considering it leads to one of the funniest chase scenes in the game). You can argue this gives the game more variety on repeated playthroughs, but I think it's bad design choice. There is also the aforementioned flat characters and the rather not so intriguing storyline.
The Bad(Nope. Chuck Testa.)
The Bottom LineFatty Bear's Birthday Surprise is most definitely an improvement over Putt-Putt Joins the Parade. Despite the simpler setting (a house as opposed to a town), the environment feels a lot more detailed and the game is a lot more intriguing. I only remember playing Putt-Putt Joins the Parade a few times when I was little. This was the earliest HE game I remember playing on a regular basis, and even now it's still pleasant to play. It doesn't have all the early installment weirdness that Parade had, and the attention to detail has improved quite a bit. Do I still recommend it over the other Humongous games though? Honestly, no. Despite the improvements, the plot is still cookie-cutter and the setting is still rather dull. It lacks a lot of the key things Humongous would make themselves known for. Fatty Bear probably did have some potential if they had gone all out with the concept the way they did with Putt-Putt, but that theory will forever be a mystery since there was never a Junior Adventure starring Fatty Bear after this one. Those problems are all why the next game exists, and it would be perhaps their greatest turning point. Man, am I looking forward to this next one. See you then.
(Up next: Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon)