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Mutation of J.B. DOS Main menu

MISSING COVER

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Written by  :  Shock Wave (10)
Written on  :  Dec 15, 2010
Rating  :  1.5 Stars1.5 Stars1.5 Stars1.5 Stars1.5 Stars
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Summary

Casting pearls before swine? Maybe

The Good

Quite frankly there wasn't too much I really liked about this game.

One thing I found a little better than "just okay" were the graphics, which may certainly have been already massively outdated by the time this game was released, but for me adventure games meant 256 color VGA for quite a long time (which was only broken recently with "Edna bricht aus"). They're mostly adequate and colorful as you know them from classics like DOTT or Sam & Max. While certainly being way less detailed and even partially looking half-hearted at various points, they just manage to keep up the feeling of adventure games of the early 90's. I guess you could sum up the graphics as "mostly cute".

Having played the German version, the game always featured full speech, with voices mostly fitting the characters (especially Johnny sounds just like what he is - a little kid). Other characters are usually well suited as well or at least (if you read on) not annoying like some other factors of the game.

A very last thing I found okay was the fact that the menu uses just 5 verbs, which usually do the job for most of the game (walk (to), look, talk to, use and take) leading to a very straight-forward handling, allowing you to handle things quickly rather than wasting time on picking the right verb which might be barely used in the game (i.e. the pull/push verbs in DOTT which are used in only two places I think) even tho this lead to funny situations as well, since you have to walk ladders rather than use them at one point.

The Bad

I'm afraid this part is gonna become a little longer, since the game might be mostly okay from the technical side, but has some really annoying design-flaws which go through the whole game.

First of all, the main plot of getting yourself back into human form isn't the most exciting but not bad either, but gets more and more out of focus, resulting to the very, very short and disappointing ending which does not fit into the flow very well. Also remember you originally planned to visit your cousin? Guess what, you'll never get to see him throughout the whole game.

The game itself is split into pretty much 2 parts, the first being on earth and the second being on "Ladea", the aliens' planet. When playing through the whole game, it gets quite obvious that both parts must have been designed independent from each other, as both have a very, very different flow to them.

While the first is almost annoying with it's high non-linearity (you get to access most places pretty much right from the start, except for 2 rooms and 1 place [with the later making no sense at all, as the biggest tree of the city should be quite obvious]), a massive amount of red herrings (you'll find quite a few items you'll never use or just use once, only to have them hog your inventory space, which results in you ending the first part with roughly 30 useless items being carried around by you), pixelhunting (try finding the fishing line, which took me 5 minutes to find, even though I checked the solution) and tracking back and forth between various places, making you spend a lot of time on the meta-map and randomly trying to combine items, having no idea where to go next.

The second half is completely different being mostly straight forward and being a good bit more logical (comic-logical that is at some places of course, which is cool I think), where you shouldn't have any problems at all, as I ran through that part in 2-3 hours on the first try (without the solution). Luckily enough it isn't that open like the first part and you usually know what to do next. There's also a way smaller amount of red herrings, on the other hand one might call this too easy, as there were just 3-4 places where I didn't know immediately what to do.

Especially the first half had some really stupid puzzles, i.e. the one where you get a flower from the shop and get some superglue from the seller for free (sounds like something that happens in real-life every day, doesn't it?) or you obtaining a glove, which has the seller/maker have you walk to the external storage to pick up some leather (now that's service!), only to return to the store and the guy having the glove made already, since he randomly found some in his shop. Needless to say this has no other use than wasting time, which happens at 3-4 more places as well, which would be okay if it was optional, but those are required riddles. Overall the whole "glove-puzzle" was just plain stupid and illogical, but I don't wanna spoil too much of the "fun" here.

Going along with the stupid design is how some rooms are interconnected. Since the engine in not capable of scrolling, the scenery is split up in single screens. While being technically bad, one might ignore this, if it wasn't designed so bad sometimes. Some rooms are "hidden" quite badly since the graphics wouldn't give you a hint there's a way to another room. Other than designing the game that you'd get to another room by clicking doors, paths or the like, you usually click into the dark, checking if hovering over it reveals a new place in the HUD.

One more bad thing would be the sound, there are barely any sounds supporting the game and the very few sounds which used seem out of place and not exactly fitting. Luckily the speech makes up for that to some degree, otherwise the game would be mostly just music.

The music is mostly fits in the techno/electro genres and is in red-book audio format. The tracks themselves are okay to good and fit the theme of the second part quite well, but don't suit the first part at all and seem to have no ties to the places where they're used. Overall they seemed to be randomly thrown in there while being decent background music for the second part, even though they might stick into the background a bit too much I suppose, as action-loaded scenes/sequences aren't exactly supported by the music either.

What I found really pitiful were the game's attempts at humour, which is basically non-existent. For example there's this guy sitting on a bench since 30 years, who seems to have forgot why he did so in the first place. This could have been the base for nice jokes, like how he gets food or the cigarettes he's smoking or whatever, but there's _nothing_ alike in the game. Another place would be the granny at the carnival selling the tickets, telling you she's not gonna let you in since "she was programmed that way by the designers" or you'd find another way to have her let you in, while this meta-humour isn't new, as it has been used in Sam & Max and Day of the tentacle before, it's once again told so dry, that it just seems very out of place. There are a few more happenings like this, but I don't wanna spoil those either.

Another minor annoyance would be the fact all screens ingame are in English, while the texts are German, which wasn't a problem for me, but might be for younger players. Funnily enough this game never got an English release (as far as I know there's only a German and a Polish version), which makes this even more senseless.

Last but not very least, there were a few odd moments as well. Overall the game has the feeling that it was designed for younger kids, which it mostly lives up to, unless you stumble upon the diary of one guy which contains random entries about him not wanting to sleep with his ugly wife, which could have been easily removed or left out, since it would leave out younger kids and has basically to entertainment value to older players. Luckily there's just this one place containing sex. Another quite pointless thing would be the violence which sometimes goes way over the top considering the game's theme i.e. guards choking up a few red pixels, another guy ranting about how he'd tear your bowels out or you intentionally killing an old guy because you want an item from him. Once again this could have either been cut from the game easily or have been done in a comical way, as it felt way out of place inside the game's universe.

Overall the design of the gameplay and sounds feels quite half-hearted, which is a shame, since the visual design is very okay, if you ignore how outdated it already was when it came out.

The Bottom Line

There's a good reason this game barely got any attention in the press, since it's often annoying and has absolutely no flow in the first half, while being too easy and obvious in the second. I originally bought it in 1997 as the "Taschengeld-Serie" Re-Release for cheap in a software bin and was quite looking forward to it, after I enjoyed the demo before (which was quite short, but had one of the best puzzles out of the whole game in it). I got disappointed quite fast, which would explain, why I first beat this game just today - almost 13 years and 4 attempts at the game later.

There are just too many annoying factors like pixelhunting, having no idea what to do next, often completely illogical puzzles, a half-hearted execution, the complete lack of humor and the game having some obvious "gaps" like giving you no explanation (or even a comment) why a certain action/combination won't work or items being simply just "broken" for no apparent reason (and that way more than once). The story itself is pretty much all summed up in 1 sentence, having no unexpected twists, leading to no further motivation, considering the fact that it's neither exciting nor interesting.