November 17, 2005
Ever wondered whether it’s possible to make a game that’s sweet without being saccharine, genuine without being patronizing, and kid-friendly without being completely snooze-worthy? I used to wonder the same thing, but now that question has been answered for me.
Telltale Game’s Out From Boneville has all of the positive qualities mentioned above and more. Of course, fans of the long-running graphic novel series created by Jeff Smith have known that for years. Even if you’re not a dedicated reader, this game has quite a lot to offer. In fact, it may have fewer sticking points with non-Bone-fans, but I’ll cover that point later.
As you may know, the first installment of Bone was published in 1991, and the popular series has since been translated into nine different languages. Now Telltale Games is bringing the series to life in game form, beginning with Out From Boneville. With the exception of an anomalous plot change at the end of the game, the story line is pretty much consistent with the original series. Of course puzzles and mini-games have been added to fit the adventure genre, but most everything else will be familiar to Bone fans.
The makers of this game also boast impressive credentials, with accomplishments such as Sam and Max, Grim Fandango, and the Monkey Island series firmly under their belts. How can such a new game company boast such fantastic pedigrees? Simple: the company is comprised mostly of ex-Lucas Arts employees who’ve banded together to keep the adventure genre alive. Even if the Bone series itself doesn’t inspire you to play the game, the involvement of Dan Connors and team should.
I found this game to be completely absorbing and adorable. I normally can’t even say the word “wholesome” without gagging, but this game fits the description while managing to stay exciting. It’s a refreshing departure from the often violent world of adult games, and proves that entertainment can be ageless and fun.
Out From Boneville begins as three cousins, Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley bone are exiled to the desert by the outraged citizens of Boneville. During a mini-game that requires serious hand-eye coordination and mousing skills, the trio is chased by locusts and split apart. The player will then embark on a journey as Fone Bone as he searches for his cousins and his homeland.
Along the way, Fone encounters creatures both enchanting and terrifying, including a small bug named Ted, a trio of rambunctious baby possums (my favorite characters in the game, by the way), and the infamous “stupid, stupid rat creatures” that plague the gang throughout their adventures.
Once Fone meets up with a young human girl named Thorn and her strangely fit and Popeye-esque Grandma Ben, players will switch to cousin Phoney, who will retrace Fone’s step for a reunion that lasts throughout the rest of the game. At this point, the unique dialogue system really comes into play.
A picture of each character with which the player can interact appears above the dialogue tree. By clicking on the picture, you can choose an entirely different set of dialogue. During the dinner at Grandma Ben’s, there is much to choose from, and some of it overlaps a bit.
As for the rest of the action, gameplay is extremely simple. Everything is mouse driven, point and click fare, with puzzles that logically fit within the framework of the story. As I mentioned before, your hand-eye coordination will be tested more than once, something I found more difficult than I would have expected.
If you have trouble with the adventure portion, an in-game help system is there to guide you as much or as little as you like. This feature allows each player to decide the difficulty level for themselves, making this an extremely family-friendly game.
Most Bone fans will want to know how true this game remains to Jeff Smith’s vision. Visually and performance-wise, it’s superb. The 3D environment is absolutely stunning, and each character is truly brought to life. The acting is great, most of the dialogue is taken straight from the pages of bone, and the landscape is picture-perfect. There is one small wrinkle in the story line, however, and in all fairness it needs to be addressed.
Keep in mind that I discovered the graphic novels after playing the game, so my opinion may differ from that of an avid Bone fan. However, I’m told by a very reliable, fanatical source (ahem, Randy Sluganski) that the fact that the dragon appears at the very end of this game alongside Grandma Ben and Thorn is very out of line with the original story. As a Bone newbie, I would never have noticed this, but it apparently has some impact on the future of the story. As Telltale Games has plans of releasing future volumes in game form, this may or may not have importance to fans.
Now that that disclaimer is out of the way, I personally have nothing but good things to say about this game. In fact, the only problem I have is that it’s too short, and that just means I’m greedy. I think anyone who wants to be whisked away into a brightly colored land of adventure featuring the time-honored themes of good and evil, friends and foes, and a good dose of real humor will be doing themselves a serious favor by checking out this game.
Out From Boneville is available for download and purchase at www.telltalegames.com and is appropriate for all ages.
Final Grade: A+