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Time Gentlemen, Please!

Time Gentlemen, Please!


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Indie Developer

Release Date: June 2009

Chances are you haven’t been keeping track of the awards being handed out at the casual game roundup site jayisgames. I hadn’t either, frankly, but in doing a little background research for this review of the latest adventure game from Zombie Cow Studios, I couldn’t help noticing that their previous effort, “Ben There, Dan That” not only won the “Best of 2008 Freeware Adventure” category but beat out three very impressive other games for the honor. “Out of Order” came in second, followed by “Dirty Split” and then the remake of “King’s Quest III.” “Out of Order” is one of the best full-length adventures I’ve played in recent years, period. “King’s Quest III” is a gorgeous remake of the Sierra classic, transposed from the original interactive fiction format into user-friendly point-and-click. In terms of gameplay, “Dirty Split” is not quite up to the others but is nonetheless a stylish and well-written adventure. So how did “Ben There, Dan That” win out over such tough competition? You’d have to ask jay about that, but I can assure you that BTDT is easily the funniest and surely the most suggestive, insolent and foul-mouthed of this grouping. Read into that what you will.

One thing is certain, Zombie Cow’s newest offering, “Time Gentlemen, Please!” won’t be winning that award this year. Not because it isn’t just as well-made, entertaining and offensive as its predecessor, but because it’s not freeware. It’s what you might call “almost-free ware” or maybe “lunch-money ware.” The list price is 2.99 pounds sterling, or about five and a half smackers American. Take that, euro, baby! Zombie Cow has apparently learned its lesson about relying on the kindness of strangers and has switched to a strict cash on the barrelhead basis.

So what are you getting for your three quid? Basically, you’re getting a continuation of the lurid highjinks from BTDT — only with a noticeably improved graphics engine and some other bells and whistles. Zombie Cow even hired (or conned) some guy named Nick Cowen to add some spiffy Flash visual effects. But like its predecessor, “Time Gentlemen, Please!” is not about fancy visuals; it’s about two potty-mouthed British mates running around disrespecting everything that crosses their path. I will say that the plot of the lastest offering is admirably more focused than the original. BTDT was like some kind of out-of-control garden hose, flailing around squirting everything. TGP!, on the other hand, sort of has a plot, of sorts. It even has a villain, a guy named Hitler. I suppose it is the historical Hitler we all love to hate, but in this crazy time-twisting, cosmic-ripping adventure, it’s hard to tell who anyone is. For a large part of the time some characters appear twice, in the same scene, at the same time. And then there’s the goose-stepping dinosaur clones.

Do you need to have played BTDT to understand what’s going on in TGP!? Not really. The essentials of the first game are recapped in the intro to this one. On the other hand, BTDT is still freeware — excuse me, donationware — so I suspect you’ll enjoy TGP! more if you have played BTDT. But you barely have to follow the plot of TGP! that closely to enjoy it. In most adventures you end up clicking on everything in sight in a desperate effort to advance. In TGP! you’ll be clicking on everything in sight to hear the next snarkily outrageous thing either Ben or Dan, and usually both, have to say. This game is like some kind of R-rated Abbott and Costello movie on acid. And yes, the lead characters, Ben and Dan, do have the same names as the two guys who made the game, Dan Marshall and Ben Ward. Is this an accurate representation of their relationship in real life? One can only hope not. I think it’s just that Ben and Dan are so insolent that they don’t even cut themselves any slack. Everything is grist for their London punker personas.

Like BTDT, there are two games going on in TGP! First, there really is an honest-to-God classic LucasArtsy point and click adventure underway. In fact classic LucasArts adventures may be the one thing in Ben and Dan’s universe that they seem to have some genuine admiration for. That and British beer. The game controls may more closely resemble Sierra’s (right click to advance through the game actions, menu hidden at the top of the screen), but it is LucasArts who gets most of the homaging. Early on in the game you even get roughly the same choice you got in “Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis” — you can opt to continue in one of three modes, using your “wits,” your “fists” or your “stealth.” Actually, in Atlantis that was wits, fists and teaming up with Sophia, but who’s counting. Besides, as far as I could tell, there is no difference in any of the three, other than changing some of the in-game joking that Ben and Dan undertake. There’s also a somewhat alarming meter on the options/help screen labled “racism.” I noticed no discernible effect in ramping this up to its highest setting. Almost certainly another in-joke. Which brings me to the second game going on here — a meta-adventure, where the guys who made the game appear as the heroes in the game commenting on why they’re doing what they’re doing, or not doing. If you ever played an adventure and wished you could ask the game designers why they designed a certain puzzle a certain way, this is the game for you. Because Ben and Dan frequently ask themselves the same questions, and then answer them. Hence the “stealth” versus “wits” and “fists” jokes. Where Dan will challenge Ben that the way he just solved a certain puzzle wasn’t really with his “wits.” And Ben will concoct some cockamamy explanation of why it certainly was.

Undoubtedly this sounds confusing. Strangely, it isn’t. Dare I say it, it all kinda makes sense. That is, nothing in the game really makes sense, but you’ll understand perfectly why not. In a game that has the heroes going back in time to change something that got them in trouble in the previous game but accidentally changing something that gets them into a completely different kind of trouble in this game that they then have to go back in time again to unfix, or refix — wait, where was I?

There seems to be some debate on the internet whether TGP! is harder than BTDT. Make no mistake, as irreverent as TGP! is there is some hard-nosed adventuring going on here. I know that TGP! took me almost twice as long to complete as BTDT did, about twelve hours versus six. Yet, I remember being stumped a bit more often in the earlier game. Regardless of how difficult you find TGP!, this game has the best puzzle structure I’ve seen in a while. Dan and Ben even perhaps come close to matching the inspired clockwork lunacy of what I imagine to be their adventure game holy grail, “The Day of the Tentacle.” There is one really brilliant game conceit in TGP! — one I won’t spoil for you other than to say it involves some old-style adventuring and a striped tree.

In my review of BTDT I whined about the length of some of the dialogue trees. Some went on so long they could have used chapter headings. TGP! is still more verbose than your average adventure, but better edited and better paced than the earlier offering. On the other hand, maybe I am now just more attuned to how Ben and Dan think. God help me. This game also has a big climactic scene with an “action” feel. Personally, I could live without these, but most players will probably love it. I could also do with fewer potty jokes. That too, though, is probably a personal reaction. I laughed at the violence and the sex and frowned at the bathroom humor. Your reaction may differ — especially if you’re a supporter of PETA. Then again, like BTDT, I suspect TGP! has something to offend everyone.

There is no speech in TGP! but the soundtrack is expertly done. The open sourced sound effects are spot-on and the music is admirably appropriate and unobtrusive. The characters in “Time Gentlemen, Please!” still look like escapees from the Queen of Heart’s deck in “Alice in Wonderland,” scooting across the cartoony 2D screens like sex-crazed crabs, but even that seems more amusing than low-budget after a short while. This is a well-made Adventure Game Studio enterprise that like its predecessor stands out because of its good writing and clever puzzle design. At the risk of sounding like a stick-in-the-mud I do wonder if it needs to be quite as shocking as it is, that is for the sake of audience reach. Obviously, younger kids will not (or should not) play this game, even though they’d probably love the puzzles and the rest of the tomfoolery. I took some points off the earlier game because of the R-rated stuff, but by now people should be hip.

In the odds and ends department I would mention that those who find themselves really digging Dan and Ben’s sense of humor should definitely play the demo, because though the action is identical to the first part of the game, the characters’ comments are not. They’re demo-specific. Dan and Ben’s irrepressible comic verbiage might even be hurting their bottom line. Right now, the game is English-language only, but everyone knows the hotbed of adventuring these days is central Europe, primarily Germany and France. However, translating this game into any other language strikes me as a daunting task. Though I would be interested in seeing how the Germans respond to the comic Hitler material. Only fair, really. In the last game it was American beer that took it mostly on the chin. Now its Der Fuhrer’s turn.

TGP! is an improved LSD trip through the same cracked territory, but with a longer, better story and overall craftier puzzle design. And improved graphics, let us not forget. I also think the price point is just right. There’s simply too much gratis competition these days for even a fantastic indie game to charge in the $20-$30 range. But five bucks is something no one should begrudge those two cheeky, clever lads, Ben and Dan. I award them a final grade of A minus. Although, of course, both of them would have been expelled from any school long before grades were handed out.

Final Grade: A-

Greg Collins

Greg Collins

JA reviewer, and occasional opiner, since 2006.

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