[T-Pow] We've got something extraordinary today: A review by two reviewers. How did it come to this? Mr Creosote and me have been chatting for quite some time and we're often discussing the pros and cons of specific games. At some point, he asked me whether I'd be interested in collaborating on a review and I spontanously agreed. Now all we had to do was find a game that none of us has played before and is from a genre which we both like. Shortly afterwards, we agreed on Chewy Esc from F5 which we both have lying around untouched.
[Mr Creosote] Ok, let's start with the story, then: Chewy is an alien who... for some reason is stranded on the planet F5. The plot is laid out almost exclusively in the manual. The intro is pretty much incomprehensible on its own.
[T-Pow] Well, this is not quite right, the reason is that Chewy and his buddy Clint have stolen the “red glump” on F5. Clint was able to escape, but Chewy got caught.
[Mr Creosote] Alright, so Chewy has to escape from the evil Borx, too. Later, he travels to Earth looking for Clint.
[T-Pow] There, he lands at the house of the unsuccessful author Howard. “Landing” in this case meaning he crashes his ship in Howard's cellar.
[Mr Creosote] On earth, there are a couple of locations, but maybe we shouldn't spoil the details right now.
[T-Pow] Just this: There are three big locations each of which follows the former.
[Mr Creosote] Just for the record, it has to be said of course that not a lot in this game is supposed to be taken seriously; it's a comedy.
[T-Pow] And a pretty zany one at that. The hero's outfit alone could put off some people. He is pink and he looks like a cross between Donald Duck and Porky Pig.
[Mr Creosote] Also, he's practically indistinguishable from his friend Clint (apart from some hair). The Borx, on the other hand, are green, fat sacks of flour.
[T-Pow] With very bad teeth and a horrible accent. Also, they love spinach! That alone makes them the perfect hate object of every kid out there.
[Mr Creosote] Calling what's happening in the game “childish” isn't actually that far off - and not in a positive sense. The way the hero talks is pretty infantile.
[T-Pow] Also, he's extremely sure of himself and what he does. How can the universe survive just one single day without him?
[Mr Creosote] Yes, it seems like Chewy is supposed to be especially “cool”. Didn't really work, he was getting on my nerves.
[T-Pow] Getting on one's nerves, yes, good point. Compared to the other characters, Chewy is almost bearable, though. Just think of Howard, the sleeping pill. Ever since he started following me, I only had the wish to get rid off him again somehow.
[Mr Creosote] The game attempts to get a lot of “humour” across in the dialogues. However, they're simply annoying, so that I tried avoiding talking to anyone. It was almost always just punishment.
[T-Pow] Well, I had my best moments with the game with things, not with characters. Chewys friends who are following him are only accessories. It feels like someone in the marketing department had played Day of the Tentacle and liked the idea of having three playable characters and so it was implemented into the already finished game.
[Mr Creosote] Absolutely. With Howard, the game at least tries to give a basic reason why he's following Chewy around (a very thin one, though). But what's the matter with this actress? Did I miss anything? Suddenly, she's with Chewy, but it's never explained why.
[T-Pow] That's Chewy's magic attraction towards women. I'm wondering anyway why nobody minds that a pink duck with vuvuzela ears is running around.
[Mr Creosote] But then, he's got his great disguise! He can hardly be recognised!
[T-Pow] You're talking about the pumpkin? Yes, that's certainly completely normal. In the first location, that even almost makes sense, because there is a pumpkin festival there. But what about later in the game? A leather jacket and a leather hat?
[Mr Creosote] All that probably sounds quite negative already (deservedly to a degree), but fo the sake of the readers who haven't played the game, we should point out that the game puts itself in the tradition of classic cartoons (Bugs Bunny and friends). Based on that, some things become much more understandable.
[T-Pow] That still doesn't explain why the slapstick humour which works so great in classic cartoons just won't work at all here. I thought the allusions to many science fiction programmes where rather funny. This aspect should have been stressed more.
[Mr Creosote] Generally, I have to agree there. There were only very few cartoon scenes which made me smile even a little. The “allusions”, however, I thought were fairly primitive and they mostly disappear in the second half of the game.
[T-Pow] Unfortunately. In any case, you have to be a fan of a number of series to even recognise most of the jokes. If you don't know Star Wars (is there anyone?), you won't notice the similarity between F5 and the Death Star and you won't see the likeness between the poor bastard in the dungeon and a certain Vulcan on Star Trek.
[Mr Creosote] The game has got a special feature which is basically very nice: You can choose to watch the cutscenes again from the main menu. The problem is just that none of these scenes is so good that I would like to see them again. That, I think, sums the quality of the slapstick up pretty well.
[T-Pow] Now that you mention it, that's right, you can watch them again, but I never did, either.
[Mr Creosote] I even had the opposite effect sometimes: A few animations are just annoying and they're always repeated again and again - and there's no option to skip them!
[T-Pow] Right, and even in the cutscenes have recycled material galore. For example, the space battles are always the same. Or is that supposed to be a poke at the old version of Battlestar Galactica?
[Mr Creosote] That's the usual excuse of any “satire”: “But it's supposed to be bad”. I never bought that. The space battles have been made with a 3D render program (the rest of the game is hand-drawn) and I just assumed the makers were so proud of that scene that they just “had to” use it several times.
[T-Pow] Maybe it was also missing money. Then again, that's hard to believe, because Blue Byte was one of the biggest German publishers back then.
[Mr Creosote] It's all a big mystery. Maybe we should talk about puzzles now?
[T-Pow] Which puzzles? You mean the ultra-simple ones which basically solve itself or the annoying “try everything in every location” type puzzle?
[Mr Creosote] Yes, that's basically the two extremes we've got here. On F5, it starts in a fairly trivial way. This is mostly due to the fact that one can never enter more than one room at once. You always have to solve one small puzzle first, then you get to the next room and so on. It doesn't get more linear than that.
[T-Pow] That's not completely true. After about 2/3 of F5, you have to run around between many screens constantly. Although “running” is probable the wrong term. Chewy is walking rather slowly.
[Mr Creosote] Compared to old Sierra games, Chewy is actually a real runner! What pissed me off most on F5 was the number of ventilation shafts, though. There are two or three such openings in every single room. Most of them are completely without function, so I started ignoring them after a while. Exactly then, there were some which mattered all of sudden, however.
[T-Pow] Then we've got the great logic of the puzzles. Someone is looking for a refreshment before he's willing to talk to Chewy. You're carrying an empty beaker and there's a can full of water right there in the room. No chance of using those with each other, though. On the next screen, there is a vending machine for cold drinks. Doesn't solve the problem, either. The solution: throw some plaster in the guy's face. Right, that's what I'm always doing when I want some refreshments. This is exactly the kind of puzzle I hate! There could be more than enough logical solutions available, but the least logical turns out to the be right one. Oh, yes, and of course, there aren't any hints in this scene.
[Mr Creosote] Very good example. What I'm missing on F5 in addition is the “bigger picture”. It all looks as if each individual screen has only been planned “for itself”. If anything, you occasionally need an object which you've picked up on the screen before. Most screens are completely self-sufficient. I never got the immpression that I'm playing a consistently designed game. At least this gets a little better on earth.
[T-Pow] I'm missing any consistency within the whole game and the best thing is that even the characters do! In the final scene, they even poke fun at that!
[Mr Creosote] Again, the same thing: If something has failed, pretend it's intentional.
[T-Pow] Failed? The box proudly brags about the magazine “Power Play” naming this game the best German Adventure of the year 1995!
[Mr Creosote] Oh, great. But how many German Adventures were released in 1995?
[T-Pow] No idea. This award implies that this one was the only one. If anyone can think of another candidate, let me know (in the forum).
[Mr Creosote] Another great example of the quality of the puzzles I just remembered: You have to wake up Howard. We've already mentioned the obvious links to Day of the Tentacle. You even find a funnel as well as some coffee. Can you feed the coffee to him? No, Chewy claims he's got nothing to pour into the funnel if you try using it with Howard.
[T-Pow] Normal coffee just isn't strong enough. You obviously need a special recipe. Unfortunately, there is no hint about where to find that.
[Mr Creosote] Then why doesn't Chewy say that the coffee isn't strong enough? That would be a hint at least. This perfectly shows another problem of many puzzles: They work semi-automatically. You don't have to use the funnel with Howard and then fill it with the secret mix. No, you just use the funnel with Howard and that's it - if you've got the other item in your inventory. In a few other scenes, I suddenly solved things this way without even having the right idea in my head - Chewy just did the right thing on his own.
[T-Pow] As I said, the puzzles are not the game's strong side. They either solve themselves or they're completely abstract.
[Mr Creosote] One final thing: At times, it felt like the game was making fun of me. “That's not going to achieve anything yet” is probably the worst answer a game can give to the player. Or take this labyrinth at the end of the game: You've got a map which is supposed to guide you through it, but if you examine it, Chewy only remarks: “It's just a map”. Oh, really, and what's on it?
[T-Pow] The game's technical side is quite convincing, though. I installed it in Dosbox and just ran it. No problems. The backgrounds are well drawn and the animations are nice, too.
[Mr Creosote] I like the graphics (again, very obviously inspired by Dott), too. Some animations could use a few more stages. For 1995, it's a little weak to have two-stage animations.
[T-Pow] I didn't mind that. The render scenes are a lot worse, because they don't fit in with the rest of the game's look at all.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, I interpreted that as typical for its time. It's actually ironic that the cut scenes which show the protagonists in more detail look worse than the regular graphics.
[T-Pow] Apart from that, the game was very stable. It never crashed and I only encountered one dead end which wasn't reproducible the second time. I'd still recommend using different save slots.
[Mr Creosote] The only technical trouble I had was with the speech. After a few minutes of playing, it started stuttering so badly that I had to restart the game again and again. So I had to turn it off eventually, but quite frankly, that wasn't a serious loss.
[T-Pow] I didn't encounter this problem, so let's not blame it on the game. You're right, though: the speech isn't all that great. The voices seem to be done by bored accounting personell. Or at least that's how they sound like. That is why I prefered playing the game with text instead of speech, too. It even enabled me to turn off the speakers completely so that I didn't have to stand the annoying music anymore. That reminds me of another problem, though: You can only either select the spoken voices or get the texts displayed - not both at once.
[Mr Creosote] That's not everything: If you play with voices, you don't have any option to speed up the dialogues (by skipping lines you've already heard). If you enable text instead, you can just click the mouse.
[T-Pow] So it's 2:0 for the text version.
[Mr Creosote] Strange things like that occur in a couple of places. Take the inventory screen, for example: You don't have any way to learn again what's what. The items are only shown graphically, but their names are never printed (or said). Even examining an item will never reveal its name, the typical line you get is something along the lines of “nothing special”.
[T-Pow] There is even quite a number of things which you'e carrying around with you although you won't ever need them again. I started collecting these in a special section of the inventory to get them out of the way. I never did anything like that before.
[Mr Creosote] And let's not forget the inconsistences between game graphics and contents. “There is a piranha in there”, Chewy claims in one scene - but the bowl he's refering to looks completely empty.
[T-Pow] Who needs a second icon for an item? Another annoying thing is the menu which leads to the inventory. The “save” icon is right next to the one for the inventory. I stopped counting how often I accidentally clicked on “save” until I found the keyboard shortcut to the inventory.
[Mr Creosote] The game's cursor is a disaster, too, to put it mildly. It's so huge... but its “hotspot” is located in its upper left corner so that it's axiomatically impossible to interact with anything on the right side of the screen. Now, the game is fortunately designed to accomodate this, but what's the point? Sure, everything we're saying right now are details; we're nitpicking. However, if you add up everything, you should understand that the game is very, very fussy.
[T-Pow] I can only agree. It would also be nice to have a few other small features like jumping to a screens exit by double-clicking or showing items on key press.
[Mr Creosote] Oh, exits, nice cue: After inadvertently clicking on an exit, you can still use the mouse and click around anywhere you want, but it won't have any effect anymore. So you can't stop Chewy from leaving the room anymore, no matter whether you want to or not. Annoying.
[T-Pow] The biggest annoyance I encountered was the combination lock puzzle. You need the combination which is concealed in the background. I accidently mistook a 7 for a 9, because the background is painted so blurry and Chewy and Howard are standing in the way. Sure, I solved it quickly enough by simply trying out every possibility, but it's sure getting on my nerves if I'm stuck, because the graphic's resolution is too low, although the puzzle is basically obvious.
[Mr Creosote] On the whole, Power Play could very well be right: This is probably the best (commercial) German Adventure game of the year 1995. Though this is a very sad statement concerning the state of the genre as well as the German software industry of the time rather than one about the quality of this particular game. Withouth the incentive of planning to discuss the game, I wouldn't have finished it. There were just too many annoyances (all those “small” things we listed) and lack of positive experiences to balance the motivation. At least it has to be acknowledged that the production values are mostly professional quality (save for the voices which are pants) and there have been a few good decisions concerning the game's structure (the separation into “episodes”, i.e. the different global locations, which saves the player some headaches finding his way). Unfortunately, nothing can save the overall impression which is negative.
[T-Pow] I'm a little more forgiving, probably because I haven't played nearly as many Adventure games as Mr Creosote. The game kept me entertained by its funny pokes at other meida long enough to have me continue playing. I noticed it's not a milestone of the genre early on, but I had hopes that things would pick up on earth. Unfortunately, the opposite turned out to be true. It got sillier and the puzzles got simpler. On the whole, I'd probably rate it negatively, too. However, we have to keep in mind that this was the first Adventure game by a company specialised on the strategy genre, so I'll place the game in the middle rating section.
[Mr Creosote] That's not completely true: The same designer made a promotial Adventure game before. Not sure how much that counts.
[T-Pow] Which one?
[Mr Creosote] Berlin Connection
[T-Pow] It could be counted, but it doesn't have to. The budget and team size will not be comparable. Also promotial Adventures (at least the ones I know) tend to be relatively short.
[Mr Creosote] Sure. So Chewy is by no means a real debut feature and on that background, I'm surprised by some of the more obvious problems. It almost looks like the guy just can't do any better.
[T-Pow] As I said, no idea. I know neither the guy nor his promotial Adventure. What I was talking about in my conclusion is the company Blue Byte, not one single programmer.
[Mr Creosote] He made Bazooka Sue (published by Starbyte) afterwards. Maybe we'll have a look at that one in the future. In any case, Chewy couldn't fully convince either of us.