This is a review of the first game of this bundle: Ben There, Dan That.
Ben There, Dan That! is an adventure game in the purest tradition of the genre. If you’ve played LucasArts adventures in the 90’s, you are in familiar territory (and also, lucky). Same if you played 90’s Sierra titles (except you weren’t so lucky). Indeed, you’ll find again every emblematic ingredient: look/use/talk/walk commands, inventory management, branching dialogs, humour…
The story begins with our two heroes, Ben and Dan (who happen to be digital incarnations of the game designers) coming home from a jungle expedition, just in time for watching Magnum P.I. on the TV. Unfortunately, the aerial is broken and you must help our heroes fix it. It very soon happens that Ben and Dan get abducted by aliens in the process. They (and you) must therefore navigate through alternative dimensions if you want to go back home.
There are three areas in which Ben There, Dan That! shine. The first is its humour. It is plentiful and very funny. It touches on many topics and doesn’t avoid controversy (positive discrimination of handicapped workers gets laughed at, for instance). It’s neither politically correct nor polite. Ben and Dan are not above “penis” and “♥♥♥♥♥♥” jokes. So it may not be to everyone’s taste. Most of the humour, however, consists of meta-jokes, aimed at adventure game mechanisms themselves. Those are equally funny, although by the end of the game, that theme will have overstayed its welcome. It also means you probably won’t enjoy the game that much if you’re not an adventure game veteran.
The second remarkable feature is the puzzles themselves. Despite the completely bonkers story, the puzzles remain logical and avoid frustration for the player, without feeling childish like the recent horde of “casual” adventure games. I didn’t need a walkthrough in order to beat this adventure and I never stayed stuck for long. Despite the relative easiness, my intelligence never felt insulted. It was therefore the perfect balance for me.
Polish is the last award-deserving area. In other adventure games, when you are bumping against a particularly devious (or illogical) puzzle, it is common to start trying everything, using every inventory item on every element in the room. Here, because the puzzles are not very difficult, it is rarely necessary to do so. But I encourage you to adopt that behaviour nonetheless. Because almost all combinations, stupid or smart, have been thought of by the developers and there is almost always a funny line of dialog to reward any desperate action. It’s really remarkable, as other games too often punish you with something bland, along the lines of “I can’t do that” whenever you try something original/stupid.
There are weaker aspects to the game though. The story is unimpressive. And despite their individual qualities, the environments (or “rooms”) lack coherence. The game universe feels disjointed and the “parallel dimensions” premise doesn't really excuse that.
I'm not a big fan of the technical aspects either. The art style is primitive and something of an acquired taste. The backgrounds are made to look goofy but mostly they are bordering on the ugly. I got used to it in the end, but it means I didn't get a very good first impression. The animations are very basic, and frankly idiotic. I know some will defend them, but to me it looked stupid without looking funny. The best that can be said about the music is that it is unobtrusive. It must also be said that there is no voice acting, but that can hardly be held against the game.
If you can live with the graphics, and if you've played enough adventure games to appreciate the meta-humour, then by all means, I recommend you purchase the game. It's funny and it's designed with care and attention to details. It's enough to pleasantly fill the better part of a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Posted: November 26th, 2013