|Is Willy the boy or the frog?|
Pull up a chair, I’d like to tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a video game company called “Dynamix”. It was a good little company, primarily building action and racing games, including some award-winning flight simulators. One day, they were purchased by an “adventure game” company (Sierra On-Line) and suddenly decided that they had to make adventure games, too! You’ve already heard this story before, back when Ilmari completed his excellent review of their first adventure game, Rise of the Dragon. While that one was far from perfect, it’s higher than 3/4ths of the games reviewed on the blog so far. The following year, Dynamix made two more attempts at adventure games: this one and Heart of China. We will be getting to the latter before too long, but I am very curious to see what lessons Dynamix learned from their previous game. Can Willy Beamish crack our top ten? Our top five? I have no idea.
|Alternate title card. At least this time, Mr. Beamish’s name isn’t obscured.|
I am coming into this game completely fresh: I have never played it and I know almost nothing about it. I heard of the game as a kid and I know that it is a comedy, but much of what I thought I knew about the game was just my misremembering Freddy Pharkas (1993). Willy Beamish is not a “frontier pharmacist!” (Someone should remind me to volunteer for that one when the time comes as penance.) I do not see any familiar names in the game credits, so my guess is that they are not using Sierra’s new SCI engine that we have seen on close to a half-dozen games already. That engine is a favorite of mine, but its limited vocabulary makes many puzzles all too simple.
The game was designed and directed by Jeff Tunnell, the Dynamix founder, and he played the same role on Rise of the Dragon. We’ll see him again on pretty much every other Dynamix adventure game, starting with Heart of China later this year. The “screenplay” was done by Tony and Meryl Pertuz, neither of which appear to have any other adventure game credits. Other writers include David Selle and Tom Brooke. David had been a writer in Rise of the Dragon, and we will see his work again in several games, but most notably as an assistant director on Space Quest V. Tom will be a writer on Heart of China as well. In total, 49 contributors are listed in the manual which is roughly where we see Sierra titles during this period; it is fewer than SQ4 but more than KQ5. I doubt very much that quantity equals quality, but I marvel at this explosion in the size of teams making games during this period, especially as the “Missed Classics” I’ve been playing are lucky to have three contributors at most.
The manual for the game is framed as Willy Beamish’s “secret notebook”, a pencil-written introduction to our game’s protagonist. Like the Space Quest IV manual, there is very little technical content here and nothing about how to actually play the game. We had a great debate on the blog a couple of weeks back about whether or not you should have to read the manual before you play a game, but the developers of this one are gambling that we can figure it out as we go along. We shall see!
|So, it’s just like “The Wizard”? Is Fred Savage in this game?|
The bulk of the manual sets up Willy’s ambition to dominate at the “Nintari Championships” this summer, and even features a mock-interview with Willy about what he will say when he gets the prize. For our younger or more forgetful readers, this is obviously a portmanteau of “Nintendo” and “Atari”. By 1991, Atari was already an “old-fashioned” brand with their last home system being the Atari 7800 in 1986, while Nintendo was riding high just at the end of the original NES era. (The Super Nintendo came out in the US that August.) Later in the notebook, Willy has a newspaper clipping from when he won the Nintari regional championship, so he’s probably quite good! This sounds like a plot point if I’ve ever heard one.
The manual also includes some other items which may or may not be relevant to the game:
- Willy has a frog named “Horny” (Ha, ha) and has collected clippings about frogs, including an advertisement for special vitamins that will make the amphibian super strong
- A diagram of Willy’s ideal tree fort. It has a “mondo” TV and beanbag chairs, not to mention a cola dispenser and a place to store Willy’s skateboard.
- Willy claims that his “best friend” is the ghost of his departed grandfather.
- Tons of doodles and comments about classmates and teachers. Not sure if any of them are relevant or if it’s just adding color.
- Oh, and this beauty:
|Hey! Are you calling Alex a nerd?|
I am probably paying far more attention to the manual than was intended, but it’s very nicely done and it gets you into the spirit of the game pretty well. I have no idea what the game is like, but I think I get a tiny grasp of the humor that I can expect. If “Horny” the frog is any indication, I’m going to be looking back wistfully about the mature humor of Leisure Suit Larry 5 before you know it.
|There’s a Doctor Who joke, so it can’t be all bad.|
The game begins on the most important day of the year: the last day of class before Summer Vacation at Carbuncle Elementary. I made the mistake of Googling what a “carbuncle” was and I absolutely do not recommend it. What is seen cannot be unseen and I am not kidding about this.
|School’s out for summer!|
On this final day of school, the young Mr. Beamish struggles to pay attention during a farewell ceremony led by his principal, Mr. Frick. For our non-American friends, this person might be called a “headmaster” where you live. The speech is very boring; so boring that after a page or so the writers of the game just stick “blah, blah, blah” in the text box.
|Shiny happy people.|
|The guy with the sunglasses had the right idea.|
While Willy and many of his classmates dozed off to the sonorous tones of their principal, something began to stir in his backpack. Yes, it was Horny! I’m not sure that a backpack is a good place to keep a pet frog, but we can go with it. Horny took a leap and landed on Mr. Frick’s head, knocking his toupee right off.
|Horny is doing some cosplay as a Battletoad.|
Needless to say, the now-bald Mr. Frick was not at all happy about the amphibious attack and gave Willy detention. We fast forward a few hours later and Willy is bored in detention, his mind already on the looming Nintari championships. Will he be able to make it and win? More importantly, am I going to need to master some silly arcade sequences to complete this game? I sure as heck hope not.
|Perhaps sunglasses-kid was caught after all!|
Willy’s daydreaming was interrupted by his teacher, Ms. Glass. He hadn’t been paying attention and she asked him a question. Oh no!
|Ich kann Glas essen, das tut mir nicht weh.|
|4. That bananas are a great source of potassium?|
And with that, our game begins! I like the intro a great deal and it sets the stone for the story. The humor so far seems pretty okay. Willy is obviously not like any other adventure game protagonist I’ve ever played and I am not sure exactly how that will translate in the game. I recorded the whole introduction (except for the opening credits) and it’s well worth a watch.
Before I begin this game, I’d like to make some predictions:
- The goal of the game will be to win at the Nintari Championships. There will be some sort of “road trip” element where Willy has to make it to the contest on time.
- Willy will meet his school friends and teachers over the summer in unexpected and hilarious ways.
- Horny will be used to solve at least one major puzzle.
- The game designers will make fun of their overlords, Sierra On-Line, in some way.
Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 80 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.
Looking for Questprobe?
The final post on Questprobe will be delayed by a week or two as I await the arrival of additional comic books. Marvel made greater use of the Questprobe characters than I had originally thought and it is taking time to gather up all of the books. But never fear, true believers, the Questprobe Epilogue will be coming along soon. Excelsior!