|Willy is the Nintari Champion!|
Some reviewers (like our friend the CRPGAddict) are awesome at finding contemporaneous reviews of games, talking about what others thought, and even coming to understand the likes and dislikes of the game journalists of the past. That’s not me. No, I have a different fetish: hint books. I first found and reviewed the hint book to Space Quest IV in large part because it’s featured in the game itself. Since then, I have been inspired to track down guides to the Scott Adams games, as well as a few more for games I might review in the future. They say everyone needs a hobby!
|Early concept art for Willy.|
The book also revealed a few things that I missed in my playthrough:
- The correct solution to escape Spider on the first day was to give him the Gamebuddy. I suspected as much since you never found another use for it later in the game.
- Failing to use the iodine on your finger when you cut it will result in a “sports injury” that will prevent Willy from playing Nintari as well as he should.
|If only we could try homeopathy.|
- The mystery item that Perry wanted to trade for a baseball card was Tiffany’s diary. We could then use this to get onto the ferry, instead of stealing a token from the fountain. It’s a nice example of an alternate solution.
- You can still win if you don’t convince Dana to let Gigi run in the race, but it will be more difficult.
- There is no way to win at the frog jump without cheating; you cannot “train” Horny in time to beat Turbofrog no matter what you do.
|My 2-year old recently stumbled on my collection of “frisbees” like this one.|
|Cool. But not as cool as I’d hoped.|
With that out of the way, let’s talk ratings...
Puzzles and SolvabilityLet’s start with the good stuff: most of the puzzles in this game are “good” or “great”. There is a lot of creative use of inventory and, more importantly, a handful of puzzles with alternate solutions. At least one of the puzzles is optional, but simplifies a later sequence (if you fail to convince Dana to join the competition, it is still possible for Willy to win), and the ending can differ a bit depending on which puzzles you solved. In almost every case, the puzzles fit well into the story and rarely played against the overall tone of the game. Yes, some of them were quite silly, but that’s what the game was aiming for.
|My favorite puzzle of the game.|
I also felt that a few of the puzzles turned into brute-force, trying random things until something works. The worst example of this was escaping the Tootsweet security guard: you had to attach the Nintari key to the dog-tag chain to hypnotize the security guard. You would never do those actions except in exasperation; I barely figured it out after hours of banging my head against the game.
All my frustrations aside, there were some fun puzzles here. Having multiple solutions and optional puzzles was a great touch, weighed down only by the annoyance of too many time-based limitations.
Interface and InventoryWilly Beamish has a fine user interface, but one that showed a lack of polish and consistency. It is simpler than most others of the time period: you only have two (occasionally three) options which you can choose between by right-clicking, plus inventory items. Using the magnifying glass pointer works as “look”, while the arrow works for just about everything else and will change depending on context. For example, mouse the action cursor over a person and it might change to a dialog balloon. It’s a flexible system, but there are some strange inconsistencies. When you are using the action cursor, for example, you can press “tab” to cycle through things you can interact with. No other cursor offers this functionality so it can be difficult to know what you can look at or interact with using inventory items. For example, it took me longer than it should have while battling the vampire to realize that you needed to use the mouse on the coffee table because there was no “tab” stop there.
|A full inventory screen. Note the identical “>” buttons at the top and bottom.|
This game engine is simpler and less-polished than Sierra’s engine, but a big improvement over their efforts in Rise of the Dragon. The minimalism works well for this type of game and having an interface that stays out of your way is always nice. We’ve been mostly giving 7s to the Sierra “SCI1” games of this generation and it’s not quite there, so let’s leave this category as a 6. Very close to a seven, but not quite.
Story and Setting
|Workin’ at the carwash blues.|
And yet, it wasn’t for nothing that this is the first game we’ve played (that I know of) with “screenwriter” credits. There are some very well-done plot beats, especially as we neared the end of the game. The scene with Turbofrog rescuing us is still one of my favorites. But the story is also well-structured. Did you notice that Willy’s dad has a plot arc almost as important as his son’s? We see a father figure that starts at a low point after losing his job, begins to recover when he finds a new one, but then he is offered a choice: he can do the right thing or the safe thing. He picks the right thing, even though it places him and his family in danger. The scene where Gordon reveals Leona’s wrongdoing to the press is a fantastic one and the very fact that we care about the off-screen actions of a secondary character is a rarity in adventure games. Even without the crisis, there are a few nice connection points between Willy and his father throughout the game. I love the little pep talk that Willy tries to give his dad while they are playing with trains. I love that Gordon looks in on his son every night after he is asleep. Those moments aren’t required to solve any puzzle, but they made the story richer. Willy and Gordon’s two plot arcs finally converge at the climax of the game. After he is rescued, Gordon tells his son how proud he is of him. That moment, as important as any Nintari championship, only works because of how well the relationship and their parallel development was built up over the course of the game.
|The real hero of our story?|
I can hear the howls of “but the plot doesn’t make sense!” already, but I inhabited this game for many hours of play time and multiple playthroughs. As I finished, I was still finding cute character moments and little bits of description that make the plot and setting come together. Perhaps because I am a father on my way (eventually) to 40, I especially like Gordon’s arc and the rich way that the family was depicted. It is not perfect by any means, especially as the Nintari championships become nothing more than a MacGuffin. But what I saw, I liked.
Sound and GraphicsIt wasn’t for nothing that Jeff Tunnell and his team billed Willy Beamish as an “interactive cartoon”. The graphics for this game are extremely good for 1991 and hold up even today. The watercolor backgrounds almost always pop and a ton of attention was paid to inconsequential animations. Willy’s walk style changes with different scenes, there are frequently little transitional animations or other things going on in the background, and they avoid the disjointed feeling present in other games where motion-capture meets static backgrounds. That said, there are strange gaps. A few of the mouths seem to be a particular challenge for the artists, almost like they were inked on after the production sketches were done.
|Full page ad for “Willy Beamish”.|
I’m going with a high rating for the graphics (some of the nicest we’ve seen), but the game music and sound effects really didn’t do it for me.
Environment and AtmosphereWhen rating this category, I always like to think about how the game makes me feel rather than individual scenes. I have said a lot about characters and setting already-- and there was so much that I loved-- but all the same the “atmosphere” was occasionally just a bit derivative. For all that their advertisements touted the game as being reflective of “30 years” of cartoons, mostly the game felt like they were trying to channel The Simpsons.
I can’t put my finger on why I don’t like the atmosphere more, when I clearly liked the character work and story depth, but there it is.
Dialog and Acting
|Too much of the early game was multiple choice.|
I think it also helps the “dialog” that the character portraits are so expressive. Rather than one or two, Willy had many individual portraits for different conversations. Other characters had fewer, but many had more than one. These extra portraits during dialog scenes helped to set the tone. It’s not a huge thing, but I think it helped.
Final ScoreLet’s tally up the points: 5+6+7+7+6+7/.6 = 63! But before we get too comfortable with that, I want to make two adjustments. First, minus one more point for the timing puzzles. So much of what I liked about the game was in spite of, not because of, the timing puzzles and I cannot help put subtract just a bit more for them. Second, minus another point for reusing animation during the winning scene. I just beat the game AND won the Nintari Championship, Dynamix could have done better than to recycle the same animation from the game’s introduction movie.
That leaves a final total of 61, higher than most of you guessed. The average guess was 50 and Laertes managed to get the score on the nose. Congratulations!
My next game game from the big list will be Cruise for a Corpse, but I have one or two tricks up my sleeve before then. And YES, the final Questprobe post will be coming very soon. I swear. See you soon!
- Blogger Award – 100 CAPs - for blogging through the game for our enjoyment
- Festive Blogger Award – 50 CAPs - for blogging through A Spell of Christmas Ice as another Christmas treat
- True Companion Award – 10 CAPs - for keeping Joe company by playing through Willy Beamish with him.
- It's Only One Calorie Award – 5 CAPs – for telling Joe to try TAB to cycle through hotspots
- Assistance Is Not Futile Award – 10 CAPs – for giving useful assistance when Joe was stuck in the game
- Referencing the References Award - 2 CAPs - for finding out some of the references in the hypnotic phrases
- Psychic Prediction Award – 10 CAPs - for correctly guessing the final rating of the game.
- Assistance Is Not Futile Award – 10 CAPs – for giving useful assistance when Joe was stuck in the game
- Referencing the References Award - 8 CAPs - for finding out some of the references in the hypnotic phrases
- Atendo Award – 5 CAPs - for researching what happens when you don't win at Nintari
- A Horny Homonym Award – 5 CAPs – for suggesting that Joe use Willy's pet frog to eat the game's bugs
- Imaginationland Award – 5 CAPs – for some insightful ruminations about the game
- Complimentary Corkage Award – 5 CAPs - for correctly guessing that the thing at the bottom of the aquarium was a cork rather than a button, as Joe suspected.
- An Award not only of sight and sound but of mind – 5 CAPs – For pointing out the Twilight Zone parody within the Sierra parody
- Referencing a Reference Award - 1 CAP - for finding out one of the references in the hypnotic phrases by being able to speak fluent fake Latin