It’s Not About Samsung

a The Next Big Thing review

This article is part of a series called “Reviews You Can’t Use”, in which the author exhumes games from the repose of his Steam library and reanimates them into shambling husks of their former selves, cursing himself with the knowledge that he is the true monster. It’s fine; everyone will mistakenly think that the monster (in the traditional sense) is the one named Chris Fincher.

When I wrote about Tales from the Borderlands, I ended up describing what a textbook adventure game plays like. The Next Big Thing is one of those textbook adventure games. It’s actually a sequel, too, but you could be forgiven for not knowing that, since its prequel, Hollywood Monsters, was only released in Spanish and Italian. Even more confusingly, the developer of both games has renamed the iOS version of The Next Big Thing to Hollywood Monsters. Thus, “Hollywood Monsters is the sequel to Hollywood Monsters” is a phrase with at least one true interpretation. Anyway, to keep things simple, I’ll be calling this game The Next Big Thing throughout.

As you might expect from a game called Hollywood Monsters on at least one platform, The Next Big Thing is about monsters in movies. In the universe of the game, monsters are real and live among humans, and thus, monster movies don’t star Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, or Lon Chaney in elaborate makeup — they star actual monsters! You, however, do not play a monster, and instead you play human reporters Liz Allaire and Dan Murray, who have been sent by their newspaper, The Quill, to cover an awards ceremony at MKO Studios, the largest producer of monster movies in the world. After Liz notices something fishy at the MKO president’s mansion, your two protagonists start down a trail of clues that reveals to them something rotten lurking just under the surface of the monster movie industry.

The gameplay, as I noted, is classic point-and-click adventuring. You have an inventory, and you move around the world by pointing at where you want your character to move and clicking. You talk to people, interact with the environment, and use items on things around you, and that’s it, with the exception of a couple mini-games. TNBT features a smooth and intuitive point-and-click interface, which should be no surprise, since it’s at least the fourth point-and-click adventure its developer, Pendulo Studios, has made. Walking animations and dialogue can be skipped easily to speed things along if desired. If you forget what you’re doing, a helpful “checkpoints” panel will tell you what your current objectives are, and if you get stuck, TNBT can offer hints or highlight “hotspots” you may have missed. These assistive features will never get 100% of players unstuck, but they’re very convenient when they work. Mechanically, TNBT is a top-notch point-and-click adventure, and that’s a great thing, because UI elements and control schemes can ruin an otherwise good adventure game. But they’re not sufficient to make a good adventure game on their own. That hinges on a game’s writing and its puzzles.

Writing is easily the greatest strength of TNBT, and it’s strong because it’s funny. TNBT doesn’t have the depth of Life is Strange or the emotional compulsion of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, but it makes up for it with the fact that perhaps 70% of the lines in the game have a joke in them. It’s very close to the original Monkey Island games in terms of the spirit it brings to its story, with crazy characters in a crazy world that they take relatively seriously. TNBT is the kind of game that tempts you to explore its dialogue trees, just to see what colorful answers its characters have for your increasingly odd requests. What makes this especially impressive is that Pendulo is a Spanish company. The writer of TNBT, Josué Monchan, isn’t a native English speaker. I would be lying if I said that the dialogue in the game is perfectly fluent, but 95% of it feels like native American English, and if I hadn’t looked up Pendulo while playing, I wouldn’t have suspected them to be from another country. The humor is linguistically sophisticated, too. There are puns, idioms, and jokes that simply don’t translate well.

(In a field where most games are made by American studios, this doesn’t really give you a reason to play TNBT as much as it doesn’t give you a reason not to play it, so this isn’t really the most useful tangent to have gone down. But as someone who has a hard time remembering the past tense conjugations of Spanish verbs, I felt obligated to give credit. And, well… let’s not forget what blog series this is for.)

The hilarious script is complemented by pretty good voice acting. Every line in the game is voiced, and the whole cast delivers the game’s dialogue with clarity and emotion. My only complaint is that some lines are rather oddly emphasized. I can tell what they’re saying and how they feel about it, but I can’t help but think “I don’t think anyone would talk that way.” Dan is especially prone to this and sometimes comes off sounding like someone impersonating a movie trailer announcer because of it.

Two things about the game stand out in such a way that they’re not wrong, per se, but are at least peculiar. I will kvetch about them here briefly, because I feel the need to tell someone. The first one, for which I still have no explanation, is that all of the characters say “ayo” instead of “hello” and “aya” instead of “goodbye”. As far as I can tell, this is not something people do in Spain or did in Hollywood. It’s not a bad thing per se; it’s just something that makes me think “But why?”. Mr. Monchan clearly knows enough about English to know how people say hello. It’s not as if America doesn’t spread our language and culture into every country willing to have us. My best guess is that it’s a carry-over from prior Pendulo adventure games. The second peculiarity is the game’s logo, which I’m happy to say I do now understand. Take a look. You’ll notice that it appears very American. Granted, TNBT does take place in America, but if you play the game for a little bit, I think you’ll agree that a 50s or Hollywood aesthetic would make more sense for the logo. The patriotic logo that TNBT has does eventually make sense, but you have to traverse far into the game before it’s revealed. It’s inconsequential, honestly, but I do want for you to know that if you spend most of the game wondering “Why is that the logo?”, you’re not alone.

Graphically, TNBT was great for 2011, when it was released, and still holds up pretty well today. Like many point-and-click adventures of its era, TNBT uses 3D models on 2D backgrounds. It’s not painfully obvious, like it was, for instance, in a PlayStation-era Final Fantasy game, but you can tell if you’re paying attention. On a modern high-DPI screen, the backgrounds still look pretty good, and the character models look just a little jagged. Animations are fluid, but have been outclassed since publication. When a character talks, their mouth will move, but the way that mouth moves is totally independent of what they’re saying and how they’re feeling. Additionally, every other joint on their body will be frozen. In other words, this ain’t L.A. Noire. It is visibly the product of a publisher that has good artists but can’t afford motion capture. This was once very common for adventure games, but I guess the future has spoiled me. The interface, however, remains very pleasing, having adopted a retro 1950s look that is… actually an anachronism for the heyday of monster movies, but let’s not get caught up on that. It works. Like Archer, TNBT anchors itself in the 50s but borrows whatever it likes from other decades and science fiction.

The puzzles of TNBT are present and pleasant, but not award-winning. They won’t take you very long to solve or make you think in unconventional ways. The question you will spend the most time on will be “What do I need to click on that I didn’t click on already?” Such is the curse of the adventure game. One puzzle is a notable exception. I found it unclear and unforgiving. Thankfully, it’s only a small part of the game.

Where does this leave us, then? Should you play The Next Big Thing? Well, you should play it if you want to play a good adventure game, or something that’s cute and funny. It will not offend you, amaze you, or change the way you think. Still, I think it’s nice to see a good adventure game come out after the collapse of Sierra Entertainment. It’s doubly nice to see someone besides Telltale and Double Fine doing that.

Final Score: 12/20