The Next BIG Thing PC DVD
Published by Focus Home Interactive
Developed by Pendulo Studios
After completing the trilogy of adventure games that comprised the memorable Runaway series, it was always going to be a question of what Pendulo Studios would do next. The Runaway series was well liked for its interesting two lead characters, the wacky minor characters, general sense of humour in the game, solid puzzles and distinctive art style. All of these attributes are present in The Next BIG Thing with some of them even being accentuated to great effect.
In The Next BIG Thing our main characters are two journalists. There's the sports fanatic Dan Murray and the altogether dis…concerting Liz Allaire who definitely appears to be a sixpence short of a shilling. The rest of the cast is made up of crazy robots and strange beings that are referred to in the game as monsters. These 'monsters' even feature in movies playing the role of monsters. The monsters in The Next BIG Thing aren't instruments of terror however and essentially appear to be 'normal' citizens. In fact one of the game's main characters, FitzRandolph, is a monster and runs MKO, a film studio that's makes the films that the monsters feature in.
The storyline, humour and some of the characters in the Runaway games could be rather oddball at times. The Next BIG Thing takes the craziness to a whole new level and is quite simply bizarre from start to finish. That's a good thing of course because you want an adventure game to keep you interested and not simply offer up mundane or predictable events and storylines. The two lead characters, Dan and Liz, are probably the craziest characters in the game although there are others such as a Poet who insists on having unique ways of receiving pain in order to inspire his poetical creativity. Dan is rather sarcastic and likes to bet half of his pay check on things. He also likes to use sporting parlance in his conversation. Liz is the wackier of the two and often makes comments that appear to have little or nothing to do with the general flow of the dialogue. She also has the odd conversation with herself from time to time. No wonder FitzRandolph comments that she's known as Loony Liz. Without wanting to give too much of the storyline away, suffice to say that Liz discovers some mysterious goings on and ends up being captured with Dan having to go off in search of her.
In The Next BIG Thing you have a choice to make when starting the game. You can choose from low, medium or high difficulty levels. The low difficulty level allows you to highlight the areas of the screen where you can interact with objects (known as hotspots) and also allows you to call on what is effectively the game's in-built hint system. Medium only gives you access to the hotspot locations whilst high doesn't give you access to anything so you'll have to pixel hunt like you would in the adventure games of yesteryear. On the whole these difficulty settings work quite well but I do think it's a shame that you can only call on the hint system on the lowest setting. I freely admit to being stumped on a few occasions (some puzzles appear to be much more complex than they actually are) and I would have liked to have been able to call on the hint system rather than coming out of the game to go online to look for a hint. It should also be noted that you can't change your difficulty level once you've begun the game meaning you can't temporarily lower the difficulty setting to access the hints.
The game's puzzles are mostly logical but there are a few here that, to me at least, aren't that logical. What I will say however is that these 'illogical' puzzles aren't as complex as you might think. After finally figuring out what I had to do I often realised that I was making too much of it. There's a puzzle where you are given some hieroglyphic symbols and asked to pick out the verb or direct object of the verb from a list of possible answers. Without giving the solution away, the puzzle didn't require any grammatical knowledge at all. You are simply required to notice a pattern between the hieroglyphic symbol and the possible answers. What you will notice however, is that Dan or Liz won't pick up items until it's been made obvious that the item is needed. Whilst this makes a lot of sense, it does mean you're going back and forth a little more than you'd like at times. Unfortunately, as we'll see in a moment, there is one puzzle that will cause all kinds of problems for deaf gamers.
Visually the game is splendid and easily the most visually impressive adventure game to date. The game retains a similar art style to that found in Runaway: A Twist of Fate but there's a far greater degree of character design here and the backgrounds are more stylish and more imaginative than they were in the final Runaway title. The quality of the game's artwork is such that it wouldn't be out of place in a lavishly produced anime movie and it's one of those rare games where I could happily take screenshots and use them as desktop wallpapers. The game even supports full screen visuals at 1080p further increasing the game's visual splendour. There's nothing impressive about the animations in the game however as they are quite basic and no different from what you would find in most adventure games a decade ago but that is really only a minor complaint for what is a great looking game.
It's pleasing to see that The Next BIG Thing is subtitled. The subtitles are easy to read, colour-coded and placed on a darkened overlay for maximum clarity. There are no character portraits or names placed alongside the dialogue however and whilst this doesn't cause any problems for the most part, there are times when characters are off screen and you won't be aware of who is speaking. Runaway: A Twist of Fate was fine for deaf gamers with the exception of a puzzle that featured crucial dialogue that wasn't subtitled. Unfortunately The Next BIG Thing also features a puzzle that requires the ability to hear. Towards the end of the game there's a musical puzzle in which you must attempt to get four out of six sound producing flowers to play a tango. The basic idea is to discard the two which are making noises and select the four musical flowers in the correct order, keeping the music in rhythm. The problem is that you need the ability to hear to solve this puzzle and it's not something that can be solved through trial and error because if you make a mistake, the sounds are shuffled around and then each flower will make a different sound (meaning you'll have to determine once again what sound is made by each flower. This is one puzzle even a walkthrough can't really help you with and as such represents a major obstacle for deaf gamers.
This is the puzzle that deaf gamers will find virtually impossible.
The Next BIG Thing is a game I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoyed the Runaway series and who have the ability to hear. The game has refined all of the elements that made the Runaway games so enjoyable and the only respect in which the game disappoints is in its length and the inclusion of a puzzle that presents a major obstacle to deaf people. The game's artwork is stunning; the humour is welcome and the storyline enjoyable if altogether bizarre. It's just a massive shame that once again we have a Pendulo Studios' game that contains a puzzle that for all intents and purposes makes the game nigh on impossible for deaf gamers to complete.