A blast from the past in more ways than one, Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle is both a sequel to the little-known Runaway: A Road Adventure from 2003 and a modernized take on the golden age of Sierra and LucasArts adventures. So don't expect much in the way of innovation from this wacky road comedy, which plays out like a standard point-and-click adventure complete with regular pixel hunts and the usual assortment of frustrating puzzles. The Pendulo Studios game is noteworthy for its distinct, cartoon graphics and teenybopper attitude, but these somewhat debatable pluses just drag the game across the border that separates the flatly mediocre from the occasionally entertaining.
This is a tough game to get into if you're over the age of 15 and have a Y chromosome. Dream of the Turtle is kid-centric to such an extreme that you might initially think that you've installed some sort of game version of Teen Beat magazine by mistake. Everything here plays out like a pubescent girl's daydream, complete with a soundtrack that's equal parts boy-band wimp rock and Eurotrash disco. The lead character is a soul-patched, thong-necklace-wearing guy named Brian Basco, and he is coolness personified...well, coolness personified by the focus group, at any rate. All of the other characters are similar stereotypes. Brian's girlfriend, Gina, is a gorgeous babe forever needing to be rescued. Mad-professor type Joshua wears Coke-bottle glasses and is convinced he's an alien. A sinister dame called Tarantula channels Cruella De Vil. An ominous American army colonel smokes a stogie, wears an eye patch, and is obsessed with the Vietnam War. Whoever wrote this tale certainly didn't waste any time coming up with original characters.
Much of the storyline and presentation are similarly derivative. You can tell that Pendulo was going for an off-the-wall vibe similar to that presented in LucasArts classics like Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, but this tale of globetrotting, aliens, and various weirdoes tries way too hard. Dialogue is always extra-cute and obvious, and is typically delivered in a flat monotone that makes it clear that the game's first language isn't English. Poor translation from the original Spanish presumably derails the game's many "jokes," and all of the one-liners are offered up with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink delivery that quickly goes from something you groan over to something that makes you search for the nearest heavy object to throw through your monitor. Depressingly, the game's wit reaches its height right at the beginning, when Brian announces the arrival of a lemur by saying "I'll be a monkey's uncle!" There is something of an edge to everything, at least, although it's a teen-friendly edge that's about as sharp as a butter knife. So you get mild sexual quips, brief flashes of skin, and babes in dental-floss bikinis just titillating enough to scandalize an eighth-grade classroom, but nothing more.
With all that said, Dream of the Turtle somehow retains considerable charm amid all of its annoyances. Cartoon visuals give the game a cheerful, fresh look that encourages you to keep playing just to see what locales the developers will surprise you with next. Settings are also extremely diverse, ranging from the opening Hawaiian island to a frozen Alaskan cabin to a sunken pirate ship. You really get a sense of participating in a great adventure, even if it's with a bunch of cardboard cutouts that you don't particularly like. The only drawback is a tendency to repeat animations whenever you revisit a location. Note to Pendulo: Lokilani may be quite a hottie, but nobody wants to see her seductively and slowly turn around, flip her hair, and sexily roll her eyes each and every time you sidle up to her beachfront bar for a chitchat.
Most of the puzzles are well done, too. There isn't anything earthshaking here, but the game presents a sense of internal logic that makes it easy (well, relatively easy, at any rate--this is still an adventure game) to figure out what goes where to open what door and the like. You roll along, picking up whatever isn't nailed down and experimenting with different approaches to problems until something works. As usual with this sort of adventure, however, there are times where common sense gets tossed out the window and you're left scratching your head. What you need to do to gain the help of the Australian surfer in chapter two, for instance, involves a range of activities including gathering butter, making chalk, conning a soldier into climbing a tree multiple times, and getting a nut to fix up a beachside mechanical bull.
Also, many puzzles are drawn out just for the sake of stretching the game. You often hit on what to do to solve a problem right away, but then need to fine-tune your approach to actually move ahead. Quite often you'll see exactly what needs to be done, but you have to go through the motions with something else before the game allows you to proceed. Right at the beginning, for instance, you immediately figure out that you'll need to use whiskey in the peeing toy puppy to take out the lemur (don't ask). But the game insists on you trying this trick with water first before allowing you to use the booze. Also, you frequently have to do the exact same thing two or even three times. The dumb army grunt by the beach, for example, has to be conned into climbing a tree twice so you can swipe his photo and his truck. Although the travels and travails of Brian Basco go on for a good 15 hours, you get tired of his trip well before that.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment about Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle, though, is that there is probably a solid adventure buried under all the teen-girl posturing and awful dialogue. Even though the game has a lot of problems, it's got an undeniable spirit about it that at least communicates the developers' love for their work, as well as a great appreciation for classic adventure games from the late '80s and early '90s. That's something to praise, even if the actual game is an also-ran.