Bone First Look
The adventure veterans at Telltale Games are bringing Jeff Smith's cult-classic comic book to a PC near you. We take a look at this promising adaptation.
The adventure genre has been on the PC's endangered species list for years now. One hallowed, imaginative franchise after another has faded into obscurity, while legions of cookie-cutter shooters and strategy games rule the shelves. Last year's cancellation of Sam and Max: Freelance Police came as a particularly hard blow, given the adventure community's deep affection for the indelible characters, bizarre situations, and quirky narrative of the original game, Sam and Max Hit the Road. Their game scuttled and their work scrapped, the Freelance Police team left LucasArts to pursue new opportunities in game development.
Luckily, the team chose to stick with what its members know best: adventure games. It should hearten even the most disenfranchised adventure fan to learn that Telltale Games--the company that resulted from the Sam and Max fallout, which includes members who worked on Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, The Dig, and more than one Monkey Island--is hard at work on a point-and-click adventure in the traditional style based on another beloved comic franchise, Jeff Smith's Bone. The game will follow the storyline of the comics almost to the letter, letting fans both explore the environments and interact with the characters that make up the Bone canon. Oh, and it'll be available for a budget price directly from Telltale, via digital distribution, in a manner not unlike that little game called Half-Life 2. Sound enticing? Read on.
Telltale is planning to release Bone in an episodic format, with the first installment based on Smith's first book in the series, Out From Boneville. The story follows the three hapless cousins Bone--the good guy, Fone Bone; the greedy schemer, Phoney Bone; and the lovable goofball, Smiley Bone--as they trek across a wide range of environments, from an arid desert to a lush (and then quickly snow-covered) valley, after being expelled from their hometown of Boneville. Along the way, they'll encounter vicious rat creatures, the enigmatic giant red dragon, giant bugs, the lovely Thorn, and the mysterious Gran'ma Ben, to name just a few of the strange personalities that populate the comic.
We got to see a short gameplay sequence from the beginning of the story, when Smiley, Phoney, and Fone are wandering aimlessly in the desert, desperate for water and some sense of direction. Much of the humorous dialogue in the game will be taken verbatim from the comic, though the team has padded conversations out in certain areas where dictated by puzzles. We noticed some situations in the game were likewise extended out to act as puzzles. For instance, the player (controlling Fone Bone) had to convince Phoney to give Smiley a dollar in exchange for a map of the area. Bone will facilitate character interaction with a dialogue tree that presents you with several choices of what to say to a given character. In some cases, you'll even be able to choose which character you talk to next, which ought to give the conversations a pretty natural, fluid feel.
In pure mechanical terms, Bone will tread familiar territory for adventure game aficionados with its context-sensitive point-and-click interface. Click an area on the ground, and the currently controllable character will walk to it. Hover the cursor over and click on an object you can look at or interact with, and your character will perform the appropriate interaction. The game gives you an inventory in which to gather objects, but Telltale stresses that Bone won't rely on contrived inventory puzzles requiring you to combine obscure objects with one another. Instead, you'll be tasked with overcoming obstacles using the items and abilities on hand in a given situation, which will presumably make you think creatively about the game's puzzles rather than turning to the nearest FAQ for the solution.
Bone will even contain a handful of action-oriented minigames to break up the puzzle-solving every once in a while. We saw one sequence near the beginning in which the Bones had to flee from a marauding swarm of locusts, and the player had to quickly click to steer Fone through a bunch of rocky obstacles while keeping him away from the big bad bugs at the same time.
From what we've seen, Bone isn't the flashiest PC game ever made, but what it lacks in technical prowess it seems to more than make up for with expressive artwork and charming presentation. The characters and environments have a sparsely detailed look that fits in nicely with the art in the books, and the animation has an expressive, cartoonlike quality to it. This game marks the first time the characters of Bone have been voiced, and we were pleased to hear that the casting in the game seems quite solid. The voice-overs in the build we saw matched the visuals in expressiveness and helped to suitably characterize the Bones and their friends, making the game feel even more like an interactive cartoon bearing the unique Bone trademark.
Anyone who's looking to fulfill their jones for a new adventure game won't have long to wait, because the first chapter of Bone will be available in September from Telltale's own distribution service, called Telltale Now, for what seems like quite a reasonable $20. Telltale plans to gauge fan response to this first chapter and then will consider producing new episodes based on the subsequent entries in the comic book series. And with nine volumes in total, Bone's video game future may be rosy indeed.
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