clush's The Next BIG Thing (PC) review

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Exactly how big are we talking, here?


The game's colorful cast
Two years after wrapping up their critically acclaimed Runaway trilogy, the Spanish point-and-click veterans of Pendulo Studios bring us their next big thing: The Next Big Thing (TNBT). Sequel to the 1997  Hollywood Monsters (the game is known as Hollywood Monsters 2 in Spain) TNBT takes the player on an adventure through an alternate universe in which monsters freely go about their business... and their business is acting.  

Investigation Team, go!

The game starts off when two newspaper reporters, the young and naive Liz and the cool, hardboiled Dan, after attending the annual Horror Movie Awards show witness monster-moviestar Big Albert entering the office of famous monster flick producer mr. Fitzrandolph... through a window. Eager to embark on investigative journalism instead of simple reporting, Liz is determined to get to the bottom of whatever is going on. What follows is a mad tale laden with (quite literally) colorful characters, intrigue, kidnapping and love.

Dis... concerting
  One of the first things players will notice is how little TNBT troubles itself with properly introducing the main characters or setting up the gameworld. Although it doesn't take too long before things become clearer, more than once in the first couple of levels I found myself feeling like I started watching a movie twenty minutes in. When we first meet Liz and Dan they're bickering about something that's never cleared up, one of the first conversations in the game centers around an interview that we never saw happened and even the conversational running gags (of which this game has quite a lot) when first encountered are delivered as if the player should already be aware of them. All in all it makes for an interesting narrative technique and none of this poses too big a problem, but it does require players to pay close attention in the opening chapters of the game.

At this point I should probably admit that I have not in fact played Hollywood Monsters so maybe I am actually missing some things. It sure felt like it on some occasions. However, requiring players to have played a little known adventure from fourteen years ago in order to fully grasp what exactly is going on does seem a little ill-conceived.

Oh TNBT, you so crazy!

Checking out the game's statistics offers some interesting insights...
  Other than the initial struggle of getting up to speed with the characters and the world the game does a pretty great job as far as storytelling is concerned. That is not to say the story itself isn't batshit crazy, because it is, but the game features a lot of interestingly eccentric characters with a lot of personality. Combined with TNBT's witty writing and snappy speech delivery, the conversations are an area in which TNBT definitely excels. The actual storyline is, to say the least, a bit random, but amusingly so. Over the course of the game players will find themselves inside a storage room, an Egyptian-themed theater, a zeppelin, a secret underground lab... even Liz's... peculiar mind sets the stage at some points.

With the crazy storyline and the crazy world being what they are, it is a pretty amazing feat Pendulo still manages to make the puzzles and their solutions seem more or less logical. I have seen this game being criticized on account of packing ridiculous puzzles with even more ridiculous solutions, but in my experience, barring two very specific instances, TNBT's puzzles consistently hit the sweet spot between providing a challenge without being frustratingly difficult. The two exceptions to this rule are a puzzle concerning hieroglyphic grammar and one in which the player has to produce a tango with an orchestra of flowers, which are just plain ridiculous.

Need a hand?

If the player does find himself stuck on a certain puzzle, on the easy difficulty setting the game offers a rather neat help system in which the game's narrator recalls 'what happened next'. On top of that, a very useful hotspot button highlights all hotspots on whichever screen the player happens to be. On medium difficulty the narrator's help is inaccessible, and on hard one has to do without the hotspot highlighting as well. I had little serious trouble completing the game on medium, but if one can restrain oneself to only use the help button as a last resort I'd recommend playing on easy, which should eliminate any need for having a walkthrough handy (with the exception of the aforementioned two puzzles of doom).

The checkpoints screen
Another welcome aid in unraveling the mystery is the checkpoint button, which when pushed presents the player with a screen on which the path to progress is mapped out. Very useful when you find yourself unsure which direction to go, the checkpoint screen provides the player with an overview of what currently needs doing and why.

Now! In full HD!

Visually, TNBT offers nothing special. It being a point and click adventure, surely no-one expected otherwise. The drawing is neatly done and the art does what it needs to do. Characters neatly blend with the hand-drawn backgrounds. Pendulo makes a rather big deal out of TNBT being playable in full HD, but although that might be a novelty in the adventure genre, in 2011, should we expect any less? Also it should be noted that although the gameplay might be in HD, the video sequences are not. For a game actively advertising as being in full HD, this is a bit of a bummer.

What music there is is rather good, I never felt the urge to slide down the music volume slider and put on my own music as I often do. Like any good background music, you barely notice it's there. Although that could also be because on a number of occasions it actually wásn't there. I'm not sure if I am dealing with a bug on my end, but I did notice the music being altogether gone a couple of times. The voice-acting is great. What with TNBT featuring a largely conversation driven story, this is all the better. The actors really succeed in giving personality to the characters and barring one or two misses (Professor Fly comes to mind... he's annoying) deliver good performances across the board.

Surely not THAT big?!

Playing on medium I completed the game in about 7 hours, which felt rather short. Especially considering the game's price point, which is the last thing I'll discuss in this review. For some strange reason Focus Home Interactive decided it would be a good idea to offer the game for $30,- in the US, while asking €40,- in Europe. At the current exchange rate, this means Europeans are paying twice as much as Americans for the same product. Although since steam uniformed their prices Europeans might be getting used to getting screwed over, this still seems rather outrageous. To be honest, even $30,- strikes me as a little steep for a digital download of this game, which doesn't offer too many hours of gameplay to begin with.

All in all, The Next Big Thing is a fun little adventure game which fans of the genre should definitely check out. But you might want to wait until it's a bit more reasonably priced. Don't pay €40,- for this, but keep an eye out for pricedrops, as it's definitely a fun game.
7 Comments
Posted by clush

I actually meant to give 3 stars, must've miss-clicked... 3 stars at current price point, 4 when it drops to, say $25. Not that it really matters...

Edited by President_Barackbar
@clush said:

" I actually meant to give 3 stars, must've miss-clicked... 3 stars at current price point, 4 when it drops to, say $25. Not that it really matters... "

Well then I'd say the 3.5 makes sense, halfway between a 3 and a 4. Very well written as well.
Posted by KarlPilkington

It's called The Next Big Thing, yet you call it TBNT throughout?

Posted by Hashbrowns
@Chabbs0 said:
"
                It's called The Next Big Thing, yet you call it TBNT throughout?
            "

Dis...con...certing.
Edited by clush
@Chabbs0 said:

" It's called The Next Big Thing, yet you call it TBNT throughout? "

Wow. You're right. It's not even a typo... Been saying TBNT in my head as well. In fact it took me 30 seconds to figure out what you were going on about. How weird is that. Thanks, I'll edit it right away.

@Hashbrowns said:

" Dis...con...certing. "

Heh heh heh, what a guy!

Posted by Legend

The game is indeed a sequel to Hollywood Monsters, but it's similar to the Final Fantasy games where each game in the series is more of a "spiritual successor" than a direct sequel. I liked how they jumped straight into the story without bothering to waste too much time to introduce the characters. You learn about the characters through observing their actions and interacting with them, which is far more interesting imo.

As for the two difficult puzzles you mentioned, both were frustrating at first, I agree, but when you spend a bit of time to look for the solution, they are not too difficult to solve. I managed to solve them with no need for a guide.  Although, I'm now interested to hear your opinion about adventure games like Machinarium where TNBT's puzzles seem like child's play in comparison. :)

Regarding the visuals, I honestly haven't seen an adventure game that looks as good on my HDTV as this one. Yeah, HD has become standard these days, but we're talking full 1080p HD here and this is an adventure game for the PC. I find it really weird that you think this game offers nothing special visually. Can you name any other adventure game that looks better or even as good as this one?

I'm not sure why the game is more expensive in Europe, but from what I hear most games are expensive there. I bought it for $30 on Steam and it came with the first two Runaway games for free; that's pretty good value if you ask me. I do wish the game was longer, but most adventure games I've played were short (6-9 hours), so I can't say I didn't expect it to be a bit on the short side, too.
 
This is a good review, overall. Personally, I think the game deserves 4 out of 5 at its current price mainly because it's a bit short as I mentioned, and there were a few elements of the story that I didn't like, but if it ever goes on sale for less than $20 it totally deserves 5 out 5. Keep in mind that this is an adventure game which is a genre of limited appeal, so to people who do enjoy this genre I would say this is an amazing "must-play" game.

Posted by clush
@Legend said:
" The game is indeed a sequel to Hollywood Monsters, but it's similar to the Final Fantasy games where each game in the series is more of a "spiritual successor" than a direct sequel. I liked how they jumped straight into the story without bothering to waste too much time to introduce the characters. You learn about the characters through observing their actions and interacting with them, which is far more interesting imo.

I did point out that it makes for an interesting narrative technique, I just don't think they made the most of it executionwise. I see what they were trying to do and for the most part appreciate it, too. But with a world that's as interesting as TNBT's they could've done so much more than simply present us with one story, that's rather arbitrarily cut off on both the beginning and the end. For instance, I think it's a shame we didn't get to see anything that went down at the Death Chickens gala. It would've been both hilarious and a fitting introduction to the rest of the game. The way they did do it, it is definitely intriguing as anyone will be wanting to find out more about everyone, but on the other hand it really is the quick and easy (or cheap) option and despite of what it brings to the table, feels a little rushed.

@Legend said:

" As for the two difficult puzzles you mentioned, both were frustrating at first, I agree, but when you spend a bit of time to look for the solution, they are not too difficult to solve. I managed to solve them with no need for a guide.  Although, I'm now interested to hear your opinion about adventure games like Machinarium where TNBT's puzzles seem like child's play in comparison. :)"
Overall, the puzzles weren't too hard, which suits me fine, really. But that's also probably the reason the two puzzles stumped me, they're unlike anything else in the game. With the flowers puzzle, I knew exactly what to do but couldn't pull it off. I thought I was failing on the rhythm part when actually it was something completely different that I was doing wrong: the game never tells you can't turn off a wrong flower unless it's the only one running. The grammar puzzle I could've maybe figured out in the long run, but with it being the only puzzle in which the fourth wall is broken, it would've taken me ages. All other puzzles take place and make sense in the actual game world. Instead of being like "of course! why didn't I think of that?" I was like "meh, whatever" after having looked up the respective solutions.

@Legend said:

"Regarding the visuals, I honestly haven't seen an adventure game that looks as good on my HDTV as this one. Yeah, HD has become standard these days, but we're talking full 1080p HD here and this is an adventure game for the PC. I find it really weird that you think this game offers nothing special visually. Can you name any other adventure game that looks better or even as good as this one? "
Probably not. But then, I can't think of any adventures that have been in development for 2 years or that's being offered for $60 (I'm European ;) ). The graphics are functional and the art does a decent job of maintaining the atmosphere throughout the game, but never was I blown away by anything or did I think to myself "wow, this looks great". I'll agree with you that the graphics are up there with the best of the genre, but with a genre mainly consisting of indie releases and Telltale run-of-the-mills, I'll stick to my opinion that they do what can be expected of them... no more, no less.

@Legend said:

" This is a good review, overall. Personally, I think the game deserves 4 out of 5 at its current price mainly because it's a bit short as I mentioned, and there were a few elements of the story that I didn't like, but if it ever goes on sale for less than $20 it totally deserves 5 out 5. Keep in mind that this is an adventure game which is a genre of limited appeal, so to people who do enjoy this genre I would say this is an amazing "must-play" game. "
Thanks duder. I wholeheartedly agree, anyone who's ever enjoyed an adventure game should definitely play this. I'll even go as far as to say this title is a great opportunity for anyone who doesn't know adventure games to broaden their gaming horizon. It's very accessible and very fun. Just not necessarily worth the price they're asking for it.

Thanks for the feedback, it's much appreciated.

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