Hands-On Preview: The Next Big Thing (PC)

Pendulo Studios is best known for 2001’s Runaway: A Road Adventure – one of the last truly big point and click adventure games for the PC. Since then adventure games have kind of fallen to the wayside and become a niche genre. While studios like Telltale Games bring the genre back to mainstream attention every so often, the vast majority of adventure games are either ignored or completely missed by the average gamer. How many even knew that Runaway received two sequels – one in 2006 and one in 2009? Hell, I’m a huge point and click fan and I haven’t even played either, but at least I knew they were out there. Unfortunately I was just too busy reviewing a lot of other games to touch them. However I was determined to make time for The Next Big Thing which releases at 6pm EST on April 20th. Of course that happens to be the week Mortal Kombat comes out, along with Red Johnson’s Chronicles (another adventure game) and I just got in the Broken Mirror II and III set from Viva Media, so it appeared that The Next Big Thing was going to be pushed off like other Pendulo Studios games, much to my chargin. Thankfully on April 14th, Focus Home Interactive, the publisher of The Next Big Thing released a fully playable demo of the game. This demo gives you the first half an hour or so of playtime from The Next Big Thing and gave me a chance to see if the game would be one I’d be picking up right away, or if I’ll have to put it off like Baron Wittard until a time when my review queue is a little lighter in the load department.

The first thing I should say about The Next Big Thing is that the game just throws you in without any real explanation of the world or the premise of the game. So the fact that this is actually a sequel to their 1997 game Hollywood Monsters may throw people for a loop. Of course, I have yet to meet anyone besides myself that has even head of Hollywood Monsters, which is a shame as it was quite fun. In fact, in its native Spain, The Next Big Thing is actually called Hollywood Monsters II. In this universe monsters are all real and everyday people like you or I. They just happen to be perfect for the horror movie industry and many of them work in it. Much like Hollywood Monsters, The Next Big Thing starts off with two squabbling reporters for a Los Angeles based newspaper known as The Quill. The reporters have been sent to cover a major social event for monsters. In Hollywood Monsters it was a ball and in The Next Big Thing, it is an awards ceremony for horror movies. I have to admit I was pretty disappointed that the game used the exact same setup for both games. The demo doesn’t give you any real indication of where the plot is going, so here’s hoping TNBT isn’t to Hollywood Monsters what Teen Wolf Too was to Teen Wolf – basically the exact same thing.

Your two main characters in The Next Big Thing are Liz Allaire and Dan Murray. Liz is very career oriented, but she also seems to be either a bit deranged or psychic; maybe both. She’s excited to cover the award ceremony so that she can rise through the ranks of The Quill, but Dan Murray is less than enthusiastic about being there. Dan is a sports columnist who has been demoted to the society section of the paper for reasons we don’t quite learn in the demo. Although you’ll switch between Liz and Dan in the actually game, the demo only has you play as Liz.

What little you play of The Next Big Thing is fairly standard for the point and click genre. You have a set of conversations with Dan as well as the head of MKO Studios. Mr. Fitzrandolph. You’ll only have two real puzzles to solve – get Dan to help you distract Fitzrandolph and convince a monster named Edgar working the coat check at the party that he can be the spitting image of a major action character. Both puzzles actually interconnect as helping the coat check monster gives you the item that convinces Dan to stop drowning his sorrows in cheap hooch. Again, there wasn’t really a lot here to play through, but the puzzles were pretty paint by numbers for the genre. Although they were a bit dull, it WAS the beginning of the game so it makes sense they’d start with the trappings of the genre. Besides, the dialogue and visuals more than made up for it.

Oh yes, let’s talk about the visuals. Pendulo has always used cartoon style imagery for their graphics and each of their games has looked amazing in its day. The Next Big Thing however? It floored me with how beautifully animated this game was. The characters and background visuals alike were highly detailed and beautiful this game looked. My jaw continually dropped as I played through the demo and The Next Big Thing really is the most impressive looking game I’ve seen this year. The Next Big Thing deserves mainstream gaming journalism attention just for the visuals…but of course it won’t get it. TNBT is one of the fee high definition hand drawn video games out there and it almost feels like an interactive cartoon. I suppose younger gamers will feel about TNBT’s visuals the same way we old fogies felt about Dragon’s Lair back in the day.

Gameplay was interesting. I’m still not sure if I like it or not. Like any adventure game you use the mouse to click on people or objects. You use the right mouse button to click through options and the left to interact via the choice you have made. Instead of using the space bar to bring up all the hot spots on the screen, you have to go to the top middle of the screen and press a button to activate that option. However, if you select a higher difficulty setting, you won’t be able to select hot spots at all. Of course, that means some gamers will be left blindly clicking at things on the screen hoping you can do something, so most of you will want to play the game on the default settings provided. The “help” option is also in the top middle of the screen. If you click on this when you are stuck, the game will switch to the narrator who will provide you with a slight verbal and audio hint regarding what you should do next. I love that the game doesn’t hold your hand and that it still forces you to work for the correct solution. This means even people who aren’t used to the brain teasing puzzles that adventure games are rife with can still use the help function regularly and still feel like they have accomplished something.

The one downside to The Next Big Thing so far is the price point. The game is being released with a $29.99 price tag, which sounds reasonable for console gamers, but it may be a bit exorborant for fans of the genre. Adventure games these days run between $2.99 and $19.99, so Focus Home Interactive might be a little too optimistic with their price point. After all, Telltale’s entire Jurassic Park series goes for that price if you preorder it. Viva Media just released both Black Mirror II and III for $19.99 last week and they too are full length high budget adventure games. Only Gray Matter, which is arguably the biggest name adventure game of 2011 had a $29.99 price tag and even then, you could find it for only $19.99 within days of its actual release because that price point hurt the sales. Since the only way you can get TNBT in the states is by pre-ordering it (Even Amazon.com isn’t carrying it), that price point is going to push away a lot of adventure gamers…including myself. After all, I can get FOUR adventure games released in the past seven days for the same amount. Both Black Mirrors and Red Johnson’s Chronicles will cost me a total of $25, and that extra five dollars can be used to purchase a new release from Big Fish Games or the like. So would I rather have four new point and click games…or one? Granted I’ve really been looking forward to The Next Big Thing, but with the $29.99 price, it’s going to have to sit on the backburner until it goes on sale as well as after I have played through the three adventure games I’m already planning to review. If I’m passing on The Next Big Thing at launch and I’m one of the bigger adventure game fans around, that doesn’t bode too well for the eventual sales figures for the game. Pity. The website, Adventure Shop has a pretty sweet pre-order deal however: if you pre-order The Next Big Thing from them, you’ll recieve a free download of the first two Runaway away games as well. Nice!

Again, The Next Big Thing hits on April 20th at 6pm Eastern Standard Time and you can download the demo or pre-order it through the game’s official website. Keep your eyes here at Diehard GameFAN for my eventual review of the game.

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