What if I told you that someone had lovingly crafted a brash, funny, and original tribute to the adventure games of 20 years ago? Now what if I told you it was free? Despite being a no-holds-barred homage to classic LucasArts adventures, Ben There, Dan That! offers up a unique sense of humor and story-telling that should appeal to every grown up gamer. Despite inspiration, this is a game that stands on its own two feet.
The adventure begins with the most humble of problems; roommates Ben and Dan want to sit down in front of the telly and watch Magnum PI. Their antenna, however, was damaged when they needed to dismantle it to use the parts in a previous adventure. Their attempts to assemble a makeshift replacement accidentally leads to an alien abduction, which in turn leads to a romp through a variety of alternate dimensions as they attempt to find their way home. Expect to visit a variety of twists on London, including a zombie London, a dinosaur London, and even a London where England has become the 51st state. As you’ve likely gathered, hilarity ensues.
In a lot of ways, Ben There, Dan That! is a love letter to the classic LucasArts adventures of the early nineties. The humor, personalities, and game design all draw clear inspiration from classics like Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. But this inspiration goes well past game design. Many direct references to classic LucasArts franchises are made in the context of the story. Ben and Dan cover their living room windows with posters from Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max and Full Throttle. When appropriate, the pair will drop quotes that should stick out in the mind of any old school gamer. You can’t help but chuckle the first time you hear classic LucasArts lines like "you fight like a cow" coming out of the mouths of these ragtag heroes.
The game frequently breaks the fourth wall, making jokes about the poor animation and the blatant hint-giving. Within the confines of the story, Ben and Dan are working on designing an adventure game. It becomes pretty obvious through the course of the game that they’re designing the game you’re playing. They also make frequent and disparaging remarks about Gibbage, a game that the team at Zombie Cow Studios had released well before Ben There, Dan That!
The comedy in the story never misses a beat, and offers up a perfect blend of self-referential humor and story-specific gags. The team behind this (as well as their on-screen counterparts) are distinctly British, and it really comes through in the writing. If you’re a fan of the way the English do their comedy, Ben There, Dan That! will have you in stitches.
Depending on your comfort level, some gamers may find the humor a little racy. While there’s no nudity, there are occasional moments of profanity and adult situations. Murder plays a role in the game, and eventually becomes something of a running joke. Despite the tongue-in-cheek approach towards killing, the cavalier attitude towards death and occasional moments of blood splatter might be a little inappropriate or intense for some audiences. Despite being influenced by family-friendly classics, Ben There, Dan That! is a game that is probably best left to adults (or at least those comfortable with adult humor).
While the game features sound effects, it lacks any type of musical score. This is somewhere that adventure games usually excel, so it was a bit of a let down to go through the process hearing little more than the pitter patter of feet and the occasional context appropriate sounder. The only other complaint to be had is with the length. The adventure itself can be completed in a little over four hours, and it leaves you wanting more. Had this been the introductory episode in a three or five part episodic release, it would have been the perfect size.
But who’s to say it’s not? The team at Zombie Cow Studios have already released a follow-up adventure, Time Gentleman, Please! Should things continue along this route, there’s a chance that we’re going to have a sizable Ben and Dan story that adventure gamers will be talking about for years to come.