The Next Big Thing is an outrageously funny, beautifully drawn adventure game
Never in my life did I think I’d encounter a lead heroine who would randomly spout nonsense like “Vegetable Soup” mid-conversation or threaten people with the fact she had taken a refrigerator head on. Then again, neither did I think I would encounter a game like The Next Best Thing. To say that Pendulo Studios’ new animated point-and-click adventure is hilarious would be to miss the perfect opportunity to call it “completely, mind-bendingly insane.”
In a good way, of course.
Should the video game industry ever lose its appeal, I foresee a bright future for Pendulo Studios in the realm of film and television. Lush, hand-drawn graphics and cinematic moments run rampant in the Next Best Thing. The cel-shaded characters are gorgeously well-done: an enticing mix of comic-book inspired artwork, realism and a dose of 1970s’ sensibilities. The music is unobtrusive but eloquent, unremarkable for the most part save for its ability to compose the mood. As for the voice acting, I’m slightly divided in regards to my opinion of it. On one hand, it can occasionally feel desperately overwrought with Liz’s mania and Dan’s hard-boiled attitude. On the other, the Next Big Thing was at least partially inspired by 70s’ horror flicks, a place and time where bad acting is common place.
Regardless of first impressions, it’s difficult not to develop an immediate fondness for the motley cast. There is something unapologetic about their portrayal, something that makes them all-too-easy to relate to. From the fly-man scientist who seems acutely aware of his own loathsomeness to the insecure and oblivious bit-actor, there’s something distinctively human about each of the characters. The leads aren’t too bad either though I’d hesitate to call them the main attraction. Liz Allaire feels every inch the lunatic others call her, volatile and wild and filled with an unflinching ambition. Dan Murray is the classic ‘tough guy’ though I find the presence of a soft center somewhat questionable; he definitely makes no excuses for his love of violence and flippant kleptomania.
Of course, where would such memorable entities be without a decent storyline? Set in a world not unalike ours, The Next Best Thing takes a tongue-in-cheek look at Hollywood and all the politics that lie behind the glitzy exterior. Naturally, there’s a twist. As the Next Big Thing open, we find that make-up artists are unnecessary in the wake of actual monster stars. Death, the Chupacabra, vampires, Martians – they’re all real and all very, very drunk at movie mogul William FitzRandolph’s house party for the elite. It is here that the plot begins when Liz Allaire and Dan Murray catch a glimpse of a monster infiltrating their host’s office. After Dan makes the mistake of letting Liz investigate alone and subsequently disappearing, he is promptly dragged into a sticky situation.
Having said that, the plot feels less like an actual plot than it does an excuse for some of the game’s more ridiculous encounters. Though it might just perplex the more conservative, those inclined towards morbid humor and the outright bizarre will likely find themselves spontaneously bursting into laughter on a constant basis. As much as I’d like to throw examples at you, it’d probably detract from the experience to know anything before hand. The dialog can meander from time to time, but it’s an amusing touch and lead to the silliest conversations, all of which adds to the experience.
Controls are what you expect from a point-and-click adventure. Bear in mind, however, the left mouse button is mainly used to look at things while it is the right mouse button that will switch to the most relevant action, something that took me a few tries to learn. A lot of the puzzles seem inventory-based; you’ll either spend your time combining things or acquiring them from one location to use them elsewhere. There are a few sequences that will involve dialogue and surprisingly enough, more than one that demands real-world ingenuity and logic.
Outrageously funny, beautifully drawn and filled with the most eccentric entities in modern memory, there’s so much to like about the Next Best Thing. With the elegantly-done cut scenes, erudite narrator and a hundred little details to make it perfect, I can’t help but think that Pendulo Studios’ newest title will definitely live up to its name. If you’re a fan of the genre and a disciple of the weird, you will want to join Liz and Dan on this gorgeous adventure into the world of monster movies.