Here are some of the things I did while waiting for this blazingly fast 1x-speed CD-ROM to load a level:
- Learned to speak Japanese.
- Read a surgery “how-to” book and removed my spleen. Next loading screen: put it back in.
- Caught up on the Encyclopedia Britannica. But only A through W.
- Watched the miniseries Roots. All of it. Twice.
- Got drunk, got in my car to get more beer, got in a wreck, got arrested for a DUI, went to court, went to jail, served my time, got out, slipped and fell, went into a coma, woke up two months later and came home. Still loading.
Now that we’ve gotten the jokes out of the way, let me say this: wow. The Adventures of Willy Beamish. You remember this one. I know you do. This was one of the first CD games out on computers when we finally made that leap from floppy disk to CD-ROM. This was one to show off to your friends. “Look, guys! It’s got speech!” It was created by a company called Dynamix, itself an offshoot of Sierra. They also did the excellent Rise of the Dragon on Sega CD.
Willy Beamish is about a boy and his frog. It revolves around three days where you travel the city (diner, Plumber’s union, evil mansion, pier, etc.), find objects to use on other objects, and talk to people to advance the story through hours of spoken dialog. Willy’s dad gets fired right at the beginning, and he ends up working for the evil corporation Tootsweet. Tootsweet has a nefarious plan to take over the city and let Willy’s dad take the fall. It’s up to Willy to find out what’s going on, and while he’s at it, practice for the upcoming Nintari championship, enter his frog into a frog-jumping contest, and win over the girl he likes. That’s pretty much it.
But talk about gorgeous graphics. Hand-drawn and animated, the backgrounds of these locations are lush masterpieces. The character designs, unfortunately, suck balls. Willy himself is such a damn product of his time he might as well travel around via pogo-ball while singing Milli Vanilli.
Well, we all know how this game plays (point-and-click), so I’m just going to detail some of the more interesting and bizarre sequences I encountered while traveling down memory lane with this game:
* At certain points, the ghost of your dead grandfather appears, dressed from head to toe in a fruity train conductor outfit complete with striped suspenders and creepy old-style conductor hat. How grandpa died is never really explained, although I’d like to think his family killed him because he wouldn’t change his clothes.
* Okay, get this: it’s the beginning of Day Two and your totally hot older sister Tiffany is upstairs taking a bath. She starts whining to your mom about needing some conditioner, so your mom tells you to go get her some. I check out a guide and discover it’s in the bathroom on the counter. Where your sister is taking her bath. Apparently the lazy bitch can’t be bothered to stand up and lean over and get it off the counter. I go upstairs, into the bathroom and toss her the conditioner. Ahhh, but then I have to get the key to my Nintari system from her, so I open my backpack and click on my toad Horny and he goes flying off into the bathtub to divert her attention. She freaks and stands up COMPLETELY NAKED IN FRONT OF HER TEN-YEAR-OLD BROTHER. She makes no move to cover herself; she’s just pissed about Horny. Now, I’m all for incest; I think it brings a family much closer; I just thought she’d, you know, have a little shame or something. Oh, and it made me want to hump my TV screen, too.
* The tree house that I share with my carefully cultural friends puts Swiss Family Robinson’s to shame. Who built this goddamn tree mansion? Oh, and Dana—the girl I like—is a hot slut. She looks exactly like a young Holly Would from Cool World.
* When you, say, open your backpack and try to click on something to use it, there is absolutely no corresponding beep or boop or click or noise to let you know the button has connected successfully. Couple that with the fact that it takes literally 10-25 seconds for anything to happen, and your guess is as good as mine as to whether your game froze or you just discovered you have the ability to stop time.
* Here’s a scene that gave me goddamn nightmares. Late in Day Two, you end up with a babysitter. You’re at the table eating macaroni and cheese, and out of nowhere, your tasty mac and cheese turns into a bowl of squirming maggots. You throw it in her face and she transforms from a kindly young woman into a hell-fire shrieking devil bat that chases you around the house trying to eat your yummy little-boy soul. It took me 11 tries to click on the correct pixel to suck her into the vacuum cleaner. Do you know how many resets and, consequently, large chunks of my life that was wasted staring at the loading screens?
We’ve all played games like these before: King’s Quest, Monkey Island, Gabriel Knight, Full Throttle. The list goes on and on. Willy Beamish isn’t quite in their leagues, but it is a stupendously fun game.
These games are all about story, immersion and brain-busting puzzles, and for its time, Willy Beamish accomplished this with the added power of actual voices into the games—something we’d only dreamed of until then. Any younger readers probably won’t understand why this was such a huge deal, but it pulled us into the game like nothing else, left us slack-jawed staring at our televisions and doing a comical ear-cleaning motion with our pinkie fingers. Dynamix—like a lot of the great adventure companies—is dead and buried today, but the impression they left is a lasting one. The arrival of the CD generation was a massive stepping stone in the industry, and titles like Willy Beamish helped nudge it along one wonderful, addicting adventure at a time.