I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but there haven’t been any good adventure games released since the Y2K bug was something people legitimately feared. A few hundred World War II shooters have been released (a day) since then, and I’m pretty sure at least 18 versions of Madden Football are released annually; but the only “bone” we adventure gamers are thrown are action-oriented games with a few haphazard puzzles thrown in. Which, of course, is entirely what we don’t want.
Enter Telltale Games. They’ve got this idea—it’s crazy, but hear me out on this—to actually make quality adventure games. Something no one has the rocks to do anymore.
The series is called Bone, and it’s based on the graphic novels of the same name by Jeff Smith. Telltale is releasing one “chapter” of the game every six months or so (sort of like what Bandai did with .hack), so with each new purchase you’re not really getting a full story. I actually started the series on this, the second chapter, and I found it (try to follow me on this) to be roughly like starting a book on the second chapter.
The game’s story follows the adventures of Fone Bone, a character whose only defining trait is that he appears to be an actual bone. He and his cousins Phony Bone and Smiley Bone (no, seriously) were kicked out of their home town of Boneville (really) in the last chapter, and in this chapter, Phony’s trying to swindle the local yokels out of their hard-earned eggs while Fone’s trying to win the heart of a fair, non-bone maiden.
Got all that? OK, so the story’s a little goofy, but since it’s licensed material, we can’t reaaaallly hold that against the developers. And once you get passed all the boning (or if you can just cast it aside all together), you’ll find a cute lil’ story held together well by quality puzzles.
Like in Day of the Tentacle, you actually play as three different characters in The Great Cow Race, switching off among the bones at your leisure. It gives you something else to do if you’re stuck on one character’s puzzle, though many puzzles require one bone to do something before another bone can do something else. And if you have trouble figuring any of the puzzles out, The Great Cow Race features what is quite possibly the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in an adventure game: a built-in hint file. It gives you successive hints, each revealing more than the one before until it flat-out tells you what you need to do. After having played this game, I’m not sure how I can live without it.
Major props go out to the good folks at Telltale for not giving in to the peer pressure of their dim-witted adventure game contemporaries—your control scheme is point-and-click, rather than the keyboard scheme many nuevo (a Spanish word meaning “insane”) adventure developers have been forcing upon their gamers. It works great, as it always has. The only time you’ll even touch your keyboard is if you’re pressing the space bar to skip dialogue or a cutscene, and I couldn’t be much happier.
Telltale also left action/stealth elements completely out of their game, because apparently they’re total geniuses. I can’t believe it’s taken us this many bad adventure games to realize action shouldn’t be anywhere near them, but I’m glad we’re finally over that hurdle. They did throw in a few minigames, which sent up a red flag for me. Minigames in adventure games typical fall into at least one of three categories: too hard, too dumb, and too far removed from the pointing and the clicking. The minigames in The Great Cow Race lean toward the dumb side, though I was happy to put my custodial background to some use in what I believe is the first ever mopping minigame. Still, I could do without them.
The game’s style and sense of humor oftentimes seem more suited for wee younglings than adults, but it’s not like there’s a lot else out there you can play. Truth be told, if this game was released in the 90s it wouldn’t be getting such a high fun rating as I’m giving it, as it would’ve had actual competition then, and to beat that competition it would need to ditch the Bone story entirely and either find a new license or create its own IP. But in 2006, I’m willing to put up with bad jokes if i get a good adventure game.
I will say this, though: I’m not at all sold on the 3D graphics. As far as 3D graphics go they’re fine (if not totally super keen awesome), but I’ve always preferred Monkey Island 3’s 2D cartoony look. As this game is based on a freakin’ comic book you’d think 2D visuals would be a lock, but maybe that’s just me. Also, a few of the voices got on my nerves, but maybe the kiddies prefer a lack of realism. After all, this IS a group that considers Amanda Bynes to be a top-notch actress.
Bone left me wanting more, which, and stop me if I’m wrong here, is probably what Telltale was going for. So, kudos! The next chapter won’t be released until the end of this year or so, so now’s the time to at least check out the first two games and catch up on what you’ve been missing. Plus, you can Try Before You Buy—right here, at Telltale’s official Web site. You can also buy the game right there and install it directly onto your computer. Actually, that’s the only way you can buy the game; you’re not gonna find this baby in stores.
Technically, Bone: The Great Cow Race is a step back for the adventure genre as a whole—which means it’s a step in the right direction. We’re finally getting away from what adventure games have become, and we’re getting back to what made them fun in the first place. While I can’t completely recommend a purchase of Bone: The Great Cow race (even its lowered price of $12.99 per chapter seems a little steep for around five hours of gameplay), if you like this style of games you should check it out.