“An adventure game is a video game in which the player assumes the role of protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving instead of physical challenge. The genre's focus on story allows it to draw heavily from other narrative-based media such as literature and film, encompassing a wide variety of literary genres. Nearly all adventure games are designed for a single player, since this emphasis on story and character makes multi-player design difficult” (Wikipedia)
Just thought I clear up any potential confusion before you click away from this page in disgust thinking it's some of kind of a sick twisted joke. So take a deep breath; it’s actually only a review for an adventure game. Ad-ven-ture: Such games are rather strange phenomena nowadays and can only be sighted after the right set of circumstances comes about – creativity, talent, storytelling, nostalgia, not caring that you're moving to your parent’s basement after you ship the game out – that sort of thing.
"….the adventure gets significantly more ridiculous as you progress, which is really the charm of The Next Big Thing."
Based on the fact that Pendulo Studios have been developing adventure games for more than a decade, it's more like a basement slash development studio for them. And now that we've refreshed our memories (and made fun of the sad state of adventure gaming) we can move on to more cheerful matters such as the big Hollywood mansion where The Next Big Thing begins. Actually it’s at the parking lot next to it, and so are our two reporters, Liz Allaire and Dan Murray, who are loafing around after the big ball of William FitzRandolph, the owner of MKO film studios. He specializes in horror films, except that in this parallel universe he probably doesn't employ makeup artists or CGI specialists, since his monsters are in fact quite real. What's even more bizarre is that one of them, a certain fellow known as Big Albert, is seen by our two reporters acting suspiciously and breaking into FitzRandolph's office. From that point on it’s up to you to solve the mystery, and the adventure gets significantly more ridiculous as you progress, which is really the charm of The Next Big Thing.
Dan Murray who apparently is quite the guy according to most people. Most people doesn't include Liz Allaire, however, who is not sure if Murray is a bigger jerk than he is an idiot. You get to decide for yourself as you switch back and forth between these two during the adventure, though not as often as the back and forth they perform themselves. The main characters are well developed with their own unique personalities which is really important in this genre, but it goes beyond them to everything else in the game thanks to the great dialogue and writing. Even the descriptions of items you collect, or objects of interest seen around the scenery, are all presented in a way which reflects the person that is Murray or Allaire. There are conversations which are humorous, or pointless, or ridiculous, or insightful, and all are voiced in a manner that makes you want to listen rather than skip. In fact you’ll be probably coming back for more since subsequent inquiries often produce new dialogue, depending on what you've already done.
Even with all of the dialogue the puzzles themselves are almost entirely item based, and conversations just act as triggers or offer clues. TNBT is one of those games where if you remain focused and read what’s on the screen you shouldn't be in a situation where you'd look for a walkthrough. I'd say the gameplay is in that perfect spot between frustrating and too easy, which is for what all adventure games should strive. In case you’re playing with a hangover, however, there's a two tier hint system at your disposal. You can press a button to reveal the location of all interactive objects on the screen, and if this isn’t enough, you can opt to see a clue showing what your next step should be. Rather than explicitly telling you go here and do this, the clue is actually a clue and still requires a bit of thought to make it useful. Plus, as if we needed further proof that Pendulo know what they're doing, everything in the game is skippable: dialogue, cutscenes, and even movement. I often dreaded the waste of time known as walking when trying to come with a solution to a puzzle, requiring me not only to visit all areas of a game again, but also painfully watch my character do it. The Next Big Thing allows you to really quicken your pace, making you actually try and crack the puzzles yourself, and use the hint system only as a last resort.
"In short, the whole experience is about as good as it gets right now."
Like most adventure games TNBT is structured in chapters, but unlike most, these chapters are made of checkpoints, which are clearly shown to you as a diagram accessible any time from the menu. These would the equivalent of objectives in a first person shooter and work in pretty much the same way. They allow you to proceed in a focused way with a clear goal in mind, rather than aimlessly walk around trying to guess what’s to be done next. The whole game tries to avoid frustration, while being as entertaining as possible, and I’d say it’s very successful. The interface is slick and the controls intuitive, the dialogue and writing are top notch, the plot and puzzles entertaining, the characters are likable and interesting, the length is just right and doesn’t drag on. In short, the whole experience is about as good as it gets right now.
TNBT is presented in a very stylish manner, and at times you'd think you're watching an animated movie rather than playing a game. It has that familiar cartoon look to it but at the same time feels realistic. The backgrounds and the interface are of very high quality, and the characters are cel-shaded so they fit perfectly into the scenes. Add to that the great audio package and the only thing preventing this being a full audio visual masterpiece is the hit-and-miss (mostly miss) lip synching and the somewhat stiff character animations. Those however are really minor gripes which one soon forgets when having so much fun with everything else in the game. The second to last chapter alone is worth the price of admission; here the developers really went all out in terms of creativity and humor.
What works in such an unsaturated market is that any half decent product released will be welcomed by fans of the genre. The Next Big Thing however is not half decent; it's only the best adventure game I’ve played in the past few years. The developers didn't just make a game where simply being available makes it stand out, it was made as if it was competing against Monkey Island 8 in some parallel universe, where not only monsters are real and well paid movie stars, but where adventure gaming is so popular that if you want to be successful you have to try your hardest, or else the kids would rather buy the four headed monkey DLC (and get the options menu half off). Well, Pandelos Studios still tried their hardest anyway, and The Next Big Thing delivers, big time.