Steve Ince, of Broken Sword fame, has been working as a freelance writer/developer for a few years now, perhaps most notably working on fixing The Witcher’s dodgy English. He demonstrated his way with words with the recent flawed almost-gem The Whispered World. Certainly amongst the game’s weaknesses was not the script, which Ince had redrafted for an English-speaking audience. It meant that the game shone in an area where so many translated European adventures fall short. And he’s also still making his own games, one of which he has just released for free to celebrate Ince’s having spent eighteen years in the games industry. It’s the rather excellently named Mr Smoozles Goes Nutso.
Pleasingly, it’s difficult to describe the game with a genre. You move around tiled pseudo-top-down rooms in a very Animal Crossing way, but oftentimes you’re dodging rolling mines, or weapon-wielding enemies. But just as often you’re exploring completely safe areas for items, chatting with other characters, and trying to solve the various puzzles the game sets you. There are gems to collect, reminding me of Sokoban, except there are no crates to shove. (In fact, the game makes a cheeky reference to Broken Sword IV’s rather ill-advised crate-shoving obsession.) Instead the gems are spent by your chatty computer friend, the ‘reality enabler’, to open doors, reprogram computers, etc.
You see, some naughty aliens have broken down reality, so as a blue cat, Ed, you attempt to save the lives of the other cutesy animals by restoring reality and fixing the broken mind of your friend, Mr Smoozles.
This is all based on a comic strip Ince draws, called Mr Smoozles. The strips appear on the walls throughout the game. They’re a bit odd – they often don’t even seem to try to include punchlines. But then I rarely get on with web cartoons, so presumably it’s swooping over my head. Things make a lot more sense when they’re characters in this game, which is all rather charming, really.
As you explore you’ll gather more tasks – doors to unlock, computers to find passwords for, machines that need batteries – and these will inevitably require that you complete yet more tasks. So it’s as much about exploration and item gathering as it is about dodging enemies and gathering crystals. It’s a smart game, nicely put together, and most of all, it’s now free.