Ben There, Dan That

By John Walker on July 17, 2008

Looking at you, I’d say what you need just now is an adventure game to play. Too many E3 videos and arguing in comments threads about things that ultimately just don’t matter has left you gaunt and frightened. It’s okay. It’s oooookay. Get yourself some Ben There, Dan That. (I can’t bear that they put an exclamation mark at the end of the title, so I’m pretending they didn’t – Dan, you’re a writer for heaven’s sake).

Created by Dan Marshall and his best friend Ben Ward (Zombie Cow Studios), it’s an AGS adventure which features some stand-out writing. And some pretty nifty 2D old-timey animation too. The game features, well, Dan Marshall and his best friend Ben Ward, the two of them stuck on an alien vessel after a botched attempt to fix the television to watch Magnum PI.

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It’s a sharp and funny collection of knowing and sarcastic references to the cliches of old-school adventure gaming, which is actually a fairly impressive feat. Far too many games are now collections of eye-rolling references to how silly it is to pick up everything, and the ludicrous nature of clicking the bucket on the hedgehog to make a windmill or whatever – the biggest problem being: THE GAMES FROM THE EARLY NINETIES MADE THE SAME JOKES THEN! Lordy lawks, everyone thinks they’re being so terribly clever for pointing out that a ladder can’t fit in an inside pocket, as if Space Quest wasn’t already mocking itself for this twenty years ago (yes, twenty). Anyway, point being, BTDT makes all these jokes without being patronising, or acting as if it’s genius for having thought of them. If anything, it’s the post-ironic approach, celebrating what we all already acknowledge.

Perhaps it occasionally goes too far with the in-joke adventure references (seriously, that’s enough references to Monkey Island everybody), but thankfully it supports these by thinking of original puzzles of its own. The highlight for me is the enormous dedication to unnecessary gags, with lines written for the most ridiculous of things you might choose to do (like clicking Dan on the moon, for instance). There’s also a decent use of timing, with pauses before the written dialogue appears (although this is of course incredibly annoying when you accidentally trigger the same response a second time).

My favourite exchange comes when using Dan on himself:

Ben: There’s no way I’m allowing Dan to interact with himself. Who knows where it’d lead.

Dan: Wanking

The game’s free, which is my favourite of the prices, but of course you’re welcome to donate if you enjoy it. However, as Zombie Cow point out, “We’ve had over 1300 downloads so far, and raised £10.” So bloody well give them some money, you tight-pocketed sods. How many games are you making for free, eh?

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