We’ve seen inside the strange head of Jay “Zeebarf” Ziebarth before, with The Visitor, and its follow-up, Massacre At Camp Happy. Along with Steve “EntropicOrder” Castro (who needs a nickname when you’ve got “Castro”?), they are ClickShake Games, and they’ve just put out the first commercial episode of their Reemus series, The Ballads Of Reemus: When The Bed Bites. It’s rather good. Here’s Wot I Think.
It is, in fact, a medium-length point and click adventure, whose only apparent compromise to budget is the use of Flash for animation. Absolutely lovely Flash animation. This is a fully voiced, well-structured adventure, that makes no more sense than the genre ever should, and contains some genuine laughs.
Reemus, if you haven’t played any of the free previous episodes, is an exterminator of somewhat limited talents. In a world where the average insect is six foot tall, it’s a slightly more challenging task. But Reemus, despite the best efforts of his bard sidekick bear-thing Liam, manages to make more of a mess of it than seems necessary. In this most recent, larger, and charged-for edition, he’s tackling the worldly issue of bedbugs. That apparently like water beds.
This involves negotiating with fire ants, infiltrating termites, and sabotaging people’s jobs at a cement business. You know, the usual. And it’s all rather charmingly done. The voice acting is superb, and a real treat to find in an indie adventure. And it’s no perfunctory job, either. Deliberately combine inventory objects with clearly incorrect items in the world, and there’s very often a unique line written for it, and voiced. That’s the sort of effort most mainstream adventures don’t bother going to these days. And while the animation is Flash, and therefore has that strange gloopy quality to it, again no corners are cut and the details are lovely. Reemus’s wobbling gut is quite the sight to accompany you throughout the game.
There are some classic scenes too – the sorts you could imagine remembering from the LucasArts days of yore with sighing fondness. An incessant baby shower for a termite queen, giving birth to tens of thousands of grubs a day, is a particularly lovely idea. And the hot-tempered bee might just be one of my favourite adventure characters, ever, however brief his appearance.
That’s not to get too carried away. There are a good few laughs throughout, but it’s not incessantly funny, the writing relying a bit too heavily on, “Oh Reemus, you are silly,” situations. That everything he does ends in calamity is funny. That calamity is inevitable from his opening decisions feels forced. A couple of the puzzles are just idiotic (oh, of course I should have put the donut on the hat to get the limes…) but more problematic is the occasional lack of flow. One sequence, in which you’re tasked with collecting the ingredients for concrete in a selection of locations, feels like each solved puzzle should unlock an element for the next. But they’re mostly detached, and gathering one item doesn’t prompt you on the next, rather leaving you just as stuck as you were before. And the final puzzle is really under-explained, relying on guess work unbefitting to the fun that’s come before it.
Playing as an anti-hero is always a risk (and the game fails to properly introduce characters, rather naively assuming all will be familiar with them from the previous free episodes), but here it’s a hit. Reebus is an idiot, but balanced out by the quiet calmness of Liam, and driven by his painful desire to be adored, he makes for an interesting character/foil. Offering a good few hours, he’s entertaining company.
And there’s so much more effort on top, too. Completely optional minigames pop up if you happen to click in the right place, and while none is strikingly original (collect scraps of paper and assemble, a spot the difference, etc) they’re unintrusive, and if ignored will disappear without a fuss when you move on. There are daft achievements, bugs to hunt, and some really lovely music. And yet all of this plays comfortably in a browser should you so choose.
It’s definitely worth the ten bucks they’re charging, and should you prefer you can pay (a lot) more for a boxed version, with a bundle of extras. And of course, you can always check out the four chapters of Reemus that are free. (Although being free, they’re shorter and not voiced.) Oh, and there’s a demo too.