I have to admit, I wasn't expecting much out of City Quest. It certainly doesn't look like much, and "retro"-styled games are a dime a trillion these days. But I also spied loving odes to the LucasArts and Sierra adventures of yore on its website, so I decided I'd have a go at its free demo anyway. I'm quite happy I did. City Quest is that rare brand of adventure that plumbs the scummiest depths of tastefulness, yet manages to emerge not covered in, well, crap. It's an unrelentingly witty little thing, constantly rewarding exploration and "what if...?" thinking with scrumptious details and rapid-fire joke flurries. They're not all winners, but the hits far outweigh the misses. More info and a trailer after the break.
The basic premise is that you're a naive, not particularly literate hillbilly from the Uncultured Lands trying to make your way in a place that wants to bleed you dry and maybe also steal your cool hat. So you cope by doing old-school adventure-y things - specifically, moving, looking, touching, and talking/eating. All of those options apply to every person and object in the game. Yes, you can probably see where this is going. So many jokes. So many jokes.
I tried to touch everyone. I mean, of course I did. Don't tell me you wouldn't do the same. To my surprise, responses barely ever repeated. Moreover, where I feared grave offense, I was instead rewarded with knowing nods and measured amounts of fourth-wall-shattering. For instance, I was positive that grabbing a random woman at an airport would result in something crass and cheap. To my surprise, however, the game snapped back with "You thrust your hand toward the woman, and without missing a beat, she extends her own to meet you with a nice, platonic handshake." That's just one of dozens of responses I got to that type of action. Nearly all of them made me chuckle.
That's not to say City Quest is afraid to be crass. The demo's four choice-based story paths (hobo, prostitute, mafioso, and coked-up politician) are all pretty scuzzy. They're essentially the unabashedly exposed plumber butts of modern pop culture jokes. Thing is, City Quest does an excellent job of swerving just when it looks like a gag is going to crash and burn. It's excellent at ramping onto unexpected routes, ones that actually manage to wring some fresh laughs out of old-school adventure tropes.
My only quibble with the portion I played stems from a general lack of challenge or compulsion to move forward. I'm not knocking the game for opting to focus on choice and character interaction over obtuse, chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle-puzzles, but I did eventually get tired of moving between locations and clicking on everything until a few decent jokes fell out. As is, it's a world that rewards exploration and boundary pushing, but asks very little of your brain. I don't want to be figuring stuff out all the time, but maybe every once in a while? I think that'd be nice, if only to vary things up.
You may have noticed that the demo was disarmingly silent. Well, that's part of the reason City Quest is currently on Kickstarter. It has about a week left, and it's at a bit over half of its $8,000 goal. That's hardly anything at all in the grand scheme of crowdfunding drives, so maybe consider chipping in?