Review: Time Gentlemen, Please! and Ben There, Dan That!

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All I ask of any game is that it does what it sets out to do and does it well enough to be fun. That’s why I can thumb up hidden object games and super bare-bones indie titles, because I don’t expect every game to be Invisible, Inc. or The Talos Principle. This is one of those rare times when that’s not enough, however. Time Gentlemen, Please! and Ben There, Dan That! certainly do what they set out to do and do it competently, but the bargain-basement mechanics and severely dated humor sets them too far back to recommend in this day and age.

Ben There, Dan That! (the first game in the series, despite the pack name) follows the adventures of Ben and Dan as they quest to get their broken television working. This gets them sucked up into an alien spaceship full of portals to alternate dimensions, where they must assemble the items they need to return home. Once they do, an even more ridiculous set of events ties the conclusion into the opening of Time Gentlemen, Please! where Ben and Dan rule the world. A characteristically bone-headed decision on their part annihilates humanity, and they have to fuck up the timestream even worse to set it all right again.

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It’s a hell of an adventure that could have been pretty engaging, had it been handled better. Right away, the games make some painfully amateur mistakes to hook the player by starting right in the middle of an adventure, explaining virtually nothing, and then segueing directly into their dumb TV woes. At no point are you going to get a compelling reason to care about their misadventures, partly because this setup is so weak and partly because it only serves to propel all their jokes. It’s a parody game through and through, but one you’ve doubtless seen before at this point. There are the jokes about looting homes for items, about grabbing useless items because they’ll be needed, and every other bit of point-and-click metahumor that Sam and Max did better.

The puzzling at least does its job, but only barely. Each area or dimension you end up in has an unspoken objective, usually to get the random item that unlocks the next area. With a limited number of scenes and items to interact with, you’re likely to stumble upon the puzzle solutions before you even realize there are puzzles present. That’s exactly what happened to me in the dimension where America took over England, I just clicked a few funny lines with the pub-goers and clicked the items present, and that was all it took. Despite having old-school commands for look and use and talk and items and use your partner Dan, all you need to do is grab the right items and talk to the right people and you’re golden the whole way through.

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I think what really pushed this one over the line from passable to intolerable was the art style. We’re talking MSPaint here, all the way down to the animations which are pretty much two frames each. Ben and Dan gyrate around like a pair of demented cactuars and everyone else is barely alive, usually just with blinking eyes or wiggling fingers. The plain landscapes certainly make it easy to find the few items there are but foul up the dialogue something fierce. They went with the LucasArts-style floating colored text but without the chunky pixels or intelligent color choices, the outlines of backgrounds and letters blend together into a nasty, eye-straining mess.

I’m sure these two titles would have found more favor eight years ago, when adventure games were still sort-of-but-not-really dead and metahumor hadn’t been beaten even deader by Borderlands. But even then I can’t say I would have enjoyed them because they make so many little mistakes that add up to big headaches. More than that, though, there’s nothing of substance to help you power through other than some awfully belabored jokes. I can tolerate a rough or even bad game for awhile but I have little patience for parodies that are not on point, and these two lost the point long, long ago.

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