Bone: Out From Boneville20 Sep, 2005
Playing Bone: Out From Boneville has brought out the most bi-polar sides of me. Rarely have I gone from being so pleased about one aspect of a game to being frustrated as hell about another. When I sat down to write a review of the game, I was at first trying to structure out these thoughts into a coherent article. It soon became apparent that it was hopeless, and it also seemed kind of unfitting to do so.
So this, in other words, is my incoherent rambling about the first Bone game disguised as a review.
Based on the Jeff Smith comic book of the same name, Out From Boneville follows the three cousins Fone, Phoney, and Smiley's adventures in a world far away from their own. When we join the game, the three cousins have successfully escaped their village, Boneville, and find themselves on what will turn out to be the edge of "The Valley." The Bones have, as it turns out, been chased out of Boneville by a lynch mob hungry for Phoney's blood. Exactly what Phoney did to raise the wrath of the townspeople becomes clearer a little later in the game and will play a larger part in future "episodes."
The first part of the game (and the entire demo) is sort of a pre-introduction to the actual story of the game, showing how the cousins get split up. Sadly it's also an introduction to something that will be a serious issue throughout the game; the result of the budget limitations and time constraints are just a little too apparent. This should come as no surprise to anybody who has played the "locust chase" scene in the demo (the game's only annoying action sequence by the way) where the locusts look like they've been quickly put together in Photoshop and overlaid on to the 3D scenery. I would have been OK with it, had that been the only scene with that kind of iffy graphics, but it's sadly the start of a pattern that takes away from the atmosphere of the game.
Another issue that is glaringly obvious early on in the game is the lack of any "interaction density." This means that while you can interact with the main characters and main objects on screen, there is little else to do in any of the locations. Anybody who has played a game like Curse of Monkey Island or Psychonauts will know that it's the little things you can do that takes those games to another level. In Out From Boneville you are limited to the most obvious interactions, and that's it.
This all might sound like the makings of a weep worthy game, but there are some redeeming features, many of which makes up for the shortcomings.
While some backgrounds are repetitive, and certain objects look rushed, it's clear that Telltale has a talented staff working hard under those tight budgets and time constraints. The Bone cousins's animations, for example, are super smooth and it catches the feel of the comics perfectly. The dialogue is also excellent and at times hilarious. I'd be surprised if that in itself isn't enough to satisfy fans of Jeff Smith's comics.
The voice acting is more of a mixed bag. Some characters, like Phoney and the dragon, are voiced perfectly, and is up to the quality of a Cartoon Network cartoon. Others sound like the voice actors were picked from the street, and that they were reading the lines for the first time while recording. Thorn in particular is pretty horrible.
Thankfully the music is excellent throughout, and even though parts seem a bit MIDI-ized (again probably due to budgets), it all has a very early 90s LucasArts hummable quality over it. That is, if there was any doubt, something I consider quite a compliment.
What it kind of seems like to me, is that Telltale had to pick and choose which aspects of the game to focus on. This is too bad, as the unpolished parts detract a good deal from the better aspects of the game, almost to the point of being annoying at times.
If you can look past its shortcomings though, Out of Boneville offers an experience that is very similar to the classic LucasArts adventure. Take the scene where Fone first meets Thorn. It reminds me a lot of Guybrush and Elaine's first meeting in The Secret of Monkey Island, the difference being that it's interactive this time around. It is also almost painfully funny. And while the graphics quality is sort of a rollercoaster, the actual 3D engine works really well. Turns out point and click can be implemented in 3D after all.
Is Out From Boneville just a rushed adaptation of its superior source material, or is it the first diamond in the rough step of a series that will get better with each new part? The answer is probably somewhere in between. I did enjoy Out of Boneville quite a bit, and five hours of game play for $20 isn't exactly uncommon these days. Telltale needs to be careful to avoid the shortcomings of the game in future "episodes." If they can manage that, I think they will have a winner on their hands.
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