Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Ben There, Dan That! (Special Edition, 2011)

This week finds me in the mood to tackle a game I know very little about going in, either by experience or reputation -- Ben There, Dan That! (Special Edition), a point-and-click adventure inspired by the comedic Lucasarts style.  It was created by (and named for) Ben Ward and Dan Marshall of the UK-based Size Five Games, using Chris Jones' wonderfully enabling Adventure Game Studio engine, and released as freeware in 2008.  This Special Edition upgrade was released in 2011, with some graphical updates, design improvements and a new jazzy musical score.  The game can be purchased on a "pay what you wish" basis at Size Five Games' website, or via Steam in a bundle with its sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please!

Interested adventurers are, as always, encouraged to play Ben There, Dan That! firsthand before reading about my experience in the following.  It's not overly difficult -- that is to say, almost everything has a purpose even if it isn't obvious -- though I did have to reference a walkthrough to get a couple of final details nailed down near the end.  The casually profane dialogue is often quite funny (though there's no voice acting to help sell the jokes), and there are plenty of point-and-click adventuring in-jokes to keep the proceedings entertaining.  Beyond this point, beware!  There are sure to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

The game begins with our titular duo half-dead -- that is, Ben is alive, and Dan is dead, as Ben returns from some adventure-type object wrestling with a firework he expects to, in some way, help revive his friend.  His intended solution appears to involve getting Dan to Doc Oddball's shack on a nearby mountain top, across a bottomless gorge.  The situation as read involves many oddball props, including a specific nod to The Secret of Monkey Island with A rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle.  Having, erm, inserted the non-lightable end of the firework into Dan's, um, nether receptacle, we can...

Well, what can we do?  We have no way to light the firework, and a manual push (we are informed) won't provide enough force to get Dan's corpse across the gorge.  Ah -- there's a tiny cigarette lighter sitting on the ground nearby.  That should do the trick!  Rocket-propelled Dan shoots across the gorge and is presumably re-animated by the resulting explosion, as after the stylish credits roll, we find our heroes in their London apartment, both looking hale and hearty.  Of course, the telly's antenna is missing, a casualty of the previous adventure, and so our first goal is to find a replacement.  (We will also note the pop art on the walls, inspired by Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, and Full Throttle.)

There's an old note on the door from Dan, held in place by some Blu-Tak that Ben refuses to take along despite its potential usefulness.  The boys refuse to go outside, so we'll have to explore the apartment's inner sanctum.  A door to the left of the living room leads into another area with doors leading to the water closet, Ben's room, and Dan's room.  There's a chalk outline on the floor resembling the old Lucasarts logo, in case the game's inspiration wasn't yet clear, symbolizing the Death of the Adventure Game, which was still largely true back in 2008 when this game debuted.

The water closet is huge and dark, with a single light bulb hanging over the toilet and a light switch near the door, which the guys refuse to touch due to its questionable wiring.

Ben's room is filthy and cluttered, and nobody wants to take the comic books, skateboard (lightly used), bowling ball, or books strewn about, so we'll move on to Dan's much neater room.  Here, in Dan's now-empty closet -- Ben having sold his clothes for some ill-considered adventure-related reason -- we can acquire a metal coat hanger and learn that Ben and Dan are themselves working on a terrible adventure game.  Many copies of Dan's previous game, Gibbage, are stacked up near the computer.

Returning to the living room / lounge, we apply the coat hanger and restore the telly to working order, just in time for Magnum P.I.  Well, not quite that easily.  We have to take down the Max & Sam poster to get access to the window, at which point a classic little green alien is observed peering in.  We can open the window, enhancing the reception possibilities, but there's still too much distance between the signal and the television.

Trying to use the lighter on the coathanger suggests we don't want to melt that, which suggests we might be able to melt something around here.  There's a long wire in the bathroom, which nobody is willing to touch.  I realize we play mostly as Ben, and can use Dan on things when he decides to be useful; here, he can be used to turn off the light switch in the bathroom.  But the wire can't just be yanked out, and the coathanger isn't suitable for cutting it.

Ah -- there's some lumpiness in Ben's bed, concealing some paste and scissors under the blanket.  And with the scissors, we can cut the wire in the bathroom, assembling some good raw materials for our aerial.  (Of course, Ben notes, we'll be S--TING IN THE DARK from now on, but this is an adventure game after all.)

We hold up the antenna near the window, trying to get it positioned for the best reception... and, of course, disaster strikes!  In the form of actual lightning!  And our heroes are zapped into an alien world!

It appears that the apartment's front door is right here, though it's locked with an alien locking device of some kind.  So our next objective appears to be at hand!  There are other doors along the hallway, each with a lock matching a small object's shape.  We see an elevator, a crypt, a furnace perhaps, next to a freezer, another apartment door, a sewer door, and a giant cow head.  Do we have anything in inventory that will open any of these doors?

Well, we can use the scissors to cut Max's head out of the poster we're carrying around, producing a bunny head-shaped key that should open the crypt.  It does!  And now we're in a graveyard, perhaps in an alternate dimension as Dan and Ben's gravestones are prominently visible and there are quite a few corpses and formerly active zombies strewn about.  A church in the background might be worth exploring...

A cutscene intrudes here, informing us that there are indeed alien invaders about, observing Ben and Dan and preparing to put Phase II of their plan into action.

Returning to our story, we find the church rather blood-stained and castle-like, with some Bible verses on the wall.  There's a Bible near the altar in the sanctuary, where we can look up the six verses cited.  They all refer to flame or wind in some fashion... flame, wind, wind, flame, wind, flame.  Lighting the six candles on the altar in this pattern reveals a secret passage, to nobody's great surprise.

There's a trail of blood leading down the cellar stairs, and off screen left, where we discover that the priest has locked someone named Gilbert in the cellar, someone close to him whom he does not want killed or de-brained.  The man's hand is wrapped in a bandage, though in conversation he strenuously denies having been bitten by a zombie.  We can ask if he has a Yin-Yang symbol -- the apparent key to the lock back into our apartment -- but he doesn't.  He does, however, have a cross, which would help with one of the other doors.  He says it's the only religious relic he still has, because his Bible is upstairs.  We can bring it down, and then bash him over the head with it (the boys' choice, I assure you), then take his crucifix -- "It's not stealing, it's 'adding to my inventory."

With the priest knocked out -- perhaps dead -- yes, quite dead, it develops -- we can enter Gilbert's room, and see a small action figure on the floor, which also looks like it would fit one of the other locks on the alien ship.  So we'll need to get it away from the "Zomboy" Gilbert -- the priest's son, apparently -- somehow.  I luck out with my first idea, throwing the jar of paste to him, which he chews until his jaws are gummed shot, removing the threat of a deadly bite.

I think we've done what we came to do here, so we'll go back aboardship and try the crucifix in the lock near the door that looks a lot like the other side of Ben and Dan's front door.  It brings us to a fragmented, post-destruction Earth, and we can see part of the Yin-Yang symbol on a small island of sod just out of reach.  A door can be opened but goes nowhere; a note on the door is from Dan, telling Ben that the world is about to blow up and he's gone to the pub.  Ben decides to keep the Blu-Tak on the back, just in case, even though he was quite adamant about not taking the Blu-Tak from the note in the apartment earlier.  Adventuring logic!

A streetlight here might allow us to get to the Yin, if we had some sort of metal-cutting tool, but for now we'll have to explore elsewhere.  The action figure opens a door to a ladder, that allows us to travel to a bizarre, neon-ridden dimension where... ah, I see.  Britain has become the 51st United State of America.

Well, we'd best try to hunt up some sort of key here.  There's a Fish'n'Fries (horrors!) shop, a pub called The Limey, and a garish pink castle.  The shop is boarded up, with three aggressively antisocial drunks lying about in front and posting crayon drawings of various ways they might attack the city.  Conversation establishes that David, Ste and Simon are ex-video game journalists, despairing of any amazing new worlds to conquer, so they might as well blow it up and start fresh.  We can ask about their blueprints -- all are about smashing things into tiny pieces, and none are plausible in the least.  But there is one about opening a portal to another dimension which we may want to investigate later.  We might also be able to pull the boards off the boarded-up Fish'n'Fries shop, if we could find a crowbar.

We'll check out The Limey, after a cutscene in which the alien invaders promise to make their amazing Match-3 puzzle game, Hello World, available to everybody on Earth, to give them a sense of purpose.  The pub is run by a top-hatted guy named Brad, and the TV is showing (gasp!) American football, with the players padded up like little girls playing rugby.  There's a stout British beer and a weak low-calorie US beer on the counter, and a key behind the counter we would like to have but can't get at.  We can grab a sponge off the bar, anyway. 

Three British louts are drinking and apparently watching the game.  Their drinking game consists of downing their pints whenever anyone cheers, "COME ON ENGLAND!"  While Brad is refilling their glasses, we can sneak behind the bar and grab the key, easy as pie. 

The non-entrance door leads to a back area with a gents', a ladies', and a "Staff ONLY" room.  We'll check out the ladies' room first -- which, to my surprise, we are allowed to do.  The bathroom is fairly nondescript, with several stall doors, two sinks... and two heroes who leave immediately after wondering why they're in here.  It does provide a notable contrast in cleanliness to the men's room, where most of the accommodations are broken (in part to save some design and coding, per the characters' commentary.)  We can acquire a "near infinite" supply of 10p coins from the broken condom machine, and it seems we can acquire some of the "Loo Cakes" from the urinals, if we had something in which to carry them.

The Staff ONLY door is locked, but we can use the key we snagged from behind the bar to open it.  It leads to the cellar, where the beer barrels of Lion's Roar and Starz n Stripez are connected to the taps in the bar.  We can swap the hoses, then return upstairs and get the louts completely blistered on strong English beer.  They fall over, drunk, and Brad quits, refusing to deal with any more drunken English yobs.  He leaves his top hat behind, which should serve to open one of the other dimensional doors.

Outside The Limey, knocking on the door of the pink castle summons its apparent king, a large American man in a cardboard crown.  He won't let the boys in to rummage through his stuff, no matter how we plead, but we do learn from a newspaper acquired nearby that he's the Governor of England, following the re-integration a year ago.

Back to the alien ship we go, to use the top hat to open the elevator door.  There's not much in this dimension, but the lift appears to travel to six different floors... if it were working.  Ben fancies himself a repairman now and is sure there's just a broken wire back there or something, if we could only get the panel off.  He thinks a crowbar would work, but we're not likely to find one, so something heavy will have to do.  The Bible?  Not heavy enough.  The rock?  Yes.

We connect the broken wire (without benefit of cutting the power or other protection, somehow) and now we can push the lift button to (very slowly) reach the top floor.  Disembarking from the lift, we discover a bunch of dinosaurs sitting in cubicles.  They are video game developers, and our heroes decide to tread lightly.  Two arcade cabinets at the back of the room have crashed, and the one running Spectrum ZX classic Chuckie Egg requires coinage.

We can talk to the T-Rex, who isn't apparently doing any work, as he's on a disability arrangement due to his short, keyboard-unfriendly arms.  There are Star Wars references a-plenty in the dialogue, and our main goal it seems is to get Cecil the T-Rex to be productive in some way.  There's a box of handheld games ready for testing which nobody has been able to open due to their keyboard-blunted claws, but our scissors make short work of it.

The box contains three handheld gaming consoles, preloaded with Gibbage 2.  Cecil can't use them, but we can put them in inventory, along with a thermos flask sitting in an empty cubicle.  And... oh, wait, we do have that supply of 10p coins, so we can play Chuckie Egg!  Maybe we can beat Carl the Nerd-a-saurus' high score and distract him away from his desk to reclaim it so we can... do... something.  Ben can't get a high score, but Dan does it with no problem (just as our purportedly infinite supply of tenpence coins gives out!)  He enters his initials as B.U.M. (ha ha -- UK humor!) and yes, Carl leaves his desk to start working on reclaiming his high score.

A cutscene reveals that our heroes are being watched by the alien invaders, and are right on schedule; Hello World is becoming a major casual gaming hit and the mysterious Phase IV is approaching readiness.  Now we can fiddle with Carl's highly collectible Death Star model with real working plutonium laser -- and accidentally kill Cecil with its beam.  At least we can take his model X-Wing fighter, which will probably open up one of these doors... the one with the reddish-orange glow, it looks like.

Yes!  And now we are in a dimension with a charred, cracked landscape and a smoking volcano in the background.  A spanner/wrench on the right side of the screen, held by the ashen corpse of a man, looks very useful, if we can get over there.  We can fill up the thermos with piping hot lava, which likely means we want to do that.

Can we use the lava to melt the lamppost in the fragmented-Earth dimension?  No, the label (we now learn) indicates it is lavaproof.  We have the sponge from The Limey, but we can't use it to soak up the lava (not that I was expecting that to work either.)  I return to 51st State England to see if we can do something with the drunks at the Fish'n'Fries.  Ah, yes -- we can give them the handheld gaming consoles, and all three are now happily absorbed playing Gibbage 2.  And now we can snag one of their moonshine bottles.

The homebrewed bootleg indie-label booze isn't strong enough to melt the lamppost either... or rather, it likely is, but our heroes don't want to waste it on that.  No further explanation required, really, in an adventure game.  It can't be used to take the boards off the Fish'n'Fries either, though I do think we want to do that, as my guess is we need a plank to get across the lava to retrieve the spanner.  While looking around for other ideas, I notice the faint outline of a new door on a formerly blank section of wall -- we don't even need a key to get into the aliens' surveillance center.  We can pick up a crowbar here, and learn about Dan and Ben's predicted next steps -- "HOT - SPANNER," "COLD-GEAR", "SUPER MUSEUM-YANG."  Which we were kind of thinking anyway as our possibilities narrow.

We use the crowbar to remove a plank, use it to cross the lava stream, and retrieve the spanner (rather destroying the dead man's arm in the process, unfortunately.)  The spanner opens the cold room, a very similar location to the lava room, where a man is frozen in ice.  We can use the crowbar to pry a suspiciously prominent purple panel off a machine, but of course we need another spanner to get the gear inside out.  Guess we need to melt the ice with the thermos full of lava... yep.

Now the man with the spanner is out of the ice -- and very much alive, but freezing.  He won't give us the spanner, but he'll remove the gear for us if we can help him warm up.  We can get another thermos full of lava, but of course that's a little too warm to imbibe.  But the moonshine does the job, and while our new friend is trying to fix the turnstile, we can undermine his work completely by stealing the gear after he sets it "temporarily" aside.

Another cutscene interrupts -- now the aliens are in Ben and Dan's apartment, apparently transporting it elsewhere with their futuristic technology.  They note that Ben and Dan's adventure is nearly complete, and so is their plan -- everyone in the world has played Hello World and been imprinted with the alien Hypno-Code.

The gear allows us to enter the cow's mouth, leading to a dimension with a (presumably Super) Museum, where the famous Yang is on display.  We learn this from The Human Aeroplane, a man whose superpower is flight -- a few inches off the ground, with plenty of arm-flapping required.  Everyone here is a superhero, granted powers by the mystical Yang when it was unearthed, though their powers are of a degree not necessarily considered "super" in our culture.

In the entrance outside the exhibit hall, we meet a transparent man named Bob the Blob, who is keeping his museum pass tucked safely inside his 68%-water body while he waits for the museum staff to turn off the heat inside so he won't evaporate when he enters.  We could ask the pretty museum lady about the Lost Element, as her badge indicates, but that would reveal that Ben's eyes have been where they shouldn't, so he won't.  We learn that the Yang was dug up about a year ago, and that the Yin may destroy the world if it's ever unearthed.

The museum shop is closed -- the shopkeeper's superpower turned out to be stealing -- and we can't get into the exhibit without a pass, which we can't imagine ever being able to afford.  We can't use the lava to evaporate Bob, but we can throw the sponge at him -- into him, actually -- to soak up his mass and free up the ticket.  This kills him, of course -- yet another unintended casualty of Dan's unintentional murderous rampage across the dimensions.

The alien plot thickens in another cutscene -- the aliens are activating the subliminal Hypno-Code via radio signal.  We return to the museum, where our heroes need to steal the valuable Yang.  We can pinch a can opener from a diorama, then head into the next room to see the Yang, perched on a thief-proof plinth.  The Yang is protected by a force field being generated by a nearby superhero guard, who we will likely need to disable somehow.

The guard has a small dish of sugar cubes, which he is using to sweeten his tea, it appears.  Conversation establishes that his beverage of choice is in fact coffee, which helps him concentrate.  We can try various gambits to distract him in conversation, but none of them work.  It appears we need to disable the security camera and slip the guard a mickey in his sugar cube bowl in order to obtain the Yang.

Can any of the other superheroes hanging around help?  One can summon ants... well, an ant, anyway.  And the last one he summoned scurried under the caveman exhibit.  Another guy, the Wood Handler, has sandpaper palms.  And another guy named Lightspeed can run at 10 miles per hour.  A child hero named Darren can repeat everything we say, BEFORE we say it.  And a woman standing nearby is capable of standing perfectly still and being perfectly symmetrical.  That's it on the superhero front, with limited puzzle-solving potential.

Can we lure the ant out with a sugar cube?  We could if we could obtain a sugar cube, but we're not allowed to.  So maybe we need to explore elsewhere some more.  The can opener is the right tool to take the street lamp down in the fragmented dimension, allowing us to get closer to the Yin.  I suspect introducing the Yin to the Yang-powered dimension might cause some useful chaos, but even with the lamppost down, we can't quite reach the Yin.

The lamppost is being held in place by a couple of thin wires, but we can't cut them.  We can't get Dan to walk out there and help weigh it down.  We probably need something with better reach.  What else?  Oh, we haven't grabbed any Loo Cakes from The Limey's men's room yet.  We still need something to carry them in.  Revisiting the ice room, I pick up a long length of frozen rope... but can't put the Blu-Tak on its end as I was hoping.  It seems we need to thaw it, which we can do simply by visiting the lava dimension again.

The rope is flexible now, but we can't grasp the Yin symbol with it and the Blu-Tak won't take to it.  We can swap our rock for a clump of old archaeologically significant mud in the museum, Indiana Jones style.  But it won't work on the rope either.  Ah!  It's useful for disabling the security camera, where the Blu-Tak wasn't sufficient.  So that's part of that puzzle taken care of.

I had to consult a walkthrough to learn that we can use the newspaper to carry the loo cakes -- I was looking for something more bowl-ish, at least liquid-proof, so my attempt to use the thermos failed and this possibility hadn't occurred to me.  Now we can wrap up the loo cakes, substitute them for the guard's sugar cubes... and yes, they distract him.  Actually, they kill him, being poisonous and urine-soaked and all.  But now we can grab the Yang and escape!  Nobody seems to notice the theft, so that last bit is easy enough.

Now what about that Yin?  Will the Yang magically draw it in somehow?  Nope, they "aren't magnets" per Dan when I try this.  But we're so close!  It turns out (walkthrough again) that a body part I did not investigate closely enough in the zombie cemetery is in fact portable -- a hand, which in combination with the rope and the Blu-Tak can be used to fetch the Yin.

Now we have the Yin, and the Yang, combined!  And we can open the apartment door to discover that the aliens have stolen all of Ben and Dan's stuff, and are still hanging around the place.  We now discover that the aliens are Future Ben and Dan, who have arranged this whole charade in a fake spaceship built in a downtown warehouse to make themselves world dictators with their Hypno-Code. 

But of course, that destiny has to be fulfilled by the present-day Ben and Dan, making their future selves redundant and unable to claim the destiny they thought they were creating for themselves.  So the future Ben and Dan fade out of existence, and our heroes are left to face their new subjects as the credits roll.  Victory is theirs!  Ours!  I never quite know how to present the editorial perspective in these animated adventures where the protagonists are visible on screen!  But the game has reached a successful conclusion!

I enjoyed Ben There, Dan That! quite a lot.  It was a more substantial game than I expected, the writing and visuals are frequently funny and the simple graphical approach still affords considerable style with strong use of color.  The music is effective, and reading the dialogue onscreen makes it a pleasantly retro experience.  It's good stuff from Size Five Games and I intend to play the sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please! at some point.

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