The Adventures of Willy Beamish. (computer game) (Evaluation)
by David Sears
Consider average nine-year-olds: They play videogames, hunt for trouble, and, most important, have fun. Burdened with careers and carpools, adults can forget what summer vacation means. (Remember lazy days spent in tree forts and staying up late on weeknights?) Adults may consider their lives to be pretty important, but given the opportunity, how many wouldn't trade places with a kid for a few days? Wouldn't you attempt to recapture the exuberance lost to responsibility? Wouldn't you try to rediscover the feeling that you can do anything, given a few close friends and three summer months?
The creative minds at Dynamix must know what lost childhood means to us grown-ups. Certainly only the young at heart could produce the juvenile wonderland of The Adventures of Willy Beamish with such mature wit and style.
You say you've never cared much for adventure games? Forget creeping around dungeons or conquering the universe for a while. Instead, imagine yourself holding the title of regional Nintari videogame champ and try to figure out a way for your pet frog to win the annual frog-jumping contest. The grand prize of $25,000 will see you to the Nintari championships in style, but even second prize gives you a shot. As Willy Beamish, nothing could please you more than the national Nintari title. But alas! Born with a predilection for trouble and possessing yuppie parents all too willing to ship you off to military school, you have to stay on your best behavior. Even kids can have serious problems.
On the last day of school before summer vacation, you'll find yourself locked in a battle of wills with both your crabby teacher and your despised PE instructor. Escape detention, and you must contend with a towering bully. Make your way home, and you'll find that a not-so-good report card has preceded you.
Should you take it from the mail slot and hope Dad never asks to see it, or should you leave it for him to find? Should you swing your little sister so high that she goes into orbit? Should you feed the dog at the table? Moral dilemmas such as these will plague you, and depending on how you want to play your preteen alter ego, you'll sway from angelic to downright malicious.
Occasionally, the ghost of Grandpa Beamish will materialize and offer counsel, but you can't always depend on his advice to be lots of fun. Besides, whether you prefer to play Willy as brash or timid, you must still defeat a gang of local toughs, worm your way inside a seedy bar, and thwart the wicked plans of the despicable Leona Humpford--rather unsavory assignments.
Veterans of Rise of the Dragon and Heart of China will find the interface of The Adventures of Willy Beamish familiar but perhaps somewhat more evolved. Like its predecessors, this Dynamix adventure runs just fine without a parser--all actions result from pointing and clicking with the mouse or, more rarely, from keyboard controls. to pick up an object, just move the mouse pointer until an arrow appears and points to whatever you want to grab. click the left mouse button, and you have the merchandise. If you want to place the goods in Willy's knapsack, click on Willy. Want to take something out for inspection? Click on Willy again; an inventory screen appears, complete with selectable images of all the objects that are in his possession.
Willy walks almost everywhere in his hometown of Frumpton. Whether he wants to have pizza at The Slice of Life or meet his friends Perry and Dana at the tree fort, he'll travel there on foot. To send Willy on his way, you just move the mouse pointer ove the on-screen location you want him to visit. When the pointer changes to EXIT, you can click the left mouse button, and Willy will trot off.
Instead of the now passe first-person perspective of many adventure games, Willy Beamish puts the main character on the screen with the rest of the cast. Paired with the point-and-manipulate mentality of the interface, Willy can move through his world at a frantic pace--one approaching real life. On a 40-MHz 386 machine, Willy seems hyperkinetic; at only 20 MHz, you want to offer the sluggish boy a Slam Dunk Cola.
Dynamix outdoes itself with the backgrounds in this one. Each screen, first painted by brush and then scanned by color scanner, shows what 256-color VGA can do for a game. Disney or Hanna Barbera animation fans might recognize the work of some talented artists here. For instance, Rene Garcia, who painted the gloomy visual environment for Ursula is The Little Mermaid, does an equally fine job here for the stills of Leona Humpford's mansion.
Solving all the puzzles, locating all the essential objects,] and winning the frog-jumping contest require more than a bit of trial and error. Fortunately, you have a suitable sound-track to accompany you in your endeavors--one that miraculously never grows tiresome or threatens your sanity. Sure, some parts repeat too frequently--in movies, these repetitious melodies are called themes--but at worst you'll just walk around humming the music from the introduction. Sound effects are prominent, and the Dynamic team coaxes some surprisingly appropriate noises out of even the most basic Ad Lib card.
Characters communicate via pop-up panels and thought balloons. Designer Jeff Tunnell envisioned Willy Beamish as an interactive cartoon--a goal not beyond the reach of modern PCs--but the clear digitized speech necessary for a complete cartoon effect comes at a premium. With all the words the characters in Willy Beamish bandy about, most of a PC's resources would go toward playing back samples. Instead, more like a comic strip than an animated feature, Willy Beamish makes extensive use of text.
Willy's possible responses to other characters' statements can at times prove infuriating, especially if they don't jibe with your concept of Willy. Sometimes the little guy might seem too precocious for your tastes. Still, we can forgive a nine-year-old for many indiscretions, and you must remember that when you play Willy, you play a child--a cartoon child at that. Willy Beamish offers you the chance to laugh at adults and the adult world without really suffering the consequences.
Take time to examine the immovable objects scattered throughout the game as well; a tour of Frumpton should evoke more than a few laughs as you uncover the history and hilarity behind almsot everything in sight.
Younger players might miss some of the rampant innuendo, but most world-weary adults can't miss the running commentary on crime, pollution, and the evil of artificial sweeteners.
In almost every regard a delight, The Adventures of Willy Beamish delivers a manageable challenge with astounding replay value. Puzzles, neatly paired with multiple clues, won't cause any protracted, hair-pulling frenzies after your bedtime, but the gnawing mystery of what happens at the Nintari championships won't left you rest, either. With 20 save-game slots available, you really can't help but make some progress in every gaming session.
Admittedly, Willy Beamish relies heavily on animated interludes to relate much of the information that makes the game a story as well as a series of puzzles. You might overlook this flaw for the sheer charm of the segues themselves, but, more likely, you'll forgive it for the second chance at youth it offers. No one can resurrect lost summers, but thanks to Dynamix, now you can have a second childhood--Willy's.