There will be unavoidable nepotism in this review. The UK games community has got so tiny over the years that only developers who deliberately shun the limelight, or (as games industry myth tells tale) deny their workers internet connections and phones, and site themselves in the arse-end of nowhere, are unknown to the welcoming and judgemental circle of UK games writers. When it comes to UK indie developers, like Introversions or Zombie Cow, they pretty much make you know them. I will therefore admit to knowing Dan and Ben, the scriptwriters and narcississistic heroes of this game. However, as my nearest and dearest will attest, I'm pretty much a sociopath with no social skills and face no problems in offending people I know and like, and so I hereby declare that joyously imagining their weeping, betrayed faces when they see the number at the end will have no impact on my review.
Not that Ben and Dan need worry on that score, curse their bones; their game's few flaws must be obvious to them anyway, and are more to do with the engine and medium they've chosen to express themselves than any problems they've introduced. This game is built from the Adventure Game Studio engine, though heavily customised, but it's obvious their writing talents could be put to use in any genre; as with their previous (free) game Ben There, Dan That! (to which this is a sequel), they've made this adventure game because a) it lets them express themselves in the purest form of mainstream game, the interactive novel and b) because they have an unparalleled knowledge and love for the genre. Their excellent scripting, consistent, cartoony design and delight in overtly, overly referential absurdity is designed to appeal to the hardest of the hardcore. It's like they made the game for games journalists!
The plot follows Dan and Ben as they seek to undo the total cock-up they've made of history in the previous game by (minor spoiler) stopping the invention of the coathanger which, along with Dan's Magnum PI addiction, was to blame for total world genocide. Travelling back in time, their coathanger-related meddling inadvertently results in Hitler and an army of cloned Nazi dinosaurs conquering the world; our smug know-it-all heroes must work out a way to stop him and restore the earth to its correct timeline, whilst trying ultimately, we presume, to keep the eighties' most mustachioed detective (saving Angela Lansbury's later years) on their screens.
Admittedly, beyond the script and design, the engine is rudimentary but robust. You control Ben most of the time, with Dan tagging along as the Max to his Sam, the Chewie to his Han, the Bubbles to his... his sidekick. Right-clicking changes action (examine, use, use with Dan, talk to) and left-clicking performs the action. There's a handy map which teleports you between zones spatially and temporally, and a simple settings menu, which includes the Never-Before-Seen Racism slider. Is it a bad sign that when I slid it all the way to the top, I couldn't tell the difference? Or am I being anti-slideritic now? I just don't know any more. (Sob.)
Get past the simplicity of the interface, and the game is uproariously funny. Admittedly, there is a large element of randomly picking up items, but it's leavened by oodles of witty humour at every turn. We shudder to think how many lines of script the game includes - there is literally a funny, unique line for every possible combination of items and in-world objects. It's massively over-written, with banter between characters that can go on for minutes at a time (thankfully skippable, if you happen to activate it twice) and a genuine labour of self-love. It's also tightly-plotted, pretty necessary for something that plays around with timelines more than Primer.