This is the redux version of the review. For the original, check my site.
I first heard about Ben There, Dan That! in an article in PCGamer UK, where one of the game's authors wrote an interesting article about its creation. I never bothered to actually try the game, but after playing MI:SE recently, I developed a taste for classic adventure gaming, and during my searches for good free games, stumbled upon Ben There, Dan That! by Zombie Cow Studios. Once I'd finished that, I immediately went and bought its sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please!. If this were a just and righteous universe, you would all do the same.
Please don't ask me to go back the way I came. PLEASE.
Ben There, Dan That!, like the recent Tales of Monkey Island, opens at the tail-end of an adventure staring the two title characters, Ben and Dan. Tragically, Dan has managed to end up deadified, and having completed a whole load of off-screen adventures, the player-controlled Ben has finally gotten him all ready for resurrection. All that remains is to stick a firework up Dan's bumhole and shoot him along an incredibly long piece of twine over a bottomless gorge and into a shack full of corpse-reanimating equipment. But that's not the end of their adventures - oh no.
Upon returning home after a funky title sequence, the pair settle in to watch Magnum PI. Or they would, had Ben not been forced to use the aerial in his attempt to bring Dan back from the dead. A makeshift antenna to stick out the window is hastily made, and the pair are promptly zapped aboard an alien ship full of doorways leading to parallel universes. In order to return home, the two have to venture forth into these alternate worlds and find the two pieces of a yin-yang, which will open up the door back to their own world. Along the way you'll kill a Priest, cause a miniature Death Star to fry a dinosaur, travel through the rear end of a cow and absorb a man with a sponge.
If any of this sounds offensive to you, chances are that this series are not for you. Which is a real shame, as it's brilliant. The sheer amount of charm the central characters exude more then compensates for any distasteful actions they, and by extension you, take. These may be some of the most offensive adult games you'll have played, but they're also absolutely hilarious, far more so then many other so-called 'comedy' titles released in the last few years.
One of the major factors crucial to this is the writing. Having to get past a Priest by killing him would seem cruel, even offensive if taken straight. Doing so by not only whacking him over the head with his own bible, but then expressing a forlorn hope that he's just sleeping (when really, you're not fooling anyone, not even yourself), and then developing that action even further, turning the act of inadvertently killing people while trying to get things from them into a running joke, takes a LOT of balls. Thankfully the writers manage it with aplomb, and that's not even the worst they have to throw at us. The darkest side of humour is evident throughout the game, but because everything is played for laughs, it's actually surprisingly difficult to become offended at the actions taken by Ben and Dan. The blank expressions permanently worn by the pair, coupled with the dry comments offered by the two really endear them to you, and it's hard to hate such a pair of lovable scamps, even if they do swear a tad too often.
Also taking a large amount of the edge off of things are the graphics. While you'll inevitably think the two leads seem incredibly basic, they quickly grow on you, and you'll find that their oddly distinct animations make them hard to hate, even as they inadvertently kill someone via the gift of toilet cakes. And while the characters may not be particular highlights, the backgrounds are the real stars of the show. The parallel universe angle means that there are several different versions of the London skyline, all lovingly rendered with jaded angles and straight lines. It's a wonderful throwback to classic LucasArts games without being generic, as other games made in the same vein can end up being.
Fear not! We shall have no need for such useless items!
I mention LucasArts adventures for a reason. One of the highlights of those games were the puzzles, something Ben There, Dan That! does relatively well with. The tried-and-tested 'pick up everything not bolted down and combine it all with everything else' technique will show just how much care has gone into the game, as almost every combination possible has a custom response. Trying to use a crowbar with a dinosaur will warrant a 'I'm not Gordon Freeman!' comment, while trying it on a PC will warrant a concern that that'll crash the computer. Unfortunately while these responses are funny, there's no real hints or tips as to what to do in any given situation, and it can be a bit hard to get into the frame of mind the designers had while making the game. Once you do stumble upon the answer though, it all makes a wonderous kind of sense.
Another point against Ben There, Dan That! is the music. Or, rather, the lack thereof. While the theme tune is certainly funky, it's also pretty much the only piece of music you'll hear throughout the game, aside from the lift music that crops up in a horrifically long elevator sequence. There's background ambience in certain places, such as keyboard tapping in a software development office or the blurred-out commentary of the big game in a pub (or, rather, bar), and you'll get a little musical flourish whenever you unlock a new universe to explore, but that's about as sophisticated as it gets. The developers weren't able to afford to have someone score the game, which is a shame, as it really could have enhanced the game a great deal.
In the end though, these negative points don't really do that much to damage Ben There, Dan That!. It's still an entertaining game, and you'll have hours of fun with it, but compared to its sequel, you get the feeling that it could have been just that little bit better.
Time Gentlemen, Please! opens up with a recap of the events of Ben There, Dan That!, and immediately impresses with a full-on attention grabbing musical piece and fantastic artwork accompanying the text. From there, the game only gets better, as Ben and Dan try to find the setting of their previous adventure in the hopes of utilising some left-over technology to undo the inadvertent mass destruction of the entire world. Finding a way back in time, they attempt to stop coathangers from being invented, but in the process wind up allowing Hitler to take over the world with the aid of an army of cloned Dinosaurs. If such a thing is possible, the game only gets weirder from there.
As we've come to expect from sequels, the game looks even better then its prequel, not just in the higher resolution artwork, but also thanks to the additional new-fangled flashy effects. A great example of this is the opening sequence - the rain coming down over a now devastated London (accidentally brought about by the lead character's actions, naturally) looks absolutely stunning, and really push the AGS engine used by both games to new limits. Thankfully Ben and Dan both look the same as they did before, although they now have more then one expression, which is used to great comic effect at times.
Also much improved are the puzzles, which now have a much more imaginative flair about them, making use of an old-school text-based adventure game, ageing or de-ageing inventory items and even altering the very fabric of time itself. If any of the puzzles seem too hard, dialogue from the lead characters will often nudge you in the right direction, drawing your attention to items that can be picked up or nudging you about certain things you should try. It's a sort of in-game hint system that you can't turn off, and though sometimes you'll already know that you should do something, more often then not you'll appreciate being told that you should use a different inventory item instead of the one you're currently trying to use, or that Dan is capable of doing something that Ben is not. That said though, sometimes this hint system will fail you and you'll be left wondering what you've missed, and given how much bigger this game is compared to its prequel, this can mean a lot of running around trying to find that one item. Fortunately there's a new map included which lets you zip around the world, but even so, it's a shame they haven't managed to completely overcome the genre's biggest problem.
ZE SLOP BUCKET VILL BE MINE! ACHTUNG!
The final item on the checklist is music, and this too is much improved over the first game, in that there actually is some. From the remastered theme tune to the party mix that plays during the stone-age disco, there's a surprising amount of mileage to the soundtrack, especially so given that most games made using the AGS engine are relatively simple, featuring rather basic tunes or stuff ripped from different sources. You can even alter how loud it is in the options menu, something very few, if any, AGS games have at all. As a result the whole feel of the game is incredibly professional.
These games really do push the boundaries of adventure games, both in content and in style. They're ludicrously adult, frequently absurd and gleefully over-the-top. And they're both some of the best games I've played in years. I cannot recommend them enough. Go and play them, you simple-minded fools. Where else will you see a battle-mech striding Hitler in command of an army of cloned dinosaurs? Nowhere, that's where.
The first game, Ben There, Dan That!, is absolutely free, so you've got no excuse not to at least try it. The second game, Time Gentlemen, Please!, isn't free, but it's only £2.99 (around £3.35 including VAT, which the website shockingly didn't mention you'd need to pay!), which is around $5ish. If you do the math, that's WAY less then the Monkey Island remake, and they'll last you as long, if not longer. Go and play them already, I want to see a third one.
Addendum: At the request of the Ben (of Ben & Dan fame, folks!), I'm adding a score for Metacritic. Three out of... Nah, kidding. 9/10 for Ben There, Dan That! and 10/10 for Time Gentlemen, Please!.
Screenies from the Zombie-Cow website and softonic.com. Thanks guys!