reviews\ May 5, 2011 at 8:00 pm

The Next BIG Thing Review


Welcome to 1940s Hollywood. Or should I say, welcome to a bizarre, alternate version of Hollywood where actual monsters star in monster movies, everyday jobs are performed by robots, and normal vocabulary goes out the window. Thanks to the creative imagination of Pendulo Studios, The Next Big Thing takes the Hollywood you know and completely turns it upside down.

The artistic approach Pendulo Studios takes with the game is what stands out the most. Their comic-like art style, fused with an art deco theme, creates a lighthearted film noir look and gives the game an adventure mystery feel. While simplistic in design, the environment doesn't want for detail. You can always notice something new in the background. Filled with vibrant colors and embellished characters, this version of Hollywood is mesmerizing and enjoyable in its interaction.

As far as gameplay is concerned, The Next Big Thing doesn’t stray far from most point-and-click adventures. It features dazzling 2D landscapes adorned with multiple objects you can click on and interact with while solving puzzles. It seems pretty straightforward at first: go to a room, look around for clues, and use those clues to figure out the puzzle. Much of the game is spent searching endlessly for objects to put in your inventory for later use. Unfortunately, it isn’t always clear where to go or what to do next.

The game offers little or no suggestion on how to advance. While a hint system exists, it's only available in easy mode, which allows you to view “hotspots"--vague clues about what to do next and hints about what you can click on, but these hotspots often feel like puzzles themselves. It’s not so much the puzzles that are challenging, but rather the lack of detailed instructions (or any instructions for that matter) that make solving them difficult. Many times after using a hint, you'll be left thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that before?” It’s probably because you have a fair sense of logic, and the steps in which you must solve problems don’t work without prior explanation. I admire the effort the developers put forth to make the puzzles worthwhile, but there's a difference between quality challenge and mere frustration.

Luckily, what it lacks in gameplay, The Next Big Thing makes up for in storytelling. For a point-and-click game, The Next Big Thing offers a plot that is both compelling and entertaining, featuring enough twists, turns, and jokes to keep you on the edge of your seat. When the adventure begins, you assume the role of Liz Allair, a spunky entertainment reporter sent to cover a monster movie award ceremony. Immediately, the humorous tone of The Next Big Thing is detectable through the witty banter you share with your sarcastic male counterpart, Dan Murray. Although their personalities clash, the two clearly have chemistry. This pithy, back-and-forth dialogue is present throughout the entire game. With no real background (despite a brief introduction), this abrupt beginning might leave you feeling lost. The plot quickly unfolds as you witness a monster breaking into the office of William FitzRandolph, the shady owner of the largest monster movie studio who is trying to get monsters to star in family entertainment films. From there, you uncover a compelling story filled with weird characters, clever dialogue, and an overall feeling of “What the heck is going on?”--making you eager to delve deeper and reveal a plot that takes a not-so-subtle jab at contemporary politics and society.

Throughout the game, you switch roles playing as Liz and Dan, who are both working to solve the same overall mystery, but with different approaches and personalities. You encounter a wide variety of monsters ranging from the Poet of Pain--a giant disfigured monster searching for new ways to cause himself pain to write poetry about--to Professor Fly--a half man, half fly scientist. These characters all have their own quirky traits. Exceptional voice acting brings these personalities to life. The plot, characters, and humor keep the story moving along at a consistent pace, and the script never suffers a dull moment, parodying pop culture and alluding to popular movies, books, sports, and songs.

As with most point-and-click adventure games, the game itself is relatively short. Of course, if you’re brave enough to play without hints, play time will drastically increase. There is minimal replay value involved, unless you enjoy going back through and searching for humorous undertones you might not have caught the first time. They happen quickly, so you might not notice them the first time around.

At first glance, The Next Big Thing might seem like another cookie-cutter point-and-click adventure game, but once you get into it, you notice how much is underneath. Look past some of the frustrating puzzles and you'll become immersed in a world of humor, adventure, and wackiness.


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