Future Boy! is a game with its roots firmly planted in text adventures. I hadn't played a text adventure game (or interactive fiction) for many, many years so I wasn't sure how I'd go with this one. I needn't have worried as all the familiar commands and keyboard short cuts soon came back to me, and there is also extra help to minimise typing if that's how you prefer to play.
Of course, Future Boy! is described as an interactive comic book and it does have graphics, voices and music, but at its heart it's a text adventure with detailed written descriptions and clues aplenty to find. You can play it as you would a pure text adventure and tap away at the keyboard, or there are options to use the mouse instead. Simply right click to open a drop down menu of basic commands such as look, take, examine, etc. And in the Windows version you can double click on a word in the text description to add it to your command line. You can also click on the compass rose for navigation. The choice is yours, keyboard or mouse. Players who are comfortable with typing commands will no doubt keep their fingers firmly on the keys. Especially as the interactive fiction conventions are adhered to and you can shorten commands to a single letter such as 'N' for go North, 'X' for examine, 'T' for talk, etc.
Future Boy! reminded me of some of the earlier hybrid text/graphic adventure games from Legend like Eric the Unready, which also featured a small graphic and compass rose. Though I remember that in those Legend games you could also click on the graphics to identify items and build up commands, and I was surprised that Future Boy's graphics were non-interactive and didn't allow for commands to be built in the same way. Although I should say that the text selection option I mentioned above is just as effective, if a little less intuitive.
The story takes place in Rocket City and the mysterious superhero, Future Boy, has dealt with most of the villains so crime is relatively under control. You, however, work as a laundry deliverer, and to help to pay the bills you have taken a roommate called Frank.
Amazingly, Frank is even messier and lazier than you. He also has a secret and the green glow emanating from under the bathroom door may give you a clue, if you can wake Frank to ask about it. Eventually you will learn Frank's secret and become embroiled in the evil machinations of super-villain Clayton Eno. And you thought delivering laundry was boring. Little did you know that this humble occupation could land you in prison, enable you to meet aliens and travel in time and space, masquerade as a superhero, and foil a super-villain.
From the opening puzzle, where it seems there is almost nothing you can do to get out of your precarious predicament, I was hooked. Especially once I hit upon the solution. It reminded me of the fun I had when all adventure games were text-based and we hadn't yet been spoiled by graphical adventures. As it is, adventurers brought up on lavish graphics may overlook this game, which is a shame because there is much here to enjoy. On the other hand, there is still a sizeable audience to be found among the interactive fiction aficionados and a whole new audience awaits among those with portable devices.
The comic-book style superhero parody worked well and delivered in both humour and puzzle challenges. I particularly enjoyed the time (and space) travel interludes and had fun playing a Tyrannosaurus Rex and even an intelligent eyeball. There are lots of items to pick up and use though, of course, not everything is useful.
As with all good text adventures the clues are in the descriptions and Future boy! is very well written. The puzzles generally are fair but there was one that I didn't understand until after I solved it when I realised that the clue was a pun. You certainly have to pay attention, and if you overlook something it won't be because you weren't told about it. If you are stuck there is an excellent progressive hint system incorporated into the game which can be accessed from the main menu.
With a text interface you can try all sorts of things and usually you get a meaningful response that often lets you know if you are on the right track or completely wasting your time. You may also have the problem of finding the correct words or syntax to get the game to do what you want, but Future Boy! was generally pretty good in this respect. Occasionally I was too specific, but more often than not I was not specific enough (a perennial problem of the lazy typist).
Future Boy! provides you with several characters to talk to besides Frank, with the novelty (for a text game) of character voices. My favourite was Gorrd, a large green lizard-type alien who tried hard to blend in by wearing an ill-fitting suit, but the other voices worked well also. If you play it in Windows the game also comes with a text to speech program that you can install separately. This is ideal for visually impaired players as you can have all the text spoken as you play.
I played the game in Win XP and it ran just fine using the Hugo engine which is installed with the game. Saving and loading is easy and there are a range of options available to suit your preferences. For example, I started playing with the compass rose enabled but turned it off when I decided to type all the commands. All the supported platforms are available on the one CD which also comes with a host of goodies including the Hugo compiler and library to encourage you to write your own games.
Future Boy! is a worthy addition to your interactive fiction collection. If you haven't played a text adventure before this is a good game to begin with.
This game can be purchased online from the Official Future Boy! Website.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2004.
All rights reserved.
For Windows, Macintosh, and a PocketPC handheld device, other supported platforms are Linux/Unix, Palm, BeOS, and DOS.