Bone: Out From Boneville
Based on Bone the popular comic books by writer and artist, Jeff Smith, this is a game that surely had a lot of fans before it even went into development. Sadly I haven't set eyes on the comics, but I can give you my assurance that you don't need have read them to join Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone on their adventures.
Bone: Out From Boneville is the first episode from Telltale Games in a downloadable adventure game series that begins with the first Bone comic book and, hopefully, will continue for many more. It opens with the Bone cousins, Fone, Phoney and Smiley, lost in the desert. There is no introduction, and you don't need one, because the lively conversations fill in the background as you go. So I won't spoil some of the fun for those who haven't read the comics by elaborating further here, wait and see how it all came about.
The Bone cousins are a thoroughly charming trio, and their antics, plus the excellent dialogue and voice acting, are bound to pull at the heart strings. They are cute, they are funny, and their characters sparkle: Fone, the likeable diplomat of the bunch, who tries to make things happen by ironing out the crinkles between Phoney and Smiley, and between Phoney and anyone else that they meet. Phoney, whose name says it all. He's the Scrooge character who isn't averse to speaking his mind, to expecting special treatment, and to twisting situations to his own advantage... too bad about anyone else. And Smiley, well he just goes with the flow, accompanied by his banjo!
As well as some witty dialogue (be prepared for a good chuckle), Bone: Out From Boneville is accompanied by a very professional soundtrack with a folksy flavour that fits perfectly. The graphics are clear, colourful, and cartoonish with lots of fun animation. The game world isn't huge, but the backgrounds bring it to life and the characters move smoothly through it. I thought, maybe, there could have been a bit more detail in the main characters, especially for the dialogue which is such an important part of the game, but the Bone eyebrows worked a treat.
It's a whimsical world, sprinkled with amusing characters taken straight from the comic books. For me the big red dragon was impressive, but the possum kids stole the show. Playing 'Dead' with the possums was worth a laugh, although a highlight for me was the story-telling episode. When you get to it save your game and vary the story a little and see what happens.
Bone: Out From Boneville is a mouse controlled game and, as the three main characters get separated early on this journey, you get to direct the actions of both Fone and Phoney as they search for their cousin. As befits his character, Smiley doesn't do much but sit back and wait.
As well as being punchy and very funny, the conversations are handled well too. A speech balloon initiates dialogue and when there is more than one character around you can easily switch talking from one to the other by selecting an icon for that character that sits above the conversation window. Essentially this means you can have a three way (or possibly more) conversation. There are usually a few choices of questions to pick from though you don't need to worry about getting the right one as they all lead to the right end. My advice, ask them all, because the dialogue is so entertaining and certain questions will fill in the background and bring the story and the characters more into focus. There's just one thing I would wish for here, an option to click through the dialogue if you've heard it before.
Apart from the talk balloon there are just four other main cursors for interacting with the game world. Feet for walking, a large hand for changing locations, a pointing finger to pick up objects, and eyes for looking. In one sequence there is a supplementary 'jump' icon, but it doesn't hang around. It's a very simple game to control although another cursor to indicate the limitations of movement would have been good to avoid some trudging of characters to the extremes of the screens in the hope of moving further. It would also have worked better using the eye icon to look at objects before picking them up, rather than the finger cursor initiating the description.
Bone: Out From Boneville is a game for all the family, so as well as having simple conversational puzzles, and a few inventory items to collect and use, there are a number of more activity-like interludes or mini games. These include a couple of frantic chase sequences which are virtually identical, a maze to negotiate, some rock jumping, as well as a game of Hide an' Seek. All great fun for children but they do take up a fair slice of the game skewing it more towards a younger target audience. More mature players might well want more adventuring.
So for budding adventurers it's great fun, the puzzles are fairly straightforward, and there is a good hint system so it's virtually impossible to get stuck. If in doubt just click on the question mark at the lower right of screen where there is a gradation of hints available. There is also an excellent tutorial to set novices on the right track.
It took me approximately 3 hours to play through Bone and a fair slice of that time was taken up with Hide 'n Seek and the chase sequences, they did seem to dominate. Considering the price tag it is on the short side and, in my humble opinion the next episode should make the mini games simpler for a range of ages with a larger serving of more traditional adventuring for balance. More interaction with the game world would be a good thing too, more objects to select and collect. Maybe some incidental animations just for the fun of it. Yes, I do know it's a tall order designing a game suitable for everyone, but with a little extra forgiveness in the 'activities' and a bit more length, Bone could be a winner. Particularly for younger players, making the mini games replayable would be a bonus!
You can download and purchase Bone: Out From Boneville at Telltale Games where there is a demo available so you can try before you buy. It is activated online once you have installed it on your computer. Lets hope that the next episode has a bit more bulk, because there's heaps of potential. I look forward to meeting up with Fone, Phoney and Smiley again and seeing them safely home.
A fun game to play along with the kids.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2005.
All rights reserved.
Windows XP or Windows 2000, DirectX 8.1, 140 MB Free hard drive space, 3D Accelerated Video Card, 800 MHz P3 processor (or better)