The Next Big Thing Review
In 1997, Spanish developer Pendulo Studios released a 2D adventure called Hollywood Monsters that starred a two-person team of rival reporters investigating a story at the home of a powerful film producer. This premise, word for word, is the same as the company's new point-and-click adventure. The Next Big Thing is called a sequel, but it plays more like a slick, updated reboot of the '97 title.
The Next Big Thing stars ace sports reporter Dan Murray and up-and-comer Liz Allaire. As with the dual heroes of the studio's Runaway games, gameplay shifts between the two main characters as you check into a series of suspicious doings surrounding powerful filmmaker William A. Fitzrandolph. In the game's odd parallel universe, people say “Ayo” instead of “hello” and real-life monsters live among humans as much-lauded film stars. Fitzrandolph himself appears to be some kind of humanoid reptile, and the game starts with Liz and Dan attending a function held at his opulent mansion. Liz witnesses something fishy at the event and, despite Dan’s protests, sets out to investigate it. Not long after, she needs rescuing and it’s up to Dan to save her.
Anyone who's played the Runaway games will feel right at home with the gameplay and aesthetics of The Next Big Thing. It's a standard mouse-click setup: left click to move and interact with things and right click to change cursor icons. Things and people that are interactive give Dan and Liz the option of looking at, talking to or manipulating them, which includes using items on them that have been gathered during the investigation. The two reporters can also solve various puzzles by engaging other characters in quite lengthy (and often wonderfully absurd) conversations unique to each of them.
Dan's approach relies on his likable, roguish persona which allows him to treat people like schmucks and get away with it. Liz, on the other hand, has a tougher time thanks to some serious social issues. Coming from an eccentrically wealthy family, she has a disconcerting way of unexpectedly blurting out non-sequiturs like “vegetable soup!” and these don't exactly make people warm up to her. In addition to watching each hero grill suspects, a big part of the fun is witnessing the conspicuous attraction/antagonism between them. In the spirit of an old Tracey and Hepburn film, the two polar opposites do their best to ignore their obvious chemistry by constantly trading insults and this makes for some saucy, laugh-out-loud exchanges.
While the game's writing exhibits the same excellence as the studio's previous titles, its graphics have taken a big leap forward. Using the colorful, 3D cel-shaded approach employed in the Runaway series, The Next Big Thing’s art is visually more complex and atmospheric. Environments in particular are fabulous; from a Hollywood mansion and film studio to a kitschy Egyptian-themed temple, everything is polished and brilliantly beautiful. Gameplay too has gotten conceptually more diverse, including a wide range of locations and kooky situational puzzles. One memorable section takes place in the weirdly surreal rooms of Liz's troubled psyche and involves overcoming her greatest fears. This creative part of the game can be uniquely challenging and is the entertaining definition of lateral thinking.
Speaking of challenge, one of the best things about the game is that - and this is unusual for a traditional point-and-click - it lets you determine how much challenge you can take by offering you difficulty settings. Less experienced players can opt for a casual mode that provides them with hints and can display all the interactive hotspots by clicking an onscreen icon; hardcore players can toggle those things off. Other notable features are the voice acting which is universally solid and the music score which contains anything from Spanish guitar to Tango, to exotic Egyptian melodies. Oh, and once you've played through to the end of the game, you'll enjoy an especially gratifying ending.
The Next Big Thing is a prime example of what a graphic adventure should be. It's got it all: an entertaining story, great writing, creative but logical puzzles, good voice acting and music, beautiful artwork and a killer sense of humor. If Pendulo keeps improving on its games at this rate, all of them are destined to be the “next big thing”.