I’ve recently been doing some bits and bobs for a website called Xbox Sector–mainly opinion articles, much like on my own blog, but I also write news articles and more recently: reviews.
Whilst most of the codes I get are for simple indie games rather than expensive AAA titles, it’s given me an opportunity to play some games I wouldn’t normally buy. I have a review coming out soon on Sky Force Anniversary: a classic top-down, vertically scrolling shoot-em-up. However this week I was sent a code for a point and click adventure game–far from my Battlefield roots, but free stuff is rather compelling!
Since the review has been covered by Leigh, the owner of Xbox Sector, I thought I’d do my own review on here… Where I can be as subjective and unorthodox as I like!
The Empire Staggers Back!
That is the genuine sub-title for the game, that’s not me trying to be funny. A strong pull for me to play Her Majesty’s Spiffing was the cover art, a cartoonish spoof of a Star Wars movie cover, not unlike the Family Guy movies! Describing itself as a comedic 3D point and click puzzler I went in with an open mind. Games often have humorous parts which help the plot stay alive, however relying on comedy completely to drive the story seems a risky move–especially with English humour; it has to have some subtlety!
I was pleasantly surprised on this count. Her Majesty’s Spiffing certainly doesn’t take itself seriously. From the very beginning you are shown what to expect, as the camera follows the Queen and her delightful corgis, purposefully walking past procrastinating royal guards in Westminster Abbey.
The Queen has lost faith in the present day government so she decides to take back control and return Britain to its ‘glory days’. The whole concept is made light of by the Queen’s choice to turn Big Ben into a space rocket, to pioneer and colonise a new planet on which to rebuilt her empire. The general daftness throughout Her Majesty’s Spiffing is complimented by some smart and witty one liners with plenty of sarcastic current affair digs and plenty of stereotypical jokes.
Frank Lee English – Facepalm
You play as the gigantic, bald, tea loving Englishman aptly named Frank Lee English (har har) aboard the scouting vessel HMSS Imerialise. Your ‘sublieutenant’ is Aled Jones: a small Welsh teenager with a sarcastic mouth and a comical lack of respect for the chain of command.
Immediately English brazenly reveals that the game is self aware, the so-called 4th Wall has been torn away and English replaces button prompts with heavily hinted verbal suggestions. As soon as he starts talking I’m reminded of Nigel off of the Wild Thornberries, and Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. An impressive moustache wags above his upper lip as he utters his intentions of making a delicious beverage. The character designs are fantastic, and the animations involved, especially where walking is concerned are completely nuts. Hold down the right trigger in order to both run, and look like an utter berk doing so.
Making a cup of tea to get to grips with the inventory system is your first task, but before you can do that you have to reach the kitchen! Use the wrong button prompt on a door and you are rewarded with a sarcastic one-liner. I lost count of how many times I accidentally tried to talk to doors and inanimate objects just for English to say: “I don’t believe the isolation of space has forced me to talk to the furniture just yet” or, “That kind of behavior results in one being institutionalised!” The best bit is trying to talk to Aled and accidentally pressing Interact/Grab which prompts a more adult response like: “I like the chap, but not in that way” or “that sort of stuff isn’t tolerated in the work place…”
It’s with these little touches that Her Majesty’s Spiffing starts to grow on you. Some of the lines are just cringeworthy, but a lot of the jokes are well thought out and they are often told naturally or hidden in the game behind button prompts or as part of the background. What really makes the comedy work for me though is the language English uses, and the subtle but undoubtedly British character traits. He is clearly utterly clueless and terrible with technology but he blunders confidently around regardless, as if he has a God given excuse to be a buffoon.
Puzzles are intelligently hidden within arbitrary objectives. Every object has a purpose, and many of them are hidden, which means although the game is incredibly short, you’ll cover quite a lot of distance looking for clues. The game encourages you to think laterally for solutions, and by the end I was also using my own stereotypes to solve puzzles. How should you distract the petit Frenchman who, with his ape companion looks suspiciously like Han Solo? Why, with cheese and frogs of course!
The puzzles aren’t particularly difficult, but some items can be hard to find, and exploring the same areas can become laborious. Also the music, whilst being charming at first is rather monotonous and did get on my nerves after a while. Generally the sound effects are very good, although the footstep volume could be turned down a bit, especially with the amount of backtracking you’ll be doing!
Getting stuck there is little help to be had from your Welsh companion. Even asking a vague question is met with a snarky remark which makes me want to throw my tea down his lazy front.
My favorite part about Her Majesty’s Spiffing is the complete randomness of some of the encounters. The fact there is an unnoticed supernatural element brings to mind Shaun of the Dead. When English turns around to voice his thoughts at the missing Biologist in the lab, and I briefly saw said Biologist behind him, I was almost tempted to shout “He’s behind you!”
All of this is hard to explain: it’s always the humorous stories that are the hardest to convey without losing the essence of what made them so funny the first time.
Worth the Money?
To witness the witty nationalist jokes of Her Majesty’s Spiffing the cost is a little dear in my opinion. It will be for sale on the Xbox store for £14.99 on 7th December. The development company (Billy Goat Entertainment) is small and used Kickstarter to get the funding for this project, and whilst I think they did a great job, the price tag doesn’t quite seem worth it to me!
Why is this? Simply because the game is so very short. For someone with a properly functioning brain, the story can probably take you around 2-3 hours. It took me a bit longer because I got stuck at 81% completion for a while, but even after completing the game there is no incentive to replay it since you already know all the puzzles. So it’s really up to you if you think 2 hours of gameplay is worth £15! I’ve certainly seen worse value packages.
The visuals and voice acting fill the game with character, and it’s great to see such a high quality product come from such a limited budget. However the price is a sticking point and there are a couple of bugs I had to contend with. I found a game breaking bug whilst climbing a rope ladder on the planet’s surface and was lucky enough to have manually saved not long before–so I advise you use manual saves as well as the autosave! That being said, these bugs are likely being fixed before Wednesday anyway!