Bone: Out from Boneville

Posted by Joseph Howse.
First posted on 31 March 2008. Last updated on 05 June 2011.
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Bone: Out from Boneville
The Bone cousins are lost in the desert.
Bone: Out from Boneville
Fone ponders on how to cross the river.
Bone: Out from Boneville
Fone meets Thorn, his humanoid love interest.
Bone: Out from Boneville
Phoney gets no answers out of this sleeping dragon.
Bone: Out from Boneville
Fone expounds on Moby Dick!

Bone: Out from Boneville Director's Cut

Bone: Out from Boneville Director's Cut is the retail release of the original release of Bone: Out from Boneville previously distributed online only by Telltale Games. Released in December 2006 and distributed by XIDER Games, the retail release features a new prologue, updated dialog, and improved graphics. It also includes a manual that explains the interface.

Bone: Out from Boneville, released by Telltale Games in September 2005, is the first chapter of an episodic adventure game series targeted mainly to younger gamers. The game's story is based on an earlier comic series of the same name by artist Jeff Smith. Bone: Out from Boneville is the first adventure game title developed by Telltale Games, a company founded by ex-employees of LucasArts in 2004.

Bone: Out from Boneville features endearing heroes and villains who come to life in an amusing, well voiced script. The graphical style is simple yet pleasing, with expressive cartoon characters and colorful, scrolling backdrops, all rendered in real-time 3D. However, while the game tells its story well, its puzzles lack length and depth. There are no true brainteasers, and the game lasts barely 4 hours (even including its numerous cut scenes). For younger gamers, this game may still offer an entertaining, brief introduction to adventure gaming, but outgrowing this introduction will not take long.

The protagonists of Bone: Out from Boneville are short, white, 4-fingered humanoids with bulbous feet and noses. They are called Bones. The story begins just after Boneville has booted out its richest citizen, the scheming Phoney Bone. Phoney's cousins, Fone and Smiley, accompany him into the desert, where they get lost and soon discover that something sinister (not just an angry mob) is chasing after them.

The game's greatest strength is its dialog, which is full of wisecracks and quirky obsessions. Several times, Fone even starts talking about his favorite book, Moby Dick. Several of the characters and voice actors play particularly well off each other. Smiley, an idle, goofy musician, contrasts with Phoney's cranky, miserly personality. There is also a hilarious scene where a couple of stupid monsters bicker convincingly over whether to make Fone into stew or quiche.

Each character's mannerisms and behavior are consistent from the start to the end of the game. This seems appropriate, since this episode in the series introduces the characters, while perhaps later episodes will allow them to evolve. A love interest and several mysteries start to unfold late in the game.

Technically, the game's graphics lack certain high-end features. There are no reflections or soft shadows, and polygon counts are not high enough to prevent edges from appearing blocky in close-ups that are made worse by poor anti-aliasing. On the other hand, the game uses scenes rendered in real-time 3D. Due to the third-person perspective, this is not immediately obvious; however, the camera can both rotate and zoom in each scene, instead of just panning in 2D.

Technical considerations aside, the game's graphics are fun. They are bright and crisp. They convey clever juxtapositions (just as the dialog does). Each character's smallness or bigness comes across well in the choice of camera angles and surroundings. Likewise, the animations are very fluid. The game's artists have packed an impressive range of expression into most characters' hands, eyes, eyebrows, and mouth. They manage to be cartoonish yet lifelike too.

Most of the game's music and sound effects have the familiar, bouncy feel of television cartoon shows. The intro sounds more ominous but then Smiley lightens the mood with twanging renditions of folk songs.

The interface is point-and-click, with a single action icon (such as talk, look, or handle) corresponding to each hotspot. An optional in-game tutorial system explains each icon when it first appears.

Occasional pixel hunting is necessary because the intended hotspot is not always clear, even when the puzzle's logic is clear. For example, in some puzzles, the player must find "handle" hotspots in order to hide behind an obstacle, yet it is just more intuitive to simply walk behind the obstacle instead. A built-in hint system gives progressively explicit clues, which can resolve most pixel hunting problems. Some dialog clues are also quite explicit, almost directing the player to the necessary next step.

For most of the game, the player controls Fone. Later, in 2 sequences, the player controls Phoney. This allows for added variety in the tone of the dialog. However, Phoney mostly backtracks over ground that Fone has already covered. The characters and scenes are the same and the puzzles have similarities too. This repetition is very noticeable in an already short game.

Navigating dialog trees is the largest element of gameplay. The next largest element is the mini games, which vary in style. Some mini games, such as running from locusts, are arcade sequences. Some, such as sneaking away from monsters, are timing puzzles. Others, such as hopping across river stones in short and long jumps, involve pattern recognition. Still others, such as hide and seek, rely on process of elimination. Traditional inventory puzzles, including fetch quests, form smaller portions of gameplay. Thus, Bone: Out from Boneville attempts to cover many styles of gameplay. Unfortunately, in each style, it feels unexceptional, compared to other games that compete for younger and older gamers' attention in the same way.

Almost any action game offers more frenetic and prolonged exercise for the reflexes than the chase sequences in this game do. Many other puzzle games and adventure games bring more intriguing conundrums into focus. For experienced adventure gamers, many of this game's point and click puzzles will feel haphazard or mundane, in stark contrast to the well-paced, clever dialog. Examples of such puzzles include picking up rocks to find an object hidden underneath and borrowing someone's shovel to dig up turnips.

As an introduction to adventure gaming for younger gamers, Bone: Out from Boneville has good qualities. The in-game tutorial system shortens the learning curve, while the hint system minimizes frustration. The numerous mini games vary the style of play and ensure that every gamer will find something familiar (albeit that the gameplay can feel too familiar, rather than unique). Moreover, anyone, including more experienced gamers, can enjoy the fine script, voiceovers, and artwork that are in this game.

As an episodic series, Bone will need to evolve further if it is to retain its original audience over the span of several releases. While Bone: Out from Boneville is fun for awhile, this inaugural episode for the game series is also easy to outgrow.

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