The Next Big Thing
First posted on 07 December 2011. Last updated on 07 December 2011.
In 1997, Madrid based game development company Pendulo Studios released an adventure game called Hollywood Monsters—about a duo of reporters attending Hollywood's annual Monster Ball, a gathering of Universal Monsters from the golden age of cinema. Featuring Monkey Island style puzzle solving and quirky humor, the game was never released outside of Spain. With the subsequent success of the Runaway series that Pendulo Studios had achieved in both Spain and other countries, the developer was finally ready to bring back Hollywood Monsters to reintroduce the game as a new series to a different audience.
The Next Big Thing (also known as Hollywood Monsters 2) follows the jaded sports writer Dan Murray and his eccentric and questionably sane journalist colleague Liz Allaire. Both Dan and Liz have tickets to Hollywood's annual Horror Movie Awards, in which movie monsters are awarded for career achievements. Liz, ever the intrepid journalist, decides to investigate a crime she witnesses being committed at the event. The fallout ultimately leads both writers to stumble across a conspiracy that can threaten and destroy Hollywood as they know it.
Any gamer who has ever played a graphic adventure game will be instantly familiar with the control scheme in The Next Big Thing. Even so, gamers who are new to the adventure game genre will still find the controls fairly intuitive (though I admit to having some issues with the delegation of a mouse button to performing only a single task of examining objects). The player switches between Dan and Liz to tackle different sides of the same quest in an attempt to get back to each other and save the day. Many puzzles are solved using the game's inventory system, often combining different objects to achieve a desired result. While there is no new ground broken here, this is not necessary a "bad thing".
The Next Big Thing, unfortunately, has more than its fair share of problems. My biggest gripe is I simply cannot shake the feeling that I need to have played the original Hollywood Monsters in order to fully immerse myself into this game. In fact, there are more than a few times while playing the game when I truly feel that a plot element has been explained in the original game and that this game assumes I am already familiar with it. However, the developer has previously admitted in public that the game is intended to be both a sequel to and a remake of Hollywood Monsters, which explains the disjointed feeling I have had playing through the majority of the game. When combined with a story that is nevertheless unfocused, the game can sometimes lose the connection it tries to maintain with the player. Additionally, while most puzzles rely on unconventional logic, a few puzzles are so vague that a less seasoned player will likely abandon this game in favor of an easier alternative. That is not to say the puzzles in this game are hard—they are just sometimes completely illogical. Finally, and perhaps the most unforgivable offense, is that a character in this game will refuse to pick up an object unless that character knows its intended use. While this does not result in much backtracking in the game, it is still an annoyance that often brings the game to a halt.
Despite my problems with the game, however, The Next Big Thing is not all bad. The game's hand drawn and lush graphics deserve a bulk of my praise—enough, perhaps, to more than help to offset the game's problems. The game is beautiful to look at, and the developer's efforts to make animations smooth and natural only serve to enhance the experience. Both the main and the supporting characters are well developed and have their own unique personalities and quirks. More specifically, Dan's dry sarcastic approach to his dialog clashes with Liz's often nonsensical remarks. However, both characters are equally enjoyable to play and watch, though the chemistry between this unlikely duo is not as well developed as I want it to be, most likely due to the fact that they are kept apart for the majority of the game. Finally, despite the problematic story, the writing is actually quite sharp and tongue-in-cheek, frequently lampooning celebrity and pop culture. For me, the writing has been the most enjoyable part of my play through.
The Next Big Thing is certainly not a bad game. The game is beautiful to look at and has the developer's trademark twisted strangeness. However, the player often needs to make an effort to stay invested in its unfocused story, which ultimately feels flat. Gamers who are curious about Pendulo Studios' games may want to try out the Runaway series before tackling The Next Big Thing.