The latest game from Runaway creators Pendulo Studios is a throwback to a bygone era in more ways than one. It's a classic point-and-click adventure game in the tradition of the glory days of the '90s. It's also a bit of a reimagined version of Pendulo's 1997 adventure Hollywood Monsters.
And to top it off, it's a tribute to American popular culture and specifically the Golden Age of Hollywood. But this time it's a Hollywood where actual monsters star in the movies.
Liz Allaire is very likable as the female protagonist, but she has an unhealthy obsession with refrigerators and for some reason can finish other peoples' sentences while they are speaking them. The game never explains why, and perhaps that's for the best. Dan Murray, on the other hand, does his '40s Hollywood "I'm a dick but you love me for it" thing, but as a result he feels like more of a side character when matched with the bristling Liz.
Hotspots highlight all the interactive elements in any location, and Help lets a narrator give you a hint about what to do. You could play the game without clues on the hard difficulty setting but if you ever get stuck and don't want to resort to a walkthrough, you'll just end up continuously mousing over rooms in a pattern and using every object on everything.
The Next BIG Thing offers a menu that cuts up every location into a selection of goals that are introduced and wrapped up by an ever-present narrator, and through this system it tells you what the main objectives are. It works quite well, but the story sometimes makes jumps between scenes that make you wonder why you weren't just allowed to play them.
Although the story is more than serviceable, it does tend to jump and skip all over the place. The aforementioned jumps between scenes would be forgivable if the story on the whole was well-structured. But it sometimes drags in places where it shouldn't and goes through other locations at a fast pace where you would've liked to spend more time.
For some reason, the game froze twice on me as well, which forced me to replay a couple of hours worth of puzzling because the auto-saves didn't function for me at all. Of course, when you do know what to do you can make up for it in minutes because it's an adventure game. But it rubs the lack of replayability in your face, as there is always only one way to progress and there are no alternate endings or solutions to puzzles.
Despite the few frustrations and far-fetched puzzles that made me pull my hair out, I ended up being charmed by The Next BIG Thing. The quality animation, voice acting, and especially all the references to movie material from the past century more than made up for the annoyances. Having said that, it helps if you are a fan of zany adventure games and Hollywood cinema as it transcends the experience from playing a decent adventure game to playing a good one.
In the spirit of the crazy adventures of Liz and Dan, the game's retail price varies wildly between regions despite Pendulo's European roots. We're used to paying more than the U.S. for games in Europe, but the European retail price is simply ridiculous compared to the U.S. and UK prices. As it's a 6+ hour game with little to no replayability, you might want to look around for better prices if you live in Europe -- some UK online stores stock it for a very reasonable £18, for instance.
For all its shortcomings and curious pricing scheme, it's still a game that you can reflect on with positive feelings. The Next BIG Thing contains plenty of charm and spirit in both its writing and superb animation, and while it's a somewhat flawed game overall, it's still a game that fans of the genre should give a look. For the right price, that is.
THE VERDICT - The Next BIG Thing
Reviewed by Maurice Tan