Film-noir reapers, heavy metal ghouls and psychic spies
We’re excited, folks. So far 2009 has suffered from a paucity of decent video games, but now we finally have something to look forward to: a new title from idiosyncratic (and hilarious) game designer Tim Schafer. Brütal Legend, out now, stars Jack Black as a roadie who gets pulled into an alternate dimension ruled by metal music. There, he must fight the horrible forces of glam rock and goth. It co-stars Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy from Motörhead and Rob Halford from Judas Priest, among many others, and is by no means the strangest thing to come out of Tim Schafer’s noggin. Want proof? Read on…
The Secret Of Monkey Island (1990)
The story: A young wannabe pirate, Guybrush Threepwood, must overcome his bad luck and stupid name to find the legendary Monkey Island and rescue his love interest – governor’s daughter Elaine Marley – from ghost pirate LeChuck.
The game: Sound familiar? It should do – Monkey Island was inspired by Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean ride long before Johnny Depp put on a tricorn hat. A simple mouse-based interface was used to move Guybrush around the screen and solve puzzles by combining verbs (‘open’) with objects in the game world (‘door’). While the puzzles formed the meat of the adventure, it was Tim Schafer’s sparky script and goofy ideas that provided the relish. Schafer and fellow writer Dave Grossman put together about two thirds of the game’s dialogue, and were instrumental in steering it from a relatively serious adventure into all-out comedy.
Meathook: You just don’t know when to quit, do you?
Guybrush: Neither did your barber.
Day Of The Tentacle (1993)
The story: Nerdy Bernard, medical student Laverne and heavy metal fan Hoagie travel through time in sci-fi portaloos to fight a world-conquering living tentacle. That has arms.
The game: The first title to make a big deal out of Schafer’s involvement, Day Of The Tentacle showed him spreading his wings as a game designer, forcing players to think four-dimensionally to solve puzzles over three different time zones. And, with an even weirder premise than Monkey Island, Schafer was free to be goofier than he had ever been before. How many other stories include George Washington, a talking horse, mad scientists and a mummy holding a birdbath? But that was nothing compared with what he’d come up with in the future.
Bernard: How’s Dr Fred?
Edna: He’s doing much better now that he’s stopped sleepwalking.
Bernard: How did he stop sleepwalking?
Edna: He stopped sleeping.
Grim Fandango (1998)
The story: Manny Calavera is a reaper tasked with bringing human souls into the afterlife and sending them on their way to paradise. But when he discovers a plot to rob virtuous souls of their tickets to Heaven, he becomes involved in a noir-ish mystery.
The game: Created in the twilight hours of the adventure game’s heyday, the much-loved Grim Fandango saw Schafer jumping the puzzle-solving into three dimensions. The game itself is challenging, but the real draw is the elaborate afterlife Schafer created for it. Imagine Tim Burton doing Casablanca and you’d be halfway there: skeletal souls (including troubled anti-hero Manny Calavera) living in ’50s-style cities surrounded by a hellish wasteland; gangsters who ‘murder’ people by turning them into flowers; resistance fighters who communicate by skeletal carrier pigeons; and, of course, a dangerous dame with a figure to die for… again.
Hector: Oh Manny… so cynical… What happened to you, Manny, that caused you to lose your sense of hope, your love of life?
Manny: I died.
The story: Fleeing the circus in which he grew up, psychic child Razputin (or ‘Raz’) runs off to Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp in the hopes of becoming a mind-reading government agent, or ‘Psychonaut’. But as he develops his abilities, he discovers that someone is stealing the children’s brains…
The game: Schafer’s first game in eight years was a simultaneously sweet and sinister action puzzler that provided both instant gratification and surprising depth. Most of the game is set inside the heads of the characters, with the various gameworlds representing their personalities. Cold, calculating Sasha Nein, for example, is represented by a white cube that contains all kinds of barely-repressed anxieties and desires, while a paranoid milkman’s brain turns into a suburban maze full of hidden cameras and undercover agents. If you think that sounds odd, the original idea featured an ostrich trapped inside its own split personalities. But Schafer scrapped the idea in a rare moment of self-restraint; he later explained that games should be about wish-fulfilment – and very few people fantasise about being a mad ostrich.
Dr Loboto: Little boy, I’m afraid that you have a serious mental problem. The trouble originates in this region, what we in the medical profession refer to as… ‘the brain’. You see, son, it’s just no good! I hate to be so blunt but you have the insanity of a manatee!
Dogen: I know! Everybody’s always saying that. What’s wrong with my brain, doctor?
Dr Loboto: How should I know? I’m a dentist.
Brütal Legend (2009)
The story: Eddie Riggs (below, voiced by Jack Black), the world’s best roadie for the world’s worst band, is pulled into a heavy-metal-inspired world where he must lead an army of heroes against demonic forces.
The game: Stepping away from the puzzling, this latest Schafer game is largely based around action, both face-to-face and strategy-based. It has 53 missions spread over a free-roaming game world that’s designed to look like a heavy metal album cover come to life, complete with giant chains, desolate shores and improbably huge statues. Schafer’s wit is on full display, both in the animated cut scenes and in the gameplay, which includes face-melting guitar solos that actually do melt faces off.
Eddie: I’m supposed to think you’re a nun but I know you’re really some kind of big ugly demon, so let’s have it. [Demon turns around and roars]
Eddie: Ah-ha! I knew it! Big ugly demon! Kind of sexy, though, in a weird way. Brütal Legend is available in stores.