In 1990, Sierra On-Line acquired partner development studio Dynamix. With this new studio came a different group of programmers and designers, and a different style of games. Adventures like Heart of China and Rise of the Dragon were more serious in tone than many previous Sierra efforts, and featured distinct interfaces compared to their Quest series counterparts. Ironically, perhaps the most endearing game to stem from this partnership, and certainly the one that left the biggest impression on me, was 1991’s The Adventures of Willy Beamish. Created by Dynamix co-founder Jeff Tunnell, it is a traditional point-and-click comic adventure that comes as close to the familiar Sierra style as Dynamix ever got in their time together. Coupling high-quality cartoon visuals with an odd sense of humour, the adventures of its youthful protagonist are filled with exaggerated events and peculiar twists. It has a few troublesome gameplay issues along the way, but the game is packed with more than enough fun elements to keep you glued to the screen.
Following the exploits of a teenage boy over the space of one summer break, players control the titular character Willy, wise-cracking videogame addict, and his best friend Horny, a pet frog. Willy dreams of winning the Nintari (no obvious brand names there, right?) videogame championship, and with it a huge cash prize. However, just as things are looking good for Willy and his family in their high-priced suburban family home, something begins to turn sour in the fictional town of Frumpton. From here on in, events get stranger and stranger, including the appearance of vampire bats, ninjas, sludge and super-powered frogs in Lederhosen. To top things off, Leona Humpford – resident millionaire and owner of the town’s biggest employer, the Tootsweet sweetener factory – plans to cripple the town economy in order to gain control of it for herself. This plan will put the entire population of Frumpton in danger, forcing our young hero to rather unwittingly save the day.
Other important characters in Willy’s adventures are his parents and two sisters, the elder Brittany and younger Brianna. The ghost of Grandpa Beamish also appears at opportune times, acting as a conscience to Willy when presented with a difficult decision to make. Willy’s friends, Dana and Perry, hang out at the treetop clubhouse and will also help you along the way. Then there is a whole host of bad guys, punks and criminals doing their best to halt your progress. Other supporting characters include caricatures of TV reporters and celebrities, their archetypes ramped up in order to match the storyline. The varied cast is nicely developed and well rounded, and conversations are smart and funny. In particular, the Japanese family who cannot quite understand what Willy is trying to say produces a lot of amusing – if a little stereotypical – moments. But this whole game is played out like an episode of The Simpsons, so stereotypes are intentionally perpetuated.
After a brief opening cinematic where Willy causes a school assembly to go disastrously wrong, he is thrown straight into detention. To make things worse, report cards are being mailed home today and Willy wants to get back before his parents have the chance to read it. So there is only one thing for it: escape. Even at this early stage of the game, there are many options available with several different outcomes depending on what you decide to try, as the obstacles can be solved in more than one way. This adds an exciting element of personal freedom to the proceedings. The variety of resolutions does peter out as you get further along, as the game becomes more and more focused on single solutions. It’s unfortunate that the level of choice could not be kept up throughout, but its inclusion can be appreciated even so.
Some of the solutions are more ideal than others, and some have more negative consequences. As was the mantra for other Sierra adventures of the time: “save early, save often”, as death may always be just around the corner. This game does have a system to provide a bit more leeway than most of Sierra’s adventures, however. Willy’s in-game actions impact your “Trouble Meter”, a good/bad gauge. Misbehave or skimp on your chores and the meter will rise. If the meter gets all the way to the top, Willy is sent off to Military Camp, and it’s game over. Good actions will drop the meter back to safer levels, though, and ensure you keep on track for the Nintari World Championships. This, in theory, gives players multiple chances to mess up and/or make amends, but certain puzzles still lead to instant failure.
Another interesting feature is that each in-game day follows its own clock. Days don’t pass in real time, but certain actions need to be completed before particular times. If not, either the game will end or the trouble meter will rise. Also, some events will not trigger until the clock has reached a specific hour. This can be controlled by the player too. For instance, if you feel you have completed all the tasks necessary for one evening and don’t want to wait around until bedtime, the fast forward buttons allow you to skip ahead by minutes or hours. Of course, this can also work to your disadvantage. You could skip too far ahead and get in trouble for things like missing your bedtime, and this affects your naughty meter accordingly.Continued on the next page...