Review for James Peris: No Licence Nor Control
If you like your games long and hard, and don't mind puerile and sexist humor or flimsy and clichéd stories, you'll want to get your hands on James Peris: No License Nor Control. In this comic spy spoof, the titular protagonist readily admits he only applied to be a secret agent because everyone knows it offers unlimited access to girls. His room is decorated with pin-up calendars and he loves to browse his secret stash of raunchy magazines, so this is the life he always dreamed of. Unfortunately for him, it doesn't quite work out like he expected, and unfortunately for players, the premise doesn't guarantee a great adventure, either.
This is not the first game with the clumsy anti-hero in the title role, as indie Spanish developer Pavo Entertainment previously released James Peris is the agent 00.5 as freeware in 2005. The commercial sequel starts with James awaiting a new assignment. His boss, Pache-Q, calls to tell him their top secret agent has disappeared on a mission in London, and it is up to James to find him. He'll have to go to headquarters first though, to pick up a car and collect some special equipment. Easier said than done, as the instructions to get there are in a handy guide that James has locked away to keep safe, and naturally he has forgotten the combination to the lock. Luckily your neighbour Bob (whom you'll never get to see, only ever talking to him through the door) reminds you of a clue relating to several items in your room (the objects assigned randomly in each new game). Here is where things gets hard, for all the wrong reasons.
The trouble is, the game was originally developed in Spanish and the translation isn't very good. For instance, a cabinet, chest or cupboard is either called a “drawer” or “wardrobe” even if it's just a door under the kitchen sink, so when your instructions are to count the number of drawers, you have no idea if they mean the number of cupboards in the room or the number of actual moveable parts within them. Also, in Spanish the word 'curtain' is apparently used for the set of curtains on both sides of a window, so if you have two windows you should count two curtains even if in fact there are four separate curtains. Translation problems like these not only affect the jokes, but the solutions to puzzles themselves, which are often obscure or make no sense at all. Combined with some poorly clued, illogical solutions in their own right, the game soon boils down to simply trying everything on everything and everyone, brute forcing your way through puzzles in the hope of getting them right eventually.
The developers actually reward such behaviour by giving extra points for creativity. More than 1000 points can be earned by trying combinations that usually don't help your cause at all, such as sticking a miniature doll of your boss (don't ask!) on a cactus, voodoo-style, or leaving a fridge door open for a while. Sometimes you will just get a 'that's not possible' answer and other times the right solution will give you points, so it pays to randomly combine stuff all the time. The number of points doesn't reflect your progress through the game, but rather how many wrong solutions you've tried, which is an unusual and funny approach. If you've managed to gather at least 1000 points by the end, a couple of new game modes are unlocked. You'll also unlock some minigames along the way that are playable from the main menu. They're basically target-shooting and side-scrolling obstacle course games with a James Peris-specific twist (meaning you'll have to squash zits on someone's face or use your big ears to fly through a minefield of boobs, turkeys and toasters). Just before the end of the main adventure, you'll get an opportunity to gain a few extra points by answering some very hard questions about the colour of an item or the number of ingredients needed in a recipe.
Once at HQ, James receives a watch that can open locks, a ray gun that changes the size of objects or people and the keys to a super car before departing for London. After a long search involving a hotel, a construction site, a bar and a sleazy pizza restaurant, he finally gets to meet the other agent – James Bond! – who is not missing after all but merely retiring, and he wants Peris to take over his assignment. Clues for the new case lead players through a gay bar and a Swiss mansion, among other locations, as a thin and rather unexciting story slowly unfolds.
There's certainly no shortage of places to go and people to meet. Most supporting characters, like a computer nerd, a guy with large ears sitting in a bar and a construction worker, feel shallow and artificial, as if they were added specifically for one particular gag or to hinder your progress with a puzzle or two. Upon entering a new location or encountering a new character, you can often feel the next joke being built up already. None of the individual scenes are very large, with the exception of the Swiss mansion, which has a handy map that lets you fast travel between rooms and outdoor sub-locations.
The humor is probably the main selling point here, but it's very much a hit-and-miss affair. The game never takes itself seriously, and depending on your personal preferences you will find the constant barrage of silly jokes – which range from spy movie references to clean jokes like “It was so hot the cows gave powdered milk” to naughty remarks about dirty underwear, physical appearances and bodily functions – either groan-worthy, sexist and puerile, or right up your alley (or both). James approaches everyone with insults and silly remarks, continually joking about their problems, so after a while it makes you wonder why you should care getting him through yet another sticky situation. A narrator sometimes adds a dry, sarcastic comment that is more to my own taste, but even he can't save the game from an overdose of bad jokes.
The simple but charming cartoon style fits the game's mood perfectly. There's not much detail in the character models, but they move fluently and fit nicely into the equally sparse but colorful backgrounds. It's a pity the cinematics are of noticeably lower quality. The voice actors (the developers themselves) do their best, but for some characters they use silly squeaky voices that aren't believable or realistic, and since all speech is in Spanish, relying solely on English subtitles to understand what they're saying is not funny but distracting and annoying. There isn't much in the way of sound effects, and those present are not very special (footsteps, cars honking in the distance, the rushing of rain). The exceptions are some 'comical' sounds borrowed from slapstick movies, such as canned laughter when looking at a naughty magazine or a squeak when picking stuff up and a 'ding' when scoring points. The background music is suitable, consisting of orchestral spy themes that keep to the background and don't interfere. In most locations these are long, looping melodies, but a couple of them get repetitive quite fast and a handful only get played once upon entering the location for the first time and then never repeating at all, leaving you with only the ambient sounds for company.
The interface is a bit clumsy. The default cross-hair cursor changes into an eye over interactive people or items, and a text label appears at the bottom of the screen. Left-clicking triggers James into giving a more detailed description, while right-clicking (on applicable objects) changes the icon into alternate shapes for grabbing items or talking. Combining objects is easy, as you can just drag them on top of each other. For some actions like searching through a waste bin, however, you'll need to use the 'grab' icon a couple of times, and since it reverts back to the eye cursor each time, this means a lot of extra clicks, which can get tedious. Even worse is that dialogues usually end after exhausting only one path, so you'll have to click on the person again to start new conversation about another subject, which requires not only right-clicking to change the cursor again, but sometimes going through an animation or exchanging a few sentences before control returns to you. This gets very frustrating after a while, particularly if someone has a lot of different things to say.
The game is quite linear, but you can work at several puzzles at once within a given chapter. You'll need to distract guards by sabotaging things or giving them something to eat, select books from a library to learn more insults or dance moves (though James will perform the latter himself once mastered), find ingredients to cook dinner, scare off some crows, and find the code to a locker. Some of these are also unnecessarily hard due to translation errors; the books in the library catalogue, for instance, are not in alphabetical English order and have similar, non-specific titles.
At a hefty 25 hours, the play time is very good value for its indie budget price, but even after all that time the game abruptly ends with a bizarre scene that feels rushed and unsatisfactory, leaving you with many unanswered questions. If you've managed to gather 1000 points or more, the extra modes unlocked include a director's commentary that gives some cool insights into the development of the game (including different art styles considered), an instant death mode that has 98 different ways to die (you do get the option of restoring the game just before you made a fatal mistake) and a porn mode (which means the scantily clad women on the posters and calendars no longer wear bikinis and the girl in the bar now serves topless). As all the jokes and the majority of the puzzles remain the same during replays, however, it's unlikely you'll feel inclined to struggle through it all again multiple times.
Indeed, given the game's substantial length the first time through, playing just once is more than enough. Sure, its pleasant cartoon look complements the occasional successful laugh, and the original scoring system offers some incentive to try absurd things, but with its poor translation, trial-and-error puzzles, too many juvenile jokes that fall flat, and a storyline that's anything but the sexy adventure its protagonist envisioned, there just isn't enough in James Peris: No License Nor Control that makes it a really fun game to play.