Adventure Gamers Awards
“Sorry, just trying to interact with everything to see what happens.”… “Probably not much, I think the developers got lazy towards the end of development.”
So goes an exchange between the nameless protagonist and a hotel manager just four minutes into Ferris Mueller’s Day Off. Self-deprecating meta-references like these are the norm in this intentionally crude adventure, and appropriately so: even a glance at its purposely childlike visuals are evocative of the offbeat stylings of late-night cable animation, and the humor here is almost exactly the same. Embracing a raw, simplistic visual design, a nonsensical narrative, and non sequitur puzzle logic (all for comedic effect), Ferris Mueller is a decisively bizarre mobile adventure. But while this loose and carefree attitude makes for a somewhat fun atmosphere, it ultimately doesn’t allow for a very fun adventure.
The farcically lackadaisical tone of Ferris Mueller is its most endearing quality, often defying traditional expectations to poke fun at and seemingly satirize the genre in colorful and playful ways. This game is akin to Adult Swim cartoon programming, subverting everything with intentional campiness. The somewhat laughable parodist tone of this adventure does make the game a more engaging experience than it would have been otherwise.
Unfortunately, the crippling downfall that separates Ferris Mueller from being a fun-to-play-intentionally-bad-game and just being a bad game is its gameplay – particularly the puzzles, which are incessantly mundane. Even the dialogue system from which most of the humor derives is unnecessarily convoluted, always offering too many choices that don’t alter the game in any way or fashion, acting as endless drivel for anyone willing to take the time to cycle through the text (which I did to rare satisfaction).
Adding to the absurdity – from which we get the familiar title of this adventure – is that instead of Matthew Broderick in the lead role, at the outset we get a mule by the name of Mueller stuck in a classroom full of horses. Once the adventure begins, however, you quickly find the opening sequence has little to do with the game’s actual premise, and even less to do with the movie from which it takes its name.
Ferris Mueller’s Day Off is largely a Western in which your horse Mueller is missing and you have to venture out to retrieve him. The game is fairly open-ended and immediately drops you into town and allows full exploration of all of its establishments, including the saloon, the general store, and the London phone booth. Mueller can actually be found rather quickly without much exploration needed at all, but the obstacle placing him out of reach is a completely ridiculous reference to a popular internet meme that here involves Gandalf the Grey.
From this you can probably gather that the puzzle solutions don’t care to be entirely logical either. At one point a completely random trigger reveals a magical portal into an altered dimension – a brief 2D to 3D transition that sort of demands recognition for its sheer preposterousness, but no forgiveness for its utter arbitrariness.
The interface at least is simple enough, providing a basic first-person slideshow perspective in which merely tapping on any destination leaps you forward. Tapping is actually the only motion you’ll utilize, as no dragging or swiping is ever required, and the only way to turn around is to tap a back arrow always in the corner of the screen. The inventory slides up from the bottom with the press of an icon and a hint system can be accessed through another icon – which you’ll be using a lot to get any sort of grasp on the game’s logic. If you decide not to rely on the hint system, this game will feel exhaustingly long, and even if you do, you’re still going to find the experience too drawn-out.
That’s because the amount of backtracking through all the fetch quests and continuous cycling of unnecessary inventory items, along with a barrage of constant code-punching and dreadful slider puzzles, is completely outrageous. The biggest problem is that none of these are ever fun and they represent the bulk of the gameplay. The puzzles are always similar, tediously forcing you to scurry back and forth through the same 15 or so screens, combining countless items to obtain more items to solve more layers of endless puzzles. Unlocking doors or breaking into boxes usually involves elementary requirements such as color matching or pattern memorization, the solutions of which are supposed to be solved from especially cryptic and obscure visual clues. If the puzzles had matched the level of insanity the rest of the game offers, Ferris Mueller would have made for a far more entertaining adventure. Instead we are given a plain, repetitive, and monotonous experience underneath a lot of random humor.
The town inhabitants are as flat in personality as they are drawn, usually quick to confront or dismiss you in ways that may provide some chuckles but never actually establish any real character. Perhaps if they had been voiced they might have displayed some engaging personality, but without that none of the characters are at all memorable. In place of voice acting (outside of the opening and closing sequences), the game provides some repetitive music loops, which manage to be whimsical and lighthearted before occasionally breaking off into senseless tangents, which goes right along with overall madness.
By the time Ferris Mueller’s Day Off finishes after several protracted hours, it never manages to rise above expectations. The ending is predictably absurd and nonsensical, making it one final reason for your endless efforts to feel all the more meaningless. While some may find value and humor in this kind of dismissive, tongue-in-cheek payoff, I can’t imagine many adventure gamers finding all the time invested worthwhile. While this kind of random, absurdist approach can admittedly be rather whimsical and joyous at times, the bottom line is that the actual game part of this adventure is just not very good.