Ever since the first days of cinema, detective stories have had a prominent place on the big screen. In Detective Hayseed: Hollywood, Czech developer Zima Software attempts to translate that into a parody about a small town detective going to Tinseltown to crack a caper. Assisted by a laser weapon, exploding chewing gum and a spy watch, Hayseed sets out to save the Academy Awards ceremony and uphold this iconic pillar of celebrity glitz and glamor from a saboteur who’s already stolen the winners’ list and has threatened further mayhem – even if he is just doing it ‘cause a call from POTUS forced to get out of bed. It’s a promising setup for a whimsical romp, but with a mish-mashed plot, poor English translation and flat characters, you may be wishing for a presidential pardon before the end.
At its core, the basic plot is a mystery: Who stole the Oscar list and why? And of course, can Hayseed get it back in time for the big event? Unfortunately, what should be a fun premise starts to collapse in on itself right off the bat with plot holes big enough to drive a cruise ship through. Looking past the absurdity that someone stole the only known paper list of award winners (there are no backup copies?), too many things are never explained properly. For example, we’re never given a good reason why Hayseed doesn’t have any sort of official identification, despite being hired by the president for the case, or why he never bothers to interview suspects or follow any sort of logical investigative train of thought. Along the way there is some background information provided about the villain’s motives which, instead of making things clear, only serves to muddle them even more, particularly the Greek historical references. It’s also never clarified why Hayseed has a green alien he refers to as his son, apparently living in his basement. After the opening scenes we never see him again, so I assume that’s left up to audience interpretation.
Along with being a mystery, of course, Detective Hayseed is meant to be a comedy, so it’s a shame that a lot of the humor was (presumably) lost in the poor translation from the original Czech. Most things seem to have been translated literally, even when it doesn’t make sense. The joke structure itself at times seems off, as some of the punchlines come before the setup, while some lack the setup entirely. You can also tell that some of the lines were meant to be funny from the way they are delivered, even though there isn’t actually a gag there. Some of the comedy also misses the mark in the current political climate, such as the Confederate flag in the Wild West Saloon movie set and the ridiculous Native American character. While probably not enough to classify as offensive, such depictions are cringe-worthy at best. Other than some over-the-top celebrity parodies, the game relies predominantly on toilet humor and sex jokes. So much for the marketing description advertising “jokes for all ages.” If you’re looking for witty dialogue, you’d better look elsewhere.
The characters are about as two-dimensional as cardboard cutouts. Everyone is a parody, from Paris Hilton to Eddie Murphy (à la Beverly Hills Cop) to Sylvester Stallone from his Rocky days. In theory, this could work. After all, there are entire TV franchises dedicated to parodying pop culture, so why not a game? The problem here is that none of the characters treads any new ground in terms of satire. Hilton is the same old party girl cliché, hopped up on cocaine and neglecting her little rat-dog. The only character that managed to get even a chuckle out of me was Jack Nicholson, who lends Hayseed 60 bucks because he’s desperately jonesing for a smoke, and even that was more sheer surprise that he appeared as the Joker! Hayseed himself is a riff on the detective genre in general, rather than any one specific character. He’s from out in the American boonies, a good old pervert who genially blunders through the investigation, making off-color jokes every chance he gets. On second thought, he may just be a parody of Americans in general, never mind detectives.
The voice acting just isn’t up to par either. Most of the characters speak very slowly, making it painful to sit there and listen to them trundle through a line when you’ve already read the subtitles twice over, though you can thankfully skip through the voice-overs. Additionally, speech patterns are out of whack and there are many times when the emphasis is placed on the wrong word in a sentence or wrong syllable in a word, making it all sound very awkward. Hayseed himself struggles with English pronunciation of some words, “cache” and “Dionysius” coming particularly to mind. This may also be due to the language barrier for non-native actors, but the end result detracts from the experience. In terms of actual acting performance, it is fairly average, but that’s allowing a certain amount of leniency given that the characters are all supposed to be over-the-top exaggerations. All the voice actors end up sounding like they were doing sketches on MadTV.
Looping scores differ in each location, such as the slow country tune played with twangy banjo around Hayseed’s house, but none are particularly imaginative or add much feeling to their respective scenes. Most locations eschew music in favor of a plethora of background noises, however, such as when Hayseed goes to the beach, where you can hear fog horns, seagulls and waves. The sound effects are usually good, with nice touches like bubbles blowing in a fish tank or the bored meow of Hayseed’s dangling cat, having somehow managed to get itself caught on a ceiling hook and unable to get down. The one audio and visual effect that gets frustrating very quickly is Hayseed sighing, nodding off, and fidgeting in place whenever you don’t actively click on something for about 30 seconds. Even if you’re experimenting with inventory objects, moving them around to see if they can interact with something on the screen, that doesn’t count. What started as a kind of funny animation quickly became irritating.
The artwork is one of the better aspects of the game. Detective Hayseed blends 2D backgrounds with 3D character models and works quite well, using a vivid color palette that suits the Hollywood theme. The cartoony animation wouldn’t look out of place in a ‘90s Saturday morning cartoon. The walk cycle for Hayseed is smooth and there’s plenty of ambient background animation like a horse moving in place and a spaceship lighting up, which helps each scene come alive. Most of the locations fit into one Hollywood stereotype or another, like the Wild West, the studio backlot, the Beverly Hills mansion, etc. My favorite was the Star Trek spoof “Star Truck” in which the teleporters are real and even in the future, America still runs on Arab oil. It also has plush “Klingons” sitting in the Captain’s chair on a set that is surprisingly functional, right down to the drawers in the wall and the “translate anything” gizmodoodle hooked into the wall. Each location represents a self-contained area, usually comprised of three or four different backgrounds to walk between.
Fortunately, the gameplay is the most solid part of the entire experience. With a tutorial in the beginning, given literally by Fate, you’re easily able to get your bearings: click to walk and interact, and double-click to teleport. When mousing over a clearly identified hotspot, the smart cursor changes to indicate the only thing you can do with that object. A button in the top right corner brings up the inventory, as does the right mouse button, but you cannot combine objects you’ve acquired, only use them in the environment. Pressing the spacebar at any point will show the interactive hotspots on the current screen, but other than that there is no help system in the game.
Not that hints are really necessary, as there is only ever a finite number of things to do as you go through each location. All but three of the puzzles are inventory-based, and most are clued adequately. Some solutions may take a bit of trial-and-error, given their comic adventure game logic, but you will figure even the more stubborn ones out within a reasonable amount of time. One annoyance is that Hayseed has a tendency to stand in the way, forcing you to manually move him aside. He’ll also refuse to use certain objects that would be perfectly reasonably solutions to a puzzle, forcing you to take an exasperatingly long detour instead, which strikes a point against intuitiveness.
Clocking in at about six hours, this game attempts to be a throwback to the classic adventures of the ‘90s, but it appears the protagonist’s flying Citroën got stuck somewhere en route. Much of the humor seems to have been lost in translation, and the tired celebrity parodies are stuffed full of clichés that have been rehashed more than enough already. With decent art and sound design, as well as simple and generally straightforward gameplay, the news certainly isn’t all bad, but Detective Hayseed falls far short of the grand Hollywood standards it espouses. If you’re really in the mood for some crude humor (that’s actually funny), you’d be better off picking up an old copy of Leisure Suit Larry instead.