Adventure Boy Jailbreak review
Note: Though the article content is the same, the review of Adventure Boy Cheapskate DX has been published separately with its own individual rating.
Ah, to be a kid on an adventure! Such is the experience that Adventure Boy Cheapskate DX and its spiritual successor, Adventure Boy Jailbreak, have to offer. Developed by Paul Georghiou, these hand-drawn point-and-click adventure games are enjoyable fetch quests with a good amount of humor and witty dialogue, though there are some technical problems with both and each title has its own set of issues that prevent it from realizing its full potential.
Originally released as a freeware game before being revamped in its commercial “DX” version, Adventure Boy Cheapskate is about a boy named Benson on a quest to find his stolen bicycle, while Jailbreak puts him on the other side of the law by making him orchestrate a way to free his best friend from prison after their little science experiment ends up blowing up the town bridge. Despite having the same protagonist and sharing certain locations and NPCs, the two plots have no other connections between them and can be played in either order.
Benson is a delightful protagonist in each, mixing a laid-back attitude with an assertive personality. He’s pretty chill about all the weird stuff around him, like a giant squid drinking in a bar or finding a talking ice cream cone in the middle of the street, and he has no problem being a little mischievous in order to overcome the obstacles in his way. Both games have Benson running around his neighborhood collecting all kinds of stuff in order to achieve his main goal. Along the way, certain areas of the map need to be unlocked by dealing with whatever is blocking them, from a hungry seal in the middle of a pier in Cheapskate to a thirsty cop guarding a bridge in Jailbreak.
Since you can’t combine items in your inventory and mostly just hand them to the characters who need them in exchange for other objects, the gameplay is less about solving puzzles and more about exploring and interacting with the world around you. There are plenty of things to pick up and examine in Cheapskate, and half of them talk back at you, like animals, food and certain machines. Jailbreak offers a more streamlined experience, with fewer objects to interact with and even fewer that talk back.
A special puzzle awaits at the end of each game: a boss fight in which Benson has a few seconds to pick one of the six items available to repel six different attacks. For example, something rubber will counter something electrical, like a more elaborate version of rock/paper/scissors. The fight is won after repelling the six attacks without mistakes, but if you choose the wrong one, you must start over.
Cheapskate and Jailbreak share the same keyboard controls, with the directional arrows used to move and shift held to run, as well as other keys to perform actions and select items from your inventory. Cheapskate goes the extra mile by showing Benson holding the chosen item in his hands until he interacts with something, which either deselects it or utilises it if used in the correct place. You still activate inventory the same way in Jailbreak, only this time you won’t see it appear in the protagonist’s hands.
That’s far from the only visual difference, as from the get-go it’s clear that the environments and characters in Cheapskate and Jailbreak look quite different from each other. Both games have a cartoony art style, but Jailbreak has a less saturated color palette than its predecessor, with thinner line art and an isometric perspective for the indoor locations that makes them feel more like enclosed spaces. However, only Benson and a few key characters have close-up sprites for dialogues, unlike in Cheapskate where every single character you could talk to has one.
There aren't many similarities between settings, either. Jailbreak has a more typical urban structure in the way locations like the hospital, the police station and a few different residences are set around the map, forming a standard suburban area. Cheapskate, on the other hand, takes place in a coastal town filled with places that are more tourist-oriented, like a bar for sailors, a fancy hotel and a bunch of stores set up next to the beach and the pier. The closest thing to shared locations between games are the fruit stores owned by the same guy.
The chiptune music is another thing the two games have in common, giving each adventure a retro RPG feel. Even here there are some differences, however. Jailbreak has a few more tracks, and they don’t sound as high-pitched as the ones in Cheapskate. In the first game a few indoor locations have their own scores, but exploring the rest of the map is accompanied by a single tune. This changes in Jailbreak where, depending on where exactly you are, a new theme may start playing – although for some reason this only happens when exploring the north and west sides of the town, while the other half has no background music whatsoever. At least it has a few sound effects to fill the void, like birds singing, Benson’s footsteps and doors opening, which is an improvement over Cheapskate, which uses the same thud for everything. There is no voice acting in either game, just bleep sounds when the characters speak.
Unfortunately, no matter how much more polished Jailbreak looks and sounds in comparison with the first game, navigation suffers from the same problems. Running and bumping against walls and objects can potentially cause Benson’s sprite to get stuck and freeze, forcing you to reload the game in order to fix it. Each adventure took me between one to two hours to complete, and I had to restart them both at least three times. It’s a good thing they have an autosave function that allows you to restart the game right where you left it.
Interacting with the townsfolk in Cheapskate is one of the best parts of the game because of all the unique and funny responses they have for every item you show them. Everyone has their own quirks, from the guy who turns every conversation to make it about his pet ostrich who swallowed a wrench to the ‘woman who keeps making comments about how bad durian fruit smells.” Some are even non-human, like a talking dispenser that sells potatoes and gravy, a bowl of sentient fruit, and a hungry gnome living in a cave. By contrast, most of Jailbreak’s cast are just regular people. The dialogue is still as funny, but the lack of unique responses makes the new characters feel a little bland and the returning ones feel like shells of their former selves.
There are several other details that make Cheapskate more interesting. Unlike Jailbreak, it has a hint system that consists of a talking seagull who decides to help you on a whim, giving you clues about what to do or where to go by casually telling you things like, ‘hey, I heard this place could be interesting’ or, ‘did you know that a certain object in your inventory is good for this and that?’ You can find this helpful bird in several spots around town, and it will fly randomly to a different one after you talk with it. I appreciated its presence on at least a couple of occasions. A hint system really isn’t needed in Jailbreak, but its omission still makes the game seem less user-friendly than its predecessor.
Cheapskate encourages further exploration with its aftergame content: a New Game+ option in which Benson has to find out why the same events are repeating again the next day but no one else seems to notice it. The major difference is that his bicycle is not stolen this time because he remembered to lock it. With his bike now available, he can move around faster and eventually meet a new character who is willing to tell him the truth behind what is happening bit by bit after you’ve hit certain milestones. At one point, this character will mention that you can access a secret room in the hotel, breaking the fourth wall by telling you it requires reading at least 80% to 90% of the dialogue in the game to gain access to it. The percentage of dialogue already read is always easily accessible, and you can carry your progress through each new game in case you miss something the first two times you finish.
All that may sound good, but having to replay the game and read almost every word of dialogue just to get a couple scenes that don’t change the overall story in any meaningful way can be tiresome. After a first run that lasted a bit more than an hour, completing a New Game+ added around half an hour more, but trying to get into the secret room took me more than two hours. These extra scenes are not bad, but they require too much effort to feel worthwhile.
Overall, Adventure Boy Cheapskate DX is the better of the two games, offering a short, charming quest with a lot of humor, even if its postgame bonus content is of questionable value. Jailbreak has less content and isn’t as memorable, but it is still an enjoyable little game with a more polished presentation than its predecessor. There’s very little challenge and you’ll have to put up with a few bugs in each, but if you enjoy simple stories with a cartoonish aesthetic, these games will restore your childlike sense of curiosity and wonder for a few hours of mild fun.