Ladies, Gentlemen and assorted other sentients, there follows a brief first look at a new independent comic arcade adventure from Steve Ince.


[qb]What have we here?[/qb]

The Goragons have invaded Earth and are using Mr. Smoozles' house for their base. Not only have they affected his mind, they have warped reality and you must free his friends, restore normality - and Mr. Smoozles' mind - and defeat the Goragons' plans!

This game is a cross between Pac-Man (showing my age here, I guess) and a simple adventure game – perhaps this is one of those rare beasts, an arcade-adventure hybrids. It is being developed in the UK by Juniper Games, the company of Steve Ince, a former artist and producer at Revolution Software, gone solo. He was writer and lead designer on the acclaimed game, “Broken Sword – The Sleeping Dragon.”

The story is taken from Steve’s cartoon strip, ‘Mr Smoozles’, which appears to be about some cats, a dog, a monkey, some sheep gardeners, and the alien representatives of the Galactic Council. Mr Smoozles and Ed, above, being two of the cats.

[qb]Notes from a short journey[/qb]

Let's get down to the practicalities. The game is still under development, but the version I played allows several hours of play, dodging Mr Smoozles and the Goragon's robot slaves, searching for power crystals, keys and Ed's collection of Geek Monthly magazines. There are roughly 20-30 locations included – from the corridors of power in the mansion, down to the sewers and up to the observatory, not to mention various bedrooms and mysteriously technical rooms and even a fragment of truly warped reality where Ed becomes a sheep. Never a pleasant experience!

Controls for the game are pretty simple – cursor keys, the enter key to do things, and the ctrl key to look at things, plus the occasional Y/N prompt. Saving and loading are done using F5 and F6 respectively. Information terminals are scattered around the rooms, so you can get a reminder of the controls at almost any time. This is just as well, because I missed the ctrl key for a couple of hours! It's a nice touch that whenever you're standing next to object with which you can interact, there's a subtle sparkly effect on the object – otherwise it's hard to tell the difference between decoration and important objects.

As light relief, from an already light-hearted game, there's a good smattering of sections of the Mr Smoozles cartoons scattered around as pictures on the walls. Music and sound effects are in keeping with the style of the game – simple sound effects, no voices (though there are some conversations with Ed's various friends), and nice electronic music.

Graphically, I'm having real trouble describing the view point. It's not isometric, it's not a plan view, but you can see from this screen shot that it's somewhere in-between. As you can also see from the screen shot, the graphical style is simple comic book stuff – simple as in 'not photo-realistic or rendered 3D art' rather than childishly easy. I like the look of the game – it's clean, it's clear and it's fun to look at, and works well.

The actual game mechanics are quite smooth, though as Ed's movement is tile based, his reactions can be delayed, making it tricky to dodge floating mines and the laser shots from Mr Smoozles and the robots. Oh, yes, didn't I mention before? Mr Smoozles isn't just nutso, he's got a laser gun too, and the Goragons have armed their robots too! The upshot (sic!) of this is that you can die. You have three lives, and a health bar, and you can't shoot back – at least not in the preview levels. However, they don't shoot rapidly, so it's no Quake II, and that's just as well.

[qb]Jumping to conclusions?[/qb]

This is a fun game – and that in my opinion is one of the highest accolades a game can get. After all, why would anyone spend hours playing a game if they didn't find it fun on some level? I spent at least five hours playing around finding things, failing to find things, and then having that familiar “oh that's how you do it” feeling, and then I suffered the “oh no, I've finished, I was just getting into that!”

To summarise, I think 'cute' is the word most people will use to describe Mr Smoozles goes Nutso, but I think there’s more hiding there than the initial cartoon look lets on.

Best of luck with the project, Steve!

Want to learn more about Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso? Read the full review by Looney4labs.