If there's a true winner to emerge from Runaway 2: Dream of the Turtle, it's Spanish-bred Pendulo Studios' art department. Whether you love or loathe the cast, the acting, the scripting, or the gameplay, Dream of the Turtle pens the most breathtaking animated 2-D graphics this side of the early Broken Sword adventures.
By "adventure," know that you're circling a field of point-and-click gaming that enjoyed its heyday back when Reaganomics was the official buzzword, Will Wright was breaking ground with his very first Sim City, and the closest thing video games had to "3-D" was moving a vaguely human stack of sprites from the foreground to the background of a King's Quest sidescroller.
Instead of defaulting towards a "they don't make 'em like they used to" argument, I recommend soaking in Dream of the Turtle's plush settings, where every inch of breezy tropical flora, wavering undersea spelunking, and cotton-candy snowfall scenes are as lovingly-crafted (in a Western style) as Okami is (in an Eastern tradition). I recommend getting to know a handful of the cast from Dream of the Turtle, whose characters brandish themselves -- in turns -- as sheepish, surefooted, adolescently sexy, dull-witted, and (once in a lucky while) dryly comedic. Even when a character puts on a stereotypical coat, they always manage to cultivate some greater depth, either through sheer dialogue, or through extensive posturing.
There's the ox-brained army grunt … that happens to be an ex-logger who relaxes by climbing trees, and ends up being one of Runaway 2's most likeable and genuinely funny supporting roles. Then there's the scantily-clad Hawaiian hottie … that happens to be jaded over men's Pavlovian sexual instincts, but still gives a loving recitation of ex-boyfriends' names, countries of origin, and occupational tendencies. Even the American Eagle cover boy, Brian Basco, is still just the awkward, occasionally whip-smart college geek from the previous Runaway title. Brian, the series' two-time protagonist, even runs into a meditative islander with a prosthetic leg and a tendency to crossover into metaphysical planes of existence by, um, taking copious naps. There's just enough honesty -- and just enough hyperbole -- to make the cast of characters memorable, for better or worse. One character makes a series comeback as a chalkboard-writing monk observing a vow of silence (you'll have to play the game to find out which parts of that last sentence are true or false).
***** Spoiler Alert *****
What rings consistently false, however, is the fuzzy logic required to piece together the A + B = C inventory puzzles. When you have to fill a urinating toy dog with brandy in order to get a piss-licking monkey drunk to leave you alone long enough to put a coating of anti-slippage spray onto an algae-covered rock in order to climb up to a cliffside road-to-nowhere that ended in a 10-foot drop into a pool of mud anyway (huff huff) … Well, when you dig into this convoluted pile of non-sequiturs in order to advance the chapter, gameplay doesn't equate to anything more than grasping at straws by clicking on every unimaginable combination of actions and item combos you can think of. You're not trying to get into your character's head, you're trying to get into the heads of the game developers. It's meta-thinking at its primitive worst. Oh, and let's not mention having to use a magnifying glass you strap to a lengthier piece of random, misshapen metal so that you can post it into the ground to aim a ray of humid jungle light through the lens so that you can weld together a broken key that's still too rough to fit into a lock and so requires a further shaving from a shard of glass to, y'know, smooth everything out, before you get into a locked compartment bearing a pair of … snowshoes. And yet, somehow snowshoes will play a role in conquering your fear of rickety, ledge-spanning bridges.
***** End Spoiler Alert *****
Well-written puzzles have the distinction of being "well-written" because they tend to make their solvers feel smarter when a solution is procured. The puzzles throughout Runaway 2, on the other hand,make you feel like an idiot. There are plenty of multi-stage conundrums to unravel, but you've got to wade through a landslide of torturous MacGyver-styled stumpers. The opening chapter's riddles probably started off as whimsical "heck, why not?" types of challenges -- but were then thrown into the developers' brainstorm microwave and baked on high for about five hours.
Thankfully, once you start getting acclimated to the way The Dream of the Turtle thinks (in other words, once you tap into your meta-thinking gene), the later chapters' puzzles start coming together with more cognitive reasoning, and less bewildering guesswork. Whether this is an effect of submitting to the designers' sheer force of will, or the possibility that the designers grew "lazy" assembling subsequent puzzle pieces, you can gradually assume a more positive demeanor regarding the brainteasers.
What serve as conversation "trees" end up being piles of dirty-laundry text you have to sort through before you end up washing the entire mound anyway. The order in which you tackle conversation trees has no bearing on current or future events, since you're likely locked into it until every lingual option is exhausted. Should you have to return at a later time to speak with a character again because, say, new information has cropped up, your cleverness is expended by simply locating and clicking on the new sentence you haven't seen before. It's the rare instance that makes you unzip your mental backpack in order to recall some informational dialogue snippet.
Beyond the introductory cinematic sequence, the impetus for adventure draws itself out in watered-down brushstrokes. The game opens with Brian Basco pushing his girlfriend, Gina Timmins, out of what appears to be a perfectly good plane. Providence be praised, she's wearing a parachute, which serves as a temporary stress-reliever until we are then looking at Gina through a gun's crosshairs, a single shot is fired, hits, and she continues to descend into the center of a beautiful, sapphire lagoon, never to come back to the surface. It's a hook-worthy intro that's wasted on Brian's meandering pace, and the early storyline's indifference as to Gina's condition. The opening boulder-dash is gradually whittled down to a non-threatening rockslide since Brian can't get an adrenaline rush -- or a sense of urgency -- to save his life (or his girlfriend's, apparently) in this picturesque paradise. And if our hero isn't terribly concerned, and the up-to-17-minute cutscenes (!) aren't terribly concerned, then it's not likely that a player will muster too much concern either.
The visual calisthenics in Runaway 2: The Dream of the Turtle are a sheer triumph. But the dialogue-tree hula hoops will simply leave you out of breath. It hits the rare smart moment, if not a mild-pepper compulsion to progress a stagnating storyline. But far more often than not, it languishes in clueless comedic timing (is it really all lost in translation?), who-knows-what-they're-smoking puzzle pieces, and a Teen People sense of sensuality.
Page 1 of 1