Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Adventure of the Week: SPY Fox in "Dry Cereal" (1997)

For a change of pace, this week I'm taking a look at another Humongous Entertainment series, with SPY Fox in "Dry Cereal", the debut title for a character aimed at slightly older children than the Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish and Pajama Sam games.  Ron Gilbert's kid-focused adventure game company released this title in 1997, and it's still commercially available today via Steam.  I have been consistently impressed with the quality and quantity of 2-D animation in the Humongous Entertainment games -- they're well above the technical standards of the Lucasarts classics that preceded them, though they run on the same SCUMM engine, and they always make me wish point-and-click adventures for adults had stayed in production a few years longer.

As the curtain rises, in a pun-heavy bit of exposition, our Bond-inspired hero SPY Fox learns that an evil goat named William the Kid has stolen the world's milk reserves in an effort to subvert the bovine dairy industry and replace it with goat's milk.  Then our hero parachutes down to the Greek island of Acidophilus to begin his mission.

Interested readers are encouraged to spend some time with SPY Fox #1 before proceeding here -- the animation is loose and energetic, some of the writing and voice work is genuinely funny (especially if you're about 10 years old), and it's a perfectly pleasant round of old-school point-and-click adventuring.  Beyond this point, I'll be detailing my own experience, so there are sure to be...

***** SPY FOX SPOILERS AHEAD! *****   

As we plummet to earth, we're allowed as much time as we need to pick one of Spy Fox's pen gadgets for a safe landing, though he (in a Don Adams-inspired voice) urges us to do something at frequent intervals.  After safely landing using a remarkably well-damped pogo-stick, we're supposed to meet up with Miss Monkeypenny at the Mobile Command Center, but we'll do a little exploration first.

A salty penguin (who sounds like Bobcat Goldthwaite) is eager to show off his chest tattoo, with animations including a dolphin that leaps from pectoral to pectoral.  This is in keeping with the Humongous tradition of providing plenty of fun, non-essential point-and-click gags for the player, though this joke is a little more complex with sardonic commentary from Fox ("Your mother must be so proud") and quite a few different animations are available with repeated clicks.

A trinket shop nearby is closed, as we have arrived unfashionably early; we can dial random numbers on a nearby pay phone, with random responses, including one at the offices of Amalgamated Moo Juice indicating the staff is "all tied up."  There's a Feta Factory down the pier, but it's locked up tight behind a solid steel door.  The Greek Cantina in the town square is also closed at the moment.  The door to an unidentified building up a staircase is also locked, though we get a brief glimpse of its interior while SPY Fox is knocking -- the desk has a nameplate indicating it would normally be occupied by one Grande Fromagio, the Big Cheese as it were.

It seems we have nowhere else to go, so we'll have to take a look at inventory.  Ah, I had forgotten about the fortune cookie Monkeypenny mentioned -- it came with our airplane meal, and contains an entrance code, 555-4023, which sends the phone booth down to an underground command center.

Here, Monkeypenny hands Spy Fox some drachmas and a special laser toothbrush for cutting through thick steel.  Amalgamated Moo Juice CEO Howard Hugh Heifer Udderley III is being held prisoner somewhere, we believe.

After we go back topside, Monkeypenny calls us on the Spy Watch to remind Fox he can use this to contact her at any time; the watch also contains the game's Save and Load buttons, so this is probably a good time to take advantage of the Save feature.  The local establishments are still closed, so we'll try the laser toothbrush on the factory doors.  It's only good for one use, exploding after the door is breached, but that's enough for our purposes.

Inside the factory, we find Mr. Udderley tied up and dangling over a pool of piranha.  There's a winch nearby -- it just lowers him into the pool and back up again, fortunately with minimal munching in the process.  We can turn the temperature of the pool down, and taking it to its lowest setting freezes the water over so Mr. Udderley can get safely down (he sounds like Don Knotts.)  Back at the command center, he tells us that thugs broke into his office, stinking of feta cheese, stuck him in a bag and whisked him away to the factory.  The villain behind the kidnapping is confirmed to be William the Kid, whose Nectar of the Goats corporation (N.O.G.) is apparently out to frame the world's cows with heinous milk-related crimes to turn the world against them.

Udderley had the presence of mind to steal the documentation needed to disarm Kidd's secret weapon, but he had to swallow it for safekeeping.  Fortunately, the vending machine at Mobile HQ has beef-flavored X-Ray Gum for sale -- courtesy of Professor Quack, our inventive gadget source.  Udderley faints during the painless procedure, but we're able to find the note in one of his four stomachs and see that a special key is needed to disarm the weapon.

Other gadgets available from the vending machine include Spy Putty, a copying compound; a Night Vision Shoe that can be strapped onto the user's head; a Cheese and Safe Cracker kit; a Spy Trap nickel that launches a net capable of trapping three or more bad guys; and Suction Cufflinks for scaling walls.  We can obtain all of these items and place them into inventory, though we only have room for four items, so we have to make choices here.  I'll put the X-Ray Gum back for now, gambling that it only has one use in the game, and leave the Spy Trap in the machine as well.

As we leave HQ, we find that the trinket booth is now open for business.  The rabbit proprietor, Gilbert, sounds less than sincere as he "welcomes" customers.  He sells stuffed animals, pennants, taxidermied fish, and a fez that he seems to have confused with Pez.  There doesn't seem to be anything we need here at the moment.

The cantina is open now too, a seedy lounge with a lizard playing organ, grumpy hostess Bea Bear, and a few customers.  Bea's Secret Sauce "may cause drowsiness in alligators," according to the label on the bottle.  A talkative pig at one table offers to play a round of Go Fish, for trinkets, so we'll go buy a jar from the trinket booth for 50 drachmas.  The pig puts up a whistle against Fox's kazoo.  The game follows traditional rules -- my first round played to a draw, I won on the second round.  But the whistle doesn't seem to show up in inventory, so this may just be an entertaining diversion.

The Big Cheese's office is still locked, so we'll have to do some exploring elsewhere.  The cruise ship parked by the pier is now having a deck party, though entry is by invitation only.

We can't get onboard past the weasel doorman, but SPY Fox adds the topic to his word balloon inventory and now we can ask other characters about it.  Gilbert has an invitation, but verbal hints suggest we have to distract him somehow so we can copy it with the spy putty; nothing I try seems to work yet.  The pelican knows nothing about the party; Bea Bear and Big Pig both mention that Gilbert always has an invitation, so we're on the right track.  We can't use the spy trap to trap piranha to use as a distraction; nobody at HQ has any ideas either.

The rabbit never even looks away from the invitation, except when we're conversing, but we can't try to use the spy putty until the dialogue is over.  We can't buy either of the sauces at the cantina, but we can buy some chicken knuckles to go and put the Secret Sauce on them.  But they aren't useful at the trinket booth either.  Can we buy anything besides the trinkets?  The fez is not for sale; neither are the pennants.  But the ship's wheel hung up above is, but proves to be hung too high up for Gilbert to reach.  This seems suitably distracting, and yes, we can make a copy of the invitation while he's struggling to get it down.

The doorman accepts the fake invitation (signed by someone named Russian Blue) and we are now free to come and go on the ship.  Fox checks in with Monkeypenny -- she advises us to look for clues about the location of Kid's secret fortress.

The deck party is in full swing -- a bulldog conducts an orchestra playing a waltz, and various hoity-toity animals occupy the deck.  Russian Blue proves to be an attractive feline femme fatale, and owner of this ship, the S.S. Deadweight.  She loves the tango, so perhaps we want to swap the waltz sheet music here with the cantina's tango pages.  We can visit the ship's cabin, but there's nothing here to do or undo besides triggering some funny incidental animations.

So let's see if we can obtain or copy the tango sheet music.  The spy putty has been consumed now, and the lizard organ player at the cantina won't let us borrow his music.  We can steal a page of the orchestra's waltz music on the ship, though, and trade it to the willing lizard for a sheet of tango music.  (The bulldog sounds like Lawrence Welk, to great comic effect.)  We can't easily sneak it into place, though -- on my first few tries, the conductor catches us in the act and we have to step away.  It's just a matter of timing; it works best if we start trying to place it just before he looks away from the music.

Now Russian Blue goes into what looks like a hypnotic trance and does the tango with SPY Fox, and we can repeat this if we shuffle the sheet music pages.  It seems we're supposed to try to get at her handbag, which she puts down to dance, but our opportunities for interaction are limited.  Maybe we can use the X-Ray Gum on it?  This doesn't seem to work; not while we're dancing, at least.  And there still doesn't seem to be anything we can do while on the ship's bridge.

We do have a new topic to investigate -- Russian Blue is available for discussion, and our vulpine hero suggests it might be worth tracking her movements.  Everyone talks about her passion for the tango.  Monkeypenny's research reveals that Russian Blue works for N.O.G., and provides a (literal) bug named Walter Wireless to help us spy on her.

So how do we "bug" Russian Blue?  We can't just click the bug on her, we have to distract her; this proves to be the point of the tango, and we can access inventory while the dance is in progress to plant the bug on her purse (Walter comically launches, lands and pulls his tiny parachute inside.)  Afterward, Ms. Blue retires to her quarters.

As we leave the ship in search of new clues, a call comes in from Monkeypenny -- we're supposed to meet spy Mata Hari in front of the N.O.G. feta cheese factory.  Walter also calls in with a live report, telling us that Russian Blue has taken an escape speedboat to an unknown destination, and his cover has been compromised.  Spy Fox's car is also repaired (from a previous adventure) and is ready to go.

It seems we're reaching critical story mass, so let's go to the factory first.  Mata Hari is hiding, so we have to poke around a bit until we find her.  She's a giraffe, hidden in a drain pipe, and has discovered a coded password -- "The happy fat girl" -- in a fortune cookie.

We have no conversation topics available right now, so we'll head back downtown.  The Big Cheese's office is still closed, so I guess it's time to jump in the car and see where we can go.  We're supposed to follow a trail Walter left on Fox's spy radar, but we seem to end up right back in town.  Ah... we have to influence the direction Spy Fox travels, instead of just watching as I was doing.  This puzzle takes a while to execute successfully -- there are multiple possible paths, most of which lead back downtown, and it requires some speedy point-and-click reaction times even though we can see the radar onscreen and hear its beeping getting louder as we make correct choices.  Eventually we reach an ornate mansion with a puzzle on the front door.  Walter meets us outside and tells us Russian Blue went through a secret passage, before he splits to avoid the exterminator Ms. Blue has apparently called.

SPY Fox interprets the hieroglyphics on the door (noting that the Greeks didn't use them, to avoid educational malfeasance) as we click on them, trying to find the right combination.  Ah, of course -- we want to click on happy, fat, girl, i.e. smiley face, round body, figure in dress.  This opens the secret passage, and we find ourselves trying to cross a waterway infested with... snapping turtles?  The food from the cantina is no help here.  Neither is the spy trap.  But the suction cufflinks are useful -- if we time Fox's movements to avoid the sporadically draining pipes, we can scale the back wall to cross the channel.

Entering the evil fortress, we check in with Monkeypenny, who reminds us that our next step is to disarm the Milky Weapon of Destruction.  A guard robot boots us out of the room if we don't have a proper uniform.  There's a locker room nearby; opening one locker transports us back to the town square -- into the office we were unable to enter before, in fact.  And we can go back the way we came too, so this provides a quick shortcut back to town in case we need an unequipped spy gadget or something. 

Fortunately, one of the lockers contains a yellow uniform, which allows us to get past the guard robot to an area with conveyor belts.  Spy Fox has to hide behind some boxes, as Russian Blue confers with William the Kid.  He gives her a key wallet to return to its normal storage location -- it contains the disarm key, we are helpfully informed by their conspiratorial chatter.

We can enter a control room, and call Monkeypenny again to confirm that we need to find the key and disarm the weapon.  The key is not just lying around in the control room, of course; we have to configure a control panel in the conveyor room to match a diagram in the locker room (which I somehow failed to notice, so the dialogue hint was appreciated.)  It has levers in left, left, right, up, up positions, reading from upper left down and then right.  Configuring the conveyor belt controls to match reverses the direction of the belts, and Fox can now ride up to the top of Kid's missile-shaped milk carton weapon.

A small tram car here allows us to reach rooms on the upper level of the fortress.  Heading left, we find a room with several N.O.G. employees hanging around, sort-of-guarding a door.  There are three of them, so perhaps the spy trap will work here -- and it does, after a well-crafted bit of animation as the three guards sweat it out before diving for the nickel simultaneously and being trapped in a net that springs out and leaves them all suspended from the ceiling.  So that's how it works!

Now we can access Kid's secret office, where the key is held behind laser beams, a puzzle requiring us to replace the existing mirrors with differently angled ones while keeping red and blue points connected consistently.  This isn't too difficult; we can also draw on a nearby easel using the mouse and colored chalk, just for fun.

Now that we have the key, we just need to return to the weapon control room and disarm it... right?  We have five keys to pick from, with different patterns.  It takes me four tries -- there doesn't seem to be a direct clue to help us out with this -- but now the bomb is disarmed.

Of course, William the Kid refuses to give himself up, and pulls a lever flooding his stables with milk, to drown all of the world's kidnapped cows.  As he departs on his world domination getaway blimp, he conveniently mentions that there's a secret passage to the stables.

How to get there, then?  Kid's yellow ascot has been left behind, sticking through the secret door, so maybe we can just see it somewhere, but I'm not spotting it anywhere so far, even downtown.  Ahhh, here it is -- on the "Goat Milk?" billboard on the upper level of the fortress, next to the tramway. 

Past the secret door, we find a waterfall and a shallow waterway blocked by alligators.  The cantina's chicken knuckles, doused with alligator-drowsiness-inducing secret sauce, prove useful here (and there are empty takeout containers strewn about, in case we need a visual hint.)

Now we can rescue the cows before they drown in their own milk, by pulling the most prominent lever available.  But now Kid's blimp rises, to threaten another attempt on the world's milk supply!

We have to act quickly here to help SPY Fox take after him in a truck, and on my first try I was taking notes and failed to capture the bad guy.  We still earn a small victory cookie, a Presidential commendation (from a bull who sounds like Bill Clinton), and a reasonably happy ending. 

This isn't quite satisfying, though, so trying again, I manage to take a jump off the end of the mountain road and board Kid's escape blimp.  SPY Fox is concerned that actually defeating Kid will prevent the production of a sequel, but Monkeypenny assures him there are plenty of other villains about.  She also tells us we have to maneuver the blimp to a location 4 degrees north, 16 degrees east, in order to capture William the Kid with ground support.

We can take a small airplane from the back of the blimp to the front, where the controls are, along with Kid, who is distractedly staring out the window and contemplating his comeback.  An A2-PLT robot is actually doing the flying, and we can adjust the destination coordinates simply by messing with the interface on its back.

Our next task is to get Kid out of the blimp and to "evil villain jail."  Fortunately, the ejection seat controls are also handily available, if we can get the panel open with a screwdriver.  We can take a zipline back to the rear of the plane, where a screwdriver is sitting on a workbench, then return and select the right drill bit shape to open the panel.  Next, we have to put something into the ejector gadget (a toaster) to get it to fire; we can also find a piece of bread in the back of the blimp.  Funny how these things become easier to spot when you know you're looking for them!

Now all we have to do is arm the toaster and wait.  The ejection mechanism pops William the Kid out of the blimp and into jail, protesting loudly about the meddling SPY Fox.  And this time, we get a bigger victory cookie:

I enjoyed playing SPY Fox in "Dry Cereal" -- it was more like a traditional adventure game than most of the Humongous Entertainment games, with a little more meat on its bones, aimed at a slightly older audience.  The puzzles are simple and the hints plentiful, but the storytelling and animation are well handled and the game is entertaining though not difficult to solve.  I had fun with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment