Humongous Entertainment was the brainchild of Ron Gilbert—the Monkey Island Ron Gilbert. After Monkey 2, leaving LucasArts, Gilbert set up his own company that created a slew of educational point & click adventure games we all know and love: Putt Putt, Freddi Fish, Pajama Sam, and apparently also Spy Fox. The Fox was originally released in 1997 as one of the later imaginations: Putt Putt came first in 1992, followed by Freddi Fish two years later.
In 1997, I had my hands full with other slightly more bloody games: Quake, Redneck Rampage, Duke 3D, … Yet it wasn’t a bad year for point & click lovers: LucasArts put out The Curse of Monkey Island in the very same year (without Gilbert’s help). Fast forward more than a decade, and Humongous is bought out by company x that is bought out by company y that decides to re-release games z1 and z2. Wikipedia says:
As part of the bankruptcy agreement of the Atari SA subsidiary Atari, Inc., Humongous, Inc. and Atari Interactive, Tommo acquired the Humongous brand and all of its assets, and went on to re-release some of its games into digital distribution channels in conjunction with Night Dive Studios.
The question is: are these cash grabs, or decent attempts to put old games in new light? I’ll answer that right away: it’s the former.
Take a look at the above screenshot. I can perfectly live without widescreen support, but the decision to hard-code the buttons (and the information on screen) is just ridiculous. Why on earth would you want to put ACTION on the
B button on a Nintendo controller? In every other game, that’s “reverse” or “undo”, while in these re-releases, the default button
A is “Skip”. Every single time we boot up the game we have to readjust our mind to this setup. Furthermore, the white text starts to become annoying when you just want to play: it’s permanently there.
There were also no attempts made to think about the control/navigation scheme for games like these on a console. I’m content with emulating a mouse with the C-stick, but I’m not when I cannot exit a load/save screen by pressing
A–no wait, “Skip”. Instead, you have to hover over the big arrow on the upper right and press “Action”. That makes… no sense.
There are other occasions in the game where the interface works against it. For example, to talk about a specific topic, you have to move the pointer down (with the C-stick) until a status bar appears, press
B–on the balloon icon, and then select smaller balloons that appeared on top of it. Using the C-stick to carefully navigate is a mini game on its own: move too far away and the whole bar disappears. Yay.
That said, Spy Fox is a short and for grown-ups extremely simple adventure game that is surprisingly full of humor. The game received a sauce of 007 rip-off themes that suits it well. For instance, you can discuss your current progress by calling base of operations manager Monkey Penny. Everything Spy says comes with a funny spy-esque hook that has me wondering whether 10-year olds actually get all those jokes. I certainly wouldn’t, especially if I was playing in English.
The game, labeled as “educational”, operates in the same vein as other Humongous adventures: almost everything is clickable and invokes a funny small animation, but almost everything clickable is useless. Seasoned adventure gamers might be confused by the fact that there’s a colorful drain in the kitchen area, clearly indicating you’ll have to do something with it, only to find out that a mold comes crawling out, that is just part of the background. Most areas have you only interact with one or two main things: a painting, a safe, a chest, a couple of persons to talk to or buy stuff from.
Most puzzles can hardly be called as such, although we did have to look up what to do with the fishermen’s boats. It’s hard to tell whether or not children would breeze through it: I can imagine they’ll get more than two hours of fun (or frustration) out of Spy Fox In Dry Cereal. There’s even a Go Fish mini game that was enjoyable enough to play a couple of times even after finishing the puzzle.
Most of the enjoyment of the game comes from the theme and animation, I guess. At times, the cut-scenes—albeit nowadays looking a bit choppy and flat–have the feeling of an enjoyable nineties Cartoon Network show a-la Dexter’s Laboratory. Voice acting is splendid and every line is fully voiced.
After Dexter Stardust and Agent A, we were simply looking for more (preferably funny) point & click goodness on the Nintendo Switch, and I recognized the Humongous logo. In the end, we enjoyed the theme, story, and jokes of Spy Fox a lot. It’s just too bad that the sloppy technicalities seriously get in the way of having fun. Considering it’s
€15 going towards a big subsidiary for a 25 year old game that plays worse than on the PC, I don’t think I can recommend buying it.