Justin Wack and the Big Time Hack by Warm Kitten is an admirably crafted shrine to LucasArts classics, such as The Secret of Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. Beautiful graphics, sound, and a well-made point-and-click interface immerse players in a world that any adventure fan will love.
The graphics are colorful and engaging. They make the locations, which encompass the past, present, and future, seem like real places. The past is bright, cheerful, and filled with talking dinosaurs and cave people. The present seems modern and familiar, filled with recognizable shops and places. Finally, the future is dark and mysterious, although I chuckled when I spoke with a shady character in a futuristic park who treated flowers as if they were stolen property.
The character models are the whimsical thread that ties the eras together. Every character in the game is drawn with a giant head and a disproportionately small body, and is expertly animated; I would describe the style as somewhat reminiscent of Maniac Mansion. Characters move smoothly, and their mouths are in sync with their dialogs. They use comically furtive arm movements when you’d pick up an item. The zany vivification of these characters enhances the game’s humor.
Music and sound, unobtrusively, serve as a key to one of the puzzles players must solve. I laughed at the comical whooshing that played whenever I grabbed an item. Great voice acting adds realism to the characters, making it easier to care about their plight. Together, the graphics, animation, and sound visually and auditorily engage the player in a humorous, enjoyable story.
The first character that players meet is Justin Wack, an employee at Mediocre IT. After speaking with an irritating co-worker, he heats his onion pie in the microwave and starts to ponder why his girlfriend, Julia, broke up with him and how he might reconcile with her. Justin is surprised when a wormhole appears in his microwave and transports him to the Stone Age. Subsequently, Justin meets Kloot the Caveman, along with my favorite characters in the game, brothers QP-42 and QP-43, The Pythonic Empire’s robotic agents who are programmed to deal with wayward time-travelers. Their hilarious voice acting and dialog are analogous to an adolescent Terminator, which immediately had me in tears.
Justin and Kloot must find a way to return to their respective places in history. Shenanigans and hilarity ensue. During the adventure Justin learns what became of the dinosaurs, and Kloot experiences the wonders of technology — for instance, gawkily filling an ink cartridge with different colors. Eventually, with Julia’s help, Justin and Kloot will need to work together to prevent the rise of the Pythonic Empire.
The characters’ challenges make sense and are still hilarious. For example, Kloot begins his adventure grunting like a Neanderthal, but he learns English most amusingly along the way. Later, he must identify three musical cues to win money in an air guitar contest. Kloot isn’t the only character who solves lively puzzles. Justin finds a unique way to gain an essential item by helping a prehistoric friend while also addressing his romantic dilemma. Julia, who later becomes a playable character, will need help reciting a poem — a well-executed puzzle that was one of my favorites.
If the challenges prove too difficult, there’s a hint system that does an excellent job of providing clues while not spoiling anything. (There’s also an option to disable it.) I found it was a good idea to leave the hints on because this significantly lessens the chance of a character’s sudden demise.
Death is a part of many adventure games, including this one. I found out the hard way when I compelled Justin to get a shard of glass without wearing protective gloves. The result: a comically pained face and a body amusingly convulsed. Afterward, the screen went black, and the words “Game Over,” appeared. A few seconds later, Justin was resurrected at the point immediately before I erred. Fortunately, death is a temporary state in (most) adventure games.
Justin Wack and the Big Time Hack is an excellent game, except for two problematic areas; item sharing and a certain timed puzzle. Using items is handled similarly to the procedure in many other adventure games. Select the objects from inventory (in this case, at the top of the screen) and click on where they need to be used. However, sharing things between characters could have been handled better. Occasionally it was necessary to have the characters exchange items even though they were in different locations or time periods. For example, before Justin could solve a prehistoric puzzle in the past, he needed something from Kloot in the present. I knew I could switch between characters by clicking on their icons in the upper-left corner of the screen, but it wasn’t apparent that it was possible to exchange items by dragging them to the inventory icon. Only after I was stuck, I coincidentally became aware of this by watching a video. It would have saved much frustration if the method for trading objects had been more apparent. In addition, there’s a timed challenge where Justin must catch water draining from a pipe before it completely empties. This puzzle took me three attempts to complete and might prove difficult for those with lower-than-average manual dexterity.
Aside from the issues mentioned above, Justin Wack and the Big Time Hack is a remarkable tribute to adventure game classics. I’m glad I spent sixteen hours experiencing it. Adventure game fans should definitely consider playing it.
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