The best stories tend to start with a simple premise, and that is certainly true of Bone. Three cousins are cast out of their home, lost and alone in a strange, unfamiliar world, and trying to find their way back. The trio includes Fone Bone, the gentle protagonist, Phoney Bone, always ready to make money with a new scheme, and Smiley Bone, who takes everything in with the air of someone just simple enough to get into and out of a jam. And for thirteen years, people followed the cousins as their simple story turned into a tale of epic proportions. The fifty-five issues of the comic Bone were later turned into nine paperback volumes, splitting the large tale into its smaller story arcs while still tying the whole story together.
When Telltale Games decided that they wanted to tell the story of the Bone cousins as a PC adventure, they made a few key choices. First, despite episodic content still being a relatively new trend, they decided to release the game in separate chapters, as opposed to one large game. Secondly, they turned to the original creator Jeff Smith to help them keep the characters and game world as true to the comics as possible. And now, with the release of the second chapter of the Bone saga, The Great Cow Race, it's clear that their gamble has paid off.
In the first chapter, Out from Boneville, the three cousins are run out of their hometown after the latest of Phoney's schemes has blown up in his face. After being separated, they have to find their way back to one another while facing down a dragon, giant rat monsters intent on cooking them into quiche, and a group of precocious possums. They are finally reunited thanks to the help of a young woman and her grandmother, completely unaware of a robed individual who seems intent on eliminating the young cousins.
The Great Cow Race actually starts a little before the first game finished, with Telltale having rewound time somewhat to help fill in some story gaps left originally. As the new chapter opens, the farmhouse where the cousins have been staying has been attacked. Despite the damage to the house, Gran'Ma Ben is determined to make it into town for the annual cow race, which she has won for as long as anyone can remember. Meanwhile, Phoney is determined to make a killing on the bets for the race by entering a mystery cow against her. Along the way, we find out more about the mysterious hooded antagonist, get a clue to one character's past, and have another hilarious run-in with our favorite group of young possums.
The original comics provided an amazing series of stories, and Telltale has once again done a great job of bringing us into that world. While the story is extended and slightly restructured for the puzzle aspect, the developers have managed to keep all of the charm of the comics. And just to make sure that no one is lost who may be unfamiliar with the series, Telltale has added a cast page so that you can familiarize yourself with the characters and their backgrounds before starting the game. This is a great touch that I would love to see more of in future from other long-running series.
For the most part, Telltale has really stepped up to the plate on the 3D graphics with this chapter. I was a huge fan of the background art for the first game, with its simple but whimsical styling, and they've blown me away this round. In fact, once the game got started, I had to remind myself that there was a task at hand, because I kept wandering around looking at and interacting with the environments. Telltale has stocked its screens with lots of little details to catch the eye, and made sure that the game world looks lived-in, which is something I wish more developers cared about instead of presenting us with sterile worlds.
That's not to say that graphically the game is perfect. One of the beefs I had with the first game was the fact that the quality of the characters didn't match up to the quality of the background work, and unfortunately that has carried over into this chapter as well. The characters that work, work incredibly well, such as the owner of the local tavern, the possum children, and the strongman at the local fair. But my game time is spent with Fone, Phoney, and Smiley, all of whom still look sub par, mainly due to their simplified shapes next to the more detailed characters and backgrounds with which they are interacting. Compound this with voice synching once again suffering from the limited expressions of the characters, and you can very easily be taken out of the game.
And running up against synchronization issues is a real shame here, because the voice work is once again astounding. Many of the characters from the first game are here again, and it's almost like welcoming back old friends. The Bone cousins are exactly like you would imagine them from the comics and the new characters are perfectly voiced to match their personalities. And I could spend a whole day listening to the bickering rat creatures and the possum children. In fact, if you watch through the closing credits, you'll get to witness a great argument between the rat creatures that goes on through the entire credit sequence.
Music is similarly well done, and definitely holds its own against the score for Out of Boneville. The music fits the scenery perfectly, and blends into the background just enough to be appreciated without being overt.
Navigation for the game is handled with a classic point & click control scheme, and as with the first game, your icon changes when it's placed over a hotspot, so you'll never be stuck guessing what action to take, though you can sometimes cycle through cursors for optional interaction.Continued on the next page...