Joe Richardson’s The Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything is a simplified game in an outdated genre that replaces traditional animated cutscenes with walls of text so dense and rambling as to be almost impenetrable. There are so few puzzles that it almost isn’t a game at all. It would probably make more sense as an illustrated children’s book, but then there wouldn’t be any superfluous background animations to distract people from the poorly finished artwork. The story makes no sense, and really none of the elements on display show any special proficiency. There’s a self-parodying angle, as if acknowledging its own failings somehow excuses them, but really, in the end it’s just a snooty, self-aggrandizing piece of crap.
Whew, that’s harsh! So now that you know what the developer himself thinks of his own game, let me tell you my impressions.
Seriously, that scathing bit of self-deprecating criticism comes almost verbatim from a nudge-wink internal analysis (ostensibly about another game-within-the-game, but duh), proving quite definitively that TPAOE refuses to take itself too seriously, and that there are no sacred cows safe from a public skewering. The self-proclaimed “satirical adventure game” comes as advertised, going after multiple targets and cutting them down at the knees, from politics to social media, from terrorism to mindless groupthink. None of it is presented as a remotely realistic depiction of “our” world, but if you don’t see modern society in every absurd scenario you encounter, you really aren’t looking very hard. It isn’t all that subtle.
As with its commentary on larger issues, there’s actually a fair bit of truth in the game’s pseudo-self-evaluation. This is indeed an utterly bizarre game with a ridiculous premise, incredibly amateurish production values, and very little gameplay. You might be tempted call it a “bad” game, but that would sort of be missing the point. It knows it’s a not a good game in the traditional sense, and is entirely okay with that in the service of two things: being different, and making a statement. It’s not unlike a Monty Python cartoon: everyone knows the art is terrible, and absolutely nobody cares. The only questions to ask are whether it’s funny and whether it has something to say. With Python the answer is usually yes. With The Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything, the answer is decidedly more mixed. At times it’s so bad it’s good; at other times it’s just pretty bad.
The game dumps you unceremoniously onto a tropical island – or rather, half-tropical, half-desert, though you’re only allowed in the “Comfortable Area” for much of the two-hour play time. You’re a rather scruffy-looking dude with tussled hair and a giant nose. Oh, and you’re butt-naked. Luckily for your dignity, the private parts are blatantly blurred out, as are those of the other island inhabitants who are similarly under-attired. You’ll meet these characters in the measly two other scrolling areas available at the start. Both the locations and its denizens (including you) undergo significant changes over the course of the game, and eventually you’ll branch out to the “Barren” side of the island, but for at least half the game you’ll bounce between a beach, an inland clearing, and a clifftop with a view.
Unless I’m reading too much symbolism into the game – and if I am, I blame Richardson as he laces it with all kinds of “hidden” meanings – the entire experience can be seen as a very loose interpretation of humanity’s evolution (or devolution, depending on how you see things). At first everyone is primitive, picking fruit with names like “High-Up-Non-Moving-Pink-Food” or carnivorously devouring a bloody raw feast of “Big-Hairy-Moving-Food-With-Horns.” The silent majority are dangerously cavorting about with strange machine parts they know nothing about, and only the island’s lone intellectual knows that they belong to a rocketship. (He’s also the only one civilized enough to sport a loin-leaf and perfect handlebar mustache while speaking in uppity airs, so you KNOW he’s the smart one.) His name is Drake, and he agrees to build the ship if you can get the great unwashed masses to stop goofing off.
Doing so involves mastering another ancient tool: the SCUMM interface! Not quite as antiquated as the early Cro-Magnons, perhaps, but still pretty old-fashioned at this point. Yes, while the main view screen is filled with absurdly constructed collages, at the bottom-left is a collection of nine verbs. There are all the usual suspects, like “pick up”, “talk to” and “use”, and the default is always set to “examine” for an initial look-see, but there are also some zany actions like “disrespect”, “pray for” and “befuddle”. Sounds like a great way to interact with such an outrageous world, but far too often all you’ll get is a canned failure message instead of an unpredictable result or at least a witty retort. That’s too bad, because the island hottie Helen does a great job of out-befuddling you in debating the chicken-and-egg origin. Still, it’s nice to know you can randomly “do a back-flip” when the mood strikes.
The developer undersells the number of puzzles in TPAOE, but the gameplay is indeed pretty basic. You’ll collect a handful of items that appear as crisp, clear icons in the inventory right beside the verb selections. For much of the game there are so few objects to collect and locations to visit that there isn’t much complexity, but you can’t entirely sleepwalk through the game either, as a couple puzzles involve multiple steps. I’m rarely offended by anything in games, but one puzzle solution had me momentarily irritated, before realizing it was perhaps a sad but entirely appropriate indictment of modern sexual voyeurism. Make the wrong choices at times and you can even fail with disastrous, game-ending consequences. This is meant to be a fun event, however, offering detailed descriptions of catastrophic outcomes before giving you the chance to continue from the point of your fatal mistake. If you need a nudge, a quick conversation with Drake will clarify your current priorities, and possibly offer some helpful advice.Continued on the next page...