How funny can be a game that parodies the classic noir fiction, but happens neither on the Discworld, nor in the skeleton-laden Land of The Dead, but looks like just a “straight” parody of the genre set in our boring Earthrealm? Incredibly funny it seems. Presented in true B&W and equipped with a P.I. hero who likes to provide elaborate narrations full of metaphors, Nick Bounty is a game which stays true to the original detective novel, at the same time being completely crazy.
It all begins with a scene borrowed from The Maltese Falcon – a man delivers a box with mysterious contents to the office of Private Investigator Nick Bounty. Yet, upon crossing the door frame the poor wretch is stabbed in the back by an unseen assailant and falls down dead. Soon the box is proven to encase a single feisty crab, but the only real clue to go on with comes from the writing on the container: Shiny Barnacle Shipping. So right away, the case looks like a serious one, not to be missed by one such as Bounty, especially since the thick smell of counterfeit crabs starts filling up the air…
The game plays like a classic SCUMM game with a bunch of written verbs to choose from. Bounty offers plenty of hard-boiled comments and the locations are ripe with hotspots and other nice details. Puzzles range from really clever to overly clever, but are always fascinating creatively. The vital trivia bit that crabs spit when they’re annoyed is something to remember when playing this game. Overall, the resulting challenge of beating the puzzles does a good job of hiding the fact that the game is pretty short. Short, but with a very wholesome storyline which is utterly satisfying in its insane spin on the classic detective investigation.
The soundtrack was mostly respectfully “borrowed” from other places. Some of it from Grim Fandango. The choices are very fitting and noiry. Visuals include close-ups, camera pans, background animation and other neat effects + it’s fascinating to watch the lines and dots on Bounty’s face transform its alignment to create a new expression. Nevertheless, the master touch comes from the voice-acting department. While the sound quality might be not perfect, the delivery is and makes you laugh twice as loud as you would without the voice talents hard work.
To the uninformed who haven’t tried the game A Case of the Crabs may seem to be “just” a Flash based production without some easily describable catchy element besides the noir trappings. But you, dear reader, know better at this point. Right? Indeed more then just a sum of its parts, Nick Bounty is one of those rare games which have the amazing ability to make the world seem a brighter place when you are feeling down.
Igor’s Score: 4+ of 5 starks
Note: A Case of the Crabs has received an even funnier, bigger and more polished sequel titled Goat in The Grey Fedora. You can find and play both games here.
Unneeded Personal Anecdote Alert!
Case of the Crabs really did surprise and cheer me up considerably the first time I played it on a certain rainy day. And upon replaying it for this here review I started to wonder why exactly it feels so much funnier and crazier to me than Strongbad 4 Dangeresque 3 (see here) made a few years later under the lead of Bounty’s creator – Mark Darin. In the end I have formed a certain theory that could at least in part explain the difference. A theory which could very well be wrong altogether…
Well then… In my opinion despite all its craziness Nick Bounty constantly puts you in a state of mind in which you expect the common and plausible chains-of-events from detective fiction to work. But then you’re surprised by how much they are actually skewed. Surprised in a pleasant way that makes you laugh a lot. In Dangeresque 3 on the other hand you have completely far-fetched characters making a completely silly movie which is a parody of a bunch of cheesy TV series – so the sense of wonder and surprise is lost because you don’t see anything remotely real to the Strongbad and Dangeresque worlds. Well, there are noir film parodies that feel like that as well - all the stylings, clichés, gimmicks being clearly put in just for the sake of having them – which means this “surprise” element of the jokes doesn’t depend on the genre that much, but more on the general storytelling craft.
Note to Unneeded Personal Anecdote: For further explorations of the connections between humor and the element of surprise read Bergson‘s essay On Laughter where the Nobel Prize winning philosopher analyzes in detail the amazement one feels when seeing a man slipping on a banana peel.