Demetrios: The Big Cynical Adventure: A Big Cynical Review
Having been an aficionado of adventure games over the years, I understand that they aren't without their difficulties. For every Monkey Island or Space Quest, there are four that take the route of Phantasmagoria* and about six different games featuring puzzles with solutions that read like poorly translated stereo instructions. While it's the easiest genre to design for (no combat algorithms or anything like that, clean narrative with a few branches) it's also one of the easiest to screw up. All it takes is one puzzle where processor speed determines difficulty, or pouring whiskey into the gas tank of a car to fuel up a spaceship, or an infuriating pixel hunt and instantly people will throw up their hands and uninstall in annoyance.
Which is what I felt like doing multiple times with Demetrios: The Big Cynical Adventure. With its slow-moving plot, absolutely loathsome main character, constant pixel hunts, impenetrable logic, and poorly designed minigames, it feels less like an adventure game and more like someone assembled a collection of exactly what not to do in an adventure game, then decided to show it off in adventure game form.
Demetrios starts with Bjorn Thonen receiving a phone call in the middle of the night, alerting him to grave danger. A few moments later, he's beaten over the head and his house is robbed, including a piece of a mysterious bird statue he has in his apartment. Bjorn immediately sets out to figure out who attacked him, and who is murdering antiques dealers over the bird statues. Of course, because Bjorn is, in adventure game tradition, an inept jackwagon, he spends his time annoying people and committing minor crimes in an effort to achieve his goals. Adding to this is a tremendous amount of gross-out "humor," everything from fart jokes to a puzzle involving vomit.
The game itself takes place on static, hand-drawn screens, where clicking on various hotspots will reveal more about the area, or allow the player to interact with various things. The puzzles are all fairly simple in construction, with a lot of it being "Take item to someone else," or "assemble a recipe" rather than the longer and more esoteric Rube Goldberg puzzles found elsewhere. This does not in any way, however, make them easy. Even with a handy menu to tell you what direction to go in, and reveal what you can interact with on the screen, some things are incredibly obscure. They assume that the player will visit every location, even ones they have no reason to go back to, just to get the next event flag to trigger. Sometimes you have to talk repeatedly to people with no indication that you haven't exhausted all the dialogue, and try every option repeatedly until they give up their information, which they don't always do.
The hint system is just as obscure, relying on finding secret collectibles by dragging your cursor over every inch of the screen to find cookies, which Bjorn then eats while giving some hint about what to do next. Which means you not only have to spend your time looking for difficult to find collectibles that sometimes don't even show up on screen, and are then treated to gulping and smacking noises (you will hear a lot of gross eating noises on the soundtrack. If anyone gets an ASMR reaction from listening to people chew with their mouth open, have I got a game for you) while Bjorn complains about eating another cookie and then drops a hint that more often than not is about useful as the infamous "FIND DON. GIVE HIM WHAT HE NEEDS!" from the aforementioned Phantasmagoria.
This would be forgivable if the game was at least the slightest bit funny or clever. There are plenty of games out there that have a similar sense of humor. Deponia has a fairly loathsome protagonist who sells people into slavery and screws over his friends for his own profit, but there's some charm, and the character is actively trying to better himself, even if he's a selfish jackass. The humor is also sharper than just trying to make gross-out versions of hoary old adventure cliches. But after the fifth time I had Bjorn eat something off the ground (seriously, with a single-click interface, it gets really annoying when this happens) accompanied by stomach-churning licking noises, or making some joke about how he pops a boner when his hot neighbor is around (so he better not have any sharp objects in his pocket) it just becomes tiresome and sad. Compounding things, the pacing is glacial, spending two chapters on the beginning of the game, when the plot doesn't even begin to get started until halfway through the second.
As far as all of this goes, I feel at least the slightest bit bad about bashing a game which appears to be the first effort from French-based COWCAT Games. Judging by the art style, this is a bunch of people who just wanted to put a game together, and then went ahead and did so. But their game being a perfect storm of awful jokes, terrible puzzles, and just poor design decisions goes beyond just first-time jitters and the result is a borderline unplayable mess.
I'm going to have to say that this one's a miss. Unless you really like vomit jokes, gross noises, and obtuse, static adventure environments, in which case COWCAT has captured your exact target demographic. Hopefully COWCAT is just working out their birthing pains and will come up with something a little better. There's a good idea buried under all this refuse. I'll just be damned if I want to go looking for it.
*I like Phantasmagoria, really, I do. I love the town of Mpawomsett and its inhabitants. But I'm not gonna defend it.
Full Disclosure: The reviewer received a copy of this game for the purposes of reviewing it