Engine - Flash Based
Suitability Factors - N/A
It would be fair to say that Brain Hotel, a game that can be played either online in your web browser or downloaded and played from your hard-drive (as I did), took me by surprise. Written and directed by Ron 'Aalgar' Watt, and programmed by Mark Darin, Brain Hotel pretty much blew away my preconceptions about flash-based adventure games, although I doubt there are many that live up to the standards of this one.
The game is based on the developer's comic book 'Tales of the Odd', while the programmer is the man responsible for the Nick Bounty series, and the forthcoming (and very promising looking) Nearly Departed.
EDIT: Mark is now a lead writer\designer for Telltale Games, and has been heavily involved in the development of the 'Tales of Monkey Island', and 'Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People' series of games. He has also worked on some of the Sam and Max episodes.
The game had me in it's clutches right from the very start, partly because of the unique comic book introduction to the story's protagonist, but mainly because of the excellent and entertaining writing that accompanied it. I immediately had an interest in the main character and the city he lives in and was eager to learn more.
That city is Fort Burr, and the aforementioned protagonist is Ed Arnold, a down on his luck deliveryman who arrives at the Brain Hotel as it prepares to commence it's annual supervillian convention. While his initial goal is simply to deliver a parcel, Ed soon learns of one of the early arrivals evil schemes, and with minimal help from the villain's artfully rebellious robot, must set about stopping it.
The story's premise is simple, however it is clear that the gameworld is capable of producing something more involving should the developers have wanted it to. Nevertheless, the story presented is still enjoyable enough to prevent these thoughts from occurring until the game is completed.
While playing, the story's simplicity is masked by the game's overwhelming strength, it's atmosphere. I felt genuinely immersed in the gameworld, all the more surprising given the very bland and unattractive backgrounds that awkwardly contrast the style of the characters. Indeed, while the character sprites themselves look far more stylish and certainly contribute to the vibe the game gives off, it is certainly not the visuals that take responsibility for the atmosphere evoked.
Instead it is the already discussed writing of the game that does the trick. Dialogue is well written and able to maintain a style of it's own throughout the duration - although perhaps the price the player pays for this is the sometimes offbeat and random nature of it. Despite this, the game's sense of humour doesn't feel out of place with the gameworld, and only by playing the game will one know whether the humour is to their liking. It may or may not be an acquired taste, but in places I would venture to say that it at least verges on being so.
Sound plays a role in setting the atmosphere too, with excellent voice-acting and appropriate music. The speech bubbles accompanying dialog also look right at home in the comic-book universe.
The game's puzzles are mostly inventory based, and while some are clever within the gameworld, there are others for which the solution is likely to be stumbled upon rather than discovered through logical thinking (at least that's how it turned out for me). If you do get stuck, the game's writer has taken the time to draw up a progressive hints page which is similar to that used by UHS.
A lack of interactable objects certainly has a negative affect on gameplay, with certain rooms having a decidedly uninteresting array of items available to manipulate.
As for the game's length, you'll probably finish it in one go, although you may get a couple of sittings out of it depending on how quickly you're able to solve the less obvious puzzles.
A longer game based in Fort Burr with a more engrossing story would have great potential, particularly with livelier and more stylised backgrounds. Nevertheless, as it stands, Brain Hotel is still a fun game in it's own right. The bizarre comic book atmosphere is responsible for that, as is the offbeat humour. Add in some great voice-acting and you have a very enjoyable flash-based adventure game that is well worth playing. Now I wasn't sure that I'd ever be saying that!
- Great comic-book atmosphere
- Excellent voice-acting
- Strangely funny and interesting world
- Background objects sometimes sparse
- Backgrounds are bland and contrast awkwardly with character sprites
- More information about wider scope of universe would have been nice
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