Somewhat reminiscent of Day of the Tentacle, Chewy is a German offering from Carsten Wieland, the man behind such titles as Bazooka Sue and the Lula games. Released in Germany by PlayByte in 1997, the original English version of Chewy Esc from F5 is on the short list of every serious collector of rare adventure games. This lesser-known game packed a surprisingly powerful punch, entertaining and challenging me in equal measure. It's also visually attractive. The colors are hot, they pulse and wiggle and slide around behind your retina - they are one of this game's main attractions and appear to be a mainstay of all of Wieland's projects.
Chewy Esc from F5 opens in the midst of a space battle between a horde of little green aliens called Borx and our heroes, two cute pink aliens named Clint and Chewy, who happen to be seeking something called the Red Glump. (Don't worry, it's not important.) In the course of acquiring the Glump, Clint is pulled into a wormhole and subsequently crash-lands on Earth in an equatorial jungle land called Amazonia. Meanwhile, Chewy is captured by the Borx and locked up inside their spaceship, F5. The gameplay begins with Chewy in a small prison cell. Once out of the cell, Chewy finds his ship, makes his way off F5, heads down to Earth, and starts the search for his pal Clint.
The puzzles, the main draw in Chewy, are well-balanced, not too hard, not too easy. Much of this balance is achieved through dialogue generously laden with hints. I always appreciate this, and it's one of the reasons I like dialogue-heavy adventure games so much. It's such a great way to move things along. For example, click on a puddle of sticky goop and Chewy opines that the "stuff makes me climb the walls." A few minutes later, you will do well to remember this as you attempt to make your way around a particularly electrifying part of F5.
While this game doesn't approach the brilliance of Day of the Tentacle, that towering paragon of cartoony, inventory-based, third-person adventure games, it definitely has its moments. I was consistently delighted at the complex illogic required to get an egg from a henhouse, or win the pumpkin-growing contest, or sneak a manuscript into the to-be-printed pile at a publishing house. Never did I feel left behind or flummoxed (well, almost never), which to my mind is the sign of a well put together adventure game, i.e., the organic flow from puzzle to puzzle.
Chewy pulls it all off with style and flair, cracking wise and often - much of the fun comes from his remarks and pointed asides. The developers must have realized they had a winner in this little guy because they added customized replies for several hotspots to showcase his personable wit. Click on a skeleton and Chewy begins to sing, "femurs, nothing but femurs," to the melody of "Feelings." Click on a loose floor tile and Chewy says with a wicked grin, "Pardon me if I defer the obligatory Mick Jagger joke for now." Groanable and eye-rollable? Sure. But hearing these goofy lines delivered in the squeaking mocking voice of Chewy is also oddly amusing, sort of like taking your brainy, bratty 11-year-old niece on a day trip to the mall. It may be obvious but it's still somehow funny.
Problems occasionally arise from the uneven translation from the original German to English, and the few seams have a tendency to rip and tear. The occasional nonsequitur pops up here and there. For instance, when a train passes Chewy remarks out of the blue, "Hey, he looked totally cool. Like the painting." Maybe I missed something early on, or maybe not, but I saw that scene half a dozen times and never did understand the reference. This is just nitpicking, though, and doesn't really detract from the game. My advice is to think of these clangers as part of the charm. This mindset comes in especially handy, oh ... say, when the pink aliens begin to affect bad mid-nineties U.S. inner-city street lingo or Chewy's sidekick, Howard the dullard novelist, tries his hand at impromptu rapping.
After Chewy finally makes his way to Earth and meets up with the aforementioned Howard, they cook up a scheme to turn Howard's novel into a bestseller in order to afford passage to distant Amazonia in order to track down Clint in order to save the world. The puzzles and locations pile up as the pair navigates zany, colorful Big City, and meets Nichelle, obligatory hot babe and Chewy's love interest. We hear Borges and Mario the Plumber references. We discover the amazingly destructive powers of a fart from a well-fed Surimy, that astounding metal-eating alien feline so rightly feared by the Borx. We ride in spaceships and engage in faux gunfights. We watch a Borx punk rock band, witness a Godzilla homage and are treated to the world's shortest and easiest action sequence. Locations handily close down once they are used up, inventory stays manageable and the interface is as familiar as an old pair of slippers. It's all really, really fun and all rendered in the most deliciously creamy cartoon colors my optical sensors have had the pleasure to feast upon in a while.
However, in the midst of all this animated mayhem, a few semiserious topics pop up. Both filmmaking and book publishing play prominent roles in the plot, and neither comes off particularly well. Now, these fields have their share of pretentious twits, and I was left with the distinct impression that someone on the development team had suffered his share of slings and arrows. Manuscript rejection and callow film directors, insipid authors and talentless actors - at times it was pretty pointed stuff, almost as if Wieland and Company were throwing down the computer game gauntlet, saying, "You guys, you're old, you're boring, you're irrelevant. This, here, this pink computerized alien, this is the future."
It's not all cupcake icing and puppy dog tails, that's for sure. The voice casting suffers from an obvious a lack of budget. The same actors are used over and over and sometimes in the same scene. For instance, you can hear Ellen Riorden, Chewy's English-version voice actor, playing both Chewy and a neurotic computer in the same scene. Toward the end of the game, the editing becomes choppy, as if some vital connecting cutscenes were omitted. The audio track has a tendency to fade in and out, at times making it hard to catch some words. Also, you can't click past dialogue you've heard before, a real faux pas in my book. The music tracks can wear thin too, as several scenes are scored with very tight, rapidly repeating loops. Luckily, the game lets you mix the music and effects down under the voices or turn them off altogether.
However, in the end, Chewy is a solid, enjoyable gaming experience. After all the searching for this game, I was pleased to find it such a pleasurable romp. It was longish, by the way, keeping me occupied on and off over the course of several weeks. I would estimate you get anywhere from 20 to 30 hours of gameplay if you take your time and don't use a walkthrough, though genius types might rip through it in under 15.
There's nothing groundbreaking here, no radical new interface or slick engine, no strikingly addictive gaming paradigms. Just a cool old-school adventure with good puzzles, fun characters and lots of eye candy. So if existential angst is getting you down and the nut question is pressing on your gaming soul, take a walk on the silly side with Chewy the cute pink alien. But remember Chewy's words of warning if you see a hunched-up, crouching cat thing with a full belly, a funny expression and a distended waggling rear end, "Nothing, but nothing, smells as bad as the north end of a southbound Surimy." Consider yourself warned.
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