The Exchange Student is a comic adventure game series that is a spiritual successor to Leisure Suit Larry. Developed by the small indie game studio Pan Metron Ariston, the series has a promising future among the fandom of point and click adventure games, perhaps even to the likes of the original Monkey Island, Simon the Sorcerer, and other cult classics. Even gamers who are not fans of the genre will enjoy the lighthearted misadventures of our leading man Emilio Carboni in his search for love and passion.
The theme of The Exchange Student is quite unusual and differs from those of most other adventure games that are unnecessarily pretentious or grandiose. It deals more with down-to-earth issues such as social interaction with different cultures, the exploration of family bonds, and the search for independence away from our roots so to establish our own individuality but without forgetting our roots. Although the game deals with such serious personal subject matters even to the end, it touches them with a sense of hilarity and fun spiritedness such that we can easily relate the game to aspects of our own culture. Indeed, when Emily's overbearing mother Laura complains that his 22 year old does not know anything about life, we instantly recognize the clichéd parent-child relationship that exists in many cultures over the coming of age of young adults early in their lives so to escape from their overprotective parents who are instead trying to persuade their children to stay at home to explore better paths for their lives. Alas, this game is not about the sociology of differing customs and family relations or how they are treated differently in different cultures.
In The Exchange Student, you play as Emilio, a young Italian, Casanova wannabe who, after many frustrating and deceptive encounters (loosely speaking, of course) with Italian women, has decided to embark himself on a trip to Sweden in order to put in use his own Italian charm on Swedish women. However, he quickly realizes that his plans of conquest for love and passion are not developing so well. He arrives in his dorm in Sweden and soon meets his eccentric European roommates who are also studying aboard for different reasons. There is the French ditz Michelle, who is studying management but does not understand half of what Emilio says to her. There is also the duo of Spaniards Pedro and Miguel, who have persuaded Emilio to join into a bet with another dorm fellow to see who can kiss more women during their time aboard in which the winner will receive a big prize in the end.
The gameplay is fairly easy to understand and master, largely because the scenarios are well planned such that you are always aware of the tasks which you need to complete and objects which you need to acquire in order to move forward into the game. The game uses a traditional point and click interface. It has a separate inventory menu that can be easily accessed by moving the mouse cursor to the top part of the screen. In theory, the game is made more to be enjoyed leisurely rather than to be taxing. There is even a hints and tips box next to the inventory menu where you can click to get advice on what to do next. This game is therefore ideal for novice gamers who are new to the adventure genre. It is a great game to start to learn about the genre because of its simple controls and extensive hint system that will prevent any newbie from getting stuck.
The level of difficulty for this game (or more precisely, the first episode of this game) is very low. It is not a game that will give you a hard time trying to pass it. Instead, it is a game that will give you enjoyment playing it because of the funny dialogs and the hilarious situations that Emilio gets himself into in the game. Perhaps deliberate (or not) in design, the objects you need to interact all tend to be drawn with a different texture than the background. Also, Emilio himself often reveals too much about what he needs to do next without any prompting, especially at the beginning of the game.
I praise this game for its originality because it features characters with a more human touch but still with a twisted sense of humor that many gamers will enjoy. I also applaud the developer for its effort to bring back a classic genre that is practically extinct. The game even adds a few teasers so to make you crave for more of Emilio's misadventures in future episodes. The only minor annoyances, aside from the very short length (even for an episodic game), are that the cut scenes cannot be skipped and that some of the interactions between objects and Emilio are awkwardly handled.
I have to say that many of the experience veteran gamers have come to enjoy from playing classic point and click adventure games from the 1980s and 1990s will be found from playing this game. I also have to say that novice gamers who are new to the genre will have a good time playing it as well. Overall, Episode 1: First Day in Sweden is a fun beginning for this unique series, with bits of nostalgia from a golden era of adventure gaming that everyone will enjoy.
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