The Next Big Thing is an adventure game in the classic sense. These days, the genre is almost entirely dominated by Telltale, with its similar-feeling and playing titles. If you’re familiar, though, with the design of days past, you’ll feel at home with Pendulo’s latest. You have mostly-static screens and menus, and click-to-navigate is your only option.
The Next Big Thing is also very, very weird.
The story follows reporters Liz and Dan, as they go around an area that’s sort of like Hollywood but also with monsters and other ridiculous things. Liz is the go-getter, and Dan doesn’t care so much. Liz is constantly referred to as strange by other characters, as they make fun of her speaking style as awkward and full of non-sequiturs. It’s clearly meant to give the game some character while explaining the weird dialogue choices you’re given, but here’s the problem: everyone says awkward things and blurts out non-sequiturs. It’s an acquired taste, but those who really get into it will probably love it. It just adds one more barrier to a game with a small target demographic.
Adventure games are never without their frustrations in puzzle solving; after all, without challenge there isn’t much reward. Unfortunately, The Next Big Thing‘s difficulty seems just a bit too artificial. Despite being able to wander around and see items and talk about subjects that will be relevant in the near future, you can only really act on one immediate task. See that person holding that thing and know you need it? You can try to talk to them about it now, but only later will that help, and it’s not because what you did in the interim would affect that. It’s sad, but genre purists can get over a lot of the pitfalls.
I’ll say this, though: the game looks great. The characters have a lot of personality, and there’s lots of imagination in the worlds and situations. (Maybe a bit too much sometimes. Did we mention the game’s weird? Because it’s quite weird.) Regardless, while in the gameplay itself the game feels dated, the engine’s a nice one, and we’d imagine it’d be a fun passive experience when watching others play. (Especially notable is the game’s almost-seamless use of static backgrounds with polygonal characters. That’s hard to pull off.)
Those who have spent maybe a bit too much time with episodic adventures will be surprised by the game’s length, as it isn’t a short experience. (Unless you click through everything crazy-fast, I guess.) The puzzles in the game don’t exactly ramp up in difficulty like any standard game, but they stay relatively consistent, at least.
The Next Big Thing is one of those games that should develop a cult following: those who enjoy it will be talking about it years and decades later, like Grim Fandango or Sam & Max Hit The Road. For everyone else, it may not hit the spot now. It’s worth checking out, though, so give the demo a taste and, if you like that, you’ll enjoy the meatier full course.