Did you see the movie Big? One of the things about that movie that always stuck with me, besides the obvious moral issues of a man-child Tom Hanks sexing up Elizabeth Perkins, was Tom Hanksí characterís idea of portable interactive comic books. I remember seeing that and thinking the only thing that would be more awesome than that would be the hoverboards from Back to the Future. Iím totally dating myself here, arenít I? You kids today with your Internet Clown Posse
and Falldown Boy
have no idea what Iím talking about.
If you were born after 1990, you probably never played a text-based, limited or no-graphics adventure game like Zork, Planetfall, or Hitchhikerís Guide to the Galaxy. Josh Baskin, the character Tom Hanks plays in Big, uses a game of this type as a jumping off point for a huge product development project at the toy company he works for: interactive comic books, with modular stories on memory cartridges at a price point accessible to young people. In 1988, that was a concept that I consigned to the far future of warp drives and ubiquitous sex bots.
Itís 2012, and you know what? We donít have warp drives and ubiquitous sex bots, but I have super futuristic ketchup and mustard bottles that are always 2 seconds from dispensing sweet, beautiful deliciousness on my hot dog BECAUSE THE LID IS ON THE BOTTOM OF THE BOTTLE! And I not only have the interactive comic books from the movie Big, but I CARRY THEM AROUND ON MY PHONE! Itís crazy, Iím living in a sci-fi utopia.
Freddi Fish is a childrenís game franchise by developer Humongous Entertainment, which was founded by LucasArts refugees in the early 90ís and is currently a part of Atari. The franchise features five games originally released between 1994 and 2001, and starring two talking fish named Freddi and Luther who join forces to solve crimes. Atari has recently re-released the Freddi Fish games to a new generation of kids via the iOS platform.
Freddi Fish and the Stolen Shell follows Freddi and Luther as they attempt to recover a shell thatís an essential part of their strangely fascist Founderís Day celebration. The jackboots in this aquatic autocracy have wrongly imprisoned Freddiís Uncle Blenny for the theft, so she has to find the real perpetrator so that Uncle Blenny can be set free and unleash the orgy of jingoism that is Founderís Day. If this plot summary sounds dystopian, well, thatís my kind of party. I like childrenís games better when they are vaguely Orwellian.
As should be expected of a property developed by LucasArts refugees and now owned by Atari, the production values are top-notch. The graphics, sound design, and environments are smartly realized and the voice work is fabulous. Because there are so many interactive elements in each game location, Freddi Fish would appeal to kids as young as 3 or 4, even if they are too young to follow the mystery narrative.
Iím not too young to follow the mystery narrative, but I may be too easily distracted. I kept getting sidetracked by some of the interactive mini-games throughout the gameworld. At one point, Freddi and Luther find a fortune telling machine (hey, like the Zoltar machine in Big!), and I spent at least ten minutes getting fortunes from it. ďThings always work out for the best,Ē read one fortune, to which Luther responded, ďWords of wisdom, indeed.Ē Any game that strives to teach children cynical verbal irony gets a thumbs up from me. After another fortune, Luther asks, ďIs my Mom inside that machine writing these fortunes?Ē I could almost picture Lutherís eyes rolling as he said this.
After discovering the real thief of the patriotic Conch Shell of Patriotic Doom, Freddi and Luther are led on a merry chase to, no kidding, a sunken Mesoamerican temple, complete with a statue of an angry god that imprisons Luther for being inappropriately pro-thievery. Freddi Fish and the Stolen Shell is just an Ark of the Convenant and three Nazis short of being a piscine Indiana Jones movie.