Pointing and clicking has long been part of our daily routines and it comes naturally to almost everyone nowadays. Back when 8MB of RAM was king and a 500MB hard drive was more than enough storage, people would use this, then, less familiar control method to go on adventures with pirates, explore the underworld and discover the Lost City of Atlantis. Slap Village: Reality Slap harkens back to such classic point and click adventures as The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. On the surface it is a vibrant slap (excuse the pun) in the face from the amazing artists at Spanish developer Monkey Toons with a Cartoon Network esque art style that jumps off the screen, but is there a grand adventure underneath this effervescent skin?
The cartoon star of this Indie adventure game is Lurditas a curious and brave red head who simply wants to spend the summer with her Grandma in good ole Slap Village itself. She is a very endearing character and is easily connected with as you take her through the early stages of the game. You navigate by pointing and clicking around the screen with button prompts (both left and right mouse clicks) appearing when you can interact with something or someone. The controls in general are slick and fast, and become second nature quickly. Movement is smooth although some new areas can be missed initially due to slightly unintuitive prompts at transitions points in the town of Slap village. This can leave you wandering in circles on occasion. The main gameplay element is the classic point and click trope of environmental and character interactions along with inventory item combinations. For example, you might find an item that an npc is in need of or two items that, when clicked, dragged and combined, will allow you to access a new area or progress the storyline. There is a nice sense of achievement that comes with figuring out these puzzles. The characters that inhabit the world are bold and memorable and the gameplay flows well from one encounter to the next. Standouts are the retired surfer dude and the old Indian chief.
This game does suffer from the jarring roadblocks that are all too often thrown up in point and click adventures and puzzle games. I did find myself wandering and clicking aimlessly on occasion without the slightest clue what to do only to stumble upon a solution after many minutes of ever growing frustration. Some of this is on me as the player but some blame must also be placed on particular puzzles or item combinations that can only be described as pedantic and the less said about the infuriating memory puzzle in the first third of the game the better. The developers have tried to aid the player by providing a strange alien (we’ll get to that in the story section) clue book that can be accessed for help in the menu but it is sometimes equally cryptic.
The primary gameplay is complimented by a scattering of three mini games that fit nicely with the narrative and offer a welcome change from pointing and clicking. A fast scrolling, object dodging race against time (on a pig!), a podological beat em up (a foot fight) and a disk rotating alien puzzle are available at key points in the game and also unlocked as standalone content in the main menu.
As mentioned before the bold and beautiful art style makes you feel like you are taking part in an episode of Adventure Time or Regular show and this is to Monkey Toons’s great credit. Backgrounds of the old west are simple and colourful and the facial/player movements are very well animated. I want to make a special mention to the pop culture references that can be spotted in the back grounds and interiors of the game. If you have a keen eye you will spot a Guitar Hero guitar, a giant Playmobile head, the two old men, Statler and Waldorf, from the Muppets, Marty’s hover board and my personal favorite, Gizmo from Gremlins all adding a flourish to the game aesthetic.
The sound and voice are unfortunately not on the same level as the visuals. The music is full of country western soul and vigour with a sci-fi spin but gets a bit monotonous. The voice acting, for me, lets the game down as it breaks from the well crafted overall aesthetic. Now I am not going to be too harsh about this as the main problem I have is that the voice actors cannot hide their Spanish accents in the English version because, guess what….they’re Spanish. I am under no illusion that a studio working within an indie budget is expected to have dedicated voice acting teams for all the games languages but when playing, the voice acting felt a bit out of place and diminished my overall experience. The English dialogue also suffers from minor translation issues with words misplaced here and there. I did play through a couple of sections of the game in its native language (Spanish) with English subs and the dialogue felt a lot more natural but It would be difficult to play the whole four hour experience like this.
Slap village tries hard to emulate the wacky, quirky humour that was a foundation of classic adventure games from Lucas Arts/Double Fine and the manic Tim Schafer (Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle) and in parts it succeeds. There were some genuinely funny to’s and fro’s between Lurditas and the inhabitants of Slap Village that had me grinning like a Cheshire cat. The story is mysterous from the start and gets downright weird towards the end with aliens and time travelling being, in my opinion, forced into a setting where they struggle to have much meaning full resonance. The same can be said of some of the humour which missed its mark on occasion.
Slap village as a package looks glorious. Its presentation, from its art style to its menus and its character bio page (some of which are very funny) is a definite strong point but the game itself can be frustrating and try too hard with its strange story and humour. There are achievements to unlock but after that little replayability but the game is billed as chapter one of an ongoing series and ends in a loose cliff hanger. Having spent four hours with the game I would be somewhat interested in revisiting this strange and wacky version of the Wild West in the next chapter but I would have to look past the sometimes frustrating gameplay and loose dialogue only to let my eyes bask in those phenomenal cartoon visuals.