by Benjamin Fitzgerald
What do you get when you combine an overweight exterminator, a singing purple bear and a world full of monstrous insects? Why, you get The Ballads of Remus – When the Bed Bites! Enter a zany, bizarre world full of over-sized parasites, ketchup plants and thirsty peasants in this charming adventure. Over the course of the game, you will switch between playing Reemus, a reckless exterminator with a penchant for destruction, and his sidekick Liam, a talking purple bear who enjoys singing and playing the lute.
In what functions as a brief tutorial, the game begins with another one of Reemus’s exterminations – he was hired by the bartender to kill a horsefly that invaded his pub. Reemus is unusually effective at 86-ing the horsefly; he manages to defeat it after merely destroying Grappa’s bed. The next day Liam writes a magnificent ballad to commemorate the victory. There’s only one problem: no one heard it. Without sleep, Grappa is too tired to serve anyone drinks, and everyone else is to distracted to listen. Reemus has to fix Grappa’s bed if his ballad is to be heard, and thus the quest begins…
The action is fueled by the most impractical and ill-advised decisions possible, courtesy of our hero Reemus. Having managed to procure the rope to fix Grappa’s bed rather early on in the game, Reemus throws practical sense out the window in pursuit of a waterbed in bug-infested swamps, embarking on an overblown misadventure full of hilarious near-death experiences.
Over the course of the game, the player is treated to a rich variety of exotic, beautifully drawn and frequently bizarre environments, populated by big critters with even bigger attitudes. First, there is the Apnea Swamp, where Reemus is captured by the hungry Swamp Witch. Later they journey to the Fire Ant Hole, nestled in the, er, “beautiful” Condiment Forest, and are subsequently taken hostage by a colony of incompetent termites. Escaping the termite mound, our fearless heroes must work together to save the town of Fredricus from the Fire Ant invasion.
Although the game is pretty short, it’s rich with humor and character. Reemus and Liam comment on many of the surroundings, making it rewarding to explore the environments. Some of the writing and dialogue is a bit silly, but that’s part of the fun. The game doesn’t pretend to take itself seriously, preferring instead to play out like a Saturday morning cartoon. Just like a cartoon, most of the humor is self-contained and doesn’t translate well outside of the game, but it makes for an enjoyable experience.
As far as gameplay goes, The Ballads of Reemus is pretty standard point-and-click fare. As adventure games go, it’s not very difficult, but it doesn’t feel overly simple, either. There were definitely some puzzles that took a bit of thinking to figure out, but I never felt like the game was unfair or intentionally difficult. Often, one of the characters was faced with a puzzle that was insolvable until further action took place on the part of the other character, but the game was pretty fair with that, too, often allowing quite a bit of progression before those points were reached.
The game provides five or six hours of play, but at $4.99 it’s more than a fair price. It is available DRM-free from both GOG.com and Steam. I bought it on sale for about two bucks, and it was totally worth it. For an independent game funded through Kickstarter, it was a pretty polished experience. Animations in the cut scenes were simple but effective. The in-game graphics are pleasantly done. The voice acting isn’t perfect but is rarely atrocious, either. My only real complaint is during an argument between three fire ants towards the end of the game, in which the same actor voices all three characters. It makes the dialogue very difficult to follow.
All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It is a pleasant, family-friendly game with an easy-to-use interface, clever but fair puzzles, good dialogue and lots of heart. A sequel is in development, but a release date has not yet been announced. I guess I’ll just have to give Toonstruck another playthrough…