By Marty Mulrooney
Nick Bounty and the Dame with the Blue Chewed Shoe is a comedy noir adventure game created by Pinhead Games aka Mark Darin, a former Telltale Games writer/designer that previously worked on hit titles such as Tales of Monkey Island and Puzzle Agent. Inspired by the classic adventure games of LucasArts and Telltale Games before it, Nick Bounty’s latest case starts with the naked body of a dead woman buried in a playground sandbox.
‘Nick Bounty’s latest case?’ you might ask. That’s right – Nick Bounty has been solving bizarre, animal-related cases (much to his chagrin) since his debut in the 2004 freeware point-and-click Flash game A Case of the Crabs, which this reviewer has extremely fond memories of playing after school as a teenager (along with its 2005 sequel The Goat in the Grey Fedora).
However, don’t worry if you haven’t played the previous Nick Bounty games; the Dame with the Blue Chewed Shoe is a standalone adventure that newcomers will be able to follow just fine. The premise is simple: Nick Bounty is a smart-ass detective excited to finally take on a real live murder case, in a black-and-white world where every character lives in shades of grey.
This really does feel like a long-lost early years Telltale game in the same vein as the first season of Sam & Max; the script is witty and succinct, and interacting with the numerous hotspots on any given screen never feels like a chore. Comedy adventure games can luxuriate in the delivery of each line if they’re funny enough, and Nick Bounty most certainly is. Interrogating the various supporting characters is a hoot, especially when Nick breaks into dance.
With everything going on in the world right now, it’s wonderful to play something light that can effortlessly make you chuckle and smile. Those expecting a serious ‘whodunnit’ will be sorely disappointed; the case of the Dame with the Blue Chewed Shoe is very silly, only makes complete sense inside the twisted mind of Mark Darin, and is more concerned with making the player laugh than offering narrative closure. None of these observations are complaints.
The controls are intuitive and simple, especially when using a gamepad. The left analogue stick moves Nick, while the right analogue stick moves the cursor. Pressing the A button makes Nick interact with a hotspot, while pressing L1 highlights all hotspots and holding R1 makes him run. Each location uses fixed camera angles to great effect, although sometimes Nick’s pathfinding needs to be manually corrected as he can get a bit stuck on the scenery.
The graphics are basic yet stylish, taking full advantage of the black-and-white colour pallet to create moody, atmospheric visuals that go beyond your average indie adventure game. Likewise, the sound is excellent, with a jazzy noir-esque soundtrack composed by Jared Emerson-Johnson and voice acting from an award-winning all-star cast including Dave Fennoy (Lee in The Walking Dead), Melissa Hutchison (Clementine in The Walking Dead), Adam Harrington (Bigby Wolf in The Wolf Among Us), and Nicki Rapp (Morgan LeFlay in Tales of Money Island), to name just a few of the talented individuals involved.
Jason Elis also returns to voice Nick and does a great job as the relative ‘straight man’, setting up jokes for others while cracking them himself at every turn. The puzzles are admittedly very straightforward, but there is some satisfying detective work to be done by collecting evidence and entering it into Nick’s ‘mail order crime lab’ computer system, and advancing the zany plot mostly makes up for the lack of challenge.
I experienced a few technical hiccups while playing the Dame with the Blue Chewed Shoe, but rest assured there was nothing too serious or game breaking. Playing at 1080p on my 1050p monitor stretched the image slightly instead of adding black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, but it still looked absolutely fine and I mostly played on my 4K television via Steam Link anyway. Also, the gamepad wouldn’t respond in the main menu until loading a save game (it would then work fine until exiting the game).
When solving Nick Bounty’s latest case, it’s important to view it in context. This is a small indie game, pretty much developed by one talented man in just a few short years. It will take players around 4-5 hours to beat and only costs £7.19 on Steam here in the UK. It is rather short (I sincerely hope more cases follow), but there is some replay value to be had in the form of selecting between three potential partners for Nick. I chose psychic detective Zach Foresythe (Dave Fennoy at his flirtatious best) for my initial playthrough, but I certainly plan to chose retired tough guy Walter Walterman (Adam Harrington) or tough as nails ex-cop Emily Blackwater (Cissy Jones) when replaying in the future.
With coronavirus forcing most of us into lockdown and isolation worldwide, escapism via video games is more important than ever before. With the recent release of Resident Evil 3 remake (and the early physical release of Final Fantasy VII remake), this has been a gaming weekend that has continually made me smile. However, only one game has made me laugh out loud like a total goofball (just wait until Nick shows off the dance moves he picked up while infiltrating a vogue house – Jabbawockee, Jabawockee!). If you love adventure games and can appreciate a good fish tie (hey, it’s professional!), you should definitely check out Nick Bounty and the Dame with the Blue Chewed Shoe.
8 OUT OF 10