Bone: The Great Cow Race
Review by Jen
For me, the pleasure in reading lies in the ability to live entirely
inside my own head. That is why I've never been particularly attracted
to comic books or graphic novels; I prefer to paint my own mental
pictures instead of having everything drawn out for me. So I've
never really paid much attention to those areas of my local bookstores
and had never seen, or even heard of, Jeff Smith's Bone series
until the first Bone game was announced.
I played that first game, Out from Boneville, when it was
released, on the strength of Telltale Games' staff pedigrees: many
of them had worked at LucasArts during its adventure game glory
days. I found it to be short and sweet. And short. And it was my
impression it is primarily aimed at children and that is why it
is entirely too linear and not at all difficult.
I played The Great Cow Race with my younger son, who had
read the first three Bone books just before I started the
game. He gave me a running compare-and-contrast throughout; based
on his observations and my own, later, ones, the only new elements
introduced into the games are for the sake of the puzzles. For instance,
there is one puzzle that involves getting honey from a monster bee;
the getting of the honey is in the book but the game introduces
the mechanism by which to do so.
The Bone series chronicles the doings of the three Bone
cousins: Fone Bone, the good-hearted one, Phoney Bone, always looking
out for number one, and Smiley Bone, the happy-go-lucky one. The
series begins with the three of them recently run out of Boneville
due to one of Phoney Bone's schemes gone awry. In the first game,
the three become separated and eventually (almost) reunite at Gran'ma
Ben's house in the woods. At the end of Out from Boneville, Fone
Bone, Phoney Bone, Gran'ma Ben, and her granddaughter Thorn set
out for the fair where the Great Cow Race is to be held; Gran'ma
Ben, though not a cow, has entered the race, as she has done for
many years past. And she has won all of the races she's run.
Throughout Out from Boneville, the three Bones are pursued
by a giant rat creature named Kingdok, who sends two not-very-smart
hench-rat creatures to do his dirty work and who in turn is controlled
by a shadowy wizard-looking dude. As well, they have a sort of guardian
dragon who sometimes gives a little aid, if he can bother his lazy
self to do so. These characters all figure prominently in the plot,
although most of what we see of them is in the cutscenes.
All this by way of background; these games are meant to be played
in serial form.
Bone 2, this one, The Great Cow Race, opens with
the three Bones reuniting at the regional fair where the Cow Race
is to be run. Fone Bone is in unrequited love with Thorn, Phoney
Bone is looking to get rich quick in a betting scheme, and Smiley
Bone is, well, just is. The gameplay part of the game takes place
almost entirely on the fairgrounds and at a nearby tavern. The ancillary
characters from the first game put in appearances here, and a few
new ones are introduced as well.
You switch at will between the three Bones by clicking on their
respective heads at the top right of the screen. When I played,
I went as far as I could playing as Fone Bone; I found that I could
not complete all of Fone Bone's tasks without first taking a turn
as Smiley and Phoney; the actions of the three intertwine and affect
each others' progress down their respective paths. Anyone who's
ever read my reviews knows this type of multiple-playable-character
interaction is one of my all-time favorite game devices, and it
was well implemented here, much to my delight.
Game mechanics are purely point-and-click. The options include
an in-game tutorial; hints on how to use inventory, how to converse
with the other characters, and suchlike pop up from time to time
as these issues are encountered. This would be useful for kids as
well as adult point-and-click first-timers, but I found it more
bothersome than anything. I had left it on during Bone 1 just
to see what it was like; first thing I did on starting Bone 2
was look at the options screen and turn that particular feature
The options also include something called "Laptop Mode";
I don't know what this means. I played the game on my desktop computer
and found I had to enable "Laptop Mode" or the first cutscene
flew by lickety-split, so I guess "Laptop Mode" really
means "Slow Down." (This was the only technical difficulty
I encountered.) There is also an option for subtitles; even though
the voice actors always speak clearly and are easy to understand,
I left the subtitles on. Sometimes the spoken words did not match
up with the printed text, but the deviations were all quite minor.
Out from Boneville, the first game, includes two arcade
sequences, one that involves running away from angry locusts and
another that involves running away from angry rat creatures. As
you might imagine, these engendered plenty loud pissing and moaning
from the point-and-click purists; I thought them not all that difficult
to beat after some pattern observation, and if the player fails,
she is put back at the beginning of the sequence with no loss of
game progress. The Great Cow Race also includes some arcade
sequences, one a sort of shooting gallery game with wonky controls
that must be overcome to win a prize and another race sequence where
the time is apparently limitless and you must instead focus on strategy.
As with Bone 1, I did not find these segments troublesome;
your mileage may vary.
Aside from these "action" interludes, gameplay is a mix
of classic inventory puzzling and classic conversation puzzling.
Bone 1 was particularly easy; The Great Cow Race is
a good deal more challenging but still not walkthrough-worthy and
still easy enough (I think) that children would be able to complete
it with little or no adult help. The Great Cow Race also
lasts about twice as long as Out from Boneville.
The Bone games are available as downloads from the Telltale
website. You can try before you buy; the way this works is you download
the full game but may play only to a certain point, after which
you will need to fork over some dough for a code that unlocks the
rest of the game. The Bone 1 download, I seem to recall,
is around 75 MB; Bone 2 weighs in at 100 MB. For you dial-up
users, Telltale has made the games available on CD as well, for
a higher cost.
With both games, I was mightily impressed by the quality of the
graphics and voice acting, especially for two such relatively small
installation files. Music too is quite well-done, which is to say
not irksome. The characters are charming, the artwork pleasing,
the plot engaging, and the games are just plain fun to play.
Telltale has given us not one but two good things that come in
small packages, and I'd recommend this series to anyone who yearns
for those glory days of adventure gaming. These won't quite fulfill
your old-school needs, but they are about as close as you can get
in these times when cookie-cutter games reign supreme in the adventure
A final note: Last night I read the first three books (the only
ones we have, or I would've read more) in the Bone series.
There were actually quite a few liberties taken with the plot by
Telltale in creating the games, but the overall flavor is the same.
I imagine that's because Jeff Smith, the books' author/artist, is
overseeing the games' development.
Release Date: April 2006
Four Fat Chicks Links
140 MB free disk space
3D accelerated video card
800 MHz P3 processor (1.5 GHz processor recommended)
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