Esc from F5
Review by Scout
There's an old Almond Joy candy commercial jingle penned by, of
all people, Weird Al Yankovic, that starts like this: "Sometimes
you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don't." While Weird Al goes
on to laud copyrighted foodstuffs, it's this opening sally that
concerns me. Lately, the nut question has been foremost in my mind
when trying to decide which game to play next. Do I want to walk
the futuristic mean streets as a down and dirty detective? Teleport
to tragic and epic fantasy lands? Do I want to brandish awesome
weaponry and mow down iron-tough bosses and their unwashed minions?
Get all high-IQ and tinker with the guts of a glistening, crystalline
puzzle machine? Or how about stalking deadly specters through the
haunted innards of a crumbling mansion? Or do I just want to go
for a fart joke?
If the last choice appeals to you, if not-heavy is the order of
the day, if you want cute and colorful and wickedly funny, then
I've got the game for you. It's got farts, smarts, tarts and little
pink aliens in equal measure, and it's called Chewy Esc from
F5. Somewhat reminiscent of Day of the Tentacle, Chewy is
a German offering from Carsten Wieland, the man behind such titles
as Bazooka Sue and the Lula games, which explains
the "tarts" reference.
Released in Germany by PlayByte in 1997, the original English version
of Chewy Esc from F5 is on the short list of every serious
collector of rare adventure games. I spent the better part of nine
months tracking down my boxed copy. For those of you thinking, "Great!
Another review of a game I'll never find," I hasten to add
that for once the search was actually worth the time and effort,
if possibly not the price. This lesser-known game packed a surprisingly
powerful punch, entertaining and challenging me in equal measure.
It's also visually attractive. The colors are hot, they pulse and
wiggle and slide around behind your retinathey are one of
this game's main attractions and appear to be a mainstay of all
of Wieland's projects.
Since I'm indulging in some early housekeeping, let me also tell
you up front that this game runs in DOS protected mode. There's
a feature that allows a Windows install, but then you are taken
to DOS for the duration. If you fear all things DOS, you might be
out of luck with Chewy. Don't expect to slap this CD-ROM
into your computer, sit back and watch the fireworks. The online
manual goes into quite specific technical detail on all this, if
Chewy Esc from F5 opens in the midst of a space battle between
a horde of little green aliens called Borx and our heroes, two cute
pink aliens named Clint and Chewy, who happen to be seeking something
called the Red Glump. (Don't worry, it's not important.) In the
course of acquiring the Glump, Clint is pulled into a wormhole and
subsequently crash-lands on Earth in an equatorial jungle land called
Amazonia. Meanwhile, Chewy is captured by the Borx and locked up
inside their spaceship, F5. The gameplay begins with Chewy in a
small prison cell. Once out of the cell, Chewy finds his ship, makes
his way off F5, heads down to Earth, and starts the search for his
The puzzles, the main draw in Chewy, are well-balanced,
not too hard, not too easy. Much of this balance is achieved through
dialogue generously laden with hints. I always appreciate this,
and it's one of the reasons I like dialogue-heavy adventure games
so much. It's such a great way to move things along. For example,
click on a puddle of sticky goop and Chewy opines that the "stuff
makes me climb the walls." A few minutes later, you will do
well to remember this as you attempt to make your way around a particularly
electrifying part of F5.
While this game doesn't approach the brilliance of Day of the
Tentacle, that towering paragon of cartoony, inventory-based,
third-person adventure games, it definitely has its moments. I was
consistently delighted at the complex illogic required to get an
egg from a henhouse, or win the pumpkin-growing contest, or sneak
a manuscript into the to-be-printed pile at a publishing house.
Never did I feel left behind or flummoxed (well, almost never),
which to my mind is the sign of a well put together adventure game,
i.e., the organic flow from puzzle to puzzle.
Chewy pulls it all off with style and flair, cracking wise
and oftenmuch of the fun comes from his remarks and pointed
asides. The developers must have realized they had a winner in this
little guy because they added customized replies for several hotspots
to showcase his personable wit. Click on a skeleton and Chewy begins
to sing, "femurs, nothing but femurs," to the melody of
"Feelings." Click on a loose floor tile and Chewy says
with a wicked grin, "Pardon me if I defer the obligatory Mick
Jagger joke for now." Groanable and eye-rollable? Sure. But
hearing these goofy lines delivered in the squeaking mocking voice
of Chewy is also oddly amusing, sort of like taking your brainy,
bratty 11-year-old niece on a day trip to the mall. It may be obvious
but it's still somehow funny.
Problems occasionally arise from the uneven translation from the
original German to English, and the few seams have a tendency to
rip and tear. The occasional nonsequitur pops up here and there.
For instance, when a train passes Chewy remarks out of the blue,
"Hey, he looked totally cool. Like the painting." Maybe
I missed something early on, or maybe not, but I saw that scene
half a dozen times and never did understand the reference. This
is just nitpicking, though, and doesn't really detract from the
game. My advice is to think of these clangers as part of the charm.
This mindset comes in especially handy, oh ... say, when the pink
aliens begin to affect bad mid-nineties U.S. inner-city street lingo
or Chewy's sidekick, Howard the dullard novelist, tries his hand
at impromptu rapping.
After Chewy finally makes his way to Earth and meets up with the
aforementioned Howard, they cook up a scheme to turn Howard's novel
into a bestseller in order to afford passage to distant Amazonia
in order to track down Clint in order to save the world. The puzzles
and locations pile up as the pair navigates zany, colorful Big City,
and meets Nichelle, obligatory hot babe and Chewy's love interest.
We hear Borges and Mario the Plumber references. We discover the
amazingly destructive powers of a fart from a well-fed Surimy, that
astounding metal-eating alien feline so rightly feared by the Borx.
We ride in spaceships and engage in faux gunfights. We watch a Borx
punk rock band, witness a Godzilla homage and are treated to the
world's shortest and easiest action sequence. Locations handily
close down once they are used up, inventory stays manageable and
the interface is as familiar as an old pair of slippers. It's all
really, really fun and all rendered in the most deliciously creamy
cartoon colors my optical sensors have had the pleasure to feast
upon in a while.
However, in the midst of all this animated mayhem, a few semiserious
topics pop up. Both filmmaking and book publishing play prominent
roles in the plot, and neither comes off particularly well. Now,
these fields have their share of pretentious twits, and I was left
with the distinct impression that someone on the development team
had suffered his share of slings and arrows. Manuscript rejection
and callow film directors, insipid authors and talentless actorsat
times it was pretty pointed stuff, almost as if Wieland and Company
were throwing down the computer game gauntlet, saying, "You
guys, you're old, you're boring, you're irrelevant. This, here,
this pink computerized alien, this is the future."
It's not all cupcake icing and puppy dog tails, that's for sure.
The voice casting suffers from an obvious a lack of budget. The
same actors are used over and over and sometimes in the same scene.
For instance, you can hear Ellen Riorden, Chewy's English-version
voice actor, playing both Chewy and a neurotic computer in the same
scene. Toward the end of the game, the editing becomes choppy, as
if some vital connecting cutscenes were omitted. The audio track
has a tendency to fade in and out, at times making it hard to catch
some words. Also, you can't click past dialogue you've heard before,
a real faux pas in my book. The music tracks can wear thin too,
as several scenes are scored with very tight, rapidly repeating
loops. Luckily, the game lets you mix the music and effects down
under the voices or turn them off altogether.
However, in the end, Chewy is a solid, enjoyable gaming
experience. After all the searching for this game, I was pleased
to find it such a pleasurable romp. It was longish, by the way,
keeping me occupied on and off over the course of several weeks.
I would estimate you get anywhere from 20 to 30 hours of gameplay
if you take your time and don't use a walkthrough, though genius
types might rip through it in under 15.
There's nothing groundbreaking here, no radical new interface or
slick engine, no strikingly addictive gaming paradigms. Just a cool
old-school adventure with good puzzles, fun characters and lots
of eye candy. So if existential angst is getting you down and the
nut question is pressing on your gaming soul, take a walk on the
silly side with Chewy the cute pink alien. But remember Chewy's
words of warning if you see a hunched-up, crouching cat thing with
a full belly, a funny expression and a distended waggling rear end,
"Nothing, but nothing, smells as bad as the north end of a
southbound Surimy." Consider yourself warned.
Developer: New Generation Software
Release Date: 1997
Four Fat Chicks Links
MS DOS v. 5.0 or higher
4 MB RAM
18 MB free hard disk space
2X CD-ROM drive
Where to Find It
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