Developer: Pendulo Studios
Release Date: March 12, 2007
Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle is populated with an interesting tangle of personalities that would best be described as a "United Nations of Weird," and the zany humor and (mostly) good voice-acting complement the gorgeous graphics for a fun adventure. However, the sometimes-cryptic puzzles, overly linear gameplay, and lengthy cut scenes crash the party and put a damper on things. As a follow-up to Pendulo Studios' 2003 Runaway: A Road Adventure, DotT is about as delightfully weird as it's ever going to get; given that the game was made by the same people who featured a basketball star-turned-drag queen in their last title, that says quite a bit.
The main characters from the original Runaway, Brian Basco and Gina Timmins, are back in DotT, and what a difference four years can make! When we last saw Brian, he was a bashful, Berkeley-bound physics grad student who wore glasses and was dressed conservatively in khakis and a white dress shirt. Now he's a hunky, Mac-using, new-agey guy with defined muscles, sideburns, and a soul patch.
Brian and Gina are on a relaxing Hawaiian vacation when they decide to take a daytrip to the fictional isle of Mala. Now, anyone who has a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, French or Latin knows that the island is just a bad idea, but our brave protagonist apparently wasn't privy to this inside information. Naturally, the puddle jumper encounters problems, and Gina parachutes out over a lake while Brian guides the plane to a crash landing. He must go through a series of challenges which include parachuting from a plane, encountering a secret military camp, and making a harrowing escape from this clandestine locale.
DotT consists of six levels, just like the original title. There are over 100 locations in the game, and there is a good variety of locations and backdrops, including scenes on a plane, aboard a yacht, an ancient Tiki Temple, the Alaskan wilderness, and there's even a diving stint in the ocean. In this mouse-driven adventure, some levels will be straightforward point-and-click affairs, but the larger levels necessitate an overview map, from which you can select smaller areas to explore. In a sly nudge and a wink to the adventure gamer, Brian comments about picking up objects from the environment without knowing how they'll be used.
The cast features some veterans of the original Runaway. We meet up again with Joshua the alien conspiracy fan, who was beamed onto a spacecraft the last time we saw him, and Sushi the computer expert and her commune of friends. We're also introduced to new characters like the lovely Lokelani, who runs a beachfront bar; displaced Australian surfer dude Knife; and his son Koala. The stereotypes can be a little too much to bear, from military colonel Kordsmeier, who surely loves the smell of napalm in the morning; to bucktoothed Joshua, who is Asian, wears super-thick glasses and can figure out cold fusion in his sleep but is severely lacking in social graces; to Lokelani, the beach bunny who won't stop talking about her slew of ex-boyfriends and even hangs a sign outside her abode that reads "Happy Hooker."
Later in the game, squeaky-white Brian has to sneak back onto the military base after getting a makeover so he can pretend to be someone else — a black professor. It's a very nonchalant, European approach to race, and I'm sure it wasn't a point of contention for the Spanish developers since some EU countries employ similar practices as part of their Christmas celebrations. The makeover is also central to the rest of the plot playing out, so it's not an issue that could have been solved with a quick localization fix. It's not a deal-breaker, but it may raise objections among more sensitive gamers.
The graphics remain cel-shaded but have been vastly improved, so while it still seems like you're watching a cartoon rather than playing a computer game, everything looks better in this iteration. The locations are more vibrant, defined and detailed, and characters have a variety of animated facial expressions. The developers have modernized the game pretty well, and care has been taken to imbue the pre-rendered backgrounds with modern touches, such as girls wearing low-riding pants in order to better showcase their undergarments, and flat-panel LCD monitors and HDTVs in offices.
Although the cut scenes are beautiful and are a treat to watch, they tend to be on the lengthy side, especially after you've completed a level. As with the original Runaway, the problem is that you won't know that you've just initiated a 10-minute sequence until you're well into it, so the moral of the story is: Don't start playing DotT if you need to head out in a jiffy.
The inventory system has stayed faithful to the original Runaway; you can delve into items to uncover more helpful components, or you can use your noggin to combine multiple items to create something useful. When exact matches don't exist, you'll have to be resourceful and use items that will perform similar functions. Puzzles remain slightly eccentric, and they sometimes require a bit of creativity. Even if you've already figured out the solution to a puzzle, the gameplay is a touch too linear so you'll occasionally have to go through with an incorrect solution before you can carry out the correct one. For instance, you need to fill up a toy dog with water before you can fill it up with whiskey (it's how you catch lemurs, dontcha know), and when you go fishing for salmon at an ice hole, it makes the most sense to combine a hockey stick and a faux bear claw for the optimal angle and reach — but if you try the combination without attempting the hockey stick first, you'll be informed that the idea just doesn't make sense.
Conversation trees are just like those in the original Runaway, where you select from a list of questions until all of the choices have been exhausted. The voice-acting is excellent in this go-round, with vocalizations from crotchety pilots and sexy bartenders to laid-back surfers. Wilderness dweller Archibald is not only spot-on with the English accent, but he's also mastered the art of being British, as evidenced by his reference to Joshua as "the Village People's blind cousin." The only exception here is Joshua, whose voiceovers are just as stereotypically painful as his appearance.
DotT adds a little more variety to the gameplay mix than its predecessor did. One level is devoted to a swashbuckling pirate-y flashback; the puzzles are more logical here, but as a trade-off, you'll have to pay attention to what the NPCs are saying and answer some brainteasers. If the entirety of DotT had been set against this backdrop and time period, a wider demographic (i.e., fans of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise) could have been turned onto the series. If the puzzles remained appropriately rational, the visuals and humor stayed intact, and the characters weren't so stereotypical that they bordered on the offensive, a pirate-themed adventure game would have been smooth sailing. (groan, I know, I know.)
With its cheeky sense of humor and immense visual appeal, Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle can be a good time for adventure gamers with a taste for the wacky, enough so that it could renew interest in the original title. Unfortunately, the more esoteric puzzles will leave you scratching your head, and the linearity of the gameplay will sometimes require that you take missteps before the correct solution will be accepted. What it all comes down to is this: you'd have to search far and wide to find another game that lets you sic a hormonal polar bear on an unsuspecting nature lover dressed in a bear costume. Whether you're willing to play through the game's flaws in order to attain that experience is up to you.
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