Face front, true believers, for another installment of wonder and mayhem from your super friends at Jay is Games! Today we're going to reach into the vault of yesteryear — providing, of course, your definition of yesteryear is a 2005 point-and-click adventure game about supervillains, from the author of A Case of the Crabs and The Goat in the Grey Fedora. Some of you will be familiar with this strange gem of a title, but others may have been too wrapped up in their consoles to notice when it snuck onto the scene. And if you've never checked into the Brain Hotel before, there's no time like the present to make your reservation.
Meet Ed. He's a bit of a schlub, but don't hold that against him. Ed would seem an unlikely candidate to save the city… mostly because he is. You won't find a utility belt or a freeze ray or even a cleft chin anywhere on him. What he does have, aside from a disgruntled outlook on life and a rapidly receding hairline, is work. Namely, Stuff Bringers, a delivery service that winds up getting drafted one day to deliver a package to a guest at the cozily named Brain Hotel, right around the time the annual supervillain convention is taking place. He thinks actually getting his package into the hands of his customer is the difficult part. He's wrong.
The game lets you play online in your browser window, but you can also download the game for free — for both Windows and Mac — which will eliminate some potentially frustrating load times at certain scenes for those of you with slower connections. At just over 31 MB, it will barely make a dent on most hard drives, and you'll get the added benefit of being able to play in almost-full screen — which, unfortunately, doesn't do a whole lot for Ed's ugly mug. Sorry, Ed.
Analysis: Brain Hotel doesn't look bad, per se, and the big, simple interface gets the job done, even if it's not exactly pretty enough to take home to mother. But the heavily painted and saturated characters and environments, interspersed with real objects, looks more than a little messy at times, rather than the inked, comic-book feel the designers seemed to be trying for. What you will notice immediately, however, is how strikingly professional it all is. Brain Hotel boasts not only smooth animations that make every character look and feel distinct, but some of the best voice acting you'll likely have heard in a game in a long time, free or otherwise. Each character's personality comes through in his or her voice, and you can tell the actors were having a fantastic time with it all.
Along with the characters, Brain Hotel's biggest gold star comes from it's humour and ability to take itself less than seriously. It's hard to poke fun at how flamboyant or outrageous some of the characters are because they're already doing it to themselves. There were times when I honestly laughed out loud at some of the dialogue, which, while occasionally mildly risque, never resorts to crudeness to elicit laughs.
Of course, not every line is solid gold. There are times when it feels like the writers are reaching too far to come up with "zany" dialogue, rather than letting the game's own weirdness speak for itself. As a result, some of it just sounds silly instead of being honestly funny, like a stand-up routine by Fozzie Bear, or the sort of nonsense joke a five-year-old might tell that just leaves you smiling politely.
As you might expect from a science-fiction themed comedy point-and-click adventure, some of the puzzle solutions are, shall we say, less than obvious. You're not usually given a whole lot of direction as to what you need to do to accomplish your goals, so you'll find yourself advancing more easily if you exhaust every dialogue option and examine everything around you. I was rarely actually frustrated because exploring the game and experiencing all the weirdness is as much a reward as the end of the game itself.
So what are you waiting for? Get comfortable on your pink bearskin rug. Strap on your spandex, straight your mask, tell your young ward to hold all your calls, and get ready to save the world, one supervillain at a time.
UPDATE: This game is no longer available to play completely on the Web (all known versions get stuck at the first cut scene triggered when accessing the front desk computer). Previously tagged as: adventure, browser, download, flash, free, game, linux, mac, nbounty, pinheadgames, pointandclick, rating-o, scifi, windows