Ugly Americans: Citizen Ugly
Meet Mark Lilly, defender of the strangers in a strange land, roommate to a brain eater, and currently handcuffed to a bed. Step into Ugly Americans: Citizen Ugly, the latest point-and-click adventure game from ClickShake Games (the artists formerly known as Zeebarf and Steve Castro).
Welcome to New York City, the traditional landing port for foreigners eager to build their own American dream. It is Mark's job, as an employee at the Department of Integration, to help these newcomers out with jobs and make sure they do not get deported because of some technicality. Such as losing their immigration papers or eating gray matter at the Brain Depository. Yes, it's going to be one of those games. Use your mouse to interact with objects on the screen, combining items in your inventory to help you succeed in important tasks... like freeing yourself from the aforementioned handcuffs.
Strange is a fitting place to start describing Citizen Ugly. After helping him escape from his bedroom bondage, you discover that the ten cases Mark needs to check up on are not of the garden variety immigration stuff (though his roommate's choice of take-out food - and for that matter his Luciferian girlfriend - should have been clues). Then again, in this city it is very normal to see a zombie next to the convenience store. Mark's cases cover the likes of double-headed creatures, a giant chicken, two characters with a fish head and fish hook for their respective heads, not to mention a Croatian Man. Mark has to check up on them, all of whom have some kind of problem that could lead to their expulsion from the country.
Using guile, ingenuity and at least one cocktail of blood, Mark sets about to save the day. Who knows - he might even get his girlfriend back!
Analysis: Citizen Ugly first appeared on the Comedy Central site, but it is fair to say it would have fit comfortably with the Adult Swim crowd (though it is a game for an upcoming show of the same name on CC). The content of this adventure game is not all-out adult, but the themes and dialogue does border on the mature. Mixing this up with a sense of humor that is both subtle and absurd makes it an outright winner in the writing department. The devil is in the detail and Citizen Ugly has its share of Mephistophelesic action.
Making the humor resonate even more is the excellent voice acting, which is surprisingly top-notch. This does not feel like the developers sat in their lounge and read stuff off paper into a headphone mic. The artwork is equally endearing, in its own creepy way, at both times gleaming of quality and yet feeling like the rough-shod material you tend to see on Adult Swim. In other words, it fits perfectly with the kind of humor and mature themes it juggles. But in all fairness this is based on a Comedy Central show, so if the sound and art design were not good, it wouldn't have seen the light at all.
So the art and sound were (almost) a given. Where Citizen Ugly could have fallen apart was in its gameplay. But ClickShake has crafted a decent adventure game. Not a particularly taxing one: whenever you get a clue that relates directly to a case, that specific dossier updates itself. The tricky part comes in finding and combining objects. Most scenes have at least one thing you can pick up and chatting to the characters will often unlock a new location. Let's just say Citizen Ugly is not particularly lateral and if you get really stuck, you can simply try all the objects you have collected on a scene to see if anything works.
The dynamic part of the game comes in the object combinations, which is a well-loved staple of the genre since Monkey Island debuted it. You can combine two items to make a new one - some are pretty obvious and one or two less so. Still, these won't have you stumped for very long. Citizen Ugly is what could be called a pitch perfect adventure game: it has style, it has charm, it has humor and it has just enough puzzle elements to keep you from racing through it. Throw in some zombies, chickens, squids, werewolves, a questionable use for an orphanage and it's the perfect way to spend a day in a Big Apple overrun by the paranormal.