Grim Fandango may have had joystick control, but it can be classed as a point-and-click adventure too – so stop imagining you’re going to get a letter printed for pointing out an error because we quite obviously love Tim Shafer a whole lot more than you, and on certain evenings, when the moon is bright, we imagine he feels the same way about us. In 2005, after a hibernation period in which Tim slept the sleep of the righteous in a duvet made of cuttings of hair from a million bald fans, he returned – this time to the console market with a game that garnered many a Game of the Year Award – yet failed to sell because the games-buying public could only understand something if it featured bouncing funbags and twin .45 automatics. Psychonauts was its name, and if you looked at it from a wide view it could be seen as yet another platformer available on consoles already drowning in a sea of steaming bandicoot poo.
The difference between Psychonauts and any number of other games in which your main quest is to work out where to jump from where, and bash monsters and pull switches, was that it was created by a man with limitless imagination, took place within a shattered human psyche, and had levels and creatures based on concepts of the mind. ‘Far out’ doesn’t begin to describe a game where you collect literal manifestations of emotional baggage that look a hell of a lot like bags that weep, inconsolably.
Such a game could only come from Shafer, and in a world of me-too sequels that dull your senses with their uninspired settings (lava levels, forest levels snow levels, temple levels) and lead characters who have been laden with ‘attitude’ that only producers who spend their lives monitoring spreadsheets could find appealing (hello Vexx), Psychonauts still stands out as an original despite its dual status as being just another platformer, and one with a framerate that did little to win over dull platformer fans who loved slick framerates.
To call Brutal Legend’s setting ‘original’ is to say that you really haven’t paid attention to Guitar Hero III, watched Tenacious D In The Pick of Destiny, or looked at a Manowar album cover and thought, ‘F**k me, that would make an awesome basis for a game!’ With Jack Black playing Eddie Riggs, the roadie who battles ancient demons of metal – the connections to hard rock and folk satirists Tenacious D are obvious. But if you were to play the game blindfold wouldn’t it be possible to mistake it for Kung-Fu Panda but with a car and heavy chords? Well, yes, probably, if you ignored all the Shafer touches in the game design and script and think that playing games blindfolded is a pretty good idea. It isn’t.
If it is possible to get Black in to record dialogue without having him ad-lib all over it, then we’ve never heard of such an occasion – and the script for Brutal Legend is no exception – but with Shafer reigning him, in we’re going to go out on a limb and state, categorically, that it will feature the greatest dialogue ever committed to a console game. With two stellar talents like that, it can’t fail to be more inventive and funny.