Saturday, July 27, 2019

Spy Fox in "Dry Cereal"

If you grew up during the ‘90s and early ‘00s, there’s a good chance you were either aware of Humongous Entertainment or have played one of their games. This developer specialized in edutainment games, however their particular brand of it is what makes their games more beloved to this day. As a kid, I was one of those people that was aware of their games, though I had always been mildly curious about them when seeing their box arts at my local CompUSA (which is now defunct). I didn’t get the urge to actually play one of their games until I had seen a couple YouTubers I watch play them, and I finally got my chance through a recent Humble Bundle that contained most of their catalog. I wanted to play the Spy Fox series in particular, so I began with the first entry, Spy Fox in “Dry Cereal”, originally released in 1997. Though the game is over 20 years old by now, I thought it actually held up pretty well and I enjoyed it for what it was.

William the Kid has stolen all the cow milk in the world, with the intention of replacing it with goat by-products. On a plane, Spy Fox is given a briefing from Monkey Penny that he must rescue the kidnapped CEO of Moo Juice Incorporated, Mr. Howard Hugh Heifer Udderly III, as well as disarm Kid’s Milky Weapon of Destruction that contains all of the stolen cow milk. To that end, Spy Fox jumps off and heads towards Acidophilus, Greece, where Kid’s hideout is located.

The story is pretty straightforward for what it is, that being an edutainment game aimed at a younger audience. That being said, it’s clear Humongous put some effort into it, as it plays out like a James Bond/Get Smart type of story for kids. Though clearly the bad guy, William the Kid actually has an interesting motivation, that being the CEO of a rival to a dairy company and wanting his product to outdo his competition, albeit in a rather extreme way.

There’s also an interesting bit of replay value in that, while the general story remains the same on each playthrough, the game randomizes the story path you have to take to get through it, with such factors as how many boats are docked at Acidophilus’ harbor and what specific item you need to acquire between a punch card, key or diode to stop the Milky Weapon of Destruction. The game also features two different endings, one in which you stop Kid and one where you don’t, which also changes a bit of dialogue he says during the end credits. While it is easy to get the ending where Kid gets away, clicking on a yellow truck in the background as he makes his getaway on a blimp unlocks a new playable section of the game, allowing you to actually capture Kid and throw him in jail.

The mobile command center, where Spy Fox (right) gets all of his gadgets.

The gameplay is that of the point-and-click variety, largely consisting of puzzles that go between environmental and logical. Contributing to the latter is that Spy Fox has an array of gadgets he can use during the game, of which he can only carry up to four at a time, so some situations come down to knowing which ones you need and when to use them. If you know what you’re doing, the game can be beaten in about a couple hours, however there were a couple places where I consulted a guide because I either overthought a puzzle or I wasn’t sure what to do. For instance, you need an invite in order to get on a boat, and because one character said “gold-plated” I thought I needed to do that after copying someone else’s invite with putty, however it turned out the copy invite was all I actually needed. In spite of that, the puzzles were pretty easy to me as an adult player, though if I had actually played this as a kid, I imagine it might’ve taken me a lot longer.

Among the options present on Spy Fox’s Spywatch, which essentially functions like the Codec in the Metal Gear series, is a minigame called Happy Fun Sub, in which you control a submarine firing submarine sandwiches (get it?) at underwater enemies to get a high score. It is very easy to get distracted by this game, as I found it difficult to not die, and so I had to willingly exit the game in order to continue the main adventure.

You might get distracted by this game.

The art style operates under what seems to be a sort of “house style” for Humongous Entertainment games, though that’s not to say it’s bad. Spy Fox himself has a pretty iconic design going for him, while the other anthropomorphic animal characters are exaggerated in just the right way to work within the game’s cartoonish art style. That said, while the graphics have aged okay, they are very 1997 to the point that by modern standards they more or less resemble ‘90s clip art. Overall though, the art still works for the type of game this is and gives it sort of a visual charm.

The voice acting generally works well for what it is, though a standout would be Bob Zenk as the titular Spy Fox. Though he’d be replaced after two games with another voice actor, Zenk does a good job in capturing Spy Fox’s personality, that being sort of like James Bond if he were more willing to make more wisecracks; speaking as a modern player, Zenk’s performance also somehow made me think of voice actor Tony Oliver, particularly his performance as Lupin III in the English dub of Lupin III Part 4.

I’m aware that the game also had a separate English voice track in the UK, which is actually included in the Steam version. The game defaults to the US voice track, though for those that prefer the UK audio, you can switch it to that by messing with the game files (a guide exists on the official Steam page on how to achieve this).

The game also uses a lot of cartoonish sound effects that fit the tone of it well. A lot of it is attached to random events that can be triggered by clicking on stuff in the environment, which are basically just fun things to look at and don’t have any real effect on the gameplay.

One last thing I should mention is that the game lacks a normal main menu screen, and so you have to go through the introductory scene all over again before you can load your save game (saving is entirely manual, so I would suggest saving often if you don’t want to lose your progress). Fortunately, you can use the Esc key to skip scenes, including the intro, alleviating the need to have to sit through it every time you start up the game again.

After over 20 years, Spy Fox in “Dry Cereal” is still a surprisingly fun game in its own right. One thing that helps is that the educational aspect of it is rather subtle, though it aids the entertainment aspect of it without taking away from it. Though it may be arguable how well the visuals may have aged, the game holds up well in other areas to make it still a recommendation for its target audience in the 5-10 age range, though I’d also still recommend this to adults who have nostalgia for Humongous Entertainment or who just want a fun adventure title.

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