Time Gentlemen, Please! is Size Five Games’ 2009 follow-up to the hilariously-crude adventure Ben There, Dan That! The story features Hitler as the opposition this time around so expect irate dictators, Nazi jokes and cloned dinosaurs.
Zombie Cow Studios was founded by part-time indie developer Dan Marshall in 2008 and their first release was Ben There, Dan That! It was widely praised in the adventure gaming community and downloaded 50,000 times, but didn’t bring any money in for its developers due to its donation model. A sequel was released in the form of Time Gentlemen, Please! a year later and in 2011, the company (thankfully) changed its name to Size Five Games.
The title is available in a Special Edition Bundle from Steam which I grabbed during the 2013 summer sale knowing that it’s on our 1001 list. But as I can never play a game before I’ve completed its prequel, I made a start on the original and the following day moved onto Time Gentlemen, Please! The ending of Ben There, Dan That! (Special Edition) was perfect and summed up the adventure nicely, so I was a little worried that continuing the same story would diminish the effect of the first instalment in some way. But was I right?
Ben There, Dan That! ended with Ben and Dan, two London friends sharing a flat, becoming the leaders of a brainwashed world. But unfortunately they don’t do a very good job in their new roles: convincing their followers to watch all 162 episodes in a Magnum, PI marathon eventually results in six billion of the population starving to death. Realising that this was a mistake, they decide to go back in time and prevent the creation of the costhanger thus stopping the events of the previous game from ever happening.
However, they spend two weeks travelling through time in an attempt to correct their error but end up making things worse: after landing in 1945, they see that Adolf Hitler has come to rule the world with an army of clone dinosaurs due to the power of the Golden Coathanger. Ben and Dan must work through paradoxes in order to defeat their enemy, recover their stolen time device, and prevent their earlier selves from stopping the invention of the coathanger.
While it’s not entirely necessary have played Ben There, Dan That! prior to picking up the sequel, I’d say that it definitely helps. Time Gentlemen, Please! does a good job at bridging the plot during its introduction but you’ll understand more of the jokes and the relationship between the protagonists if you know of the events that came beforehand. It will also give you an idea of the sort of humour you’re letting yourself in for, as it’s not entirely suitable for everyone.
As with the original, the title’s comedy and design draw inspiration from old-school adventure classics and pays tribute to golden development studios such as LucasArts and Sierra. However, this time around it’s not as blatant and the references are more subtle. For example, it can be assumed that accessing a Professor’s basement through a grandfather clock is a Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle (review coming soon) allusion and Dan carrying a leather coat in case anyone wants to buy one is pointing at Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck’s Revenge. And the choice of Wits, Fists and Stealth paths is reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, but it’s used more as a joke than a game mechanic.
Players once again control Ben as the primary character while Dan follows you around in Sam & Max Hit the Road (review coming soon) style. But the latter’s character is now significantly more developed; whereas in the original game both protagonists tended to behave quite similarly, their individual personalities are more apparent. Ben is the experienced adventurer while Dan tends to bumble along behind him, and this is used to great effect in a scene where Ben is unconscious and his increasingly-panicking sidekick must try to wake him up on his own.
Time Gentlemen, Please! plays very much like its predecessor, with a left-click being used to interact with items and a right-click cycling through the actions of look, use, talk, walk and Dan. Puzzles again are primarily inventory-based although they’re more elaborate this time: you’ll have to remember things from conversations had much earlier, and objects collected ages ago will need to be taken to old locations to solve new problems. There were a couple of specific mechanics that I particularly liked. A machine capable of aging or rejuvenating an item through time means you can turn a severed arm in to a skeletal hand, and an in-game SCUMM-type adventure featuring Hitler is hilarious.
Dan is a kind of help system and will offer hints if you get stuck, but object-on-object descriptions usually drop fairly obvious clues about what it is you’re meant to do. This takes away a lot of the usual adventure-genre frustrations but the focus on time travel and multiple realities causes some issues. The plot is mostly linear but it’s not always clear what the immediate goal is; and things you do in one location can affect the situation going on in another in ways that aren’t intuitive. I ended up wandering around aimlessly on occasion, checking if things had changed or if characters had something new to say, and there were a few moments when puzzle solutions felt just a little too bizarre.
Having said that however, some challenges are actually quite clever despite their far-fetched answers. For example, the protagonists have to open a locked door by fooling its DNA sensor into thinking they are Hitler. And how to they do this? By getting genetic material from an extremely unlikely source that we probably won’t ever see again in a video game.
The best thing about Ben There, Dan That! was the humour: it was all wickedly fun and very tongue-in-cheek. While I think that many people will probably disagree with me here (and feel free to comment below if you do), the second instalment in the series just didn’t live up to it in terms of comedy. The humour is less dependent on point-and-click adventure tropes than previously and variety is obviously a good thing; but there’s just too much focus on Nazi jokes and they start to feel deliberately gratuitous after a while, as if there just to cause a reaction. Give me the old Ben and Dan and their clever bashing-priests-with-bibles ways any day.
On a positive note, there’s a definite improvement in the visuals of Time Gentlemen, Please! when compared to its predecessor. The rough edges and standard colour palette remain in homage to classic adventure titles, but the style is further refined; the character models have more detail and shading, and their faces seem to hold more expression. The environments never feel empty; a great example of this is the opening sequence, in which the rain coming down over a grey London looks lovely.
The original Ben There, Dan That! lacked music, although this was included in the release of the Special Edition version. The soundtrack is largely the same for Time Gentlemen, Please! and it’s pleasant enough. There’s no voice-acting, once again picking up on style of classic adventures, and unfortunately this may put some newer gamers off. I’m not sure if voices would have helped or hindered however: they may have conveyed the humour but the actors chosen probably wouldn’t have been compatible with everyone’s impressions of Ben and Dan.
For me, the title didn’t offer much replayability value. It took around six hours to complete and was enjoyable enough whilst playing; I might pick it up for another round in a couple of years’ time but I can’t see myself doing this any time soon. Some players may want to go back through the game in order to hear the jokes that they previously missed however, if the comedy style is their cup of tea.
It seems as if the majority of other reviewers claim that the sequel is better than the original. While I totally respect their views and can see why they would come to this opinion, I have to say that I actually preferred Ben There, Dan That! as it managed to get more laughs out of me. That being said however, a low cost and a pretty lengthy game make Time Gentlemen, Please! great value; and if Ben and Dan ever pop up in a third adventure, I wouldn’t be adverse to meeting up again with the lads.
How did we reach these scores? Click here for a guide to our ratings.