Friday, February 24, 2012

Third Rate Game Play: Freddi Fish in Kelp Seed Mystery

Game: Freddi Fish in Kelp Seed Mystery
System: Wii
Developer: Mistic Software/ Humongous Entertainment
Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
Player: Alex
Experience: Played demo in childhood

Many of us remember the days of old, spending our afternoons sitting at the computer and playing adventure games, from Hero’s Quest to Sam and Max. One of the biggest names in adventure game development was Ron Gilbert, known for bringing out the worlds of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. However, in 1992, Gilbert and LucasArts producer Shelley Day left the company to form a new, child-focused adventure game company, Humungous Entertainment. It is from this company that Freddi Fish and her games emerged, as well as a number of other franchise characters such as Putt-Putt and Spy Fox.

Freddi Fish in Kelp Seed Mystery is actually a Wii port of the character’s debut title, Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds, which launched for PC in 1994. While Humungous was still active, Freddi Fish starred in four more adventure titles: Freddi Fish and the Case of the Haunted Schoolhouse (1996), Freddi Fish and the Case of the Stolen Conch Shell (1998), Freddi Fish: The Case of the Hogfish Rustlers of Briny Gulch (1999), and Freddi Fish: The Case of the Creature of Coral Cove (2001). Amid the PC adventures, two Junior Arcade titles starring Freddi and her friend Luther were released in 1996: Freddi Fish and Luther's Maze Madness, and Freddi Fish and Luther's Water Worries.

Humungous would ultimately undergo a myriad of purchases in the late 1990s. GT Interactive purchased Humungous Entertainment in 1996, and GT itself was purchased by Infogrames Entertainment SA shortly thereafter. After acquiring Hasboro Interactive, Infogrames would rename its publishing title to Atari. The original founders of Humongous would try to purchase back Humungous, but as the tech crash hit, the deal fell through. Instead, the founders and a number of ex-Humungous staff created Hulabee Interactive, producing five titles in the early 2000s, including Disney Interactive’s Piglet’s Big Game and Plaid Banana’s Moop and Dreadly in the Treasure on Bing Bong Island (oddly enough, Plaid Banana was founded by ex-Humungous members and would later become part of Disney).

However, the life of Hulabee Interactive would also be short, this time in the face of fraud. According to reports, in 2005 co-founder Shelley Day had been found to be forging Letters of Intent and other documents in order to obtain loans from multiple foreign banks. The funding was thought to be going into a potential acquisition from Activision or Disney, but when the loans were due and neither corporation knew of any deal, the banks called Day out on fraud, leading her to 30 months jailtime with five years probation. Her arrest would lead to the end of Hulabee.

Meanwhile, the original Humungous would undergo layoffs and eventually close in 2001. A few years later, however, Humungous, Inc. was formed by a small number of ex-employees, and it was acquired by Infogrames in 2005. The new Humungous mostly licenses out its IPs to other developers, as in this case. Besides its older adventure titles, Humungous, Inc. works on developing its Backyard Sports franchise.

The actual developer behind the three Wii ports is Mistic Software. Formed in 1997, this Montreal-based company started with game development for airplanes, and it became a part of Atari in 2000, where it worked on interactive television products. It would shift back to handheld and console development in 2002. Its first Wii products, which included the three Humungous ports, emerged in 2008. The company’s products up to Freddi Fish include Dual Masters, Duel Quest: Expeditions, Kid Paddle, and The Price is Right for DS.

Publisher Majesco Entertainment was formed in 1986, acting as a reissuer of old, abandoned titles for Nintendo and Sega systems. Majesco would later rerelease the Sega Genesis, dubbed the Genesis 3, while Sega worked on the Sega Saturn; the company also rereleased the Game Gear as the Game Gear Core System. In the following generation, Majesco would begin game development under Pipe-Dream Interactive, producing such titles as a Dreamcast port of Q*bert and a number of Game Boy Advance titles. More recently, Majesco has been known to work on a number of franchises with smaller developers. It worked with Terminal Reality on BloodRayne and BloodRayne 2, both of which were met with some success. However, in 2003, the company was met with great financial difficulty; Double Fine Production’s Psychonauts had failed despite a large marketing campaign, while GlyphX Games’s Advent Rising was panned critically and, ultimately, failed to do well in sales, too. Another unique IP in development, Taldren, Inc.’s Black9, was cancelled in the final stages of development, also hurting the company’s finances. Further large cancellations occurred in 2006: Terminal Reality’s Demonik and Taxi Driver (a sequel to the movie). The company was able to pull through the hard times, thankfully, when it began publishing casual games, specifically the DS hit Cooking Mama (developed by Office Create, now titled Cooking Mama Limited). Prior to its collaboration with Atari and Mistic Software, Majesco’s most recent unique project would be Major Minor’s Majestic March, developed by Parappa the Rapper creator NanaOn-Sha.

The best-selling Humongous children's property made popular on the PC is now available for the Wii in a family friendly point-and-click adventure! [The] PC versions have a very long history of outstanding sales and media success: nearly 5 million units sold and 75 awards for excellence! [The game’s] easy point and click interface lets young players earn a reaction from just about everything in game. [There are also] additional mini-games within the main game help develop hand-eye coordination and increase learning, while several bonus fun activities give players even more to do. [All the while, the game] integrates the Wii Remote in point-and-click style adventure play with well-known characters that the entire family can enjoy together.
-Segment from Game PR.

Freddi Fish in Kelp Seed Mystery is a point-and-click adventure title aimed toward younger audiences. Players indirectly control Freddi and her friend Luther in a quest to find the lost kelp seed; if the seed is not found soon, all of the fish in the sea will die of starvation! Unbeknownst to the two, a pair of sharks working for the Squidfather is behind the initial theft and is also behind Freddi’s tail, looking for their lost booty. In order for the fish to get to the treasure, though, she and her friend need to follow a number of bottles carrying clues all around the sea. Whether she finds them or not is up to you!

All actions in Freddi Fish are completed by aiming the Wii Remote and pointing at objects around the characters. Doing so usually results in a comical animation or a comment from one of the two protagonists. If the selected object is collectable, Freddi or Luther will grab it and put into their inventory, which can be seen on the bottom of the screen at all times. If an item appears to be necessary for a particular task (for example, a plank to move a rock out of place), then players simply select the item from the inventory and then subsequently select where the item would be used. Almost every puzzle in the game revolves around the collection and usage of inventory.

Even though the game is simple in concept, there are a number of elements in the game to keep it interesting. For one, the game’s graphics are all hand-animated, and there is voicework for every character spoken to. Those replaying the game will also find that the clues’ locations are different with each playthrough, providing unique adventures each time! Even in the game itself, players can partake in math questions as a small intellectual diversion from the adventure, or they can enjoy watching comical animations in the sea’s theater. There are also a few mini-games outside the main adventure, too. At the very least, the game has variety working for it, despite being a fairly straightforward adventure.

Even though it seems harmless enough, the game (as well as its Wii-port counterparts, Pajama Sam: Don't Fear The Dark and Spy Fox in Dry Cereal) was actually the center of illegal activity. In December 2008, the ScummVM team learned that all three titles were using ScummVM, an open-source adventure title engine. Atari had licensed the game to Majesco, who in turn had the game ported by Mistic Software. Mistic did not credit the ScummVM team in its credits nor did it distribute the source code, as required by the engine’s license. Mistic, in turn, argued that ScummVM had illegally obtained this information by reverse engineering its games and, therefore, broke Nintendo’s policy for open-source software. Facing a legal battle, however, a settlement was made: a number of games would be sold during a set period, after which all remaining copies in stock would be destroyed by threat of fines. Also, Mistic Software is charged to make a donation to the Free Software Foundation and pay for legal fees incurred by the lawyers of So if the game is hard to find, or you wonder why no more of these games came out, you now know the reason.

After developing the Wii ports, Mistic Software continued working on other games, including 2010 editions of The Price is Right, Press Your Luck, and Family Feud. Not too long after developing Sudoku for PSP Minis and DSiWare (published by EA), Mistic Software was acquired by Ludia, Inc. in late 2009. Ludia continues to release television game show products, as well as one original IP, Planet Fish. In late 2010, the company became part of FremantleMedia, the producer of most television game shows in existence today. In 2011, Ludia announced it would be focusing on digital distribution products in the future, with Facebook, smartphones and tablets as the company’s main markets.

While Humungous has not reached the level of relevance as it had reached in the 1990s, the new company still works with Atari to release new and old titles to new platforms. In 2012, Atari released three legacy titles onto iOS platforms: Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo, Freddi Fish 3: The Case of the Stolen Conch Shell and Pajama Sam 2: Thunder and Lightning Aren't so Frightening. The company’s bigger seller and main focus, however, remains in its Backyard Sports franchise, with Backyard Sports: Rookie Rush and Backyard Sports: Sandlot Sluggers being their most recent releases. The actual developers behind those games are HB Studios (known for the Wii and PS2 Madden titles and HB Arcade Disc Golf for WiiWare) and Powerhead Games (better known for Glow Artisan and ASYNC Corp.).

Besides being rereleased multiple times, Freddi Fish has starred in one new title for the DS: Freddi Fish And Friends: ABC Under The Sea. This latest non-adventure title was developed by 1st Playable Productions, whose latest releases have been The Hidden and Pet Zombies 3D, both published by Majesco Entertainment.

As for Freddi Fish’s original creator, Humungous founder Ron Gilbert became freelance after Hulabee went under. He returned from his quiet slumber in 2007 to join HotHead Games and produce the first two episodes of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. In between projects, he worked with Telltale Games on Tales of Money Island, an episodic adventure game based in the Monkey Island world he created years ago. Before leaving Hothead Games in early 2010, he would become its Creative Director, producing DeathSpank in the process. Currently, he is working alongside ex-co-worker Tim Schaefer of Double Fine Productions on a new, unannounced project. This project is not related to Double Fine’s big Kickstarter project, which started funding in February 2012, but he is also working on the Double Fine Adventure project to some degree.

Majesco Entertainment has remained focused on publishing games for casual audiences as well as those from smaller development teams with niche audiences. Its biggest cash cow, Cooking Mama, has seen a series of sequels, including Cooking Mama: Cook Off, Crafting Mama, and Babysitting Mama, the latter of which came with a stuffed child in which the Wii Remote is placed for the game. Other niche games include Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy (developed by Budcat Creations), Away: Shuffle Dungeon (developed by Artoon and Mistwalker), A Boy and his Blob (developed by WayForward Technologies), Monster Tale (developed by DreamRift Studio), and most recently Nano Assault (the third “Nano” title developed by Shin’en Multimedia). The company’s most recent success has been the Zumba Fitness franchise, developed by Pipeworks Software.

We played Humongous games years ago, but even now, we are not sure which game we did play. I swore it was Putt-Putt, but I remember this story just as much. Either way, the two of us sit down and decide to make our way through a full adventure experience as Freddi and Luther. The only question is: how do we fair on the adventure so many years later?

It is apparent in the beginning of the game that we were caught off guard by the changing adventure path. This is even noted by Alex directly a few times when they realize things are not as they were in the previous playthrough. The two move quickly otherwise, and ultimately they reach the end of their adventure, even if they were a little misguided earlier in the episode.

Overall, the game has aged quite a bit, as noted by the midi music and the lower-quality voice sampling. The animation is still pretty smooth for an adventure game, and younger gamers will still find some complex reasoning skills as they play the game. Whether they’ll take to the math quiz segment is up in the air (or in the sea, I guess). Either way, the port seems sound enough, even if the menu music and menu presentation initially didn’t give much hope to either twin. Regardless of the simple menu system, the actual game is fun and recommended to those willing to show their children how adventure games used to be (or for those who want a nostalgia trip).

3RM Says: Guys? I don't see what's so mysterious about this Kelp except

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