Indie Spotlight: Her Majesty’s SPIFFING: The Empire Staggers Back

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When there is just no place left to explore on Earth, or perhaps you are simply tired of your neighbours, there is really only one place left you can go… Space, the final frontier! Rockets and Spaceships are a bit expensive, but with a little wit and ingenuity you can likely turn any old car and a handy dandy tower into a workable spacecraft. When you are done, load it up with your best outdated technology and launch it into the stars with your most indispensable dispensable crew. That way even if the cobbled together spacecraft doesn’t reach the stars, you are still ridding yourself of your old worn out and useless garbage so you’ve got yourself a win-win scenario. There is just one thing to remember, in space, no one can hear you chuckle.

When Brexit just isn’t enough to disconnect Britain from Europe, the Queen decides to dissolve parliament and return the United Kingdom to an autocratic government. While there were immediate improvements, she figured the best way of truly creating a newer, stronger British Empire, was to do so in space! The Queen then established S.P.I.F.F.I.N.G. (Special Planetary Investigative Force For Inhabiting New Galaxies) and launches the HMSS Imperialise 2 on its five year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. With the most distinguished Captain Frank Lee English in command and his Sub-Lieutenant, the mild-mannered, Aled Jones at his side, they fly off to find a new world to add to the British Empire and to solve a few puzzles along the way. Stored safely in the cargo hold, the Indie Spotlight is just waiting patiently for its chance to shine on their adventure.

Her Majesty’s SPIFFING is a Comedic, Science Fiction, Classic Point and Click Adventure game from Billy Goat Entertainment. The game frequently breaks the fourth wall and even makes fun of, and also grows weary of, its own plot advancing puzzles. As per the norm in Point and Click Adventure games, you are tasked with figuring out what you need to do next in order to progress in the story. Sometimes it is fairly obvious, such as fetching a nice cup of tea from the sentient, but not overly talkative, tea dispensing robot, and other times it may not be quite so obvious. You may be expected to stick bullet hole riddled cheese to the back of a frog in order to distract some French rivals. Loaded with pop culture references and other gags, Her Majesty’s SPIFFING is a delightful romp into what has made other series, such as my beloved Monkey Island series, age defying gems of the past.

To say this game is utter nonsense is actually a compliment for it as it is to most other Comedic Adventure games. The game is self-referential and full of tongue-in-cheek witty banter. Captain English’s very Welsh subordinate tends to offer little in the way of support for his Captain, and leaves the Captain to wander about aimlessly in order to solve the puzzles on his own. Captain English is your typical British Gentleman, if you assume that typical British Gentlemen are all like a hybrid of Mr. Bean and Wallace of Wallace and Gromit. Not being entirely tech savvy, not knowing how to control the ship nor being up on the current lingo of the youth he will have to quickly learn these things quickly FFS* if he is to truly become an effective captain (*For Future Situations).

The game has three main areas for you to explore, the upper deck, the lower deck and eventually a very rocky planet. Each of which has a few distinct areas for you to visit. The upper deck has the bridge, kitchen and living quarters. The lower deck has the airlock, science lab and engineering, and the rocky planet has the rocky area with the ship, the other rocky area without the ship, and the rocky other ship area. As you move through the various areas, you will be able to use the interaction wheel to perform one of four actions on the various things you see, those actions being: attempting to talk, touch, look at or use an item with the thing. Examination of items will lead to at least one line of witty dialogue describing the thing in question. Examining again often will yield another line of dialogue. Sometimes these dialogues are references to pop culture, other times they might break the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience, and other times still, they might just be descriptive of the item. You really are encouraged to repeatedly examine things just in order to get all the humour and fun you can out of the game. There is a slight issue with the way this game works in this department, and it is really only an issue if you are an achievement hunter or veteran Point and Click Adventure game player like I am. It is entirely possible to sometimes get ahead of the game simply by finding things too soon. Sometimes the game prevents you from being able to acquire/fully interact with the item until the time is right, but other times it lets you just pick it up and take it with you. This will block you from getting the related achievement later on in some cases as certain events need to occur first for the achievement to trigger on its last step. Luckily the game isn’t that terribly long once you have figured out all the puzzles so you can easily just quickly nip back and get the ones you missed. The beauty is the fact this game is designed so you can solve some of the puzzles in multiple ways. Solving it one way might get you one achievement, solving it in another way will often lead to a different achievement. Through save reloading, I suppose you could just get both in a single go, but it is far more fun to not look at the achievements on your first play through anyway and discover them as you go. Once completed, run through again to solve the methods to acquire the other ones.

The story of the game itself is a bit lacking, but that is quite okay. The lack of story is more than made up for with all the jokes and random bits of silliness that occurs during the game. The overall story is simply that the Queen wants Britain to expand to the stars so Captain English is tasked with finding a new planet. He claims the first planet he finds, and that’s the end of it. It might sound a bit dull, but don’t let yourself be mistaken, there are plenty of interesting things that occur between the start and end of the game. Egad! There is a mysterious ghost that appears to be haunting the ship for a spell. Watch out! There is a random cow floating in space. If that’s not enough, trying to suck the life out of you is a killer vacuum named Leslie (Airplane II: The Sequel reference), a missing scientist, a working claw machine filled with frogs, Schrödinger’s cat, rocks, more rocks, planet of the ape (just the one), and most importantly, a three-headed monkey distraction gag. Exercise! Crush football players underfoot! Make and enjoy tea! You may even get to drive a rover on the surface of a planet and fly the ship…sort of… at the very least wreck the ship so you have to do some puzzles to fix it!

The games interface works really well. With the ability to play with a gamepad or with the good old keyboard and mouse, you will need only a minimal number of buttons to fully interact with the game. If you ever played Monkey Island 3: Curse of Monkey Island, the controls of this game will feel right at home with you. Most of the game is driven by the context sensitive action wheel. Pressing the appropriate button pops up that menu with the four choices I mentioned earlier and those options might change a little depending on what exactly it is you are trying to do. For example, if the interactive item is something you can’t pick up, you will see the touch option, if it is something you can pick up, the touch icon will be replaced with the pickup icon. Once an item is in your possession, you are able to be interactive with it further by opening your inventory. Once there, you can examine the item more closely, even rotate it in your hand if you are so inclined. Besides just examining the item, you can also choose to either combine it with something else or just hold it in your hand so you can interact with the environment with it. The character himself moves fluidly around his environment without any difficulty. All of this is easy to do with the intuitive controls. Additionally, the game lets you save anywhere you like and also has an auto-save that kicks in whenever you progress the plot. In order to keep you from spamming saves, the game limits you to five slots, four elective and a fifth for the auto-save.

Graphically this game looks good. The models used are all very polished and detailed. The environments are well embellished as well. The starship exterior is whimsical and helps to really drive home (*snickers*) just how British Captain Frank Lee English truly is. The various rooms all have their own distinct feel, they don’t feel like they were just copy pasted, it feels like each room truly is unique. The lounge has a video game console, outdated PC (Windows 3.1 I do believe) and a lovely couch to sit on. It even has a treadmill if you are feeling particularly portly and want to drop a stone or two. The lab is filled with sciencey looking doodads and doodad accessories. Engineering looks positively shocking with all that electricity. Even the humble living quarters with the double bed has a lived in look and even includes an ensuite bathroom that is accented with a thoroughly British seated throne. The finer details that went into making the visuals of this game really show and it really helps the immersion and enjoyment that comes from playing the game.

The accompanying audio is great as well. The characters are all fully voiced, and you even have a choice of spoken and displayed languages. The voice acting is well done, and even had the nice touch that their voices sounded more muffled and microphone-like when they are speaking with their space helmets on. With being able to hear the jokes and not just read them really helps with the delivery as well. Even the subtle winks and nods to the audience help to ramp up the charm of this game. One particularly interesting part of the game involved riding a power-generating exercise bike. Playing the record gave you two choices, a more heavy metal sound track or a soothing lullaby. But just playing the record would be too easy. You had to ensure you pedaled the bike fast enough that the music played, but also had to ensure it didn’t play too slowly or quickly. Once you hit the sweet spot, you could really enjoy the tunes. To go about playing the song properly, you could just hear the way the song was playing and adjust your speed accordingly, or you could look at the little gauge on the record player itself to see if it was playing within the optimal range. Despite having beaten the area, I continued to enjoy that bike for a while after it.

From a Classic Point and Click Adventure standpoint, this game is top notch. Other than a couple of minor bugs I had, and a few unintuitive puzzles (I generally like those, they stop me and make me think!), this game is an excellent addition to the genre. As for the bugs, one of the two I experienced had to do with the claw machine. I had successfully got my “prize” (the character said so) and it dropped it down the hole. Unfortunately the game didn’t register that it had fallen down the hole so it never gave me the opportunity to retrieve it. Luckily I was able to load my save and just try again. Maybe it bugged because I had somehow managed to accidentally to throw and flip the “prize” over on my first attempt at it then got it into the hole on my second attempt. Regardless it was a one-off issue, and wasn’t a big deal unless you saved after the bug occurred. That would be a potentially game breaking/ending but even then, I think the auto-save would likely save your bacon. The only reason why this bug is even slightly concerning is because with this type of game, especially one that uses some unintuitive (re: the thinky kind!), multi-phase/part or progress-sensitive puzzles, it can make you miss the fact you actually solved the puzzle since the puzzle’s completion bugged. This might send you on a wild goose chase to find some other item/puzzle first before you return to attempt this one again. The other bug was more of an annoyance than anything. Sometimes when I was reverting to an earlier save from within the game, it would just hang on a black screen, forcing me to Alt-F4 the game. Relaunching the game would let me quickly load the slot I had previously failed to load without any further delays.  All things considered, this game is still really rather well polished. Since the game just launched recently, and the fact they are actively supporting it with patches, I am pretty sure these bugs will soon be squashed.

So I guess that brings us down to this point. Should you pick up Her Majesty’s SPIFFING? If you enjoy Comedic, Classic Point and Click Adventure games and Science Fiction games as I do, picking this one up is a no-brainer. The puzzles are all quite a lot of fun even if some of them might make you scratch your head for a moment. While the game does have a lot of pacing back and forth through the same few areas, it works well with the theme of the game. You are on a small spaceship, it makes sense it doesn’t have a ton of rooms. Add to the fact that each room is well detailed and looks different from one another, I think adding any more rooms would have just hindered the gameplay. While Captain Frank Lee English is no Guybrush Threepwood, he has his own natural British charms that make him an enjoyable series lead. Did I just say series?  I certainly did! The game ends on a soft-cliffhanger and proposes that if this game sells well, they will try to turn it into a trilogy or at least give Captain Frank Lee English a second tour of duty. I for one would love to see the next thrilling adventure of Frank Lee English as he serves as a loyal Captain in Her Majesty’s SPIFFING!

From the Steam Store page:

The Empire Staggers Back

In the wake of political developments during the summer of 2016 and the events that followed, Britain found itself increasingly isolated from global society. Frustrated by the demise of this once great nation Her Majesty the Queen concluded that the elected representatives at Westminster were no longer fit to govern her United Kingdom.

Having dissolved parliament, returning the United Kingdom to an autocratic government, improvements were immediate and wide ranging. However, ever the pragmatist, Her Majesty concluded that, given the complications Britain was facing returning to a position of power on earth, perhaps it was time to focus her attention elsewhere…

Establishing S.P.I.F.F.I.N.G. (Special Planetary Investigative Force For Inhabiting New Galaxies)Her Majesty has turned to the stars in a bid to establish a new, Galactic British Empire!

Assuming command of the near futuristic space ship HMSS Imperialise and her crew (distinguished veteran and gentleman Captain Frank Lee English and Aled, his mild-mannered South Walean colleague) YOU will venture into the cosmos, solving puzzles, engaging in witty banter, deal with crippling claustrophobia, gradually succumb to the sustained exposure of cosmic radiation and so on, all for Queen and Country.

Heck, along the way, you may stumble into a few other folks venturing about the cosmos with their own intergalactic aspirations…