After the SPIFFING political events of 2016 the Queen of England gets tired of Parliament’s tomfoolery and dissolves it, returning complete control of the country to the Corgi-loving regent. Not content with the ways things are going on earth, she dispatches a not-so-crack team of tea-swilling explorers into the far reaches of space to colonise new worlds for the glory of the British Empire.
It’s a marvelous sentiment I’m sure many British people can identify with regardless of political leanings, and the premise for BillyGoat Entertainment‘s quirky comedy caper, a 3D adventure game with a kettle full of clever jokes and references. From the game’s opening scene – in which the Queen launches her interplanetary efforts using Big Ben as a booster rocket – the game establishes an absurdist tone, building on it with tea-based puzzles and an endless stream of self-referential humour (at one point you encounter a literally broken fourth wall).
Captain Frank Lee English wrangles with a lively toaster.
Of course, absurdity and meta-humour will only go so far, and it’s far too easy to do it in excess, turning quaint chuckles into weary groans. SPIFFING gets the rhythym of its comedy right most of the time, alternating between sight gags, witty banter, absolute ridiculousness and then the odd puzzle to great effect. It only begins to wear thin if you find yourself stuck and have to listen to Frank and his beleagured Welsh colleague Aled make the same reference time and time again. I’m also not entirely sure if the jokes will stick the landing outside of a UK audience – although many of the obvious stereotypes are present there’s a lot of nuanced comments and Brit-comedy famously falls flat when it comes to audiences who don’t lean on sarcasm and irony as heavily as we do.
As you explore the ship there’s a ton of stuff to interact with, and while most of it is just geared towards making you laugh, some of the puzzles are inspired little bits of inventory management that’ll make you pay close attention to the offhand comments Frank makes as he bumbles around. It’s amazing how logical a lot of the challenges end up being considering the sheer ridiculousness of the concept. One particularly funny sequence has you trying to distract a wine-swilling Frenchman with various combinations of frogs and cheddar, but it wouldn’t be half as funny if it wasn’t preceded by some brilliant commentary on the UK’s insistence on clinging to long-past glories.
Inventory items include multiple cups of tea, rocks, cheddar, batteries, Xbox controllers and live frogs. Pretty much like my desk right now, then.
Refreshingly little time is spent wandering if you pay attention to visual and dialogue cues, allowing SPIFFING to maximise the humour built into its environments – a chunky CRT monitor and floppy disc drive aboard an interstellar vessel, a box labelled Schrodinger that may or may not have a live cat inside, a door labelled VACUUM that harbours a silly gag. These are all things that make you smile the first time around but become grim reminders of how long you’ve spent walking from room to room trying to use everything in your pockets on everything you can interact with. Luckily gags rarely outstay their welcome and the writing is witty enough to keep you playing if they do.
Like so many of these wonderful adventure games coming out of the indie scene (like The Little Acre, which we reviewed last week) it’s upsettingly brief, the jokes and puzzles winding to a close after two or three hours. There’s a lot of life and promise left in the concept though, and BillyGoat Entertainment has the fire and wit to make the most of it if they get the chance. It certainly doesn’t feel like the end of Frank Lee English’s troubles when the credits roll, more the beginning of an episodic adventure in the same vein as Telltale’s many acclaimed series. I hope the team in Belfast get the opportunity to give us more of Her Majesty’s SPIFFING. It’s a unique blend of satire, absurdity, puzzle-solving and a generous helping of Earl Grey sure to amuse from start to finish.
Her Majesty’s SPIFFING TL;DR:
- A genuinely funny game packed with references and in-jokes that anyone even vaguely aware of British culture will find entertaining.
- Polished, clever adventure gameplay give the oodles of humour a strong foundation.
- Definitely something we want to see more of, coming to a close much too quickly but still delivering a meaty, hilarious experience.
- Typical genre woes are present – endlessly repeated dialogue, occasional glitches in puzzles and world interaction, but these are relatively few compared to certain other titles and they’re rarely game-breaking issues.
Her Majesty’s SPIFFING is developed by BillyGoat Entertainment and available on Xbox One, PS4, and Steam.
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