Demetrios: The BIG Cyncal Adventure

Bjorn Thoren is a disgusting slob of a bachelor and, in general, a terrible person.  He lives in squalor and eagerly eats just about any piece of food he finds on the floor, whether it is an apple core in a pile of garbage or the last few potato chips that have been sitting in an open bag for weeks.  He isn't very bright and a failure at just about everything in life.  His neighbor, Sandy, is a single mom with a pudgy, insufferable brat for a daughter, whom Bjorn wishes he could get rid of so that he could get in mommy’s pants.  These totally unlikeable people are the main characters in the appropriately named Demetrios: The Big Cynical Adventure, an unapologetically crass point-and-click adventure from Cowcat Games.  When it comes to its exploration, puzzles, and mini-games, Demetrios doesn’t break any new ground, but that is okay because its gameplay isn’t the main attraction of the package.  Where Demetrios really shines is with its hilariously cynical dialog and sight gags, charming, colorful visuals, and terrific soundtrack.  So, while the gameplay may underwhelm you, there is a good chance that you will be laughing too hard to notice.

Demetrios begins with you, playing as Bjorn, receiving a mysterious phone call in the middle of the night warning you that you are in mortal danger.  Soon thereafter, a burglar breaks into your apartment, knocks you out, and steals a mysterious artifact from your bedroom.  The plot after that point is typical adventure fare as you travel to a variety of locations, playing detective and trying to figure out the significance of this mysterious artifact.  When it comes to just the plot, Demetrios doesn’t offer a lot that is unique.  It is more of a satirical take on the genre than an original story.  Where this game shines is in the execution of that story, and how the game constantly finds new ways to entertain and offend you.

Throughout the story, you won’t find a single positively portrayed character.  Everyone is lazy, stupid, apathetic, rude, or and/or disgusting.  As its name implies, the game is a highly cynical take on the genre and the typical characters and situations that you find in them.  Bjorn is a complete loser, and not the loveable kind.  When he is not trying to keep his sorry business afloat, he is usually just sleeping or getting drunk.  He is gullible and is taken advantage of by just about everyone in the game.  He apparently isn’t a fan of bathing, since numerous characters remark about how badly he smells or how bad his breath is.  His neighbor, Sandy, seems nice enough, but she barely parents her daughter and despite her claim that she is a nurse, she is never at work.  Her daughter, Caroline, is horribly spoiled and undisciplined.  The police are lazy and couldn’t care less about your case.  The villains are all temperamental oafs.   There is virtually no negative human trait that isn’t made fun of in this game, and it prospers because of it.

For a game with such a small development team, Demetrios features a surprising amount of attention to detail.  The game has more written lines of dialog than any point-and-click game that I have played in a long time.  Like most games, you can examine the environment, collect items, and then use items in the environment or combine them with one another.  Almost every possible item use and combination has been thought of ahead of time and has one or two lines of dialog associated with it.  This contrasts with most adventure games, where most incorrect actions just have one or two generic “failure” lines associated with them.  In any dialog where you are given choices, you can share any of the items in your inventory, including a pornographic cartoon DVD featuring Snow White and some pigs (you can even get a comment on it from little Caroline).   Demetrios is a game that encourages you to experiment and act as a smart aleck as often as you can.  It is a great game for wise guys who love to troll in-game NPCs and see if they can “break” the game.  For just about anything dangerous or antisocial that you can think of, chances are, the developers anticipated your move and have come up with a witty response.  There are even a handful of hidden Steam achievements that you can unlock through obnoxious choices.

One of the game’s common responses to your behaviors is to simply kill you.  Demetrios is loaded with insta-death scenarios, a feature that would cripple almost any other game.  But in this game, these events and their associated “Game Over” screens are frequently so hilarious that you may go out of your way to experience as many of them as possible.  Whether it is death by sticking your finger in an electric outlet or getting arrested for peeing on a house plant, there are dozens of ways in which to recklessly bring your game to an amusing and abrupt end.  Since the game saves frequently, you don’t lose much (if any) progress when you gamble and lose.  I don’t think that I have ever had as much fun failing in a game as I had in this one.  Despite all of its conventional adventure game trappings, it really is a unique experience.

The humor extends into Demetrios’s occasional minigames, which seem purposely simplistic and trivial, as if they are another way for the game to poke fun at the genre.  Come to think of it, the humor extends just about everywhere.  There is never a moment of reflection where the game takes a subject seriously.  One minor example illustrates just how constantly the game goes for laughs.  In the first chapter, you go to a lake to catch fish with one of your pals.  In the background, there is a ship on the lake.  In most games, that ship would either just be standing still or moving back and forth.  In this game, the ship crashes into an island and sinks.  Almost every mouse click in the game produces an attempt at a laugh, be it the wisecracks from Bjorn or the ubiquitous fart noises in the minigames.  The attitude of Demetrios is that if fifty jokes is good, then a hundred jokes must be twice as good.  This attitude is present in every scene, sometimes to a fault.  With as many jokes and gags as the game has, some misses are inevitable, and Demetrios has plenty of them.  In particular, the game’s numerous references to popular video games like Candy Crush and the Uncharted series aren’t very clever or funny.  The misses are still vastly outnumbered by the hits though, provided this is the brand of humor that you are looking for.

For a game with such a small budget, Demetrios also sports some surprisingly strong production values.  The game is a very attractive one, featuring lots of colorful, hand drawn, cel-shaded objects, backgrounds and characters.  It has almost no animation though.  Characters speak in still portraits that occasionally show different expressions and almost nothing in the game actually moves.  This concession is fine though, given everything else that the game has to offer.  There is no voice acting in the game other than the occasional grunt or laugh, but that shortcoming is more than made up for with a wonderful soundtrack.  Demetrios has a terrific theme and dozens of perfectly chosen tracks that fit every area of the game almost perfectly.  Given the variety of locales that you visit in this game (a police station, a cemetery, your apartment, your shop, the desert, etc), the soundtrack is a very impressive feat – arguably its most impressive feat.

If Demetrios is lacking in any area, then it is with its basic point-and-click gameplay.  The game features the usual assortment of inventory puzzles and fetch quests, most of which are simple, straightforward, and obvious.  You collect items, you combine items, and you use items.  Sometimes, you collect an item for somebody in return for a different item.  Like a lot of adventure games, puzzles can often be solved simply through trial-and-error and clicking through all of the items in your inventory.  Puzzles that involve advanced logic are disappointingly rare.  Like many modern adventure games, it keeps its pacing by erring on the side of being easy, and if you get stuck, there is a hint system that you can use by spending collectibles (in this game, the chocolate chip cookies found on each screen).  The minigames are simple and also usually easy.  The gameplay functions as intended and it never bogs down into boredom, so it doesn’t necessarily ruin the experience.  Nevertheless, if you are a hardcore adventure game enthusiast, then this game’s appeal to you will probably be limited to its humor.  If that appeal isn’t there ether, then Demetrios likely won’t have a lot to offer you, since it doesn't offer much of a challenge.

Your ultimate opinion on this game will ultimately boil down to your opinion on the importance of gameplay versus story or dialog.  I tend to place more importance on the former, but with this game, I'll make an exception.  It has its shortcomings, no doubt, but the initial offering from Cowcat Games is still a resounding success.  That is, of course, assuming that you find the game to be funny, which will not be the case with everyone.  If it isn’t the case with you and you are looking for an adventure game with terrific puzzle design or unique gameplay elements, then Demetrios likely isn’t a game for you.  If, however, you are looking for a bunch of low brow laughs at the expense of people that you don’t particularly like, then you may find Demetrios: The Big Cynical Adventure to be a funny treat.  It is easy on the eyes, fun to listen to, and its cruel satire and toilet humor make it an entertaining journey from the beginning to the end.  The game would benefit from more fleshed out gameplay and more imaginative puzzle design, but it is still one that left me wanting to see more out of this developer in the future.