Justin Wack and the Big Time Hack is one of the pleasant findings that are discovered every now and then while exploring the Steam Store. After a little research, we also found out that it is an adventure game that came about following a successful Kickstarter campaign and is the creation of three individuals who make up the Warm Kitten development team. At first, I wondered why it had fallen off my radar of future adventure games, but then such thoughts quickly left my mind as I enjoyed this very nice surprise offered to us by our Swedish friends.
Justin Wack (for the sake of brevity, we'll refer to it as such from now on) is a classic point 'n' click adventure, which is clearly inspired by the fictional time-travel stories as they've become known in pop culture (the cover art is very reminiscent of Back to the Future, don't you think?), and shares a lot of the spirit of LucasArts' unforgettable Day of the Tentacle. It may not reach that level of resourcefulness, but the mastermind behind the story, Pontus Wittenmark, proves to be an equally brilliant storyteller, with a strong sense of humour.
The story takes us to modern times, where the protagonist is IT employee Justin Wack, who is not living the best days of his life. His cyan-haired girlfriend Julia decides to adopt a cat one day, which leads the couple to a fight as Justin is allergic to cats to death. Consequently, in the inevitable "it's either me or the cat" question, Julia chose the latter, which resulted in Justin becoming psychologically devastated and starting to look for relationships on various dating sites.
But he could not have imagined what else fate or misfortune, as you wish to call it, had in store for him. On a typical day at the office, chatting with his slightly slimy colleague, it's time for lunch and he realizes he hasn't brought anything with him. Rummaging through the kitchen freezer, he spots a package of frozen pie - unknown how and for how long it's been there. Ignoring his colleague's advice not to eat it, he places it in the microwave to defrost and for some unclear reason, this action creates a rift in time (!). A rift that sends anyone who passes through it to prehistoric times, back when dinosaurs and cavemen lived in harmony (?) with each other.
Justin's curiosity about the rift was so great that the (normal) consequence of getting close to it resulted in him being sucked in. At the same time, in prehistoric times, a poor Neanderthal named Kloot witnesses the rift, and the moment Justin is transported to his own time dimension, he too rushes into the rift and is transported to the present day. As if this paradox wasn't enough, the rift is sealed, simultaneously cutting Justin and Kloot off in different time periods.
Obviously, Justin's first thought is to find a way to come back, which at this point doesn't seem to be a very good possibility. What kind of technology can he find at a time when man still hasn't quite invented the wheel? The answer probably comes unexpectedly and is not so friendly to his physical integrity. Some mysterious robots, calling themselves the guardians of time travel, discover what they believe to be illegal travel and launch a manhunt for both Justin and Kloot. So it's up to us to help them each get back into their timelines, and the dance couldn't miss Julia, who unwittingly has to get caught up in this crazy situation.
Sure, the plot is not particularly innovative, however, its development is quite well written and with some quite clever and funny twists that keep the interest high. All the more so when combined with a plethora of puzzles that really "satiate" the aspiring adventurer in both variety and ingenuity. Justin Wack is divided into three acts, where almost from the beginning we control the two protagonists of the story (Justin & Kloot). We can change at any time the hero we are controlling at that moment, so practically we have to deal with a pile of completely different challenges in each case. The truth is that we were caught off guard by the amount of "freedom" it offers the player, however, things aren't complicated at all (at least in Act I). After all, there is a journal for each hero individually, where it is recorded what goal or goals we have to complete each time. An admittedly valuable tool, especially at the beginning of the game when we haven't yet found our footing (as well as heroes who are in a time period they don't belong to) and it's a bit "abstract" as to what exactly we need to do.
The situation changes in Act II, where we now have the ability to transfer items between Justin and Kloot, which raises the difficulty of the puzzles quite a bit, though not too much, as if an item is not needed by the other character, the game prevents us from giving it to him. In general though, Justin Wack's puzzles are in the mid-level range, with only a few exceptions requiring a little more imagination (aka moon logic) than we might wish. However, as expected, there are several puzzles that are based on the consequences of the time transition, as, in addition to the past and present, we later find ourselves in the future (alas), and in Act III Julia is added to the equation as a playable character, creating a whole complex puzzle, which still manages to make sense. And this is no easy task, one that the Warm Kitten folks have more than accomplished.
Justin Wack is largely enjoyable, whether we're referring to its thoughtful dialogue or the well-written supporting characters that round out the game's beautiful world, which range from talking vegan dinosaurs to hairdressers, rockers and killing machines. Dialogue that doesn't waffle or overdo it with puns and bad jokes, instead being to the point and sometimes particularly witty. And the main characters are unique, with Justin being the ultimate nerd dude, having moments of absolute wisdom and...stupidity, while Kloot is a huge figure, from the beginning of the adventure, where he's a naked caveman who just makes inarticulate screams, until the credits roll and he becomes a completely different person. A finale that can take up to ten hours to reach, which of course depends on whether and how long you get stuck somewhere. However, there is a built-in hint system, which helps a lot with clues that don't offer the solution on a plate (not always at least), but frame the way we ought to move.
If there is a minor complaint about the game, it's in the inventory management part and the way it works with the game controls. To avoid any misunderstandings, the controls has no substantial problems: they are simple and straightforward, with the two mouse buttons completing all the actions needed, while using an item on the hotspot in question (there is a hotspot indicator, if you ask) is done with drag & drop. However, there are times when we need to combine items with each other in the inventory, which fills up with quite a few items, but has few slots on each "page", so it takes a bit of effort to get it right. When combined with the fact that we're probably stuck somewhere for a while, this can lead to some frustration.
Of course, it's not something that can't be fixed, as we played and finished a fairly early version of the game, which turned out to be very stable and without any obvious bugs. Undoubtedly, an excellent job has been done, if one realizes the complexity of the game, but also its very beautiful presentation. Justin Wack visually is on par with a modern indie adventure, combining functionality and an eye-pleasing images. Its hand-painted graphics are on-the-spot for the humorous and cool style it wants to portray, with the great voice-over being a strong ally, while the relaxed background music and the mellow melodies that characterize it, especially helps to keep our attention from being distracted.
In short, Justin Wack and the Big Time Hack is another great adventure for this year, which is recommended to all fans of the genre. It features good humor, a relatively long length, dozens of puzzles to solve and a clever and entertaining story that, without being overwhelming, makes it a highly enjoyable adventure experience.