Custard & Mustard's Big Adventure

by Christopher Merriner profile

2022

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Number of Reviews: 4
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A doggy delight, June 16, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

(I beta tested this game)

Hopefully, dear reader, you are as happy as I am to dispense pretense that the reviewer is an objective figure, an unmoving mover floating serenely above the aesthetic object and rendering dispassionate, not-to-be-gainsaid criticism. And I further hope that in my reviews I make clear were my personal biases and subjective preferences lead me to judgments that might not be shared by a different player with different biases &c. But even taking all that as read, I feel like I need to issue some extra disclaimering here, because I went into Custard and Mustard’s Big Adventure strongly predisposed to like it – not only was I a tester on it, I also tested the author’s previous game, The Faeries of Healstowne, which was my one of my two favorite games of 2021, and plus he’s tested both of my games, as well as penning a review of Sting that’s quite possibly the single most laudatory thing anyone’s ever written about my work (and I include the toast my mom made at my wedding in the competition).

With that out of the way, though, let’s all pretend I didn’t just light my credibility on fire as I tell you that my expectations were completely right and Custard and Mustard is great. It’s great fun, first of all, to play as a pooch, and here you get to play as a dynamic duo of doggies – designated-protagonist Colonel Mustard, and his bashful-but-rising-to-the-challenge sidekick Ernel Custard (if you can somehow read that without giggling, I am sad for you). This is no superficial re-furring, too: your canine nature is well-implemented, with a rich odorscape awaiting your SMELL commands, an inventory limit that actually makes sense given a logical one-mouth-per-customer policy, robust BARKing options, and waggable, chasable tails. Each protagonist also has distinct strengths – saying more would risk spoiling some puzzles, but suffice to say each gets their moment in the sun – so you’re able to switch between them at will, which again is handled cleanly, with a single command sufficing to swap and the one you’re not controlling automatically following the other unless there’s a need for them to split up.

So much for mechanics, though. What are these handsome hounds up to? After a prelude where the two protagonists meet cute and give their owners the (temporary) slip, they’re simply excited to experience everything a traditional British village fete has to offer. There’s a generous map on offer with lots of places to go and explore, which can feel a little overwhelming at first. But even in this phase, the game’s gentle humor makes nosing around very fun. To take an example, there’s a small monument in the park memorializing its dedication:

Hockbarrow Gardens

Opened by H.R.H The Princess Mavis, Countess of Spelnose

This is like the smallest imaginable unit of comedy, but the whimsy made me laugh. It doesn’t take too long to get your feet under you, though, as there’s usually only one area where there’s much activity happening, allowing you to focus your efforts, and you quickly wind up getting caught up in a series of hijinx, from helping a magic show go off to interrupting some beer-drinking. Each involves solving a small puzzle, all quite reasonable, and it’s all quite enjoyable though it perhaps doesn’t live up to the game’s billing as a Big Adventure.

Then the other shoe drops, though, and the second half of the game raises the stakes, as your innocent enjoyment of the fair is interrupted by learning of a criminal plot to rob the local museum. This counterheist has twists and turns aplenty, with the challenges getting more difficult but funnier too – I especially liked decking out Mustard in fancy dress so he could infiltrate the town’s snootiest restaurant for a spot of eavesdropping, and shook my fist at the screen as a seemingly-helpful cat revealed its perfidy. While I thought the puzzles in Faeries of Healstowne were satisfying but could skew a bit too hard, here the difficulty level feels just right for this more all-ages-friendly adventure, with none of the puzzles putting up too much of a fight but sending up a lovely dopamine hit of reward as solving each unspools the next delightful bit of the story.

In fact the whole thing is just delightful – Custard and Mustard’s Big Adventure is the veriest romp. If you have the slightest soft spot for silly British things, or like dogs, or just have the smallest spark of joy in you, you won’t laugh harder all year.