THE ADVENTURES OF WILLY BEAMISH / Dynamix / PC
"Affordable" is an entirely relative term. The early 1990s audience that would have found Willy Beamish affordable at $60 retail overlaps to a great degree with the people of Willy's game world - suburban American upper-middle-class families, completely enmeshed in consumption and advertising culture, and mostly white to boot.
Not to say Beamish embraces this mode of existence, as it's largely a send-up and satire of the excesses of this particular world, but it definitely knew who would be buying a copy of it and what to say to them. The game is a neat, cute and sometimes funny approximation of a Simpsons-esque cartoon show, but unfortunately the "game" aspects of it are marginalized and not well handled.
The setting: Willy is a pretty standard late 1980s/early 1990s American adolescent. He loves his Nintari game console above all else and dreams of participating in the world championships, which he needs to raise $2500 somehow to get to (as to why it takes $2500 just to get to New York and put up for a night or two, the game never really bothers to explain.) Unfortunately, he's busted during the last day of school when his frog knocks off the principal's toupee, and his subsequent trip to detention plus grade of C+ in Music Appreciation class threaten to land him in military school before he even has a chance to contemplate raising the money. You take over with Willy stuck in detention, plotting to escape early somehow and intercept the report card before it gets delivered by the afternoon post.
It's actually a good and fairly unique setting, but you're kind of rushed from scene to scene making snap decisions in dialogue trees. There are a lot of timed sequences to navigate where if you hesitate too long, click on the wrong thing or choose the wrong response, the game ends instantly with Willy meeting some sad fate. Willy's world is actually rather dark and dangerous for what initially appears to be a lighthearted romp, with many of the game-world adults looking downright frightening and monstrous (including Willy's mom in some shots.)
It's also surprisingly sexualized, with a lot of almost-nudity and ridiculously gigantic breasts about, which was likely a shock to parents bringing the game home to their youngins. It's definitely more PG-13 than the G-rated box art and promo materials make it appear to be.
The game's background detail and animation are first-rate for the time, imparting the "playable cartoon" feel, but the price paid is very limited interactivity with the screens and backgrounds. The soundtrack seems pretty decent ... with simplistic Sound Blaster emulation I can't really tell. The presentation is well polished and pleasing and the simple game interface is easy to learn and navigate.
That simplicity leads to the problems in the game design, however. Puzzles are either too simple (there's only one active object on the screen the cursor changes for you to click on), or just too obscure and pixel-hunty to be fair. A frequently seen criticism of the game is that in conversations, Willy is often given three insulting responses, and the player's goal is to try to figure out which is least insulting or meet an instant death.
Death scenarios are also extremely unpredictable and get thrown at the player very suddenly, often without adequate opportunity to save. There's one sequence where you are given a giant list of random phrases to choose from and have to pick one out of the mix, which seemingly requires you to guess randomly and die repeatedly to solve. The pixel hunting also sometimes leads you to believe the game may have frozen when it hasn't.
Willy Beamish is an interesting ride and will likely at least make you chuckle here and there. It's nice to look at and trots along fairly smoothly if you have a walkthrough on hand to get you through the roughly designed spots (and as long as you save very frequently and in a few different slots.) I can't really say it's a top adventure game, however. The actual game aspect of it is just too limited and problematic.
* Playable Demo
* Gameplay Video