When people talk about Jeff Smith's "Bone," they usually say it reminds them of an earlier, gentle time, comparing it to comics like "Pogo" or Carl Barks' Disney work. "The Great Cow Race," the latest installment of the "Bone" video game from Telltale Games for the PC, also recalls an earlier time: the mid-1990s, with games like "Monkey Island" and "Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle."
The video game version of the "Bone" series is a return to the graphic adventure game. Rather than rely on twitch-based reflexes, the game is more about storytelling and problem solving. So, no, you never get to have Bone cowjack anyone, or shoot any stupid Rat-Creatures. However, you will have to use your analytical skills to pick up certain objects and use them in a proper way to continue the story.
The story is lifted straight out of the comic book. Following the first game, Fone Bone and his cousin Phoney are living with Fone's human friend Thorn and her Gran'ma Ben. On their way to the fair and the Great Cow Race, they run back into their other cousin, Smiley. From there, the game is separated into different sections, with Fone having to overcome obstacles to win the heart of Thorn, and Smiley and Phoney coming up with a scheme to bilk the townspeople into betting on "The Mystery Cow" in the cow race.
The puzzles themselves are fairly simple. Hardcore gamers looking for a challenge might want to look elsewhere, as the game was designed primarily for children. On the other hand, hardcore gamers whose puzzle solving skills have atrophied from shooting at too many blood-hungry zombies can click on a built-in cheat guide that allows players to read a gradually more revealing set of clues.
The graphics are decent, if not amazing. For the most part, they accurately depict Jeff Smith's artwork faithfully in three dimensions. Generally, the cartoonier a character looks, the better he or she looks. So Bone and his cousins look dead-on like Smith's artwork, while Thorn looks a bit less sexy, and occasionally has some clipping issues with her face while talking. Also, the game only plays at 800x600 resolution. Still, for its flaws, the game manages to create a lush, vibrant world.
Probably the best aspect of the game is the quality of the voice overs. The actors who voice Bone and his friends are letter perfect. The only thing that would have been better is if animation legend June Foray voiced Gran'ma, but you can't have everything.
The pricing structure for the "Bone" games is, in some ways, more interesting than the games themselves. While the games only take a couple hours to beat, they are available for download at just $12.99 each. "The Great Cow Race" is a little less than a 100 MB download, so it is best to have a high-speed connection. The game can also be purchased together with the first installment, "Out from Boneville," for $24.99. If you don't want to bother with downloading, CDs of the games can be purchased from the Telltale Games web site, with DVD-style slipcases, and extras like soundtracks and video clips, for $17.99 per game or $29.99 for both.
In the end, "Bone: The Great Cow Race" is a nostalgic romp. If you're looking for hot and heavy arcade-style action, you might wish to look somewhere else. But if you miss the good ol' days of the graphic adventure game, just say, "Moo!"