Review: Fenimore Fillmore "The Westerner" (WiiWare)

A cowpoke past his prime

Fenimore Fillmore lives by the gun, namely Chekhov's Gun – the assertion that if in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. In Fenimore Fillmore "The Westerner", this trope surely rings true, as most of the seemingly insignificant items you encounter serendipitously gain meaning and purpose later in the plot. In this case, though, a more appropriate title for the phrase would be “Chekhov's Dirty Sock” or “Chekhov's Climbing Belt.”

That's not to say it's any kind of literary or visual masterpiece. It was originally released in late 2004 for PC by Spanish developers Revistronic under the name Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure. With six years separating the game from its original incarnation, you'd think that it would receive some technical upgrades and TLC in its transition to WiiWare, but sadly, for the most part, this isn't the case. While series like Monkey Island have evolved accordingly over time with upgraded music, graphics and controls, the same cannot be said for The Westerner, as the game simply strolls into town on the same old, tired horse it did six years ago.

Motion controls have been added for the pointing aspects of the game, including those of minigames, and accessing the inventory is done by moving the pointer to the top of the screen, but the basic controls remain the same. You click with A and toggle the choice of action with B, basically between “use” and “look” and sometimes "open" or "take" depending on the situation.

Aside from new control scheme, it appears that nothing else was updated, delivering the player a somewhat colourful yet thoroughly bland western town that suffers mostly from the ravages of time. In 2004 this game may have been pleasing to the eye, but nowadays the blocky trees and jagged horses that populate this world just don't cut it, and the characters remain overlaid in an aged lighting effect that just makes them all look greasy.

The story begins when you stumble into a dusty western town one night and witness the shakedown of a local farmer. Some goons hired by a local wealthy stockbreeder named Starek are trying to muscle him into selling off his land, and they threaten to burn down all the farms in town if he and the other farmers do not comply. He refuses and readies his shotgun as our hero Fenimore Fillmore spies the standoff from around a corner, eventually falling into the scenario after pricking his behind on a cactus thorn and leaping forward, tumbling to the ground. This is the kind of humour you can expect throughout the game, which is more liable to get your eyeballs rolling than your laughter.

Flustered by Fillmore's sudden appearance, the goons become startled and a standoff ensues. The cut-scenes are all done with the in-game character models, which, as stated earlier, are a bit bland and operate with an eerie stiffness. These cinematics really start to show their age when they reference The Matrix, sending Fillmore into a bullet dodging sequence in which he bends around like Neo and shoots the hats off of the goons in the middle of a back flip.

With the bad guys temporarily scared off, Fillmore eats dinner with the farmer, Bannister, who explains his plight over a bowl of soup. Fenimore then says he is allergic to artichokes and passes out, leaving you to assume he was eating artichoke soup. You wake up the next day in the room of their child, Billy, who has stolen your guns, and this sets you off on the seemingly endless chain of chores the make up the bulk of the game. Your first goal is to get them back, but in order to leave the Bannisters' yard you'll first have to find your holster, hat and saddle, water some crops and pluck carrots for your hungry horse. These small environmental puzzles serve as the bulk of the gameplay for the most of the experience, consisting of finding an item and either giving it to the right person or combining it with the correct object.

Once you feed your horse you are able to leave the farm, taking you to the world map. From here, you can travel to the school to try to retrieve your guns from Billy, explore the town, check out the fair or head to the neighbouring farm that Bannister is visiting. Here you learn that Starek plans on burning down the farms that night, and the farmers lay out the four main objectives of the game: stop the train from transporting Starek's men to the area, find another guy to help fight off his men, gather some ammunition and reinforce the farms' borders.

To accomplish these tasks, you'll have to complete the same kind of object based puzzles as before, finding things that someone wants or using items to create specific environment-based scenarios. The pacing of the action is rather slow, and to complete big goals like buying dynamite, you need to perform several smaller tasks, which in themselves consist of even smaller tasks, and so on and so forth.

This repetition makes the game feel more like one unbearably long errand rather than a sequential chain of events, as you are constantly chasing items just to be told you need to find more items. This nonstop back and forth gets tedious, especially since to travel anywhere you need to feed your horse carrots, and to get more carrots, you have to repeat the same crop watering mechanic over and over. This wouldn't be so bad if there were anything entertaining about these actions, but the dull animations, poor music and lack of any voiceovers make it a thoroughly numb affair.

That's right: like most aspects of this game, the dialogue has not been updated with voiceovers – or even a decent spell-checking. This might have been fine if the pace could be controlled, but instead you are given an indiscriminate amount of time to read each chunk of text before the game moves on to the next. While this is generally not an issue, it does get a bit annoying when the camera starts switching from character to character, or when a huge bit of conversation is breezed over quickly.

Still, The Westerner does attempt to recapture the tongue-in-cheek comedy of classic adventure games, and the dialogue is resultantly filled with desperate attempts at non sequiturs. There are even insult duels with Starek's goons in the form of rhyming battles. In another sequence, Bannister tells another farmer that he just watered his carrots, to which he agrees that watering carrots is necessary if you plant them. A confused Bannister then asks “you plant them?!” For all that work, the payoff just isn't worth it. Another gem includes an exchange between Fillmore and the sheriff. At the end of their conversation, Fillmore says “I need to go,” to which he replies that he cannot help him with that, but that the saloon should be able to. Apparently, the sheriff thought that Fillmore needed to go to the bathroom.

Conclusion

Being six years old may be this cowboy's biggest crime, and the bevy of “Adventure Awards” that the debut WiiWare trailer shoots across the screen are obviously outdated. The cheesy music, dull story and lacklustre graphics complete an uninspired package that is guaranteed not to win any in its second time around. To ask 1000 Points for a port this lazy is surely a stretch, and fans of adventure games can find plenty of better choices on WiiWare.

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