Video games aren't often particularly topical. A tendency towards juvenile themes like shooting aliens and saving princesses - not to mention the protracted development process - generally leads developers into safer narrative waters. The most bracingly fresh thing about Her Majesty's SPIFFING, then, is that it's built upon one giant gag about Brexit. Her Majesty The Queen is fed up with British politicians making a mess of things here on Earth, and has decided to start afresh with her own hitherto hidden interplanetary colonisation plan.
That's the cue for our protagonist, Captain Frank Lee English of the Special Planetary Investigative Force For Inhabiting New Galaxies (the SPIFFING of the title), to seek out a new planet on which to stick the Union flag. If this is all sounding rather quaint and anachronistic, you've nailed the tone HMS is going for. It's an old school point-and-click adventure that archly sends up Britishness - or a stereotypical view of Britishness, at any rate.
It's very much played for laughs. While we're far from a 100% gag hit rate here, many of the jokes are so brazen in their eye-rolling references to British cultural clichés that it's impossible not to at least smile. We won't spoil any of the jokes, but expect references to tea drinking, the UK's homespun computer industry, and the country's supposed antipathy to those haw-hee-hawing French.
The developer does want to have its cake and eat it (another meta Brexit gag, perhaps?), effectively turning to the camera and rolling its eyes at a parade of national stereotypes whilst simultaneously mining them for cheap laughs. HMS is on similarly shaky ground with its knowing references to creaky point-and-click adventure mechanics. Gags about jumping through a bunch of tenuous puzzle hoops in order to progress the plot are well observed, but the game then proceeds to indulge rather than subvert those genre cliches.
Ultimately, you're still running around static environments, collecting assorted items and figuring out where (and in which combination) to use them. There's a familiar combination of conundrums that make perfect logical sense, and a couple that will have you running around the environment clicking on everything to find a way forward. There are also a couple of fun mini-game diversions, which provide a welcome dose of variety to proceedings, but each is over and done with in a few short minutes.
For the most part the game grants you direct control over Captain English using the left stick, which isn't typical in traditional adventure games of this sort. This means we're spared the indignity of having to control a skittish cursor - the ultimate console point-and-click port indignity. Interacting with objects is a little clunkier though. Pressing and holding A brings up a selection wheel that offers four options - investigate, talk, interact, and use item - which then need to be selected with the left stick. This would be a fine mechanic with mouse or touchscreen control, but in combination with the direct movement system we constantly found ourselves tapping A to open a door or pick up an item.
This is a holdover from countless action-adventure games, of course, and it's true that we start to adjust after an hour or so of play. The only trouble is, that represents half of the game's entire running time. With no follow-up episodic content in existence, and practically zero incentive for a second play-through, it leaves HMS feeling a little slight, even at its budget eShop price. We should note, of course, that HMS was made using a very modest amount of Kickstarter funding. This is clearly a labour of love from a very small development team, and Billy Goat Entertainment's enthusiasm for the source material shines through.
Given the evident budgetary constraints (which is another source of gags here), HMS is a handsome and solidly put together game. Its clean '3D cartoon' art style, impressive lighting effects, and generally well performed script see the game through its shakier moments. It's precisely the kind of look and feel you can imagine LucasArts going for if the famed point-and-click specialist was still operating today, which is surely the ultimate complement.
Her Majesty's SPIFFING is a lovingly made tribute to the point-and-click adventure genre of the early '90s, with a likably cheeky and surprisingly topical sense of humour. Its traditional underlying mechanics, however, can't quite cash the cheques its script is writing, and it's all over a little too quickly.