The Opening Night Live trailer for ‘comedy slapformer’ Thank Goodness You’re Here! was a joyous balm in a sea of shoulder shrugs last week. Its bright, cartoon visuals instantly stood out against the grey, ultra-realistic grizzle beards of everything else Geoff had to offer in his Gamescom mega show last Tuesday, and even now I still find myself whistling its jaunty little song around the house. But what exactly is Thank Goodness You’re Here!? Well, having played through one of its 15 minute missions now, I can tell you it’s a bit like Untitled Goose Game, in that you have a village you can wander about in causing chaos, but it’s also much more structured than that, with specific quests and people to help as you guide your tiny travelling salesman through its surreal neighbourhood. Here’s what I learned.
Straight off the bat, you can tell this is a game made by British developers. With my tiny salesman somehow having wedged himself into the top of a chimney, a nearby sweep declares that he’s found a “toad in the hole”, and promptly introduces me to the business end of his stick and shunts me down to the (thankfully extinguished) fireplace in the house below. The only way you can interact with the world of Thank Goodness You’re Here! is to jump and kick, and so it’s up out the open window to see what’s in store for us next as we gamble about the strange town of Barnsworth (based on real UK city Barnsley, where the developers Coal Supper originate from).
In seconds we meet a slightly hapless gardener called Herbert who’s having trouble watering his giant tomato. “Thank goodness you’re here!” he proclaims, as do many others throughout our demo, and he sets about telling us that this garden hose he’s been sucking (he actually does say “sucking this pipe”, I’m not making that up) just isn’t doing the trick and can we possibly help him out? Kicking the garden tap doesn’t yield any better results, so I followed the rest of the hose down a suspicious looking well. Down and down the pipe went, along a winding tunnel that eventually led me to a sink in an underground kitchen at the local Fish and Cigs shop. It’s hard to tell if the oblivious Herbert knows he’s accidentally been siphoning off the shop’s water supply, but after another swift kick, the water starts flowing again.
Now to find a way out. There was no going back up the well, so my only way forward was out the front of the shop – though not before the shopkeeper also breathed a sigh of ‘thank goodness you’re here’ and set me to work helping him sort his fish from his cigs. And yes, cigs as in cigarettes here, which burst forth in packs of three from each fish’s gob as I jumped on their frozen, ice-packed bellies. As someone from the south of England, I can’t say I’m familiar with this particular British delicacy, but things only got weirder as my demo went on.
Having sorted out the fish keeper’s problem, I was then free to wander the town square for a bit, which had plenty of other freaky inhabitants to meet (and also kick) as I made my way back to the gardener. With the water now flowing (albeit directly into the gardener’s trousers, I might add – I told you he was a bit hopeless), the next step was to procure some fertilizer, which could be found back in the square at the local grocers. Going backwards and forwards like this felt a teensy bit clumsy in the moment, I’ll admit – especially since my way back through the hedges didn’t seem open for a return visit, so it was back down the well again to get out – but the sheer nuttiness of what followed certainly went a long way to make up for it.
Arriving at Roger’s Veg Hall, I’m suddenly presented with full-on fruit warfare. Roger the grocer’s gone berserk, and the gardener’s in front of me cowering behind the food stalls, swearing blind he didn’t mention the grocer’s “massive head”. I jump and dash forward in the gaps between vegetable hurls – my small stature coming in handy here so I don’t get clocked with a cucumber – and as I finally make my way to the counter, popping up in all sorts of weird places in and around the shop on the way, I spring up in front of Roger through a metal trash can, the shiny, reflective surface of the lid offering up a mirror to his elongated noggin. Suddenly, I’m watching Roger’s entire life story play out before my eyes, how he was bullied as a child for having such a strangely shaped skull, how other kids would chuck popcorn at him in the cinema, and how his first girlfriend didn’t mind it. Cut to his girlfriend now wife leaving him because she just can’t keep lying to herself anymore, and the grocer ageing and getting sadder and sadder as people continually exclaim “It’s just too big!”, until finally he collapses in a heap from the rush of emotional trauma.
We grab our fertilizer and go, leaving whatever’s left of Roger to deal with another time. It’s possible we’ll see him again later on, developers Will Todd and James Carbutt tell me, as completing various ‘missions’ will culminate in the town clock moving on one hour, and more of the town will gradually open up over time. The locals will also move about to different areas, and each hour will have a couple of possible tasks available.
“It’s not a crazy branching narrative,” they tell me, “but there are, like, depending on which thing you do first, some things will become available at different times. The world responds in a slightly different way and things unlock for different reasons.” As such, you won’t see the whole game on a single playthrough, and I actually can’t wait to see what other strange things are hiding in here, because when we get back to the garden and our gardener friend starts making suggestive grunts and thuds trying to “get her open”. The camera then cuts away to his parents looking on inside the house, silent, but clearly wistful and proud that their son has – to their ears, at least – has found someone to ‘love’.
After arguably too many slightly awkward seconds, the sack bursts forth (by which point his parents have disappeared to thud the furniture in an even friskier fashion), splattering onto the already bulging tomato. It ripples and rumples to horrifying proportions, birthing a monstrous pair of eyes, nose and mouth as it utters a single word in a high-pitched squeak: “Daddy??” But the gardener’s having none of it. In an instant, he’s gorged himself on the entire thing, his mouth slick with red juice, and a vacant look in his eye as he stares at his knife and fork. I’m not sure what I’ve just witnessed, but the gardener is satisfied, and the mission screen shouts “Cream Of The Crop!” at me. The town bell then rings out in the distance, signalling that another citizen is in need of assistance, it seems. But before I find out who, my demo draws to a close and I’m left to contemplate what I’ve just seen.
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