Barely Floating likes to challenge your expectations, almost immediately from the get-go. This alone makes it worth seeing, though then you’ll quickly realize it’s a pretty standard point-and-click adventure game once the adventuring begins. Still, kudos where kudos are deserved, and I applaud Stemshock Interactive’s decision to make the star of their game Joseph Lancaster, an old, whiny grandpa, cane in hand and medication pills in his pockets–for certain, he’s no spry Guybrush Threepwood or quick-witted American tourist George Stobbart. Then again, not many can be.
Right. Pirates have taken hostages off a cruise ship, holding them for ransom on The Sea Krait. In comes Agent Morris on a helicopter, a true professional with cool sunglasses and plenty of hostage-saving in his history. However, negotiations quickly take a turn for the worse, forcing Joe–he prefers to be called this–to take actions into his own wrinkled hands. Thankfully, since everyone views him as non-threatening he gets more freedom than the other hostages, allowing him to go from room to room, pointing and clicking to solve puzzles and put his plans into movement.
It’s an adventure game, so expect to collect a lot of items–some traditional, some silly, such as Barbara, an inflatable sex doll–and then use those items on people and other things in a creative manner. There’s also a very large dialogue element to Barely Floating. You can pick from options, but, once in a dialogue with someone, you can also click on things outside the list to ask about them. So, even though the cloth-covered machine isn’t a topic of choice when speaking with Igon, my favorite non-pirate-turned-pirate, selecting it still brings up a reaction and clues. I thought this was implemented really well and even becomes a key part of a puzzle’s solution when it becomes karaoke time.
Everyone on The Sea Krait, except for maybe the captain, directly counter the straightforwardness of Joe and the Wheat family. There’s Igon, who keeps items in his empty eye socket; there’s Pex, an idiot with too much muscle; there’s the bartender with the strange creature living in his dirty beard; there’s horny and severely obese Herr Hindenberg; and so on. This is where Barely Floating sees most of its color and humor shine through, and you strangely become more interested and invested in these lighthearted characters than the rich family actually held hostage.
Here are the parts I got stuck at, forcing me to dig up an online walkthrough. Some puzzles are timing-based, like getting the bartender to wash his beard by accident or having the recently fired geek lob a drink directly into the jukebox. I also struggled to fully comprehend how to handle the karaoke puzzle, though I wasn’t too far off course. Speaking of that, one of the more final puzzles involves using the pirate ship’s navigation system and speaking via text inputs to other ships in the area. Unfortunately, here, the game is looking for very specific phrases and sentences, and though I was close on a few of them, you can’t solve it unless you put in exactly what is desired. Felt this was a bit unfair, and there should’ve been more wiggle room.
I really like Barely Floating‘s look, though some backgrounds could be more detailed than others, and much of the animations are shortchanged. Still, every character is unique and stands out, and the text sort of bobs up and down, like it is floating on the water’s surface, which is a fantastic touch. You don’t have to do any “pixel hunting” as everything essential pretty much pops off the screen. In terms of music, there isn’t a lot of variety, but what is there is good, though it can get tiresome, especially when you realize how much backtracking you have to do–it is, after all, a tiny ship.
Seems like this was originally part of the Summerbatch Volume 1 bundle, which also featured Jailbreak, Nancy the Happy Whore, Patchwork, and PISS. Now, I did not purchase the bundle back in the day, ending up nabbing Barely Floating for free from its AGS page. Of those in the bundle, I’ve already played Patchwork and downloaded a copy of Ben Chandler’s PISS–there really is no good way to say that–but have yet to try out the latter. I wonder if I can find the other two titles elsewhere, though neither are giving me the warm fuzzies from screenshots.
Heads up, this is no short adventure either, with plenty to click on and read. Voice acting would’ve helped in spots, but the writing is fun and mostly to the point. You can, however, go pretty deep in some conversations. I think it took me about an hour and change to see Barely Floating‘s credits roll as the sun set. You can download a copy of the game and see for yourself how long it takes an old geezer to become a hero.