|Original review author:||Jack Scarlet|
|Webcomic name:||MS Paint Adventures|
|Genre||Adventure games? It's a format Andrew came up with.|
|Positives:||Hilarious writing, strong characterization, constantly-improving art, and probably the best use of Google Images of any webcomic|
|Negatives:||Pacing is a bit erratic when reading it update-by-update, some of the early pages have choppy lineart, and at some points you begin to forget what's the point of all these puzzles.|
MS Paint Adventures is a comic that reads like a text-based adventure game like Oregon Trail. The plot is moved forward by user commands, aka reader suggestions for the actions of the characters. The rules of how much control the reader has varies between the four adventures Andrew has created. They are, in order of appearance, Jail Break, Bard Quest, Problem Sleuth, and Homestuck. Jail Break and Bard Quest were two experimental comics which tested out the idea of reader-suggested stories. Both were quickly abandoned and therefore have no place in this review. Much of the focus will be on Problem Sleuth and Homestuck.
Story and Plot
Let’s start with Problem Sleuth. The adventure opens up with the protagonist, Problem Sleuth, discovering that he is now stuck in his office. Along the way, he teams up with two other detectives, Ace Dick and Pickle Inspector, as they run around and solve “weird puzzle shit.” At first, it starts off as a slightly bizarre but hilarious escapade of three guys trying to get out of their respective offices, but as the adventure goes on, more and more areas are opened up, more characters are introduced, new enemies are encountered, and at a certain point you begin to ask “What was I doing again?” It isn’t until you encounter the final boss, Mobster Kingpin, that your objective becomes clear again and you spend months fighting MK through brothels, offices, and aboard a pirate ship as you unleash spectacular and bombastic attacks on a demon form of Mobster Kingpin. And you know what? It’s a lot of fun to read. The ending could not have been executed any better, unless at the end of the story the website gives you five bucks via Paypal.
The other story is Homestuck, currently Andrew’s main project. You control four kids playing a game where one kid alters the house of another, sort of like the Sims. For a while, you’re just sort of dicking around with the mechanics and having some fun times while simultaneously wondering what the hell you’re supposed to be doing. The plot begins speeding up when they realize that the game has caused the apocalypse and each of the players has a meteor heading towards their house. At a certain point in the game, one of the players, John, is able to escape fiery death and is transported to a world called the Medium, which is full of monsters trying to kill him. The objective of the game is then revealed: players must transport themselves to the Medium and use the Sim-like level editor to build their houses up through seven gates to something called Skaia. It’s an interesting concept that forces teamwork and allows characters to interact with each other, which can lead to hilarious moments. As of this writing, I’m not sure where the story is going, but new characters known as the Trolls are being introduced, so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
If you’re the kind of person that only buys video games for their high-quality graphics, then you might not like the MS Paint Adventures comics. Although there are major differences between each of the stories, all of them have a pixilated look to them, hearkening back to the older days of video games. Strangely enough, the author has never used traditional sprite characters like Diesel Sweeties. Not sure why, but the style does set the comic apart from other webcomics.
As you’ve probably already gathered, only the first page of Jail Break was done in MS Paint. All the other comics were done in Photoshop. Later on in Problem Sleuth, Andrew has made use of animated GIFs, which really puts the comic’s art up a notch. In Homestuck, Flash animations and short games are also incorporated, with musicians contributing original soundtracks. The use of color has also been gradually incorporated, with Problem Sleuth slowly incorporating color and Homestuck starting out in full color. I really can’t say more about the art except that it’s really effective and has gotten better over time.
Probably Andrew’s greatest achievement is using Google Images effectively. Seriously, for some bizarre reason, it has never bothered me when Andrew takes movie posters and puts them in John’s room in Homestuck. It’s actually kind of funny. The best explanation I can provide is that Andrew edits the images so that they don’t become distracting, either by using Grayscale or Threshold. In contrast, Lord Buckley of CtrlAltDel doesn’t do anything more than using the Blur Filter, and it’s noticeable because he’s trying to pass this off as the background. As much as Buckley would like you to believe, the background isn’t unimportant – people look at it to determine if the character is in a hospital or in the Seventh Circle of Hell. Andrew does enough editing to the image to make it look good and somewhat humorous, and he’s rarely used an entire photograph for the background.
The only negative complaint I have about the art is that the early Problem Sleuth pages have really choppy lineart, and this isn’t even because of the pixilated look. It looks like the eraser tool came in and curbstomped the lineart. But the characters are consistent and things are recognizable so it doesn’t become a major issue.
The strongest aspect of Andrew’s comic is probably his writing. The command responses Andrew writes tend to have a snarky tone to them, sometimes just flat out saying “This is complete bullshit.” Some of his characters like Pickle Inspector from Problem Sleuth and Dave from Homestuck are really well done and consistently hilarious, but even his weaker characters don’t ruin the comic.
One of the techniques that Andrew uses to great effect is his use of references. Unlike Family Guy where you need a thorough knowledge of pop culture to understand what the joke is, Andrew makes references mostly to his own work. Even if you don’t know what the joke is, Andrew typically provides a link to what he’s referring to. It’s a technique that acknowledges the culture of internet humor. References are probably why things like lolcats and FAIL are so popular – they spread like wildfire as people post these photos on their blogs and Facebook. Making references to things that can be easily looked up and keeps viewers on your website is a stroke of genius.
But my biggest issue is that Andrew’s writing style is suited towards writing a complete story, not a serial. If you were to read Problem Sleuth all the way through, stopping only for breaks, then you’d probably fall in love with the comic and think it was amazing. If you were to pick up Homestuck from the beginning of its run and follow it update-by-update, you’d still think it was amazing, but you would probably be reloading the main page constantly, agonizingly waiting for the rest of the story. You see, it’s like reading a good book a paragraph a day – it’s still a good book, but you want to know what’s going to happen next. Most webcomics don’t have this problem because they have a defined update schedule that readers typically accept, the update moves the plot a little further to satisfy readers, or that the strips are self-contained jokes that can stand alone. MS Paint Adventures doesn’t have stand alone strips or a defined update schedule, even though Andrew updates at about the same pace as other webcomic artists. As for moving the plot along, Andrew’s massive cast of playable characters tends to slow things down to a crawl, and as mentioned before, sometimes the characters are just dicking around, which leads to erratic pacing. At the beginning of Homestuck, for instance, the characters dick around with the game mechanics for about two months before John is teleported away from the meteor. At the end of Act 3, a Flash animation rushes us through the same process with another character. I understand that you might not want to have the characters go through the same process as before, but it’s very rushed and could have been handled better.
It's hard to tell if Problem Sleuth is better than Homestuck since Homestuck isn't finished, but it's very likely that these pacing issues will evaporate once Homestuck is completed and we can read it all the way through. At any rate, my issues over the pacing is more out of a love for the comic. That's Andrew's defining flaw; he's made the comic so good that people like me can't wait a day or two for the next update.
Despite the criticisms I’ve had about the comic, none of them are a deal breaker. It’s a very enjoyable read and I can strongly recommend it to anyone interested. Despite the pacing being a little erratic, the writing is still the best part of the comic and MS Paint Adventures is probably better written than most comics on the web. It’s hard to tell if the pacing issue is just an inherent problem with the experimental format Andrew has created or a problem with Andrew’s writing style. Either way, I stand firmly by my overall rating of the comic.