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The Exchange Student
Episode 1:
First Day in Sweden
Developer:Pan Metron Ariston
Publisher:Pan Metron Ariston
Release Date:August 2006
Article Posted:October 2006
System Requirements

Meet Emilio. He is a twenty-two-year-old Italian man - in the prime of his life, as some might say - and quite convinced of his allure to the ladies. Therefore, it should perhaps not be surprising that Vincenzo's account of his successes (of the feminine kind) in an exchange program in Sweden incites Emilio's envy - until, that is, Vincenzo suggests the obvious: that Emilio enroll in the same student exchange program that Vincenzo participated. Emilio takes to the idea with great enthusiasm. Thus he is set for Sweden - or, as he calls it when looking at his tickets, "the ‘eaven of the blonde angels."

The introduction done, First Day in Sweden opens on Emilio's bedroom in Italy, where Emilio's mother is tearfully lamenting to her son the impending departure of her "baby," wondering what her little boy will do all alone in a strange country, despite the latter's objections. At last Emilio wins a respite, and starts his final preparations for the trip (not all of which he would be happy for his parents to discover), and the game begins in earnest.

Once in Sweden (and past one minor airport hurdle), Emilio will meet a variety of people, primarily other exchange students like himself. First met is Sara, who fetches him from the airport (and who is very dissimilar to the image that he imagined for her prior to their meeting), while the others, his fellow students and neighbors, are encountered once Emilio has been delivered to his new room (although a few are only mentioned, not yet met, in Episode 1).

Michelle, the French girl, seems sweet - but communication is hampered by her limited command of the English language. Jonas is Swedish, with a serious demeanor, while Pedro and Miguel, the two students from Spain, appear to have a more fun-loving approach to their scholarship - as exemplified by the game to which they introduce Emilio, and the "initiation" which they require for joining it. Finally (and to Emilio's dismay) only one Swedish girl, Frida, lives on his floor - but on meeting her he seems more than pleased that she does.

This cast is certainly fun, if not at this point terribly deep. However, none get very much time in which to develop in this initial episode, and their characterizations may yet be filled out in the future episodes to come. Furthermore such "light" characters fit well with the casual nature of the game. All of the parts are voice-acted, the acting being overall decent and in a style well-suited to the tone and atmosphere of the game. The parts are nicely-written, as far as they go in this episode, and produce some effective moments of humor, including some obligatory language and communication jokes.

The Exchange Student is an episodic game, likened on its website to an "interactive sitcom," each episode of which is bought and played individually. The comparison is, I would say, very fair, with a sense of humor, style, and characters similar to those which might be found in a television sitcom on top of the aforementioned episodic format.

This first episode primarily acts to set the scene, taking Emilio to his room in Sweden and introducing him (and through him the players) to some of his fellow cast members. As such, little story is told (although at least one plot would seem to have been introduced - that of the "point game")

The graphics which depict the game are overall quite good (if not always perfect). The style is cartoonish and often exaggerated, with colors generally bright and bold - a style which suits the concept and contributes to a fun and casual atmosphere - exactly what one might expect from an "interactive sitcom". The point of view with which the player is presented is the classic static third-person perspective, breaking up Emilio's environment into a number of "areas" which the player can explore.

Animations are usually good, with a nice cartoon flair, although a few are less impressive. The only real annoyance comes when characters pass through doors leading from the current area to another, at which point they simply vanish - a minor nuisance which might perhaps have been avoided by the inclusion of entrance and exit animations.

Both sound and music are on the whole very good. The music is fun, energetic and enthusiastic, producing just the right slightly over-the-top sitcom style for the game. The sound effects work well and are nicely done, although one or too are perhaps just a little too far over-the-top.

Control of Emilio is achieved via a simple and effective mouse-based interface. A single click of the left mouse button on an open spot with the normal cursor instructs Emilio to walk to that point (presuming that the point is not already occupied and that Emilio is free to walk, that is). When the mouse cursor passes over an object, place or person of interest, however, it lights up, indicating that the player may attempt to perform action.

If the left mouse button is clicked when the cursor is over a hotspot, the "Amore" interface appears, consisting primarily of an image of a heart surrounded by three icons: an eye, a hand and a mouth, corresponding roughly to "look at," "use" and "talk to" respectively, although they may take specific meanings similar to these depending on the situation (such as the hand icon denoting taking when it applies to an item that can be taken). A single click on one of these icons instructs Emilio to attempt the indicated action.

The inventory is accessed by moving the mouse to the top of the screen. In general, when the hand icon is selected from the Amore interface for an item in the inventory, Emilio is instructed to use that item. To this end, the cursor becomes the image of that item, gaining a yellow hue when the cursor is over a hotspot. A single click instructs Emilio to attempt to use the item on the indicated person, object or place. Conversely, a single click with such an inventory item cursor on an open spot switches back to the normal cursor.

Conversations are generally carried out by clicking on one of the characters that Emilio encounters and selecting the mouth icon from the Amore interface that should pop up. Should Emilio have anything to say to the indicated person a conversation will follow, usually rather brief, with any further conversation being enacted by subsequent repetitions of the same procedure.

All of this results in a clean, simple interface that is well-suited to the casual nature of this game.

A final interface note is that a "'ints and tips" option is available via a button that appears with the inventory when the mouse cursor is moved to the top of the screen. Clicking on this button causes a box to appear over the game area containing information about what Emilio should be doing and, in some cases, hints as to how he should go about it.

Episode 1 contains few true puzzles; for the most part there are simply tasks which Emilio has to perform in order to move on. Nevertheless, some puzzles do exist, those that do being generally not very difficult. All of these are inventory-based puzzles, involving using the correct inventory item in the right manner and place to achieve the desired result.

In conclusion, The Exchange Student, Episode 1: First Day in Sweden is an enjoyable game. It is short and light, ideal for a game that would seem to intend to cater to the casual gamer market, especially those that might not want to spend large amounts of time on their gaming. The tone is humorous and fun, with a cartoon style and a classic sitcom plot. The characters, if handled well in the coming episodes, could potentially provide a lot of amusement. All in all, First Day in Sweden is a very promising start to the series.

Final Score: 84/100.

The first episode of The Exchange Student can be purchased from the game's official Web site at www.TheExchangeStudent.com.


PC System Requirements:
Windows 98, SE/ME/2000/XP (The Latter Two Recommended)
Pentium II 350 MHz (2 GHz Recommended)
128 MB RAM (256 MB Recommended)
128 MB Video Card
80MB Free Hard Drive Space
Keyboard, mouse, speakers