Madcap isn’t a descriptive word that I use very often, but it certainly applies to Radical Dog’s The Man with the Invisible Trousers.
From the opening menu, in which you can choose from options like “Play” or “Don’t Play,” it’s obvious that tautology informs the game in terms of both its randomized narrative as well as its absurd physics, one thing matters about as much as another.
The premise of the The Man with the Invisible Trousers is a simple one, Johnny’s dead. Four detectives carved from the film noir mold are tasked with investigating the crime and with determining who has killed the fifth member of their squad, the aforementioned Johnny. The player takes on the role of one of the detectives, James, a man with invisible trousers.
Why are James’s trousers invisible? It doesn’t really matter as the game is an absurdist lark, but it is interesting that a platformer would deny the player to see that part of the body that seemingly is most essential to see in order to evaluate and gauge jumping distance, the legs. Nevertheless that need is just as illusionary as James’s pants. It might seem important, but it’s not—much like any of the facts investigated by the private eye in this tale.
Of course, mucking about with the platformer as a genre is kind of what the game is all about. It is a murder mystery in the abstract, with James exploring weirdly organized spaces, running up walls and across ceilings. James can fall through the air sideways, which is good—because he often needs to in order to advance in his investigation.
What does the twisted geometry of the rooms that James has to traverse have to do with collecting clues to identify the murderer? Not much. However, again, this is seemingly the point of the murder mystery itself, which evolves through brief cut scenes every few levels or so, consisting of farcical and hardly useful conversations filled with twisted logic that reveal the background and “personalities” of James’s fellow detectives and suspects (who by the way also “wear” invisible trousers and invisible skirts, defying the notion that James really is the man with the invisible trousers).
When the two female detectives discuss their only other living male colleague, Alistair, for example, one of them observes that he is a liar. How do they know this? Well, because Alistair claims to have fought in World War II. This, of course, cannot be true because as they observe, “It’s 1928. there hasn’t even BEEN a World War II yet.”
Such humor based on the nonsense that can be produced by seemingly rational propositions is matched by the half sensible but nearly inscrutable quality of the physics and geometry of the rooms that James explores to get from one absurd dialogue to the next that will supposedly “reveal” to us the facts about a murder (a murder, which is only half true anyway, as in the first scene Johnny’s corpse informs his fellow detectives Monty Python-style that he is “actually not quite dead”).
Cleverly, the game’s resolution of twisted pathways and the ability to reconsider the sensible way to proceed is to randomize the mystery’s solution. Any one of the detectives (including James) may be responsible for Johnny’s murder, depending on which game load you happen to play at any time, matching the seemingly arbitrary game play, clue acquisition, and often tautological quality of the plot. Invisible stiletto heels found at a crime scene may indicate a murderer as easily as it may just serve as a reminder that James is a sometimes invisible cross-dresser.
The Man with the Invisible Trousers feels like what Lewis Carroll might have considered reasonable game design, that is if Carroll’s nonsense were hybridized with the dialogue from a Raymond Chandler movie script.
Oh, and the game does ask you right from the beginning if you want to play the game’s theme music throughout your playtime. When it does, it notes parenthetically: “(The music is good.)” Believe the parenthetical. It really is good.