This is Ludonarrative Scramble! Over the course of a week, I play a handful of (mostly) free, small, indie narrative games (visual novels, IF, text adventures, etc), and talk about them.
This week’s theme: Games about and featuring dads!
Dev: Orthogonal Games
Genre: supernatural, drama; narrative adventure
My Playtime: ~30 min
The actual game didn’t quite feel like what I expected from the description, but that’s okay, because what was inside was wonderful! Somber and mellow, it does a lot with very little, creating a bottle-episode that swings through time and memory.
Admittedly, it’s almost a little overwhelming when you first start it up. There’s a lot the game wants you to do right away and it takes a bit to orient yourself. You’re not just looking for clues, you’re entering memories and looking for clues there. Then once you’ve discovered clues, you have to seek out items to complete a desire but also leave room for compromise in each subsequent chapter. But, oh, also, don’t be seen or you’ll spook the family, and it will all be for naught.
Even just getting through the first chapter, I want to come back in “story” mode to play it again without the fear of getting caught just to easier see how things play out. A wonderful narrative adventure so far that I will be coming back to.
Dev: Tristan Arkham
Genre: survival, drama; day management, stat builder
My Playtime: ~25 min; 1/? endings, 3 playthroughs
This is extremely polished for a jam game, especially a 72 hour one. It perfectly captures the feeling of monotony and ennui of modern life, that sort of soul-crushing feeling of one step forward two steps back.
Which is why I don’t know how to feel about the fact that I think this game might be impossible to “win.” I’m reminded, vaguely of Papers, Please, in the way you have to balance your humors (so to speak) and you never know what new thing is going to cascade into ripples of terribleness. BUT at least you know there has to be a way to win. With this one, I’m really not so sure.
So part of it’s like, okay, cool, but then what’s the point? Then the other part of it is Okay! Cool! What’s the point 😉
Dev: Different Game Studios
Genre: family drama; visual novel
My Playtime: ~20 min; 2/? endings
This game was very sweet and very moving, if a little rough around the edges technically. I’m actually quite fond of the character sprite art, but it wasn’t complemented as well as it could have been by the backgrounds and UI elements. Which, I don’t like to nitpick that kind of thing, too much, but the way the windows swiped in was a little distracting. It also took a little veneer off the polish. Just making some slight changes would have moved it out of “hastily made with pre-fab assets” feel to “it’s supposed to look like that.”
The choices are presented a little oddly in a sort of player agency sense, but not something game-breaking for me. I think I would have liked to see just a little more attention paid to the overall aesthetic, is all.
A really great use of very simple assets, though, that are still very evocative.
Genre: dramedy; visual novel
My Playtime: ~1 hour; 1/6 endings
This game’s a little bit of an example case of where metatheatre can both succeed and fail. It starts off strong with a “hey, I’m making you aware you’re playing a game,” but it almost doesn’t lean far enough into it. The game directly talks to you, calling you the string-puller and reminding you you have the ability to restart and save scum, but it doesn’t really do anything novel with those ideas. It’s not really peeling back any layers or juxtaposing itself with the mechanics, just reminding you they exist and snarking about it. I feel like it could have more smoothly incorporated those 4th wall breaking elements into the narrative so that the meta-textual examination is a little more organic, not just being flat-out told “oh, think about yourself as the puppet master.” You can create a multi-route game where the only way to get the full picture is to play all the routes without immersion breaking. Once you purposefully break immersion at the basic gameplay level, you can’t go back from that. You have to do something with it.
That being said, even though it was a little slow to start, there’s a marvelous dry humor in the dialogue and the situational comedy. I would have liked a little more of a push on the mystery element to actually keep me invested enough to play the additional routes and learn the whole story, but I enjoyed the characters. Maybe I’ll come back, maybe I won’t. Maybe I picked the wrong character route to start with.
The art is cute, and they make wonderfully efficient use of their sprite modularity. Normally, I’m a little bothered by a lot of arm movements in my sprites, but this one struck a good balance. The pink aesthetic clashes in a fun way with the theme and story, very pink and poppy.