Reviews by Sam Kabo Ashwell
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Related reviews: stiffy makane, theory, sex, aif, character portrait, guilt, art, freud
Nemesis Macana is one of those games, like 9:05, that takes less time to play than it does to describe, and which is better-described by playing it. So, the rest of this is going in spoiler-space, and you can come back once you've played it. Oh, right, and it's a Stiffy Makane game, so there will be penises. Consider this your penis warning.
(Spoiler - click to show)Formally speaking, it's not much of a game, and probably better thought of as a character portrait. The great majority of its text comes in the form of the Manifesto, a rambling and uninteractive document in which the fictional author (a sort of sexual Raskolnikov) lays out his tormented position on art, sex, and Stiffy Makane's rightful position at the pinnacle of IF, interlarded with philosophical references and worrying tangents about his girlfriend. The game proper is very short, linear and lightly implemented (albeit with a few gems of parser response here and there), but thick with entertainingly overwrought prose; its basic form roughly mirrors the original Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane.
Since The Undiscovered Country, Stiffy Makane has been a character whose purpose is to wade through a morass of references, to which he is blithely indifferent due to his monomaniacal (but totally unconflicted) focus on sex. The narrator of Nemesis, on the other hand, is heavily invested in Art and has a deep, conflicted loathing of sex. His name is a portmanteau of Shakespeare and Melville (the pale-assed Stiffy plays Moby Dick to Herman's lunatic Ahab); his sexual attitudes are a munge of Victorian propriety, wretched Freud (literal castration? Really?) and overblown, inconsistent towers of theory built upon these.
To a large extent, the game is a parable about the fundamentally neurotic nature of totalising theories, particularly of aesthetics or sex. It's also , like The Undiscovered Country, a critique of the basic crapness of AIF as pornography, the attitude Stephen Bond described as "an inner belief that eroticism, including auto-eroticism, is dirty and shameful; and this no doubt also accounts for the puerile and fucked-up attitude of so much of their Wankstoffe>". (You might also read it as arguing that it's senseless to try and make porn into something artistically valid; Schudspeer's porn stylings are ludicrously unarousing precisely because he's trying to make them worthy of the Bard. Bonus points for the use of the word 'vulva', by the way; there are worse terms for it, I ween, but none quite so horribly suitable.)
Much of my reaction was, oh man, are we even still talking about this? This isn't the 70s, so why do we get a fictional world that works according to Freud's stupid logic? Didn't that go out along with rectal thermometers turning you gay? (When first announced, it was widely assumed that the self-aggrandising Schudspeer was the sockpuppet of a troll; the portrait is too conspicuously hyperbolic to be plausible as sincere.) Then I recalled that we live in an age in which the political apparatus of the most advanced nation on Earth can be distracted for weeks debating whether contraception transforms women into slatterns of Beelzebub. So, okay, the past isn't dead, it's just really creepy. Creepier than Stiffy Makane.
The ending is interesting mostly because the choice you're offered is meaningless, a flip of the coin; either way, you're still the same fucked-up person and nothing has really changed. There's a direct reference to the art-or-love choice in Blue Lacuna, which the game implicitly rejects: in the loveless world of Schudspeer there can be no good art, no good sex, precisely because he's so committed to the idea of their necessary antagonism.
So: if ridiculously over-lyrical prose and fucked-up POVs amuse you, this is a fine way to spend the few minutes it'll take to reach its climax. Shakespeare it ain't, but an engaging creation nonetheless.
Related reviews: classics, ancient rome, stiffy makane, smut, satire, intertextuality, old-school, fantasy, historical fiction, gods
An excellent game, many aspects of which will be deal-breakers for many players. Let's start there.
First, it involves a lot of sex, much of it grotesque. With both genders, a variety of inanimate objects, corpses. There is a great deal of scatology. There are mohel jokes. Yahweh figures as a poor cousin to the Hellenic pantheon. (Spoiler - click to show)You will catch the clap and have it cured with a hash-pipe and a leather mallet. You will be raped and mostly enjoy it. If you are fond of taking offence at things, you will find ample opportunity here.
Second, although its sex operates under porn-logic, it is not really pornographic in motive; there are numerous sex scenes, yes, some of them with attractive people, but they're mostly played for laughs or squick or glossed over in jaded tones: "Of all the times you've ever boned a slatternly servant on a reeking mattress, this is certainly one of them." It's unlikely to function as wankfodder.
Thirdly, considerable background is required. You definitely want at least a passing familiarity with Graham Nelson's Curses (on which it is largely a commentary), Classics in general, and classical satire and comedy in particular. (Apart from anything else, there is at least one point at which insufficient knowledge of mythology can put the game in an unwinnable state.) It also helps to be acquainted with T.S. Eliot, Discordianism, the earlier Stiffy games, AIF conventions, Adventure and a broad swathe of assorted literary and geek lore. The overwhelming majority of players will feel they're missing things; some will feel they're being sneered at. You also have to cheerfully accept that none of this is going to be treated with anything slightly resembling reverence. (Fondness, yes. Reverence, oh my no.)
Fourth, it's quite old-school in structure and style. Scenery is sparse, wacky anachronisms abound, NPCs are very simple, and you're on a MacGuffin quest. It's cruel, too; a good deal of content can easily be missed, and there are several ways to put the game in an unwinnable state without realising it. On the other hand, the puzzles are mostly not very difficult, there are numerous modern conveniences, and the underlying design is well-crafted enough that play is generally smooth; but you will, nonetheless, want to save often.
The good news: if none of these forms a major objection you will probably enjoy Mentula very much indeed. Mentula is not a game that anybody has mild opinions about; it didn't earn a single 5 or 6 score in Spring Thing, and earned more 10s and more 1s than any other entrant. So, the good stuff: it's funny, clever, hugely good-natured, it's an overflowing cornucopia. Okay, it's an overflowing cornucopia in which some of the fruits turn out to be penises, but it's very clearly a game that was an immense amount of fun to write, and it conveys that sense of fun very well.
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