The author wrote two vignettes for Neo Twiny Jam, and although A Crown of Ash was a more evocative title, The Real Me lasted with me a bit longer. It's a story of a fairy who's a trans man, but it cuts a bit more about that, to the general "being a bit different and people know it" to having even people who think they understand failing to understand. They see you as part of a block. This happens with any sort of nonconformism e.g. "I really respect nerds' work ethic. But maybe I could use their brains better!"
Having a fairy as the main character was interesting for me because, well, isn't it cool enough to be a fairy and have magic powers? You should be grateful for that. But of course that's not the whole story. The whole story can't and shouldn't be told in 500 words. But enough is captured of the whole "can you be less weird, please?" sentiment that rapidly spills over into scorn, or imagined scorn that nobody every really tried to curb, that the piece was successful for me.
Neo Twiny Jam was a good time to explore and try things quickly, without going into the weeds. And many authors did, often exploring different themes of identity when submitting more than one entry, or trying for different forms of drama.
But Life of Puck and What They Don't Know, may be the pair of entries by the same author that differs most. It's a tribute to the author's pet rat. Rats, like most pets, don't have too much to do, and the author mentions they wrote this to figure out Twine.
It seems like an excellent choice of a self-tutorial, and technically it covers all the bases. Presentation isn't something I generally care much about, but the soft colors and fonts give a homey feel and add to the fun. It reminded me of an idea I had for a Twine game, about two cats I had. (Maybe next year for Neo Twiny Jam.) I'm sure someone else has a dog story. I hope they share it, to help us through the more serious entries.
There are five total endings, though they're not endings in the normal sense. You just have a new day. There are just moments when you've realized you've exhausted one action more or less, and you don't find that there are five until you choose the "take a break" option. I'd found three by the time I had, and at that point, I was able to remember what I hadn't really tried.
You get no special alert when you hit all five, but then again, pet rats aren't particularly goal-oriented. And it doesn't really feel like lawnmowering, just exploring. Also, looping over the same options several times with the same text doesn't feel repetitive, because rats generally don't worry about that sort of thing (okay. They can memorize their ways through a maze. But that's different.)
I'd feel kind of worried if even a pet rat got loose. But here it's a nice game without any real stress. You get out of the cage that is your daily routine as a human, find the five endings, and go back in that cage yourself once you've had an adventure, so to speak.
metastasis shows that retro or bare-bones feel, a fixed-width font as you describe things clinically, the cursor slowly moving left to right, dispersing scientific information. You're obviously in the sort of laboratory where emoticons are frowned on.
And once you see the choices available, well, there is nothing to smile at--if you read the first passage carefully, you'll note something disturbing at the end. The choices belie the sterility of the lab setting. Riots are mentioned. There's shelter for the lab.
COVID was "inspiration" for a lot of Twine efforts, most of which deal with social isolation head-on. It's a bit more subtle here, in the lab, trying things out, maybe making some progress. You hope. There are four endings, none directly stating what happens, with some easier to figure out than otheres. A couple, I had to repeat to fully get it, and they made more sense once I saw all four. There are not that many choices to make. I slowly pieced things together. Once I did, I realized maybe I could have guessed fully, from the title and the blurb. But watching things unfold would still have been effective.
Not that everything could unfold, with only 500 words to work with for Neo Twiny Jam. A lot of details are left unexplored, but that actually makes the horror greater. Sort of like how COVID was even scarier when we didn't know what it was about, and while we read about mutations and how it lingers, there's a feeling of "oh no I better not go out so much," but we aren't blindsided. Still, three years on, we feel lucky this didn't happen, and we remember it as a real possibility.
Further credit to the author for allowing us to press the space button to bypass the typed-text-on-screen effect, so we could experience the remaining paths at our own speed.
Neo Twiny Jam inspired quite a few entries where protagonists interacted with pets, or where you were an animal. It's not hard to see why--you weren't going to get suckered by detail. It's excusable to use one word instead of a full sentence to describe what you want to do. Oh, and you probably get automatic "cute points." Even without the appealing cover art.
Frog feels like it doesn't rely on said "cute points," which is very good. It quite simply follows the progress of a frog from egg to maturity. There is confusion, and there are roadbumps. The ending was very nice, and you may say "oh, I've seen this before," but for me, it works. There are forces beyond your control that decide whether or not you make it to adulthood.
There are worries about forced charm in an entry like this once we see the picture. If there was any, which I doubt, I am glad I am suckered by it. It was all quite clean and fun and a reminder to be decent to those who are a bit confused.
This was a nice first effort and a reminder not to worry if something you want to write is maybe too light or silly a subject to work. It's yet another Neo Twiny Jam entry that might be trying too hard if it went over 500 words, but it sticks the landing at its current size.
At the start this just looks like another story about meeting a shade rowing a boat on a river. The river and the shade's identity will be obvious to anyone with a passing knowledge of mythology. Yes, it looks like you've died, and there's not much left, except the entrance/exit interview.
It's something the ferryman has clearly done a lot of, playing Death's good cop, letting you know your possessions don't really matter any more where you are going, and that's really okay. There are two pretty clear paths here. I found the path of resistance clever.
You see, you can keep asking "What?" This causes a number to go up on the screen. That number is, in fact, the ferryman's word count. He has a certain plan to small-talk you into submission, and it usually works, and in fact the direct "it can't be me, this can't be happening" approach is shut down quickly. There's the whole cliched bit about seeing the light, and so forth. It's been heard and done before.
But playing dumb and making him speak eventually makes him mad. You start with four candles, and each hundred words the ferryman speaks wipes one out. This plays along nicely with the concept of a 500-word jam, but it still falls within its bounds, since the conversation can cycle. (It's okay to reuse words/passages.)
The small talk on the boat reminded me of when I'd heard small talk that ostensibly was to put me at ease but really it was to stop me thinking, hey, wait, something's off here. And it is, if you pay attention and poke around. You may need several cycles through. The third solution, between meekly accepting your fate and getting zapped by the ferryman, is clever and satisfying.
It also raised a ton of questions for me. Was the ferryman just bored of their job? How did they feel about the people they helped across?
and how death is inevitable, etc. You don't seem to have much choice in the matter. Or do you? There are a couple of clues that may help you figure what is going on, or after a few times poking around randomly, you may figure out the mechanics. Either way, the third ending is rewarding, and you will feel accomplishment at finding it. I'm not spoiling it!
This was the sort of neat puzzle I'd originally hoped to see in Neo Twiny Jam. It took a while to uncover, and in the meantime there was other writing I found and enjoyed. It would be hard to recreate in a parser setting, which might give too many red herrings with standard verbs, and it also plays quite nicely on the jam's theme. So, well done to the author.
THJ is a short reflection on what it means to be happy, or at least to try to be. Of course there are people who will pontificate "don't search for happiness, search for fulfillment/service/enlightenment, etc." These people are tiresome if they do it too often, especially when you are really asking for ways to help certain things make you feel less unhappy. But on the flip side, grabbing it doesn't work. I mean, we don't like it when other people are clingy around us. Not even if we're the mean sort of people who laugh at others for being too clingy. But all the same, we do want to go reach out and find it and save it when we can for a rainy day.
It's hard to capture how fleeting happiness can be, and in this, the two main characters place a happy thought in a jar a day, to take it out when necessary. But when is it necessary? When do we realize we were happy? I know too often I've been captivated by someone who is clever with dialogue, but they were just selling the sizzle and not the steak. And yet -- happiness is that undefinable sizzle. And this shows through in the writing, as small arguments become big ones. You click through to see more text, and it's never clear where the next thing to click will be. Again, chasing happiness, thinking you've pinned it down, and it changes. Until it doesn't and you realize there's no more happiness to chase.
I found this quite an effective way of grasping something that seems obvious when you're five but is confusing now. It's clearly much sadder than SpongeBob trying to explain fun to Plankton, but it does search for things and acknowledge others do, too. And it highlights pitfalls to happiness without pointing the finger at you for falling into ones you should have avoided. It reminded me of the times I wrote something down and was thrilled to, then I worried it might lose excitement to read it too soon, or too late. Nevertheless, the arguments the characters had reminded me of times I was happier than I thought I was and times I convinced myself I was happy when I wasn't. I enjoyed the perspective.
CotC dropped very late in Neo Twiny Jam. On the heels of One Word Warlock and Curse of the Bat's Tomb and Tiny Barbarian's Big Adventure, I wondered just how complex the maze would be! Would there be RPG stats, even?
I'd guessed wrong, though. CotC is certainly sophisticated, but it's more about nuance and emotion and fear and need to escape than anything else. You are, in fact, a sword. You have some sort of sentience. You need to find the right person who will wield you to get out or, as the tagline says, ... better luck next century.
You have some control of the human that takes you, and apparently there's some luck defeating the guard(s) involved. The text is more focused on you worries about getting out and building tension than the directions.
The big question is what happens once you're free from your pedestal. The game's mood quickly establishes there is no easy happy ending. Well, for the character. As a player, it was satisfying, but I don't want to spoil it. Even if you're able to guess, it's worth playing through. The author clearly spent a lot of time on high production values, which paid off. This left it more memorable and worth a replay than a lot of the mood pieces I looked at and, yes, enjoyed as well.
I'm probably never going to have anything I waited a century for. But I know what it's like to wait for something and maybe grab it too quickly. Heck, I remember that one year I forgot about free Slurpees on July 11th until July 12th! (I got them next year.) I took time to think of all this and more, after I failed a few times. Then, I succeeded.
One might even picture the author thinking something similar about creating their game for Neo Twiny Jam. Was this a good idea? The last NTJ was eight years ago. Is there enough here to make a splash? Am I taking on too much? I don't want to have to wait eight more years. (Yes, the jam coordinators want to make this a yearly thing. Yes, that'd still be a while to wait, though I hope people who just missed the deadline are ready ASAP if/when it starts next year.) I'm glad they got it right in one try. Or maybe they tried once a week to write something until they finally got something good, and it slipped in under the wire.
I still have a pile of the author's games from recent Twine jams to look through and hopefully review if I have anything constructive to say about them. It's one of those things--I'm worried about just being a bad matchup as a reader, and yet, I also know that the potentially bad matchups that work out are what really help flip a switch to say aha, I see this or that, now.
The core of Sweetpea for me was waiting for an unreliable parent and also finding creative ways to avoid tackling problems head-on, because some are tough to face as a kid (or as an adult.) You should just go down to the door and let your father in, but you emotionally can't. You're distracted by other stuff.
There's also more than a suggestion of alcoholism, but there are no waving bottles of booze, and it's likely better that way. And the waiting is quite tense and good, looking around your mansion for good memories from your young life with your father. Everything seems off. Even trying to open the window is a chore. Along the way, someone or something called Michael is described. They are important.
I found myself doubting whether or not the father would actually improve. What is clear is that he means to, and it is not trivial. And it reminded me of adults who failed to improve, with various degrees of ability or motivation to, and I remember feeling like Sweetpea, that they would figure this adult stuff out, even if they were not extra-super-brilliant. They don't. Well, we don't.
I found the imaginary-friend bits quite emotionally realistic as even though I'm too old for imaginary friends, I still picture someone faceless dishing out general guidelines on how Things Must Be, or what would writer X or Y that I like say about the situation? Oh, of course they can't help me, and they don't know, but the distraction helps me cope.
I had some small issues at first with what seemed like a loop, but I assume that's just to capture a child's hesitancy to go forward with what really matters and instead latch on to a safe choice that might avoid conflict, so that worked. The key is to note that you'll have a choice if there is a horizontal-rule break.
I've read through twice and noticed a lot of clues I missed the first time through. I'm still not quite sure how much of the end is Sweetpea's imagination. Sadly, even after something like the end, some people who mean to do better can't keep it up. But I enjoyed the descriptions of waiting and delay and procrastination that were well above "life sucks, why do anything." A few of them hit home for me, ones probably much happier for Sweetpea than her father, who probably didn't know how much certain small things had done for her, who may not have been trying to do anything nice, but it left a small memory for her. We should all strive to capitalize on memories like this, and in this case, it's not clear how happy the memories really are for Sweetpea as she searches through the mansion to do anything but face her father, but they are better than what she has.
This is one of those "something's up" games. I hope to avoid spoilers in the review proper, but you are in a car, and there is, as the title suggests, a collision up ahead. You have many things to try, but not much works in six turns. Still, you get to restart pretty easily. So it is just a matter of lawnmowering, right? There are only so many options!
The descriptions are purposefully odd, with two-word sentences that work well for who you are and the constraints of Neo Twiny Jam. There are optional sound effects and, rather neatly, options for French or English text. While the last may not strictly speaking add value, it could be a useful learning tool that's far more interesting than, say, asking Arnaud or Francois where the bathrooms are or what time it is.
It's not the first helplessness simulator and won't be the last, but it's unique. Some not-quite-full spoilers ahead: (Spoiler - click to show)the cover art is a big clue, and it may've helped me guess what was going on in-game, though it (rightly) didn't clue the way through.
Of course, viruses have been a big thing since 2020, what with COVID. It almost made us forget those other viruses that sprang up back in 2000--computer viruses! I guess the term malware is used now, as a more overarching term for "bad stuff people can do to your computer without you knowing it."
But virus is still a term. And here the author plays on it. You, as Dr. Sam Cure (unless you want to change your name, which is a nice touch,) have a choice between defusing a biological and computer virus. The original Twiny Jam had a 300 word limit, so I guess both of these games would've fit in there.
There are a few branches, and if you pick the wrong one you get gaffled by the FBI or IRS (the computer virus is a tax-fraud scheme,) or worse. There were some sudden deaths and all, but this being a 500-word jam, there wasn't much to recover, and we couldn't expect a detailed response.
Besides, the cheery colorful cartoon pictures (even the one where law enforcement is frowning) make up for it immediately. I didn't notice this right away, because my internet was slow, but once they started popping up, I tracked back around to the insta-deaths to see them all. You can do this with no problem in a short game!
There is one puzzle, figuring out the password for the computer, because computer conspiracies and passwords of course go together. It's of the "it's in the game text somewhere, and all the other words aren't particularly highlighted" type. But that is okay. Not every Neo Twiny Jam entry provides deep social commentary here. In fact, it might become exhausting. TUV advertises a good time, and it gives one.