Reviews by Andrew Schultz

Spring Thing 2022

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Good Grub!, by Damon L. Wakes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Low-level, self-aware heckling is the best kind of heckling, December 30, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

Good Grub embraces its limitations as a no-frills Twine game enthusiastically, and I think it does so without going overboard. Teaching facts without coming off as pompous is tough. And with GG, the idea is that bugs are good to eat. We've heard it, but unfortunately, the people loudest about this are the least likely to listen. GG takes a fake on-the-nose tone through it all, though there's not a ton. It reminds me of that clip in Wayne's World where Alice Cooper and Pete Friesen, his guitarist, educate Wayne in semi-stilted voices about the history of Milwaukee. I still remember these facts, and the presentation to this day! And I enjoy it when I find it elsewhere.

GG can't master Alice and Pete's voice inflections, being text and all, but the script is decidedly snarkier, and it works well for the time it takes. It's about starting a restaurant. It pokes you if you try to guess something wrong, but often in random ways. For instance, choosing the worst possible name for your restaurant gets a "Stop that. Try again." But other things that seem less fatal do, in fact, ruin your budding business. This sort of randomness has been done before in Twine games, but it's not purely zany here. The choices are always fresh. With easy UNDO, it's fun to see which actually matter, too, because GG is short enough you can do that without getting exhausted.

It's hard not to sound a bit moralistic or preachy when talking about subjects such as sustainability, and GG's tone works throughout. You take transport to your interview, where the reporter tries your fare. Your restaurant's success is at stake! It's a surprisingly dramatic moment.

GG is a good blend of entertainment and teaching--nothing too deep, but there can be a thin line between preaching and giving people a boost and encouragement for open-mindedness. Lots of people still don't like the thought of eating bugs--they prefer to eat smarter, more sentient animals. So it's a good tongue-in-cheek advertisement for that sort of thing, as well as the author's other games.

The Bright Blue Ball, by Clary C.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Animal protagonist, unusual verbs, smooth experience, May 16, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

I didn't get to look at nearly as many Spring Thing games as I'd hoped, but all the same, I'm glad I got to The Bright Blue Ball. It's surprisingly cheery for something with the topic BBB has, and I don't think I was the only one who needed that. I'm more a cat person than a dog person, but I wound up being quickly invested in the protagonist, who escapes from their safe home to look impulsively for, as the title suggests, a bright blue ball. It's their favorite, and they know they should know better, and they feel bad the moment they're out the door, but they have to find it. And they have quite an adventure before coming home.

It's no spoiler to mention that, yes, you do find the ball, meeting people along the way and solving the mystery for you-the-player without you-the-character fully understanding what's going on beyond their own needs and the needs of humans they meet in a deserted town. This is hardly new, but here it doesn't feel forced, and so I had the impression the author had good command of the story side of things. For instance, if you went back home too early, your family would say different things based on how far along you were in the game. As to why they can't or won't go outside, while others are, that makes a good deal of sense quickly. The constraints, such as being able to carry only one thing at once because you are a dog, aren't just there as a nuisance. They add to the realism, and here the inventory limits are complemented by not having a lot of useless items.

As an example of the strength of the game world, I ran into a game-state problem where I was locked out of a win (I took a circuitous route that missed a few clues and thus stress-tested things rigorously,) and it was pretty clear, because a room description conflicted with the narrative built up. But it was easy to remember what to do, and I enjoyed seeing clues I'd missed, and so forth. When something potentially disastrous like that works out okay, you know you have something good. And if this is fixed in the latest release, so much the better!

While it's dreadfully unfair to compare a first-time author's work to something like Toby's Nose in detail, I think it carves out emotions and story that Toby's Nose doesn't, and it offers promise that there are others. I'd like to see more games where SMELL is a prominent command. And I think the technical mistakes I saw were that of a first-time author, so if they have something else to share, I'm looking forward to their next work. They seem to have the important and harder-to-teach things right.

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