I recently re-read the book "In the beginning was the command line" by Neil Stephenson, a somewhat rambling account of the rise of GUIs and its effect on society. He uses an extended metaphor with cars to explain user interfaces and quips that driving a car with a Windows-style GUI would be a dreadful experience... yeah, I couldn't help but think about that as I played this.
The tendency to put a slick, commercial user-interface over everything was only starting to happen as Neil wrote the book in the 90s, and the tendency he noticed has grown exponentially since.
I do a lot of my reading on Kindle and in order to access my books, I need to swipe through an ad. Microsoft Office want me to pay every year for the privilege of using a program I already paid for once. When I got my new laptop, the start menu showed ads for Minecraft and helpfully loaded a windows store so I could feed more money in the maws of corporations. If I where to tweet about this, a half-dozen trackers would analyze every word to determine which brands to advertise to me, along with whatever other piece of personal information they can sell off. Facebook hides half my friends posts from me, Youtube keeps telling me to watch a video about a topic I stopped caring about months ago and will force as many clip down my throat of this comedian someone linked me to as it can fit on the screen.
Everything is clunky and slow, everything wants to nickle-and-dime me. Everything wants to make my decisions for me. This is the world this game takes place in: a near future where Stephensons quip about driving a car with a GUI has become reality and everyday transportation is as easy as using a computer or a phone...
...that is to say, clunky and slow, full of microtransactions and with automated programs trying to make decisions for you.
(Spoiler - click to show)The protagonist is being driven by their car to their spouse's funeral and this provides a backdrop to expose the clueless nature of the algorithms that govern their life. To the algorithms, their dead spouse is just an Important Person In Your Life to be used for emotionally manipulative advertisements or to keep you clicking on spotify for the illusion of social interaction through licensed music and their funeral is just an Event they are trying to get to, same as a gala or a business meeting.
The game is a very short, obvious satire, but it's a competently made satire, and at least to me, a welcome one.
This game accomplishes a lot in a very small space. It makes use of the Selkie myth to establish motivation fast and the bulk of the story is a tensely narrated escape sequence that I found very engaging. I really liked the mechanics of shapeshifting in this and how its described in a visceral way. This is a great read if you like the sort of vignettes Ectocomp tends to produce and I'd also recommend it for people looking to write for Sub-Q as it shows how you can tell a great story in the small wordcount provided.
I am perhaps uniquely qualified to review this as I'm known to have written several games about talking horses that are, ahem... similar to a certain popular cartoon series. I therefore tend to make note of anything IF-related with ponies in it as it makes me feel less alone.
The thing about fandom though is that different kinds of fans want different things out of fanfiction, be it fixing continuity flaws, exploring the worldbuilding or experimenting with tone and subject matter in a way that simply wouldn't fly in the show... or they want a scenario where they can wander around Ponyville while mares throw themselves at them for no adequately explained reason and that's what this game caters to.
You are a newcomer to Ponyville, a free love commune that has evidently adopted smoochies as an alternative form of currency and your goal is to lock lips with as many of the residents as possible, which earns you achievements and points. As saucy as the premise is, it's a surprisingly tame game, with kisses and hearty GLOMP!s being the most explicit thing that happens.
The writing is uninspired and completely lacks spark. There's nothing that even approaches an evocative physical description, perhaps because the author expects the stock backgrounds and fanmade vectors to do the heavy lifting. The room descriptions we do get is very terse and functional, to the point of unintentional(?) humour:
"You are at the Market area.
This is where most ponies live."
"You are in the West District.
This is the west district where ponyville goods are manufactured."
"You are at Sweet apple acres.
This is one of ponyville's best sellers! They have 23,139 apple trees!"
It is room descriptions by way of wikipedia stubs and I could almost imagine it as one of the dream sequences in Birdland where I am tasked with demonstrating the functions of a human fanfiction writer.
There is absolutely no characterization involved whatsoever and nothing that demonstrates why you'd want to have romantic attention done to you by these characters unless you have already watched the show and have an attachment to them from there.
The romantic scenarios are presented as matter-of-factly as the room descriptions and again with very little that demonstrates why you should find them appealing. For example, the "tough girl who's playing hard to get but secretly just want luuv" is not a complex fantasy, but in order for that to work, there needs to be something to demonstrate that dynamic.
You can't simply, as happens with Rainbow Dash, have the character state she's not easy, and then decide to kiss you anyway because "you're cute." I'm not here to slut-shame the pony (this is a sentence I just typed), but kissing random strangers is about as easy as you can get.
I was kinda holding out hopes that the game would open up in unexpected ways, like Super Lesbian Horse RPG (SLHRPG, with a remake in process called Super Lesbian Animal RPG), which is a fanmade game that presents itself as being a silly shipping-game much like this one, but is actually a very charming Earthbound-parody with absurdist humor that wouldn't be out of place in Undertale. Unless I missed something as I was playing, this did not happen and it is by all accounts a straightforward fantasy that does little to make it appealing.
The text of this game is copied wholesale from "Herland" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and it, by all accounts intentionally, does a poor job communicating this fact. There is a hint towards its origin, but it's not anything that could be called disclosure: you have to a) be well-versed in obscure concept art AND read between the lines to get it. All it really does is establish that yes, the author misrepresented their own game deliberately and they are prolly feeling very smug about it.
This is not something I can judge by the standards of fiction, interactive or otherwise. This is a ploy, if it's not deliberate trolling and all I can really do is inform people of this fact.
A short, silly little game about being a cat looking for a place to rest. You are rather picky with your spots, a cat of your stature can't just sleep anywhere, y'know? It's an amusing exercise in anthropomorphism, imagining what the reasoning behind typical cat behavior is. If there is one thing I had a problem with is having good and "bad" endings in a game where the stakes are pretty low and it basically boils down to "uh oh, you found a... less than comfortable place to rest." That's still pretty funny though.
A gorgeous-looking Twine with a surreal Twin Peaks-esque atmosphere that is open to interpretation, but contain themes of reluctance to move on, very much recommended.
One of my favorite things about this game is reading reviews from people who either don't know about Burning Man or didn't connect this game to it. Absent this context, it kinda sounds like this strange magical realist story as opposed to a pretty accurate depiction of Burning Man, by all accounts.
Because it's such a celebration of Burning man, I think you reaction to this will depend on your feelings about the festival. Personally, I just like the fact that something that strange exist in the world and I'm fascinated by the contradictions surrounding it. Since I am scandinavian, on the wrong continent, and would die in a desert, this is prolly the closest I'll ever get to experiencing it.
This is a game about lacking motivation, so the default look is at least thematically fitting, although it does not make it feel less lackluster.
I enjoyed it perhaps more than I should judging by its quality as it hit a little close to home in some ways. I actually like default Sugarcane, but I have to admit the text is hard to read unless zoomed in.
I'd like to commend the use of art here. It is simple and not very anatomical but that's FINE. I think it adds to the story, giving a warm, emphatic sense to the world. I think a mistake people sometimes do, both when judging their own art and when judging others in illustrated mediums is that they judge the art separate from the writing, when visual art intended to be presented on its own and illustrations are trying to accomplish very different things.
So yes, the art is fine, I like having it there. Simple styles has its own challenges and aren't necessarily "easier" than more complex art. I am not as keen on the music, though. I prefer not having having music in IF, but the game has a pretty clear visual novel-influence, that's the sense from some of the design choices: A long, mostly linear intro, a few choices at key moments that shape the story, a save function with more slots than seems strictly necessary, and of course, the use of art and music.
I enjoyed it a lot and I very much recommend it. It may not blow anyone away, but there's a certain thing that I like in stories that I can't quite articulate, and this is more or less doing that thing.