This is an autobiographical game about undergoing chemo for breast cancer. The game does not go into detail about the chemo treatment itself but instead the aftermath and effects on the author’s daily life when they come home.
The gameplay is in second person. My impression is that you do not play specifically as the author in the but instead as a relatively neutral protagonist who portrays the author’s real-life experiences. I could be wrong about that. Either way the emotions and struggles experienced during chemo shine through and paint a picture of what it is like to manage basic routines in life when you feel sick or have physical and mental fatigue.
The player has tasks that they need to complete such as showering, washing the dishes, meeting with friends, and devoting time to personal projects. As chemo continues, they have less energy to work on these tasks which requires that the player prioritize even though it means leaving other things unfinished. They can also ask their partner for help which demonstrates how a person can be a support system in your life but also conveys how asking for help can make one feel like a burden.
The game rates the protagonist’s state of mind with the phrase “You don't feel much shame about the chaos in your life," which changes as life grows more hectic. Next would be “You feel a little shame about the chaos in your life,” and so forth. I thought that this was effective in demonstrating how the effects of chemo accumulate both in mundane things such as maintaining an apartment but also how it shapes more complex areas in your life, especially self-confidence and anxiety. As chemo advances so does the protagonist.
The writing was heartfelt and descriptive. One that stood out to me was “all of a sudden the big wave of energy you've been riding crests, and washes you up on your sofa like a dead jellyfish.” This illustrated how a moment where you feel uplifted and capable can fall flat because of a new development, such as needing to return to the hospital for another round of chemo despite wanting to spend your day on other things. The writing lets the player glance into this daily experience.
Then there is the (Spoiler - click to show) overwhelming sense of triumph of having gone through chemo and emerging knowing that A, it has helped in assuring that you are cancer-free, and B, that you can now regain your life with renewed enthusiasm. The best part is at the end of the game when the protagonist comes home “The Day After Chemo” (this milestone also shares the title of the game) after the whole chemo ordeal is over. There are no dishes or laundry or chores that need to be done. Just an open block of time. The protagonist decides to use that time to make a Twine game about what it took to reach that point.
There are three cycles of chemo that each consist of a few days. The game alternates with different colour backgrounds as each day passes and incorporates colour-coded text with links. Occasionally a few are difficult to read but most were a fun splash of colour. There are occasional text effects which added some movement to the gameplay.
The Day After Chemo is a candid game about cancer and recovery, and I am glad that the author chose to share this story through a Twine format. Its short gameplay balances the daily struggles of chemo with the rewards of having a good day. It is basic, straightforward, and well worth playing.
Our protagonist is Karen Zhao, a high school junior from Massachusetts. Her full name is Qiuyi (Karen*) Zhao, but she goes by Karen. One day Karen’s mom informs her that she has been signed up for a beauty pageant, with the argument that it would diversify her extracurriculars for college. Karen, knowing that she cannot refuse, has no choice but to add pageant preparation to her long list of responsibilities.
This is a story about being forced to step out of your comfort zone while life adds extra surprises into the mix. As the player you must manage her hectic life and hopefully win the pageant.
*The player can actually choose her English name, but I always found myself sticking to Karen since it is the default. I will refer to her as Karen in this review.
Each week the player has three time slots that they can use on a list of activities including preparing for the pageant or attending Science Olympiad study sessions. There are additional activities on the weekend although those usually deviate from school. This management of responsibilities involves some strategy and provides incentives for replay. The gameplay will have “Introspection” segments where you can check your progress in preparing for the pageant and other goals.
There are no individual (Spoiler - click to show) stand-alone endings. No “Ending 1” or “Ending 2.” Instead, the game assesses the player in different categories such as their performance in Science Olympiad or their final relationship status with one of the characters. The pageant, being the focus of the game, is the closest thing to an overarching ending. You either win it or lose it (although losing it comes in a few different flavors). Based on your performance you may unlock achievements at the end of the game. I liked this format because it feels more flexible in its assessment of the player’s choices.
I only have two technical issues. The first is that if you (Spoiler - click to show) win a slot as co-captain the achievement remains locked on the achievements page. The second issue is that I have been unable to (Spoiler - click to show) win anything other than a bronze medal with Audrey for Science Olympiad. I looked at the source code and saw that it is possible to win a gold metal if you study enough with her. However, even when I spent every study session with her, I would always get bronze. The player has a limited amount of study sessions with Science Olympiad partners. Study sessions are once a week but stop long before the weekend of the competition. This means you need to choose which teammates get more interaction.
Story + Characters
Three main themes kept surfacing: the clash of perspectives between Karen and her parents, the stress of preparing for collage, and her identity as a gay young woman. Anxiety is a major theme. There is anxiety with school and parental expectations, the stress of wondering if you are good enough for your dream collage topped off with being acutely aware that your peers all seem to have the same ambitions as you. But for this review I am going to focus on the other two themes.
Karen was born in China and traveled to the US with her parents. The intersection of parental traditions and her experience as a modern teen are themes that are heavily explored in this game. Sharing family stories is a common activity. (Spoiler - click to show) For Karen, this sometimes cultivates feelings of guilt about the severity of her parents’ upbringing in comparison to her own. Her parents had to worry about things that she takes for granted and yet her struggles are unique to her own experience. Daily life also involves regular interactions with the local Chinese community. Potlucks and get-togethers are typical weekend activities. (Spoiler - click to show) During this the parents chat about their children’s grades and social activities. In these conversations is a traditional sense of what roles children should take. But for young people like Karen, Emily, and Audrey these norms may feel dated. That is not to say that they reject their heritage. One of my favorite parts in the game is when (Spoiler - click to show) Karen and Audrey are encouraged to sing with the adults during Bible study.
There is one loose string that caught my attention. If the player (Spoiler - click to show) interacts with Karen's family enough, they reach an encounter where Karen's father learns that she is gay by noticing the books that she checked out from the library. He tries to talk to her about it, but the situation is so overwhelming that she runs into her room, locking her door. The scene is short and intense enough that you would expect to see a follow up later in the game, but it never happens. Not even at the end of the game where it summarizes her relationship with her family. Given that these topics are a prominent theme in the story I was surprised that the game did not build on the encounter.
Karen is gay but hides it from her parents and most people. The game conveys the frustration of having her parents talk casually about marriage and grandchildren when a core aspect of herself completely goes against it. She also interacts with Emily, who is (Spoiler - click to show) transgender and struggles with not being able to be her true self around her parents and their expectations. Emily’s parents know bits and pieces but ultimately, she has not yet come out to them. Emily was one of my favorite characters because she introduces Karen to big questions. Throughout the game Karen and Emily may choose to counsel each other or simply chat. Emily is also one out of three characters that the player can pursue a romantic relationship with.
A defining plot point is if the player makes it to the (Spoiler - click to show) research event called “Emily and the Professor.” Karen participates with research in a lab managed by Professor Chan who is also Emily’s father. In this scene, he brings Emily to watch Karen give a presentation, referring to Emily as his son and asking Karen to teach “him” about science. The player can choose to proceed with the presentation or step down and say that they are not ready. With the latter choice the player chooses not to be a part of Professor Chen’s attempt to force an identity on Emily. Choosing this option is clearly a risk for Karen but it feels empowering. We see the culmination of their friendship in the face of uncomfortable situation. It is an eye-opening moment not just for Karen but for the player as well.
The game has a crisp look, almost like the text is written on a piece of stationary or index card. The textbox area is set in a white box sent against a cream background and accented with grey lines and red links. Together it creates a simple but polished appearance. I liked how the game incorporates more than one language. It uses Mandarin characters with italicized translations. This game is made with Dendry which adds some variety to the development systems that I have encountered.
This was the first game I played by Autumn Chen who is an incredible author. Everything is well-written, concise yet meaningful. Karen is a memorable character who is relatable and unique. Because of this, (Spoiler - click to show) winning the pageant feels more like a victory. I highly recommend the game, especially if you are interested in the slice-of-life genre.
Also: There is also a sequel game called New Year’s Eve, 2019. It features Karen in her senior year. (CORRECTION: Senior year of collage)
You have moved to a new town after landing a new job. There is no sure way to know what is in store for you, so you decide to take it one day at a time. Can you keep a positive attitude?
The gameplay cycles in a loop, with each loop consisting of a single workday. The protagonist wakes up, goes to work, and returns home to spend some free time. The interactivity mostly consists of choosing what to do after work. These choices influence the player’s stats which determines the protagonist’s performance at work the next day. The player manages six stats. These stats are fitness, relationship with friends, relationship with family, time spent working on a personal project, time spend on playing video games to relax, and tiredness.
My main critique is that these stats decrease too quickly. Over the course of five days, you go from (Spoiler - click to show) being “You’re in great shape” to “You've become weak and have visibly gained weight.” Sure, it is probably possible to gain weight in less than a week, but this seems drastic to go from the highest level for this stat down to its lowest level in so little time. Or if you do not check Facebook after a few days the game says, “You're sad about losing contact with your friends,” which is the lowest level for this stat. If the player has too many stats at the lowest level, they lose the game. There is only time for two activities per day (or three at the expense of being more tired) and managing all six stats is an uphill battle. There are also no weekends or days off at all which seems unrealistic for a game that simulates a workplace environment. If you are (Spoiler - click to show) extremely tired, you can sleep in and skip going to work which gives you the entire day to improve your stats. Unfortunately, your boss will fire you which ends the game.
The game does a decent job of capturing the monotony of a job and I like the idea of having random events outside of the protagonist’s job thrown in to make it more realistic. However, the only special event that occurs is (Spoiler - click to show) when your car breaks down, requiring that you get it fixed. I think that the game would have been stronger if it added more of this variation and focused on strategizing with life events rather than leaving the player to drown in managing stats.
The difficulty of managing stats in this game results (Spoiler - click to show) in a poorly implemented ending. Once the player builds up too many low stats the game suddenly says, “You can't sleep because your life sucks. GAME OVER” which is followed by a link called, “Continue?” The game lets you keep playing but it is impossible to improve your situation. This was frustrating and felt sloppy. Perhaps the game is trying to make the point that sometimes it is too overwhelming to manage so many areas of your life all in one go. But the way the game conveys this with its ending is ineffective.
Is it possible to win this game? If you mean in terms of (Spoiler - click to show) the protagonist succeeding at their job than I believe the answer is no. But I did find an ending that could be interpreted as a win. You end up being recruited by a secret organization that sponsors people to win track races. That means quitting your job, which the protagonist gleefully does. The mysterious man who recruits you explains that you will be flown to an island where a new track is being built, the first of its kind. The game then ends on a cliff hanger and says that the story will continue in a game called Job Quest II: Jog Quest. I am not sure if the author is planning to produce this game, but it would be cool to see where the story goes. It also sounds more exciting than the desk job featured in Job Quest. I must admit this secret ending made me smile.
The game has a clean visual appearance. It uses black text and blue links inside a white box with a small border against a grey screen. I have seen this colour and format design in other Twine games and it always succeeds in creating a polished look without being overly stylized.
I like the game’s concept of settling into a new job. The briefness of each day keeps a steady pace and simplifies the gameplay. All you need to do is balance the activities that you do in your free time. The downside is that the implementation of the protagonist’s stats makes the game feel clunky. The player feels like it is impossible to win, and any premature ending feels especially incomplete. Nonetheless, this game is another take of the slice-of-life workplace genre that carries its own charm. If you feel like playing an idle Twine game that (Spoiler - click to show) may or may not have a secret ending than give Job Quest a try.
This is a Twiny Jam game of less than 300 words about a parent casting a critical eye over you and your possessions before you leave on an excursion. It reminds me of being in the dead of winter about to leave when your parents interject that your jacket is not warm enough or that those shoes will be painful for your feet halfway through the day (and usually they are right). This game follows a similar concept.
At the start of the game, you select either a mom or a dad to be the parent in the gameplay. When you try to leave your parent stops you and comments on the (Spoiler - click to show) practicality of your clothes, the amount of food you have, how you intend on keeping yourself safe, and whether or not you snatched something sneaky when they were not looking. For each of these prompts the player selects one of three links that influence the dialog. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) when asked about food you may say trout, mushrooms, or rabbit which each result in a different response. This is the height of the interactivity in this game. It is a short game and needs to be because it was submitted to a game jam with specific rules, but it still felt like it could have been more substantial. The game's ending is sweet and sentimental but a little abrupt.
We never get any backstory on the protagonist's journey. I am curious to know why they are inspired to (Spoiler - click to show) don a "rakish hat sporting peacock feathers" or have a "mark of Grun" to ensure their safety. The writing suggests that the protagonist will be weathering the raw elements during the trip and risk the possibility of encountering bandits. There are tiny little details that hint at a surreal world but none of it comes into play.
In conclusion, this is a short and simple Twine game that can be reasonably relatable. There is not really a specific audience in mind or a dominant message but if you are looking for something brief and positive than this game is a good choice.
This appears to be a somewhat autobiographical story about a game designer creating a cover letter for a job interview. It is a familiar concept, but the author makes it personal by capturing the struggles that come with trying to create a flawless cover letter to wow your potential employers. The gameplay is short but shows off creative visuals that take the experience to another level.
Now, my understanding is that a CV and a cover letter are two different, though similar, documents prepared in an application. The CV gives the nuts and bolts of one’s skill set and experience whereas a cover letter is a bit more personal. It focuses on providing a statement on the applicant’s intent and motivation for applying. Technically, the game only has the player write a cover letter.
First the gameplay has the player “research” the company that they are applying for: GameHouse. This information is then used to construct a draft that the player edits by clicking on links that cycle through responses. The game really captures the anxiety of trying to sound professional without bragging or trying to impress with your people skills without coming off as fakey.
The links cycle through options that consist of the protagonist fumbling with the writing. This shines a light into the protagonist’s thought process of writing which is a strength in this game since it makes it more relatable. However, the gameplay does not give the player the flexibility to choose the tone or quality of the finished letter. As you (Spoiler - click to show) cycle through each link the quality of the writing may improve until it suddenly cycles back to square one. No matter what you do the cover letter never feels finished. The game has the player manage the protagonist’s scattered thoughts but stops short of allowing the player to build from key ideas, such as the (Spoiler - click to show) protagonist’s experience with working internationally. Being able to explore these experiences and ambitions would have made a different in the gameplay.
The basic story is about the protagonist’s desire to work at GameHouse. The downside is that (Spoiler - click to show) there is no real ending. You submit the statement and that is it. No endings that judge your success or final reflections from the protagonist. The game does not feel incomplete, just that it could have had more of a resolution.
I was impressed by the visual design. Simple but incredibly creative. It is identical to the screen that you see when using a word document in Google Drive. Same heading and everything. In fact, the author used a screenshot and designed the gameplay so that the text occurs in the document space. The top of the screen even says, "I've Attached My CV And Cover Letter - a game by Jaime Monedero March" right where the title goes when you name the file. This was clever because it feels like you actually are editing a real document.
When the game began, I had to check twice because for a moment I thought I clicked on the wrong link. There is nothing in this game that says “made with Twine,” but IFDB assured me that I was playing a Twine game. The text links are underlined with the type of red squiggles that you would normally see when you misspell something. Obviously, there is no typing in this game, but this added visual effect made it more convincing.
If the game used featureless visual effects, such as sticking to black text against a white screen it would not have scored as well. As you can tell from this review, I was smitten with its replica of a word processor’s appearance. That alone does not make a game, but it was effective enough to pull everything together. It is still interactive in the sense that the player edits the text, and the writing was humorous and relatable. I think players will enjoy this game. Maybe not for the richness of the game’s content but for its creativity and candidness.
Paid parental leave in Sweden has led to a change in parenting methods. Many fathers are now considered as "Stay-At-Home" dads, a concept that is rather novel in places like the U.S. In this game you are a father named Björn. The game begins in your kitchen where you are drinking juice and thinking about yourself as a parent. Note: This game came out in 2016. No doubt the landscape of childcare has evolved (for better or worse) since then.
The gameplay is shaped by your choice of perceiving the world with either a realist perspective or an optimist perspective that offer two separate paths. I liked how the game presents two simple but clearcut ways of experimenting with the story. Unfortunately, both paths end abruptly with the realist path being slightly longer.
In this first path Björn is reflecting on when he first met his wife Agatha at an office, thinking about how attractive she was. Then he moves on to when they bought their first house which has started to feel like a home. Suddenly (Spoiler - click to show) the game interjects with "WHAT COULD BE ANY BETTER THAN THAT?!" Then the credits appear. This path does nothing towards portraying the subject of paid parental leave. It is just feels like a brief fantasy trip.
At least this path does briefly look at paid parental leave. It covers Björn’s daily routine with his daughter Abby. His wife, Agatha, works in finance in another area. He drives Abby to school tries to complete basic tasks such as grocery shopping. Before paid parental leave he worked in a nut processing factory. Because the factory is not particularly exciting, he decides to apply for a new job. (Spoiler - click to show) Unfortunately, the game randomly ends with him thinking about different types of nuts without further exploring the topics of childcare.
The game describes itself as being about "Swedish fathers with a lot of time on their hands," which we never learn about. In both the optimist and realist paths the game never breaks down how fathers commit themselves to childcare or how they manage their free time, especially over longer time periods than the ones shown in the game. For instance, how have societal factors influenced fathers’ role in childcare that resulted in the wave of stay-at-home dads? At least the realist route skims the surface of the subject. It mentions grocery shopping and applying for jobs but discussion of the subject ends before it can begin. I was not expecting a vast Twine piece that covered every aspect of paid parental leave. But when I saw the game, I thought it would have gone into greater detail.
The visual design is one of the strong points in this game. It features beautiful gradient backgrounds with large glowing text that is easy to read and creates a nicely stylized effect. The glowing text is subtle without being hard to read. The optimist and realist paths each have a unique gradient background that was aesthetically pleasing. If this were a blog, I would upload a screenshot of the background. Since that is not possible you will have to play the game to see them for yourself.
Despite its incompleteness there are two reasons why I would recommend the game: A, it has information on parental paid leave in Sweden at the end of the game and B, shows some nice examples of gradient backgrounds used in Twine. This too is mentioned at the end.
Even though I have multiple criticisms about the game I am glad that the author chose this topic because parenting is always a relevant topic. Based on my experience (other players may feel otherwise) with interactive fiction I have encountered more games about motherhood than about fatherhood, and I think that this game is a nice addition to the mix.
(Note: If you click on the link to the article in the credits page, you may be hit with a paywall. But if you type in the name of the article "In Sweden, Men Can Have It All" into a search engine you will still find some interesting and relevant material on the subject.)
The school year is currently in the dead of winter. Most recesses have been spent indoors but today's sunshine changes that. Today will be an outdoor recess. Even better, this will be a much-anticipated chance to test out your brand-new pair of sneakers. But at the last minute the teacher calls you back, saying that you cannot go outside because of a missing assignment.
You play as a fourth-grade student named Jamie Nelson. You need to turn in an "Explorer worksheet" about Vasco da Gama. There are two paths to approach this. If you look at the (Spoiler - click to show) blue folder in your desk you will discover that you have Daniel’s (your younger brother) schoolwork folder. This means Daniel must have your schoolwork folder containing the Explorer worksheet that you had already completed. The gameplay then consists of tracking down this folder to retrieve the missing assignment.
The other path is to (Spoiler - click to show) ask the teacher for a blank copy of the worksheet and fill in the answers. With this path you can consult the library for help. Neither of these paths are particularly exciting but at least it allows you to choose. This is followed by a puzzle about (Spoiler - click to show) finding some mittens, a coat, and a hat so the teachers allow you to go outside. This too is lackluster but does not take long to complete.
In the “about/introduction” section the game says, "The daily school routine of going out to recess, transformed into an epic quest." There is nothing epic about the gameplay although I like the author’s enthusiasm. The conflict is being unable to go outside because of a missing assignment but completing gameplay objectives does not reveal any plat developments or build upon the story. The result is that it does not always feel like a game. But, in all fairness, the game ensures that there are no lose ends or questions left unanswered. It may lack pizazz but at least it presents a consistent and laid-back story.
Jamie’s personality does shine a little bit. I liked the feeling of rebellion that occurs when he dares to open the door to the bus circle which is forbidden until the end of the school day. The rush and exhilaration of such an act is humorously described, especially since Jamie is normally well-behaved and would shy away from this behavior. The other characters are not particularly interesting, but Jamie’s descriptions of his teachers strongly convey the perspective of a young student.
It is bland but has no bugs. Everything is smooth and reasonably short. But there are still some upsides. In the credits section the author explains that he based this game off childhood memories, and this earnestness shows. And it might appeal to you if you are looking for a realistic school setting with a younger protagonist.
You are CJ, a young man standing outside of the family house surveying the damage from a storm when a mysterious woman throws a paper airplane at your feet. Printed on it is a list of chores. Some of the chores seem a downright impossible, possible only in another timeline. Fortunately for you, the stairs in your house are far from being ordinary stairs. They will allow you to visit and influence different decades of family history so you can fulfill every task on the chores list.
This game is an authorized sequel to The Impossible Bottle by Linus Åkesson and uses a slightly different (but as equally creative) gameplay mechanic. To keep it brief, The Impossible Bottle had the player manipulate the setting through the protagonist's toys. Adjusting toys, such as a dollhouse, adjusted the house in response and the things within it. The Impossible Stairs also focuses on influencing the setting through small but direct adjustments made by the player. However, the cause and effect in The Impossible Stairs is spread across a temporal range. In other words, what sets it apart from The Impossible Bottle is its use of time travel to structure the gameplay.
When I think of a time travel game, I often get the impression that it will be filled with a lot of technical puzzles (even though I have played time travel games that are not like that). But this game does not have time machines or puzzles required to move to different time periods. Not at all. Time travel is as simple as walking up and down a set of stairs, and this concept is well-implemented. Each level is interspaced with 20 years, the earliest starting in 1961, then 1981, 2001, 2021, and 2041. The floorplan is the same along with most objects and characters. But the differences are there, and the player uses them to adjust parameters that change the timeline. This is then used to produce the circumstances needed to complete the chores.
For instance, the game begins in 2001. A hurricane has occurred, and a large tree had smashed the garage. The garage is (Spoiler - click to show) where Ada, CJ's cousin, works on her projects. In the timeline established at the start of the game, Ada left home because she was devastated that the accident destroyed her work. But if you go back to 1961 and ensure that the tree was never planted close to the house the garage will be intact in the future. Suddenly Ada will be in the 2001 garage and onwards.
The player also gets a nudge from the game when an action influences the timeline with notifications such as, "Your Grandma's future has slightly changed" or "You feel your future career slightly change" that guide the gameplay. It makes it easy to piece together the cause and effect while still maintaining a level of complexity for the player since the puzzles vary in length and subtlety.
The protagonist's (Spoiler - click to show) future career is determined by the object placed on the pedestal in the 2001 office while his grandmother's future is based on the TV channel that she is watching in the 1961 living room. The pedestal puzzle was fairly obvious because its description flat-out explains this, providing a clear way of experiencing cause and effect. For example, if you put the sapling on the pedestal in 2001 you are going to find some paintings of it in the office in 2021. This then ties in with another puzzle that requires a certain painting, moving the gameplay forward.
The puzzle for the (Spoiler - click to show) grandmother is more subtle. Changing the TV channel in 1961 influences her interests and the products she buys. This allows the player to alter the items found in the 1981 house. With the right TV channel, the player will find cinnamon in the pantry which is a needed ingredient for the baklava recipe. I felt that this puzzle was a little less obvious than the career puzzle (then again, that could be just my take on it) but they both demonstrate the same gameplay concept. This is just another example of how cause and effect can be incorporated as a puzzle, and this game has plenty of them.
The characters are all memorable and likable, especially Ada. She is a fun vibrant character with an endearing relationship with the protagonist. While the Ada puzzle seemed lengthy in comparison to the rest of the game, it was also my favorite puzzle. In fact, my favorite moment in the entire game is when (Spoiler - click to show) she finally completes her robot, and you realize that she created Uncle Rob! It is an excellent conclusion to the puzzle especially since the player can interact with Uncle Rob as he follows you around.
Everything was thoughtful. The memory board changes as family members die (after all in 2041 CJ would have outlived everyone except Ada) but there is always the option of visiting them in earlier time periods. (Spoiler - click to show) His grandpa and mom are exceptions. The grandfather died before CJ was born, and his mom while he was young, but the game takes a lighthearted approach to remembering them. I liked finding the recipe card on the memory board because it is closely tied to the protagonist's memory with his mother. And at the end of the game all the family members come together for a party that makes a nice resolution.
If you enjoy this game, I strongly encourage you to check out The Impossible Bottle. It is just as fun and whimsical (both games are also made with Dialog). Likewise, if you are reading this and have only played The Impossible Bottle than I urge you to try The Impossible Stairs. They have similar strengths but with differences in the story and gameplay that make them unique. And the (Spoiler - click to show) crossover with The Impossible Bottle at the end was perfect.