At Esther's cafe your adorable host / Served cheese to the mice when they wanted toast! / That won't bother Harold's robust appetite, / But Janie insists that the order's not right. Sounds like something out of a children’s book!
Esther's is not a rhyming game, but as you can see, its description caught my eye. Janie and Harold are mice who like to visit their favorite joint for brunch every week. The café is run by a young girl named Esther. Unfortunately, there is a bit of a linguistic barrier. Esther does not understand the mice and ends up serving them cheese instead of their intended order.
There is no singular PC. The game's tone is in third person and the choices you make bounce between Janie and Harold. Gameplay is super easy and versatile for all ages partly because you will not get stuck, and partly because it gives the player space to experiment with choices. You figure out how to get Esther to serve you the right food through pointing or hand gestures. No matter what approach you take the game will guide you to the correct direction at the end.
The characters are endearing, especially the mice. Originally, I was picturing a fantasy world where animals hustle and bustle like humans to cafés and other establishments, but the game opts for a more basic approach. Esther’s café turns out to simply be a little girl indulging some mice in playing a variation of a tea party. Or maybe it is the mice indulging the girl? Either way, this is a sweet premise that the game pulls off. It mixes relatability with imagination. My favorite line is, “Tapioca. I like that word! Tappy-OH-kuh…”
Visually, the game reminds me of a picture book. The text area is a white square set against a purple screen. The letters are black with colour coded text for character names. Avocado icons decorate the player’s list of choices. I also really love how the authors included (Spoiler - click to show) a behind-the-scenes section at the end that shows drafts for the art as well as a node map for the Twine game.
Esther’s is a sweet Twine story that only takes about five minutes to play. While aimed at younger audiences, and I do recommend it for younger audiences, players can still appreciate the thoughtfulness put into the game’s creation.
The Tin Mug is a short game about working together to pull off a celebration. The protagonist is Tin Mug, and today is its birthday.
The gameplay is broken into chapters and usually focuses on dialog or other basic character interactions. There are never more than two options for every decision which keeps it from overwhelming younger audiences that have little experience with interactive fiction.
The setting in The Tin Mug is a house of what seems to be a modest but reasonably well-off middle-class family. The family has a cook who is also a main NPC since she spends a lot of time in the kitchen and using the items inside it. I would not describe this as a puzzle game but there are areas where gameplay choices directly influence the immediate situation. I could, however, only find one ending. I am not sure if there are more, but if that is the case the one ending is a fitting conclusion.
Teamwork is a prominent theme in this game. As physical objects the non-human characters are used to being manhandled by humans but being manhandled by rebellious children who have not yet mastered proper etiquette is a whole new struggle. Turns out, the household is having a dinner get together that feature two children, one who has a knack for overworking the cutlery. Tin Mug and the NPCs work together to minimize contact with rowdy children. This poses a challenge when you have to, you know, act like a nondescript salad fork. But teamwork carries everyone through.
The characters are basic in design but still lively and interesting. I think that the authors did an effective job in giving endearing personalities to otherwise ordinary objects. There is also a touch of magic involved that explains a bit on the animated nature of Tin Mug and the non-human NPCs. This whimsy may appeal to children interested in a light touch of fantasy.
The Tin Mug is made with Strand, a parser/choice-based hybrid that seems to be relatively new in the IF landscape. In this game, it is almost exclusively choice-based which makes it straightforward and user friendly. Kids and first timers of interactive fiction do not have to worry about learning the rules of parser to enjoy this game. I also like how its appearance is customizable to make it easier to use.
I remember playing the author's other game, Roger's Day Off, which is also made with Strand. It had the coolest 3D (if that is the right term) graphics of its characters and settings. I especially liked the sci-fi ones. The artwork in The Tin Mug is much simpler. Instead, they are flat drawings. While they are not as sophisticated, they work well for a children's piece since they conjure up the feel of reading a children’s picture book. It is probably more appropriate for this of game.
In conclusion, The Tin Mug would be a fun game for young children, perhaps third grade in elementary school (that may mean something different depending on where you are) or lower. Seven years old or younger, let's put it that way. The action is comical, the characters are upbeat, and the story is creative but not too complex so that it is easy to follow. I may not play this game again, but I did enjoy it. If anyone were to ask for a children’s game this would be one of my first recommendations.