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About the Story
Eat, swear & try to take over the neighbourhood.
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022
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Number of Reviews: 5
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I’m a sucker for smart-animal content – stories about the social intelligence of elephants, books on how the distributed nature of octopuses’ nervous systems might impact their consciousness, rats problem-solving their way through lab experiments, I’m here for all of it. So even though I first came across it in the early days of YouTube, even the better part of two decades later I can still clearly remember how exciting it was to see this video of a crow trying to fish some food out of a bottle, failing, then realizing it could bend a bit of wire into a hook and get to its snack that way. Crows – they’re just like us!
(Due to the deathless nature of the internet, I realized after writing the above paragraph that this video is probably still findable – I think this is it, in fact! Rewatching it, my description wasn’t too far off, thankfully).
Anyway all this to say that when I saw there was a game coming up whose aim, according to the blurb, was to “celebrate the intelligence, eloquence, and sophistication of urban crows”, per the above I was pretty excited, all the more so since I don’t think crows really get their due. As a result of these expectations, though, I was deflated when I saw the opening text:
"OMG you’re a crow.
One day, you could be king of this shitty suburb.
But for now, it’s just you and your ATTITUDE."
Crows – they’re just like us.
This irreverent tone is actually a good fit for the game, though – if you look past the internet-poisoned dialogue, the birds on offer here, as promised, are smart and socially adept, and given how crows behave I can totally imagine that their internal lives are based on an obsessive focus on getting more stuff and maintaining their position in the pecking-order (sorry).
The silliness, and the striking drawings, also liven up a game that’s pretty solid but could have been a bit dry if played straight. Your success in becoming the baddest bird on the block is measured through increases in your numerical attitude score, and after a preparatory phase where you decide whether you want to have a wingman (er) join your quest and choose from an assortment of inventory items to bring with you, the main section of the game has you encounter a series of randomized events. If you hit the right events – and get lucky or have the right gear – your attitude will go up, say by befriending a little girl. But there are negative, attitude-draining events too that can for example see you captured by a geezer with a net. The trend is always up, though, and after maybe a dozen or two events your attitude rises sufficiently to open up the endgame, which sometimes involves a climactic rock-paper-scissors duel with another crow.
This all works well enough, though I think one more iteration on the design would have made it more compelling. There’s a slight mismatch between the attitude threshold and the number of random events on offer, meaning that even in a single playthrough you’ll see a lot of repeats. I thought the fight at the end went on a little too long, even once you realize that there’s a trick to it. And while I’m listing niggles, while I understand that the gag where the game prompts you to enter your name and then says that’s a stupid name, and your real name is e.g. Bingley Polligan (the exact choice is randomly generated) can’t admit of exceptions, I was still annoyed that “The Incrowdible Hulk” got rejected. C’mon, game, I’m working with you here!
Still, even despite these small shortcomings this is a fleet, fun game that doesn’t outstay its welcome. And while it’s not the high-minded ode to corvid smarts I was after, it does make a strong case that crows are punk-rock badasses. What more could anyone want?
A quick, fun jaunt-- or perhaps a "romp"-- into corvidity. Crow Quest has quirky humor plus sweet crow art (many props to the illustrator). It's entirely worth the 5-10 minutes it takes to play through and beat it twice and probably more. Although I was a little disappointed that the game rejected crow names I came up with even when I thought played along well enough ("Aleister Crowley" was my best shot; I get that the idea is that (Spoiler - click to show)nothing you type will work, but playing along anyway is part of the fun and that I felt I could play along from the get-go is a good clue that the game communicates its tone clearly right away), I got a chuckle from the crow names that the game came up with for me too. Being rejected here was more like that cheerful tone Willy Wonka strikes when Violet says, "By gum, it's gum!" and he says, "Wrong!" and he's excited (even delighted) to go on about the wonder of Wonka's Magic Chewing Gum as opposed to being rejected like, "You get nothing, you lose, good day sir!" (I'm talking about the scenes in the '71 movie, but never mind.) Alas my only true disappointment was that despite the bevvy of creative names the game had to replace whatever I came up with, my crow rival Rodney always had the same name.
A lot has and will rightfully be made of corvid intelligence and their uses of strings and sticks and things, but my favorite interaction in this game was probably (Spoiler - click to show)befriending the little girl by giving her the dead frog and seeing how delightfully weird she got with it.
The game also kinda has two levels of difficulty, which is cool. You can play through (Spoiler - click to show)with a partner in crime for immunity to an event or two and the ability to have almost every inventory item at the cost of having to fight at the end, or go (Spoiler - click to show)on your own for a more challenging playthrough.
I wanted more of Crow Quest in the way one wants seconds after a good slice of pie, only to find crumbs left: a larger pool of events, longer storyline, greater complications, more crows in the murder, more items, maybe a higher attitude cap (goodness knows the writing and art have attitude to spare). Even just the bigger event pool would've been welcome, if I was to ask for one thing. Still, it didn't ever come close to wearing out its welcome and I can see how that might be a risk in a version that strings too much together or goes too long, so there's a certain grace and satisfaction in keeping it short. If there is a sequel or an expanded post-comp release I would look forward to playing it though.
For a first foray into Twine, this is a mighty promising game. The narration perfectly captures what I imagine the internal lives of crows to be like. The included artwork is gorgeous. The final battle, where the player has to quickly discern the pattern in a rock-paper-scissors-like sequence, suits the game perfectly: its short length adds pressure to figure out the way to win, while preventing the battle from becoming tedious once the player has already figured it out.
The gameplay of Crow Quest feels very experimental, and this final battle is the one part of the experiment that really lands. Elsewhere, the small scope of the game shows its limitations more readily. The bulk of the game consists of random events which quickly become repetitive. The item selection at the beginning is a fine idea, but quickly ends up feeling meaningless as the items become exhausted and cease to be relevant long before the game is over.
An expanded version of this game would be of much interest to me, though I believe that to carry the concept to its fullest execution, the author would have to take the plunge and craft a more elaborate plot with a clearer throughline rather than relying on random and largely disconnected events.
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