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Instance Classic, November 18, 2012
Guilded Youth is a short, aggressively compact coming-of-age story, with well-considered, strongly-executed, attractive presentation that contributes a great deal to the content without overwhelming it. You play Tony, an 80s teenager whose world is viewed through the lens of a fantasy-RPG BBS; recruiting various allies from his online world, he leads a series of quixotic real-world raids to plunder treasures from a derelict house. The interest lies not so much in trespass and theft, however, as it does in learning things about the NPCs (though this mostly feels like glances at the surface). Munroe is a capable writer. There's well-chosen music. On the surface, this feels like a polished product; indeed, it's really the product of four different specialists rather than one overworked generalist.
Once you get to grips with it, though, it's not quite there. Gameplay is restricted to a narrow set of verbs and interactions. This makes play easier, but has the side-effect of making Tony's engagement with his world and peers seem very impoverished: going on a great adventure doesn't change the fact that he's an awkward kid. Some games parlay limited verb sets into rich and engaging gameplay: Guilded Youth very much doesn't. Interaction rolls along smoothly enough, but it always feels constrained.
The narrative, too, is clipped, narrow, to-the-point; we see nothing at all about Tony's mundane life, or very much of what matters about alternative world of the BBS. The story offers subplots, suggestions of character arcs, then prunes them away after barely a plot beat. The story has been much-compared to 80s children's adventure movies, particularly The Goonies, but to me it felt more like YA novels of the same approximate era: willing to touch on big, thorny, uncomfortable issues, brave enough to avoid neatly resolving them. There's perhaps something to be said here about the experience of being a teenager, of being in a place where everything is done for a future that's taking its time in arriving; of feeling that everything important, everything fulfilling, has been indefinitely put off; but this explanation has the feeling of an excuse. Rather than a conscious design decision, it's probably the result of the game being written hurriedly as a tech demo for Vorple. Jim Munroe:
"I just kind of dropped it when I was done. Me and Matt considered it a lark, a nostalgic trifle, so much so that we didnít anticipate people would care what happened to the quickly sketched characters."
(Post-comp, an epilogue was added, allowing the player to focus a little more on one of the characters. These sections add a small but important sliver of character development, player choice and much-needed narrative closure; they make the thing feel more like a complete piece, even if they don't entirely fix all its weaknesses.)
Nonetheless, it's a pretty damn good tech demo; the importance of launching a new IF tool with a first-class demo game can't really be understated.
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