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About the Story
At Esther's cafe your adorable host
17th Place - tie - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
Winner, Outstanding Short Game of 2022 - Author's Choice - The 2022 IFDB Awards
|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 10
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Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
Hey, there are IF works for new readers! This was an absolutely delightful interactive rendition of a children’s book. When first few clicks showed no choices, I grew uneasy. The illustrations were note perfect for the milieu, but my family situation is quite removed from kid-lit. Turning virtual pages was not significantly different than leafing through a kids book which I never do. (I mean, Seuss excepted, what am I a monster?)
That ungenerous thought couldn’t even gel before the choices started. At that point the illustrations, text and choices played off each other wonderfully. Even then, I wasn’t won over immediately because I am damaged. For whatever reason after a few choices I spontaneously conjured an imaginary child next to me… what? you don’t know my life! Reading this work, imagining a small child sounding through, making choices, then experiencing the results of that choice — that’s when it clicked into place for me. The playful problem solving, character frustration, trial and error, evocative illustrations and unexpected outcomes would play like gang busters to a new reader, and through that imaginary child’s eyes I could experience their delight.
Older IF fans take as writ that interactivity is the differentiator in this medium. The (however illusory) perception of choice, narrative influence and immediacy provides a whole new dimension of immersion to the reading experience. Esther’s uses its new reader format to remind me that even the most tired, hoary cliche’ is going to be someone’s first time and that initial exposure can be deeply revelatory. That came out wrong, I’m not suggesting Ester’s is cliche’d, just using that as a poorly chosen metaphor for IF in general. What I’m driving at is that its deliberate invocation of children’s lit tone, illustration style and whimsical content re-presents the form in a first timer perspective. How magical is that? At least that’s what I got from my imaginary co-pilot.
Scoring this feels like a no win situation. I mean would I criticize the narrative voice in “Hop on Pop?” The graphic compositions in “Hungry Caterpillar?” Like this work, they meld text and illustration into a product aimed at delighting children. That’s really the only metric worth discussing I think. Esther’s stands shoulder to shoulder with its paper inspirations, even before it ups the ante by integrating interactivity. While I wouldn’t say I found it engaging, I did get Sparks of Joy watching my imaginary companion’s delighted introduction to IF.
This review was brought to you by the word ‘delight.’
Playtime: 10min, finished.
Artistic/Technical rankings: Sparks of Joy/Seamless
Would Play Again? Maybe to share with grandkids WAAAAAAAY down the road
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
This is a very short game featuring two mice trying to order brunch at their favorite restaurant, run by a human girl that doesn't speak squeak.
What can I say about this for the adult audience? Not much. It is a cute story, the epitome of a children's book in IF form, but doesn't offer much for adults. If you have a precocious child they might be up for this story, but I feel like my 7- and 9-year-old (albeit a special needs child) would either struggle to keep up with the story or be bored by it.
All that said it is a sweet story in the classic children's storybook mold. I do want to see more IF for children, even as I am working to create stories to help my autistic child learn in Twine or Ink, but I find it hard to judge this type of work in the IF Comp. Perhaps we need an IF Comp exclusively for children's stories. Something to ponder.
Bravo, Buchanans! I hope you create more childrens' IF.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
I worry that, just as with people, it can come off patronizing to call a game “adorable,” so I’ve been staring at the thesaurus for the last five minutes. Esther’s is “cute” and “appealing”, sure, but that undersells how winsome it is. Is it “precious”? Nah, that sounds too cloying. “Captivating” and “enchanting” miss how pleasantly low-key it is, and after that, let’s just say the line of proposed synonyms that start with “dreamy” and proceed from there are a bit too adult for this children’s-book-aping Twine game. Sorry, folks – I guess we’re stuck with “adorable.”
In the best picture-book tradition, the game stars two mice, Janie and Harold, and follow them on their way to their favorite brunch spot, the eponymous Esther’s. Said café is run by a little girl who’s a thoughtful host in every way save one – she doesn’t understand the mice’s squeaky language, so always serves them cheese and crackers, rather than the mimosas and avocado toast they’re craving (Janie and Harold must be millennials). Today’s the day when they decide to really make an effort and get through to Esther – and it’s up to the player to help.
This is a cute premise for sure, and it could come off twee, but I don’t think it goes too far. Partly this is due to the lovely illustrations, which wouldn’t be out of place in a real children’s book – they have a textured, watercolor quality and a neat attention to detail: look closely at the opening image, which shows Janie bringing flowers while Harold carries her library books, and you can see she’s checked out Goodnight Moon. And I won’t spoil the one where Janie tries to mime an avocado, but it got the first out-loud laugh of the Comp out of me.
The prose also hits just the right note, with simple, clear sentences but a sly turn of phrase here and there to make it fun for a grown-up to read, too:
"Janie buttered an invisible toast and pretended to nibble at it. Harold stuffed his pretend toast in his mouth. He licked his fingers with pretend satisfaction."
It’s nothing fancy, but the repeated use of “pretend” setting up “pretend satisfaction” is cleverly done.
The interactivity is also nicely gauged – you’ve got a fair number of options to choose from, and while the challenge of getting your order right isn’t a devilish puzzle or anything, the authors have done a good job of communicating just enough information about what each choice might do, while still retaining room to surprise you with how exactly each stab at communication plays out.
Esther’s is admittedly a small thing – my playthrough went quicker than it usually takes me to get through Goodnight Moon with my son, albeit he’s typically doing a lot of wriggling and pointing which pads things out. But it pulls off everything it tries to with aplomb, and I had a smile plastered to my face the whole time I was playing it. There’s no other word for it: from stem to stern, it’s adorable.
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