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A lovely chill-out game, April 7, 2021
In the last few comps and festivals I’ve played, for some reason the first game that’s come up in the randomizer has been something edgy, grimdark, and/or violent. What a pleasure, then, to start off instead with a winsome entry in the slice-of-life genre – and parser-based too, which tends to be my favorite. The premise is all right there in the title: there’s a dog needs walking, but our PC isn’t all that great at keeping track of either time or possessions so there’s some light puzzling to get through before Muffins’ micturitions can moisten the meadows (thankfully, despite the on-screen clock, there doesn’t appear to be a time limit).
Like many IF players, I’ve seen approximately eleventy-billion games by first-time authors – which Ell, from the credits, appears to be – where you start in an apartment and are faced with a series of quotidian household tasks, typically involving doors and/or screwdrivers. Here, the puzzles and implementation are good enough for the job at hand, but it’s the writing that stands out. I’ve already applied “winsome” to the game as a whole, but it’s the best description of the prose, too. It’s written informally and hits the ear easily, with a high density of gentle gags, but has more tricks than just the chatty voice – like the habit of responding to many instances of X [PIECE OF FURNITURE] with a dry, one-word summation like “lumpy” or “beige”. And the author’s done a good job of parceling out fun bits of writing to reward poking around this basically one-room game. Here’s a favorite sequence:
> X COLLAR
A pink sparkly collar with a link to hook a leash. It has a tag that says “MUFFINS.”
> TAKE IT
You give Muffins a scritch-scrotch and take off her collar. She looks confused and licks her nose, then trots over to the part of the living room where there should really be a rug but isn’t.
> X RUG
Oh, you had to get rid of your rug after your old roommate spilled matcha on it. You’re completely over it, though.
> PUT COLLAR ON MUFFINS
You put Muffins’ collar back on. Muffins looks like she wishes you’d make up your mind, but you could just be reading too much into her beady little expression.
None of that was at all helpful for reaching my objective, but for a low-key game like the one in hand, this is just what one wants, with random exploration yielding small conversational asides instead of the player being channeled towards the solution by overserious parser-responses.
With that said, while most of the game is easygoing enough, there is one puzzle where its laissez-faire approach provides insufficient direction: the last hurdle to getting Muffins to the park is to find your missing shoes, which don’t turn up no matter how assiduously you look under or behind the furniture (I should say that it’s nice that these options are provided for!) The hint that I “always have trouble finding them in daylight”, since they’re apparently going-out shoes, made me think I needed darkness, put I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen. Fortunately, there’s a walkthrough provided that got me unstuck, but the intended solution – (Spoiler - click to show)TURN OFF LIGHTS – doesn’t feel like it’s playing fair, (Spoiler - click to show) since electric lights or switches aren’t described anywhere even if you examine the walls or ceiling, and beyond that the game starts at 9 AM so I assumed daylight was the bigger problem.
As mentioned, the implementation is generally solid. I ran into a few niggles – when I tried to give Muffins commands, the game understands MUFFINS, SIT as asking her to sit on her collar, which doesn’t make much sense, and I missed getting full points since I found the superior leash before the inferior one, which appears to have prevented me from getting points for picking up the latter. Plus I saw a couple of line-break issues. But especially for what appears to be a first effort, it’s well put-together in terms of coding, as it is in every other area, save that one iffy puzzle. Take the Dog Out is a lovely bagatelle, and hopefully a good omen for the other games to come!