The Incredibly Mild Misadventures of Tom Trundle

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Teen adventure/Romance

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Nothing Mild About It, December 6, 2020
by Joey Acrimonious
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

Wow. What a journey. The Incredibly Mild Misadventures of Tom Trundle is witty and crude, sage and sophomoric, beautifully authentic and laughably schlocky, all rolled into one epic deluge of mystery, passion, and adolescent angst that absolutely oozes old-school cool.

This is a story about adolescence, and every aspect of the game sells that fact. You have to literally navigate a byzantine, absurd educational institution for arbitrary reasons decreed by an antagonistic adult. Your character is continually preoccupied with carnal thirst at times both appropriate and not (but mostly not), finding sources of arousal in pretty much any interaction with the opposite sex, of which there are plenty. There are at least three different pizzas in the game, each of which serves a crucial mechanical purpose. Everything sucks, but your street-smarts and disregard for the rules are exactly what you need to navigate this sucky world and accomplish some good deeds - fulfilling the hackneyed destiny of the male savior and winning the gratitude of a bunch of young women in distress. Obviously. It’s brilliant at times; it’s bizarre at times; it’s as if the entire fabric of reality in this universe has been warped according to the world-view and desires of an adolescent boy. And that’s definitely entirely deliberate.

Our point-of-view character Tom is at the center of everything here, and his distinctive voice is woven into the whole experience of the game through his endless cynical commentaries and self-absorbed digressions. As a character, he’s compelling in the sense that he feels like an actual, complex human being. Sometimes he’s capable of great sensitivity and insight, showing genuine understanding of the feelings and goals of those around him. Other times, he’s an inconsiderate brat. And as these different aspects of his personality come up during the story, they make sense. He has verisimilitude. I can easily believe that Tom is an actual young man on the verge of adulthood - someone who is mature in some ways and at some times, but who still has a lot to learn.

I was especially amused by the way his deliciously blasé attitude carries over into the game world - for example, through the existence of objects with names like “crappy snack machine” and “uninteresting stuff.”

In terms of implementation, the game is excellent. The parser works smoothly. I encountered no serious bugs nor mechanical struggles. The puzzles are mostly excellent as well - they’re cleverly-designed, with a unique and awesome mix of insight into the real-world applications of miscellaneous things and total disregard for using them as intended. Some are challenging, most are fair and can be solved with a bit of logic once you get into the classic adventure game mindset (i.e. that it’s okay to screw things up and leave a trail of destruction in your wake, taking and levering every possible tool in an inexorable drive toward your goal). But there were a small handful that just threw me for a loop, leading me to resort to the walkthrough only to find that the solution was some arbitrary-seeming action whose utility couldn’t possibly be understood until after having done it - I would have appreciated a more obvious hint, for example, that (Spoiler - click to show)sitting on a certain chair (as opposed to examining or searching) will reveal a hidden item.

Story-wise, I feel that the game is somewhat front-loaded. As I first met some of the other major characters and engaged in a few early puzzles, I was hooked! They, like Tom, were complex and compelling. Interacting with them exposed motivations and emotions that I could believe. The situation that unfolded might have been far-fetched, but the people felt real, and their personalities started to shine through with a slow-simmering richness. I was hungry to interact more with them and learn more about them.

Yet I felt that the climax and epilogue in particular did not fully live up to the strength of those earlier interactions. By this point, the flavor of authentic teenage interpersonal drama had gone out the window in favor of a kind of campy, totally unbelievable depiction of (Spoiler - click to show)the trauma of physical abuse and kidnapping, where several young women who have been captured and imprisoned by a maniac, and who are in immediate danger, just calmly flirt with our intrepid protagonist from their underground prison cells. I’m still not sure whether I want to read this as dark humor or just plain distasteful. Either way, the verisimilitude I’d adored had evaporated.

After this, I’d at least hoped for a strong emotional payoff - an exploration of how the characters ultimately grew and changed as a result of the pivotal events. It materializes… partially. The arc between Allison and her father comes to a satisfying closure. But as for most of the other major NPCs, the epilogue tells us what they go on to do, but it doesn’t show us where they stand on an emotional level. Tom himself seems to come away with a slightly greater sensitivity toward the needs of others (particularly their need for space and boundaries). And that’s awesome. I just wish the ending had hit home a little harder.

The author's postmortem on the Intfiction forum is a fascinating read and it helped me appreciate the game on a new level, as a symbolic piece. Definitely recommend that.

Anyway, Tom Trundle has its flaws and its awkward moments, but I can't deny that it's a hugely memorable experience that left an outsized impression on me. It's not perfect. I'd give it 4.5 stars if I could, but with IFDB's rating system being what it is, guess I'll have to round up.

And just one more thing. It involves a spoiler so huge that I sincerely recommend not clicking on it unless you’ve completed the game for yourself:

(Spoiler - click to show)Why isn’t Darth Vader your father?!

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IFonthebrain, December 6, 2020 - Reply
Thank you so much, Joey, for your review and your rating! I totally get it. I will definitely be laying on more of the verisimilitude in future games!
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