One Final Pitbull Song (at the End of the World)

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Roller Coaster (whoo whoo whoo) of Love, November 22, 2022
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review

Holy crap was this one a roller coaster ride. Let me dispense with the non-narrative parts first because this will be quick. The presentation was simple but effective. In particular, the use of background colors and to a lesser extent fonts was tightly aligned to the narrative in a satisfying and resonant way. I wish more games would take the simple steps taken here. There is sound, but I’m not sure if it was infrequent or downplayed, I only remember it registering once during gameplay.

Gameplay? I’ll need a different word. This is a super linear narrative. There are infrequent opportunities to click on internal monologues for additional insight, but otherwise you might as well be turning pages. Except for exactly one choice you get to make. Actually, over two hours I had forgotten I had made ANY choices, until reminded. Other games have had similar implementations for sure, but this one really eschewed any attempt to use other interactive tricks, like using page size and interactivity for narrative pacing, or character-defining but narratively-irrelevant decisions to align the reader more closely to the protagonist. I mean that’s fine, right? Half of Interactive Fiction is Fiction. I hear books can be pretty darn entertaining. Let’s talk narrative.

The plot covers a lot of ground. (Spoiler - click to show)What starts as a hilarious multi-thousand-year sweep of history, segues to a heist and relationship melodrama, to a gritty pan-gender prison story, to a cave survival horror story, to climax in a conversation with Future Adam (but not Eve) and …a dance party. Now, you look at that list and first impression is, hell yeah, buckle me up for THAT roller coaster ride! There’s an assumption built into that reaction though, that the ride is built with tight control over your safety. In this metaphor, the plot is the kinetic design of the ride, how it connects turns, climbs, loops, and drops into a thrilling experience. The characters are the car that carries you start to end. And super importantly, the tone is the track that supports your characters. However wildly the course turns, it smoothly zips you along.

OFPBS really doesn’t do any of that. The coaster design is an early work from the architect that went on to design R’Lyeh, where they were still fleshing out their non-Euclidian geometries. I’m saying the plot twists cross dimensional barriers with their impossible turns. The car is transplanted from some 1950’s Tunnel of Love, earnestly vandalized stem to stern with lavishly ornate “TeeJay loves Sam” adolescent graffiti. Uniquely UNsuited to the kinetic demands of the wild ride, and while adorably sentimental at first, quickly sublimates to “we get it, Sam is dreamy. Can we maybe focus on this insane curve coming up instead?”

Given those two extreme and incompatible choices (plot and character), the only way to salvage the experience is with a perfect tonal track. Unfortunately, the discipline is just not there. In the first few scenes the tone swings wildly from humor, to melodrama, to violent grit, but keeps some semblance of internal in-the-moment consistency. By the time the cast is chasing through caves it does not keep a coherent tone even within a scene. It puts on the reader the entire burden of synthesizing (Spoiler - click to show)starkly cast violent physical peril with porn ‘money shot’ parody with acres of pan-gender John Hughes romantic mooning with origin of man mythology. The text and language does no lifting to spackle the disconnects with humor or whimsy or farce, just presents it all and dares the reader to weather the discord. If the ridiculousness of the scenario WAS the farce, it was a miscalculation not to let the tone cue the reader.

And man, does that first climax take a non-Euclidian turn. It is a complete betrayal of the seriously-cast character deaths, of the mortal terror they felt. Good horror movies know how to manage tone. The stakes of Devils Rejects for example are starkly different than Final Destination. The former wrings tension from raw fear of evil, the latter plays deaths as elaborate punch lines. Both work! They would decidedly not work in the same movie. Sean of the Dead shows that varying tones can coexist with the right narrative grease. That’s what’s missing here.

In the end, despite a strong opening and brief sections of notably effective chase horror, the tonal shortcomings have a predictable if cliche’ effect on our metaphorical roller coaster. The first climax Bounced me clean off the rails.

However, this is conceived of as a long story. It seems my 2hr investment was maybe 1/3 of the overall narrative? I will be omitting my score from the average in deference to the idea that my view of the author's vision is likely incomplete. It's not for me, I'm clear on that, but there seems to be more to chew on here, if this is your taste.

Played: 10/26/22
Playtime: 2hrs, finished one playthrough, 1/3(?) of total narrative
Artistic/Technical rankings: Bouncy/Notable (Lack of interactivity)
Would Play Again? Would take a lot of metaphorical Dramamine

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

Note: this rating is not included in the game's average.
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shunasassi, December 20, 2022 - Reply
what’s sean of the dead? i’ve only ever seen shaun of the dead.
JJ McC, December 20, 2022 - Reply
Lol, that's the title in the original Irish version. I'm a bit of a purist. :]
shunasassi, December 20, 2022 - Reply
seems like you’re out of your league here then
JJ McC, December 22, 2022 - Reply
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