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About the Story
You are the involuntary and very hungry test subject of a semi-anthropomorphized dog in a labcoat who wants you to find all sixteen food items mentioned in They Might Be Giants' song Dinner Bell, which have been hidden in a near-perfect replica of your grandmother's kitchen. If you're very good, you might be allowed to eat.
Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Puzzles - 2012 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 3
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If you like escape the room puzzle games and you didn't get enough of Dr. Sliss in Rogue of the Multiverse, this game is for you.
According to the odd premise, you're the a subject in a pavlovian test being run by a dog, and must perform tasks meeting your training requirements. The tasks in question mostly require thorough searching and obedience to the game's not-very-subtle precepts, though there are a couple of puzzles that require a bit more sideways thinking to separate the quest objects from their surroundings. (Spoiler - click to show)I particularly enjoyed the solution to finding the one real pear in the bucket of wax pears. Though it's not an extremely long game, there's enough there to keep a player occupied for 45 minutes or so; this would not have been conspicuously undersized as a comp game.
Overall it's a very solidly made and tested piece. I didn't run into any bugs or situations where the parser patently should have been more intelligent, and there were many points where it was possible to refer to objects that were only figuratively present and still get some kind of interesting response.
What really sets this game apart, however, is its particular humor and narrative voice. Most of the game's major objects are things referred to in the They Might Be Giants song of the same name -- enough so that the song could almost serve as a walkthrough for most of the elements. More than that, though, the narration is often self-conscious and fourth-wall-breaking in order to deliver a payload of puns, references, and commentary. Those familiar with Polodna's blog posts and reviews will have a pretty good idea of whether they're likely to enjoy such asides. (I did.)
The game's final point is moderately noteworthy as well. (Spoiler - click to show)After a sequence of puzzles in which the player is railroaded into finding but not eating a series of foodstuffs, the game gives the player a chance to eat some cake; but rewards him with a final point and a different ending for choosing to follow his accustomed conditioning and setting the cake aside instead of eating it. It would probably be a stretch to claim that this is a serious commentary on agency and player conditioning, but it was a more memorable outcome than I had expected.
In this short one-room game, you reverse the roles of Pavlov and his dogs by being the subject of experiments by dogs.
Your goal is to correctly find all of the food in the room. This requires varying amounts of ingenuity. Some of the puzzles are 'leap of intuition' puzzles.
As others have noted, the writing is the strongest point of the game. The strange mix of obedience and resentment makes for a funny game with a sad undertone.
The game has enough easy puzzles mixed in with the hard to let beginners get pretty far without consulting a guide.
For a game made in 2012, Dinner Bell is surprisingly underimplemented (a lot of synonyms weren't recognized, and I was especially surprised when (Spoiler - click to show)the message blocking interaction with the candles didn't change while I was wearing the oven mitt). But in terms of atmosphere I think it mostly accomplished what it set out to do. That atmosphere - gross and disturbing, leavened in appropriate measure by "zany" humor - is one that I don't think I've ever seen attempted before. So props for that.
And, hey, it was a fun game.
If you enjoyed Dinner Bell...
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