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About the Story
Seek Szilvia on a boundary-testing voyage of discovery across Europe. A story starting with getting our adventurer, who can’t stand strong smells,through the airport...
Audience Choice--Most Informative, Most Honest, Back Garden - Spring Thing 2021
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Number of Reviews: 3
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I pressed play, a pleasant melody started playing in the background and an in-game version of the author of Budacanta, Alianora, started explaining her circumstances to me:
She's going on a solo-trip to Hungary for a motorsports event and she would like your help.
Oh, and she's autistic.
In the introduction, Alianora explains a number of important concepts to you, like "passing", "spoon theory" and having to use a mental emulator to run a neurotypical brainsimulation to avoid a pass-fail.
This may sound like a bunch of technical jargon, but it's explained so patiently and with so much humor that you will understand easily.
Now, the game-part of Budacanta is a spoon-management challenge. Actually: preserving energy by soothing Alionora so she has enough energy to take on the challenges that are so important to her. Like talking to strangers, taking the bus in a foreign country with a very basic knowledge of the language and eventually going to the motorsporting event.
This game was a great learning experience for me. In fact, I think it would be good learning material for anyone who interacts with neurodiverse people regularly in some way.
Heck, I don't regularly interact with anyone who's on the autism spectrum (that I know of. they could just be good at passing...) and I found it immensely interesting to get this guided tour around a foreign brain.
This is also the comparison that Alianora draws in the game: visiting a foreign country (alone) most resembles what she does daily.
There are weird rules that everyone expects you to follow as if they're self-evident, but as a stranger to this land/mental state, you cannot see what's so obvious about them at all. So you do your best to pass as "normal" and not break the rules too much.
It's very important that Alianora doesn't want to stay in spoonsaving mode all the time. She wants to live life to the fullest, take on challenges and enjoy them and learn from them. It's just that the way her brain is wired means that she has to be extra careful what to spend her energies on and when to reload her batteries.
Alianora's enthusiasm throughout the story is contagious. She tells her story in a bright and friendly way. What I found most touching was her completely straightforward honesty, the very direct and explicit way she reports changes in her emotional state or talks about her weaknesses.
The Spring Thing version I have played ends after the first big challenge. If the upcoming full game is anywhere near as good as this introductory excerpt, I'll be jumping up and down to play it.
Very impressive and funny and interesting and bright and sparkling...
Rounding out the excerpts in this year’s Back Garden, Budacanta is a visual novel with ropey graphics but a neat conceit: you’re a voice in the head of the autistic main character, Alianora, helping her navigate challenges both logistical and social as she travels from the U.S. to Budapest to visit a friend and take in some motorsports (I think like F1 racing, maybe?) The piece of the game on offer covers her departure and a train journey through Prague, then ends on arrival in Budapest, with a few choices and vignettes along the way.
I led my description of the main character with her autism not to reduce her to her diagnosis but because the game is clear that it’s largely about the questions of why, and how, an autistic person would travel so far from home by themselves. There’s a satisfying answer offered – likening the unfamiliarity a neurotypical traveler feels in a strange place to the similar discomfort autistic people sometimes feel even in familiar surroundings – but the game intends to show as well as tell. As a result, it has a light pedagogical feel, with frequent asides to the player to better inform them about what it’s like to be autistic, and offering different potential strategies for navigating a world built for the neurotypical.
I thought these bits were well done – I was familiar with some of this information, like “spoon theory” (roughly, the idea that neurodivergent people or people with disabilities often have a relatively fixed pool of energy or capacity to do things that feel effortless to folks who don’t have those conditions, so deciding when to do those things can be a weighty task). But it’s all well-explained, and I definitely learned some new things – I was surprised when Alianora said that she enjoyed talking about being autistic, and saw her stock of spoons increased as a result, because I would have thought explaining these things over and over could get exhausting!
Per that reference to the stock of spoons, as far as I can make out the core gameplay of Budacanta looks like it will be about making resource-allocation decisions. At some of the major decision prompts, you’re shown your “spoon count,” and occasionally your cash on hand as well, indicating that some decisions will increase or decrease these finite quantities. Because this is just the first part of the game, there’s currently no risk of even coming close to running out of either, but I could see this working well to add a bit of additional engagement to a story that so far seems like it’ll be a pleasant, low-key bit of tourism.
The narrative voice is appealing throughout, friendly and casual in a way that feels authentic. The writing is generally good, too – I liked this description of a plane taxiing then taking off:
"Low primal rumbling sensed as much through the feet as the ears. To the sides, a thrumming blaze pulsed a beat of four."
There are some rough patches in this version of the game, though. The primary one is probably the graphics, which in most scenes are black-and-white sketches painted with a broad brush and which I often found hard to decipher. They do get more colorful as the journey progresses, so hopefully the visuals will see an upgrade as Budacanta moves to a full release. The choices can feel a little awkward, too – upon starting the game, I found several of them seemed pretty similar to each other so I wasn’t sure what each would do. And in important decisions, the first choice often lists the player’s spoon and money inventory, as well as stating the time, before adding an actual option after a hyphen. I think this is mean to be a way of updating the player about Alianora’s condition, but it would be clearer if this information was conveyed in a separate part of the interface. Finally, there was one odd bit of writing that likened neurodivergent people temporarily “passing” as neurotypical to Black people “passing” as white, which I found rather jarring given how fraught racial passing can be – but from how it’s described, I think the intended reference might actually be to code-switching.
Regardless of these small issues, I enjoyed my 15 minutes or so with Budacanta – even the graphics stopped bothering me after I focused my attention just on the text box. This is definitely another one where I’ll be anticipating the full release!
I've had a lot of friends and students with autism, and they're all different, so it's nice to see a well-described point of view from a new author.
In this visual novel, you play as a sort of guiding friend/telepathic connection to a young adult with autism who is travelling alone to a concert in Hungary.
Interestingly, the visuals respond to the PC's feelings, turning more colorful if you navigate situations well.
There are some good explanations of Spoon Theory and features a lot of things that I've seen in other literature by and about autistic people (like using sensory inputs such as music or textured objects for soothing).
Storywise, I felt like I had some action, the varying amounts of detail in the pictures was fun. This game is incomplete, but I'd like to see it finished.
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