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About the Story
Oh no, the old family curse has flared up!
Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
A story of irresistible compulsion. The protagonist is cursed to have to move consistently north, a trip that sends him through many surprising situations to an inevitable conclusion. More haunting than traditionally scary — not to mention massively linear — but well-written and a memorable experience.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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I first played this game months ago and rated it three stars. But sometime later I started thinking about it again, and then I came back and replayed it. And still later, when I was still thinking about it, I came back and replayed it again.
Obviously this game is working for me on levels I didn't initially understand.
You play as a character under a curse who can only walk north (well, almost only walk north). As a result, you have next to zero agency, and playing the game consists mainly of reading about scenes that you're traveling through. Scenes that you cannot participate in.
A huge component in the game is seeing, at every step, exciting new events and locations, and knowing that they are untouchable. This is a clever subversion of parser gameplay, but it's also the reason for my original three-star rating. I felt as though there was nothing to do, that the game could've been a short story instead.
I was wrong.
This game has a single puzzle. On my first playthrough I didn't solve it. I didn't even realize it existed. A short story could not have this puzzle. A hypertext game couldn't have it either, because a hyperlink would announce the solution, and solving the puzzle requires mentally adjusting your approach to the game after it has drilled its "go north" command into your head. It has to be presented in the parser format to work.
Another reason it couldn't be static fiction is because, in that case, you wouldn't feel the tension of wanting to interact with anything. The potential, even if not the implementation, of interactivity must exist in order for the player to feel thwarted.
Now I'm giving this game five stars because I've come to the realization that it succeeds exactly in what it wants to do, and furthermore, its content is fused to its medium. It's a game that does still seem like a short story in the sense that it invites the occasional replaying/rereading, but it's also 100% a game.
And the writing is great too.
Time to completion: 20-30 minutes
The family curse has activated. If you do not go north, you will die.
The Northnorth Passage plays around with restricted actions, and this is what makes it so extraordinarily suited for the parser, because the parser gives the impression of freedom, yet you can only really do one thing. Obeying the parser, though, brings you through a series of self-contained scenes, colourful and detailed; Wilson's writing sparks with life, with the kind of evocativeness reminiscent of Sunless Sea.
Yet, in each scene, you must forever remain at arm's length. In this sense, it is similar to dynamic fiction, the term coined to describe linear games which nevertheless require the player's interaction and participation to reveal the story. The PC's travel north also seems to reflect the passing of time (the movement over swathes of space and time reminded me of Victor Ojuel's Pilgrimage).
There was a very, very clever move right at the end of the game - an invisible puzzle, if you'd like - which wrapped it up perfectly. If I were to mention a game with a similar move, it would be very spoilery, but there is one...
Originally published here: https://verityvirtue.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/the-northnorth-passage/
In this game, you are in a room that seems incredibly detailed, with many NPCs. As you progress, there are interesting locations, exciting events, and complicated scenarios.
However, it is all for naught. The family curse has activated in you, so that any action besides GO NORTH will cause your death. Time and again, it seems like some other action is needed, but only GO NORTH is allowed.
This is amusing, and would not work nearly as well in a short story. This exact feeling of helplessness is unique to an interactive format, and it's a welcome effect.
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