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About the Story
Through a glass in the floor of the Tangerine House, Lin has marveled at the perfect miniature world of The Land Down Under. But when her two foster siblings go missing, Lin must pursue them into this world only to learn the price of perfection.
55th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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I dunno Ė on this one Iím slack-jawed, donít have much to say.
Anyway, The Land Down Under, which Iím going to call LDU from here on out to avoid further temptation to quote Men at Work, is an appealing fantasy adventure with a moral and an entertainingly-realized world, plus some jokes that, unlike the one at the top of this review, actually work.
The fantastical bit of the premise is immediately grabby Ė the player character needs to explore a magic sort of paper-doll world to find other kids whoíve been sucked into it Ė but I have to admit I found the character introductions, and the emotional dynamics between them, made for a somewhat confusing opening. I suspect this is because I havenít played the earlier games in this series, though LDU does draw attention to their existence and even includes links to play them in-game, so thatís on me I suppose. Still, given that the heart of the game is the relationship between Lin, Wanda, and Peter, I felt like I had to fill in those details based on what I learned once in paperworld, rather than coming into it with a strong understanding of them from the real-world sections.
Once Lin is shrunk down and paperfied, though, I experienced charm overload. The mechanics of how this paper world work are clearly thought through and delightfully presented, both in a playful narrative voice and the occasional illustration that really fits the storybook vibe. Iíll spoiler-block two of my favorite bits so as not to ruin things: (Spoiler - click to show)trying to surf the breeze as a paper-person was super fun, and the kitchen table that flips from breakfast to dinner back to breakfast was a great gag!
There are lots of choice along the way, and the game clearly signposts which are important by presenting them as an exclusive list at the end of a passage, with regular progression and exploration handled with inline links. There are some dead-ends, but thereís an undo mechanic thatís sufficiently generous to make them not feel punitive, as well as providing a further reward for poking beyond the critical path.
Surprisingly to me, LDU does touch on some relatively heavy themes Ė not just the expected look at escapism and conformity, but there are also hits of trauma, divorce, and depression around the edges. This is done with a light touch, though: they add weight and some added significance to the story without creating a tonal mismatch by dragging things into grimdarkness.
I did run into issue that I think is a bug, though Iíll hide it since it involves a mechanical spoiler (I also believe it may have been fixed in a mid-Comp update). (Spoiler - click to show)After I found the second part of the poem right after getting to school, I was asked if I wanted to trade in my poetry power for extra jetpacks. When I said yes, the story put me back to where I was when I found the first half of the poem, just before entering the paper world. I was able to replay and then finish the game with no further issues, though). But overall the implementation was smooth, allowing me to focus on experiencing the heartfelt story.
I beta tested this game.
I've played a lot of the Wobbles games by the Marino Family (although apparently there's a Parrot the Pirate episode I never read?) and this one is definitely my favorite.
The Wobbles series are all written in Undum, a system that was like Twine before Twine and is very powerful but requires advanced technical knowledge to use.
Each game in the Wobbles series deals with a magical house full of foster kids where kids with various disabilities or uncomfortable real-life situations or other things that make them marginalized come to groups with themselves.
It's written at a kid or teen level, and written by younger people, too. I have a son with muscular dystrophy, so I'm glad to see representation in these games of various types of disability.
This particular game has the hero go into a world where everyone is transformed into paper on rails. The world is described with startling specificity that provides a lot of the enjoyment of this game. How would paper people eat? Sleep? Go to school? It's all laid out in excellent detail.
The other main feature I appreciate for this game is the overall. I have to say, I think this has some of the best choice structure in this competition. When I first played this game as a tester, I thought it was somewhat on rails (haha) but on my playthrough today I was able to take significantly different actions and still have it seem like the 'intended story'. That's really hard to pull off, and increases my admiration for this game.
For the detailed worldbuilding and intricate choice structure, this is my favorite of the Wobbles games. If you're going to play, make sure you realize that it is designed with specific morals (although you can go against them), a specific audience, and a distinct narrative voice (that of a talking book). Since most of the games ever entered in IFComp are either adult-targeted genre fiction or avant-garde exercises, this good-natured and marginalization-conscious series is definitely unique.
+Polish: These games are always smooth.
+Descriptiveness: Love the worldbuilding.
+Interactivity: Feels like choices matter
+Emotional impact: The parts with the King and the Queen struck home after my recent divorce.
+Would I play again? Yeah, would like to see different paths.
I've only played this installment (the fourth I believe) in the Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House series, for IFComp 2020. I didn't get into the story too much and I think it needs a bit more polish and action to appeal to kids, but I really like the system and interface they used. I could easily see my kids getting into IF that had these little bonuses (like achievements on a console or Steam) for finding poems or exploring the tangents of the story. I also really liked the instant feedback on the choices you made, safe or bold in this case. Still a work in progress, but one I will follow eagerly as my kids get closer to the age where I hope they will come to enjoy IF as much as me.
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