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(based on 12 ratings)
About the Story
Someone claiming to be your father is trying to break in. Following the eponymous Sweetpea is: a mosaic faced guardian angel, something wearing her father’s guise, and the detritus of life in their gently crumbling mansion.
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022
Winner, Outstanding Horror Game of 2022 - Player’s Choice and Author's Choice - The 2022 IFDB Awards
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Number of Reviews: 5
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It's hard not to be drawn to Sweetpea's striking cover art. It really speaks to the full level of commitment that went into the entire project.
From a non-supernatural perspective, Sweetpea is (Spoiler - click to show)the dramatized story of a child frightened of the "other" person her father becomes under the influence of alcohol and how he chooses to change to do better for her. But forget the non-supernatural perspective because this story likes to get weird with it and I love it for that. This is a battle between an invading doppelganger and a guardian angel inside a living house.
Much of the overall linear story (I was surprised to hear from the author that the game was written without actually any state tracking at all. This did lead to one issue though where a player might have to retread part of the game if it's done out of order) is written around being jolted awake and falling asleep again, and the events that unfold feel like the sort of vividly wrought nightmares one might have in between those twilight states. The story's imagery is deeply and effectively described throughout-- the sights, the ghostly creaking wood of the house, the taste of coffee and caramels, the feel of the cold-- the writing clearly delights in all of these. They can start to bog down the tale a bit though, as the protagonist gets sidetracked describing minutiae a few nodes too deep when a more immediate response might have better maintained a sense of urgency. (Spoiler - click to show)Should we really be recounting gift pens and remembering secret drawers for stashes of candy and savoring caramels or old sweaters when something is banging on our door trying to get in? This opening section reminded me of playing The Forest House or Back Home back in the day, and for me I think this pace mostly worked. Lacking the option to (Spoiler - click to show)rush downstairs and let the dad-doppelganger in reinforced the dread of our viewpoint character at least until the point where she decides to (Spoiler - click to show)take a nap. That threw me off.
When the text starts getting really crazy-jittery after that though, you just know something's about to go down. (Spoiler - click to show)Broken glass, bloodied footprints, a rosary bead stuffed against teeth, doppelganger vomiting and washing its face in the sink, abduction by a shapeshifting guardian angel with no constant, understandable visage. And then, your choice of breakfast. This crazy, pitched pace is exactly what the slower, early portion allows to build and pay off. Then we get some breathing room again, grounded in imagery (food), and some exposition.
I won't spoil the climax, but I will say that it did involve a perspective switch that caught me by surprise. I rolled with it just fine once I did realize what it'd done though. The ending is a happy one whose tone is quite different from the rest, as emphasized by the change in background color, but it's one that's earned rather than forced.
I did notice that Sweetpea features a content warning for "ecclesiastical content" that made me slightly apprehensive, but aside from it having a rosary in it and a guardian angel the story itself didn't seem too specifically religious. Then again I'm not sure what I would've expected to fit that sort of tag. It's certainly not irreligious and it does include those elements. I suppose a story can feature such content without directly offering a sermon or revolving around Christian ontology or messaging in general, and the story does feature at least one redemptive theme that would fit with that theology although it could fit with others as well. It's also possible that I missed some other symbolism that someone more versed in that sort of stuff might have picked up on, but it is good to know that that CW tag doesn't mean enjoyment of the tale is founded on that understanding.
I’ve always thought that it must be really tricky to write in the gothic mode. Play it too straight, and you get a standard horror story where everybody’s wearing a costume for some reason. Steer too much the other way, and you get Gary Oldman vamping “I never drink… vine” in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (let me be clear: this movie is completely dumb and I love it to pieces). Success means keeping the balance between the extremes, but a plodding, boring stability won’t work: to truly be gothic, a work needs to go all out, constantly teetering at the edge of going too far.
Sweetpea takes on this challenge, though, and makes it look easy – its lush, hothouse prose is deliciously creepy and deliciously engaging, keeping me at the edge of my seat from the story’s grabby beginning through its many twists and turns. The plot is fun, and interactivity is cannily deployed to heighten player engagement through what eventually reveals itself to be a linear story. But it’s the writing that’s the real star of the show. Consider that opening, as the teenaged protagonist looks down at the figure – possibly her father, possibly an uncanny doppelganger – suing for entrance into her home in the middle of the night:
"You aren’t too high off of the ground, and with the full moon smiling above clouds scudding lowly over the rolling hills, there should be enough light to catch off of his hair, to illuminate his face."
Then upon considering opening the window to call out:
"Should you? The glass squeaks beneath your touch, dribbles of icy condensation slicking the inside of your wrist as the pane warms with your body heat. If you yell loudly enough, he should be able to hear you."
This just works – there are lots of adjectives and lots of clauses, stretching the sentences to a languorous span, and each is chosen with a careful eye to its sensual appeal. The plot tropes also hit the right notes: the protagonist is a sheltered adolescent, used to being left alone in a genre-appropriate big house by her often-absent, eccentric father (who, we’re told “doesn’t talk to you about his experiments”, and by the way, happens to do a lot of laundry).
There’s a lot that’s only alluded to, or conveyed only by implication – the creepiest bit of the game is how casually the narrator begins mentioning her friend Michael (Spoiler - click to show)(while apparently friendly, he’s an archangel portrayed with some fidelity to medieval traditions, with multiple shifting eyes and rainbow coloring, which is eerie as all get-out). There are some flat-out scary set-pieces too, like the two encounters with the maybe-father, which I won’t spoil in detail.
The player has a good number of choices throughout, whether through inline links that allow you to dig deeper into the protagonist’s perceptions or memories, or end-of-passage boxed options that allow you to pick dialogue, or decide which parts of the house to visit. You don’t have total freedom, and some of the protagonist’s choices felt off-kilter to me – she seems to rush into thinking there’s something wrong with her maybe-father very quickly, but at the same time thinks nothing of taking a nap with his identity still unresolved – but this helps underline that she’s probably not traditionally sane.
There was one place, though, where it seemed like game’s logic got a little tripped up – my second visit to the father’s study had a description that didn’t seem to acknowledge I’d already been there and knew it was empty. I also wound up thinking the story could have been either slightly tightened or slightly extended; after a long sequence wrapping up the initial situation, there’s a short, hallucinatory interlude before a quick finale. The interlude felt like it ended just as I was starting to settle into, though, so I think the pacing would have worked better if it had either had room to establish a new status quo, or had been bottom-lined in order to get to the final conflict more quickly.
Hopefully it’s clear these are very minor critiques of a self-assured, effective debut game. Sweetpea sets and sustains a goosebumping, creepy-crawly mood, and leaves enough mysteries enticingly unplumbed – how does the protagonist know Michael? What’s the deal with the paintings? What happened to her mother? – to keep it running through my head even a couple of days after I played it. It’s a tense, well-written pleasure.
This was a game of big contrasts for me. There were parts of it that were phenomenal and parts I struggled with.
This is a story about a young girl alone at home whose father is outside, texting her to let him in. The problem is, though, that her father was in the study just a little while ago.
I loved the writing in this. Vivid and surreal images mixed together for a very creepy feel. It reminded me of some goosebumps stories when I was younger, like the one where the dad was a plant scientist.
I had a couple of problems with the choice structure, though. Where I struggled the most was:
-It was hard to differentiate between 'side-topic choices' and 'move on' choices. There are two distinct kinds of choices in the story: pink boxes and in-line links. But sometimes an inline link was a 'moving on' choice and sometimes a 'side-topic', and you couldn't tell just from placement. The pink boxes looked a bit out of place, too.
-I felt out of sync with the options. Something scary would happen, and I'd think 'I have to get out!' but the options were always things like 'Hang out and explore' or 'eat some food'. For some reason I couldn't get my mind in sync with the character.
I love horror and find this writing style to be very enjoyable, so I'd definitely like to see more games from this author. I just hope that I'll be more in synch with the choice structure next time.
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This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best game of 2022 by a new author. Voting is anonymous and open only to...
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This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best overall game of 2022. Voting is anonymous and open only to IFDB...