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Cat rescue leads in a different direction, November 30, 2022
You are fourteen-year-old Kyle, a Boy Scout looking to earn a Community Service badge. Peanut the cat has run off, and this is your chance to show initiative. Time to investigate the local neighborhood.
When the game began my first impression was that a Boy Scout troop was out looking for a cat (does that occur in real-life?) which immediately creates a cool ambience. A closer look soon showed that Kyle is the only Boy Scout around. Meanwhile, a group of middle-school aged kids, are running about and talking about a kid named Max. Naturally, the player is roped into participating in Max’s plans.
I really, really, like the (Spoiler - click to show) occult twist. Yes, you heard that right. The start of the game sounds like a light, wholesome game about a youth trying to save a cat (which also sounds like fun) to earn a badge only to surprise the player with an unexpected thrill. Eerie ten-year-old Max (Spoiler - click to show) wants to hold a ritual in the groundwater tunnels. Sounds cool! Max needs three Native American artifacts for the ritual. He has one and wants you to find the other two. By now, finding the cat falls to the wayside as you pursue this new objective.
This is not a puzzle heavy game but there is a lot of exploring. The gameplay has a moderate sized map consisting of a suburban area. You will probably want to make a light map of the underground tunnels. Nothing too fancy, but you may find it helpful.
There is one bug/issue that made the game unwinnable. (UPDATE: I've received feedback that this is NOT an unwinnable state. I'm leaving this paragraph in as a formality but understand that my calling it unwinnable was an incorrect assessment on my part). (Spoiler - click to show) Max wants Clem to solder the three artifacts together. Clem follows you around for most of the gameplay. You are supposed to retrieve the hand-held generator from his garage, fill it with gas, and give it to him so he can use his solder iron. I put the game in an unwinnable state by giving him the generator before Max has all three artifacts.
He looks at you, “Give me the hand-held generator.”
I already gave it to him at the garage. I tried to take it back, but…
That seems to belong to Clem.
I restarted the game because I could see no way of soldering the artifacts together to start the ritual. CORRECTION: While Clem may still ask for the generator even after you give it to him, he will solder the artifacts together once everyone arrives.
I was expecting the story to have more focus on the protagonist’s goal of earning a badge, perhaps incorporating themes of “character building.” Maybe I am misinterpreting the process of earning a Community Service badge. Point is, Kyle obviously takes this seriously, and as a game, the idea of earning a badge takes center stage. This is the first Boy Scout PC I have played in interactive fiction, and I was excited to see where it would go. Ultimately, this part of Kyle’s identity was not showcased as much as I thought it would be.
The setting is intriguing. After snooping around you come across some newspaper clippings that outline two main controversies in the area. The first follows the development of a (Spoiler - click to show) new museum on Native American culture that has been delayed over conflicts of the museum’s focus. There is also mention of Native American artifacts being discovered while the neighborhood was being developed. The second controversy looks at a trend of (Spoiler - click to show) health issues in residents that seem to be connected to the water supply. Plans were made to re-design the water drainage system, but those plans were brought to a halt. The story focuses more on the former issue.
The storyline reminded me of an element in Anchorhead where a (semi-spoilers for Anchorhead coming right up!) (Spoiler - click to show) specific tribe- I believe it was a fictional tribe- of indigenous people who worshiped celestial entities that were of interest to the Verlac family because it was connected to a vast ritual that had been planned for generations. The player, lucky you, gets to deal with the impending doom of this ritual. Right near the center of town is a big obelisk that covers the tribe’s ancient burial ground that also seals off a hell-dimension on the other side of mortal existence. You learn about this through newspaper clippings and content from the library. It’s wild. I mean, it’s Anchorhead, obviously.
Max (Spoiler - click to show) speaks of a monster in the southernmost tunnels that had been sealed off by Native Americans. This can be unsealed with a ritual using the three artifacts. Max himself also seems to be possessed. Disturbing, but not disturbing enough to dissuade the other neighborhood kids, including Kyle, from helping. Don’t get me wrong, (Spoiler - click to show) suburban Boy Scout cat search + occult ritual hosted by a ten-year-old named Max is novel as it brushes on Anchorhead themes. My complaint is this: there is hardly any story (or gameplay) about (Spoiler - click to show) finding Peanut the cat.
Start of game: You have been tasked to find the missing cat, Peanut. You're hoping this simple mission will earn you your Community Service merit badge. You head into the woods where the cat was last seen.
We’ve seen Peanut at the start of game. She’s behind a storm tunnel grating and runs off when you open it. Onwards, you try to run and chase her. Throughout the gameplay are cues such as, “You hear the tinkling of a small bell,” and “You hear a cat meowing,” amongst NPCs’ advice to look in the tunnels! And from there on, the cat takes a back seat as the gameplay shifts to finding artifacts.
When you save your friends from the monster and win the game, Peanut decides to appear and jump into your arms. Great resolution, but I just sat there realizing how much time I wasted trying to corner the cat into one of tunnels, using the dead rat as bait (probably not as appealing to cats as I thought), and experimenting with the various exits and entrances in the tunnel maze to map out her movements. The kid doesn’t even get his badge at the end of the game!
NPCs wander independently. I always enjoy seeing this in interactive fiction because it feels more dynamic. That said, their behavior does not have much substance. When you first meet them, they introduce themselves to you which is a strong start. Then they wander around until aimlessly until you make progress towards the (Spoiler - click to show) ritual. To be fair, designing seven (plus Peanut) independent NPCs is probably not an easy task. And you will find moments where NPC behavior triggers a surprising effect, such as when they all (Spoiler - click to show) suddenly gather in the meeting room to start the ritual. That was cool.
I have criticism about the dialog. The game uses the “topics” command to offer a list of topics to ask other characters. I thought this was smart because it keeps the player close to relevant subject matters. The issue is that A, topics do not acknowledge the player’s progress, and B, the “topics” feature lack subjects relevant to the situation. To use an example for the first case, (Spoiler - click to show) if you ask Max about the artifacts after the ritual, he still acts as if you have not found them yet. This put a dent in the interaction.
The other concern become more apparent as the story developed. Characters were limited in their responses to these events. The topics list never expands. In Clem’s introduction he says, "'I'm Clem. I'm in charge of the reconstruction effort.'" But asking him about it (I wanted to know if this had any connection to the (Spoiler - click to show) water quality controversy) results in, "Clem doesn't have anything useful to say about that." Alright, maybe I am being a stickler on this one. Still, subjects about the (Spoiler - click to show) ritual, the Andelmans’ house, and characters’ immediate surroundings are excluded from conversation. (Spoiler - click to show)
Guarding the room is a fearsome pitbull. He eyes you while growling.
Clem comes up from below.
>ask Clem about pitbull
Clem doesn't have anything useful to say about that.
I was expecting some response.
Also, who are the Andelmans'? It’s in the title. First impression was when I tried to enter the basement before meeting with the NPCs in the meeting place near the start of the game.
You begin to head west when suddenly you hear a girl's voice scold you, "We don't go in there. We think it's the Andelman House."
There you go. Mystery. It creates a chilling, sinister vibe to the gameplay. A hint that there is more to this maze of storm drain tunnels than what meets the eye. Right away you think, Who are the Andelmans? Sounds like a neighborhood legend. Your curiosity is spiked because this suburban adventure just got a whole lot interesting. This never went anywhere. We explore the house, almost abandoned, if not for the (Spoiler - click to show) guard dog in the kitchen. I kept wondering what the big secret was. Turns out, I was on the wrong path. I was thinking of this in terms of character names. Andelmans' Yard is (Spoiler - click to show) apparently named after a song of the same title. I would never have known that if I had not looked up the game’s title on a hunch. The song’s lyrics details exploring tunnels and themes that are seen in the gameplay. That was the connection I was missing.
This game has a good start. While character interactions could use more polish, the game has been tested and it feels like completed piece. I enjoyed the surprises. Especially (Spoiler - click to show) Max’s surprises. The author does a nice job in mixing the everyday with the (Spoiler - click to show) paranormal. Even though I was expecting the gameplay to go through with its (Spoiler - click to show) original plot of searching for Peanut, I am glad that, in the end, we find her anyway. If there are any more games about Kyle trying to earn a badge, I would be interested in playing them. An enjoyable slice of life game mystery with a horror twist.