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Promising first effort, July 9, 2021
A quick disclosure to start out this review: while I don’t know him personally, Caleb Wilson was an early and perceptive tester on the game I wrote for last year’s IFComp. I don’t think that dramatically undercuts my ability to assess a game with a reasonable degree of impartiality – one strives for professionalism, after all – but I definitely went into this one with some goodwill.
That goodwill was quickly tested, though, as Loud House ‘game on’ doesn’t make the best first impression, with doodly cover art, no ABOUT text, and a default X ME response. The basic setup – you’re a kid who wants to buy a new video game, and needs to collect some stuff from your siblings to make that happen – is fine enough, the writing is enthusiastic in a way that’s occasionally catching, and while the jokes are juvenile a good number land, but there are still tons of typos, objects with default descriptions, takeable scenery, and guess-the-verb challenges. Trying to figure out what Caleb was getting at with this was bewildering, and I wondered if it was aiming at parody, or if there was a meta layer I was missing? Eventually I got to a point where I couldn’t figure out how to progress, and in frustration I checked these forums in search of hints or a clue as to what was going on, and I came across this post.
If you have the common sense God gave gravel, you’ll see where this is going: Loud House ‘game on’ was written by a different Caleb Wilson, who is ten and entered a fan-fiction game about a cartoon he likes into the Comp (as one of approximately ten million Mike Russos, including at least one other who posts about IF stuff occasionally, you’d think I’d be more attuned to such things). Upon finding this out, I blinked, looked over the transcript I’d been annotating with increasingly-snippy complaints about spelling and grammar issues, and felt like the worst human being in the world – and then went back to the game and, expectations appropriately reset, had a much better time with it.
So yes, there’s nothing pomo here, it’s just a first game from a young author with a good amount of first-game-itis, but actually some real promise too. What starts out looking like a simple collectathon of running around hoovering up every quarter you find actually goes through two game-changing shifts, with a second act that riffs on a bunch of additional cartoons in a bunch of higher-action mini-scenarios, and a riddle-y finale. This change of pacing enlivens the mid-game, and I found the humor in this section landed better for me (I especially liked the joke that sees a lion suddenly pop up in your inventory), though maybe that’s because I was more familiar with its references and tropes than the Nickelodeon cartoon that’s the basis for the first bit.
While a couple additional passes for polish wouldn’t go amiss to iron out grammar, tweak some puzzles (I was stymied by the football puzzle since it didn’t seem to make sense given the rules of football), and add some synonyms (a hint for anyone else having trouble using weapons – try throwing them rather than hitting or stabbing with them) Loud House ‘game on’ is actually quite a good time. So now the next time I see a game from Caleb Wilson, I’ll still be looking forward to playing, regardless of which of them wrote it!