Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich: The Text Adventure

by Rex Mundane

Science Fiction, children's

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
After all that, don't forget the glass of milk to go with it!, June 19, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: TALP 2023

With an author name like Rex Mundane, and a well-worn situation such as making a sandwich, there are always a few worries. Has it been done before? Is it trying to be too wild and silly? Is it trying to be too "ha ha I wrote this in under 2 days so go easy on me there, pal?" There are all sorts of pitfalls, and so I walked into PJTA thinking, okay, maybe this will be straightforward. Or maybe it will go off on a tangent.

Or worse, it could be the sort of game that picks you apart for performing Every! Single! Step! to make a sandwich. I had this in sixth grade. There was stuff like taking off the lid and so forth and putting the knife in the peanut butter, and the teachers did all they could to show you it wasn't quite like that, or you missed a step. It was painful. Even though I enjoy proofreading and (on a good day) finding bugs in my own tricky code, this annoyed me terribly.

Thankfully it avoids the long list of instructions approach (yay!) and manages to combine straightforwardness and odd tangents well. It's a good fit for the Text Adventure Literacy Jam, because it combines the two well enough to make me laugh. It's not a huge game, and it's not super-ambitious, but I had forgotten I'd set my phone's alarm an hour before looking at it. It was for a cool-down timer for another Internet game I wanted to chip away at. When the alarm went off, I was most of the way through, and my reaction was "silly phone, I don't need to do that right now."

So I was engaged. PJTA hits the usual riffs on adventure games, but they're varied enough, and deep puzzles or plot aren't the main focus. It is a text adventure tutorial, and not just the one that tells you in detail how we wrangle parsers around here, then forces you to wrangle with said parser to gain street cred. It tells you more or less what you need to know, and when, except for a couple verbs you need to guess. Then, it gives more than adequate hints, including one with an NPC who yells at you irascibly until you get it. That was an unexpected humorous twist.

So you may guess making a sandwich isn't all there is to the game. I don't want to spoil it, not because it has a profound moment you'll be mad was spoiled, but because the author organized it with enough care that we could be surprised and laugh as we follow the shaggy-dog story. It's bigger than it seems, as you get out of your kitchen, and you visit your living quarters and beyond. Well beyond. There are many other elements you wouldn't expect, and maybe they are generic elements for fantasy adventures, but they're thrown together for comedic effect.

This is not the first text adventure to get all meta with relatively pleasant and silly jokes, and it won't be the last. In IFComp, people might be tired of this straightforward approach, or it might need a more detailed payoffs. But one pops up every few years. The last one that comes to mind is Mike Gillis's This Won't Make You Happy from IFComp 2020. The same level of meta-humor and story length but definitely very different stories! Also, I like how PJTA gives you a different item to find depending on which part of the sandwich you look for first. The puzzles seem the same, but it's a nice touch nonetheless.

It's pretty clear PJTA is winking at you to join in the joke and see where it goes. There's nothing profound, but TALJ 2023 would be lesser without it, and given that it was the first game I played, it was very welcoming indeed. And while on the one hand a story with emotional depth will almost certainly beat it for first place, it feels very much at home in TALJ.

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Canalboy, June 25, 2023 - Reply
So interactive fiction has degenerated to the stage where a game about a peanut butter and jelly (?) sandwich deserves a web site. Twine and the rest of this press a button and stand back rubbish was a sittting duck for the lack of attention span modern generation.
Andrew Schultz, June 27, 2023 - Reply
Yes, all games on itch have their own webpage.

The game was for the Text Adventure Literacy Project Jam, so nobody is trying to be super profound. There were moments of genuine humor, and the puzzles and map were nontrivial.

You seem to like old-school parser games. Did you play the author's other game on IFDB? It's a parser game too and a homage to said parser games.
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