Turbo Chest Hair Massacre

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Saucy Romp

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REMOVE CHEST HAIR [Hilarity ensues], December 12, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

As I was typing out the title of this game, I kept wanting to tag an Extreme onto the end. Try it: Turbo Chest Hair Massacre Extreme. Possibly with an exclamation point, though that’s a risky move. I don’t think this impulse stems from an actual shortcoming in the existing title – now that I reflect, the Extreme sort of fluffs up the rhythm – but rather from feeling like what we’ve got, sublime and exciting as it is, doesn’t fully communicate how bonkers things get in this game. After taking the last couple entries to task for being underdeveloped, I am happy to report that TCHM uh does not suffer from that problem – it is a lot despite the one-hour playtime estimate being completely correct. While I can’t say I fully understand why everything that’s crammed into it is there, and there were a few implementation niggles that keep the game from being a perfectly smooth experience, the central puzzle of the game has the potential to spiral into incredible heights of farce, and the ending is just – I mean I want to say “sublime” though that doesn’t get across how incredibly filthy it is, too (in a good way!)

I thought I knew what TCHM was about after reading the blurb, but friends, I must confess that I was not at all prepared. Rest of the premise discussed in fuzzy-text: (Spoiler - click to show)so yes, we need to perform a bit of depilatory self-maintenance before a hot date, but Theo, the player character, is not just a happy-go-lucky gal with a job in I dunno like publishing or something. Her apartment, which doubles as her place of employment, is also a sort of extradimensional listening post, and her roommate and partner in crime is a dirty-minded android named Marigold – and pretty quickly you get the ability to swap between the two characters at will, which dramatically changes how the apartment is described and what items are most obvious. Then – OK, spoilers are getting real here – after Theo leaves for her date, the listening post detects an extradimensional invader coming through a rift in the basement, and the finale (note: this is emphatically not the climax) involves desperately fighting off this invisible, seemingly-invulnerable entity.

We’ll return to that premise in a bit, but let’s dwell for a while on the mechanics of hair removal. The business of the main part of the game is to figure out how to get rid of that pesky bit of chest hair, and it satisfies this brief quite well. The apartment is a good size, with a pretty high density of objects but clear indications of what’s important and what’s probably a red herring, with some items occupying the fuzzy in-between and helping set up some of the more fun puzzles. There’s also a good balance in having a good number of potential ways to get rid of the hair (spoiler: most of them will not work), but not too many, by cutting off solutions that would be repetitive. There are a lot of sharp objects in the apartment, for example, but you only need to try the cutting/shaving option with one knife before moving on to other candidates. And there’s a good mix of straightforward ideas and increasingly-baroque ones that lend themselves nicely to farcical escalation – though if you’re a boring killjoy [raises hand], it’s also not that hard to hang back until you figure out the real solution.

There’s a lot to fiddle with in the apartment, including your roommate Marigold, who’s also sometimes a viewpoint character. The writing is sharp and has lots of little jokes and bits of worldbuilding embedded in descriptions, so it’s really rewarding to poke around and explore – critical in a game that’s, after all, set in a mostly-normal apartment. You can play dress-up with Theo’s big-but-not-too-big wardrobe, and the substantial differences between how she sees the world and Marigold’s view of thing means I was happy to poke through everything twice. And there are responses for senses beyond sight, which I always appreciate – some of the most rewarding results come from trying to SMELL stuff (and in the game!) Between the writing and the puzzles TCHM is a rich meal that doesn’t leave you overstuffed.

The parser is well-implemented and handles this all quite cleanly, with a few small exceptions: there’s a shower rack that’s described as being empty in one paragraph, then lists the half-dozen items resting on it. And I found that most plural-named objects had to be referred to as IT, rather than THEM. I did struggle a bit with verbs in places, but I think that’s down to me rather than the game – you see, TCHM uses, er, USE for most of its object interactions, which will just never feel natural to me in a parser game no matter how intuitive it probably is to most players. Alternate verbs do appear to work for most actions, but there were a few places where things felt like they broke down (I’m thinking especially of (Spoiler - click to show)trying to jury-rig the vacuum, where I had the right idea but things like PUT FUNNEL ON HOSE didn’t work)). I also found that there were a few places where USE didn’t seem to work (including a high-stakes moment, when (Spoiler - click to show)USE YOGURT ON INTRUDER doesn't do the job). So I dunno, I’m not well positioned to offer advice on how to use USE, but I wonder whether it might make sense to just commit to it and make it work for all actions rather than taking this hybrid approach, though I think I personally wouldn’t like it as much.

I’m going back to the spoiler-text to discuss the ending – honestly this might have been the single highest point of the entire Comp for me, so you should definitely experience it for yourself! (Spoiler - click to show)I’m not sure I really needed the segment where Marigold disposes of the alien intruder – it’s not really a tonal mismatch because it’s in keeping with the zaniness of the piece, and I definitely enjoyed an excuse to spend more time in Marigold’s head. But after spending an hour trying to figure out how to solve Theo’s follicular challenge, I wanted to see how the date was going to go, and shifting to Marigold felt a bit anticlimactic. I also think the delay before the listening post pings is probably a bit too long – I think examining doesn’t cause time to advance, which is generally a good idea, but that convenience means you can spend a long time looking at stuff in one of the object-rich rooms without any idea of what you’re supposed to be doing. The final puzzle itself led to an aha moment, so I liked that. But still, I was disappointed by this sequence – until it ended, Marigold broke down, and I experienced the most raunchy cooling-fan replacement in human history. Ye gods, this climax is a tour de force – the way the writing is both a completely straight explanation of how a machine functions, and an incredibly debauched piece of pornography, is a masterful trick that more than justifies the endgame sequence.