Aisle

by Sam Barlow profile

Slice of life
1999

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Number of Reviews: 27
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting to Explore, April 11, 2020
by Josef (United States)

As someone who *doesn't* play interactive fiction games, I enjoy this as a way to test out commands. It can be frustrating after a few minutes, but it is pleasant to just see how many endings you can get out of it.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The beginning of the review. But not the only one..., June 18, 2019

New as I am to interactive fiction, I had not heard of this game until recently, nor had I heard of the concept of its genre - you have only one turn in which to input a command, after which the story resets and you can start over, ad infinitum.

Aisle, which is as of this review a 20 year-old game, is an extraordinary piece of writing, and I can see why it has a special place in the hearts of so many. Although the concept is simple, it is executed so brilliantly and with such depth that each repeated turn reveals another layer, and another, until you have not just one story but many in parallel.

There are breadcrumbs placed throughout leading you to more ideas of what to do next, so it's not really a case of just throwing in random verbs to see what sticks - though you can do that if you want, and I think it'd be just as rewarding. There's also a list of commands available out there for the completionists who want all 183 possible outcomes. The true genius, however, lies in how all of those outcomes are woven together - or not together, as the case may be - and the depth of feeling created from every piece as well as the whole.

After playing this game I am curious to try others like it, but I think I will always remember Aisle, decades late to the party as I was. Five packets of Gnocchi.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Literally the game that introduced me to gnocchi, so four stars for that!, April 28, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

Perhaps the first serious game that would automatically end after one move. The premise is quite simple as you play an ordinary man in an ordinary supermarket who has stopped in the pasta aisle next to a woman who is also shopping. There are exactly 136 possible moves you can make that produce 136 separate endings. There is neither a puzzle nor a plot, and one would be hard pressed to say this is even a character study, as some of the endings’ portrayal of your character’s history contradict each other.

I do wish there was something more here to unravel, but as it stands this is quite a pleasant diversion thanks to the imagination and quality writing of Sam Barlow. More importantly, Aisle inspired many future authors in experimenting with the genre, including a few entertaining games that mimic this one.

I still come back and play Aisle about every five years. There's just something about the protagonist's world view that makes me smile.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Recommend To All, March 18, 2017

This is another game that is made to be replayed. And the player can choose how many times they want to replay, or how much of the story they want to uncover. I tagged it "mystery-ish" because, while it's not a puzzle game with a mystery and clues in the traditional sense, the player uses the previous play-throughs to know how else they can interact with the setting and, therefore, uncover more back-story and characterization. You put a small amount of effort into the game, and receive an increasingly rich back-story and characterization.

It's a game that can function as an accessible introduction to IF but the beauty of the narrative is for anyone. I consider that I've "played" the game but I haven't yet reached a point where I feel I've "finished" the game. I'd consider it a short game though I haven't yet reached an "end" and I don't know if there is one.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A one-action game with over a hundred endings, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

Aisle is a well-known game with a strange mechanic; you are inside a grocery aisle shopping for food, and you only get one action before the game ends.

One-action games such as Rematch or Pick up the Phone Booth and Aisle started appearing soon after Aisle's publication. It became a mildly popular genre, and still is.

What makes Aisle successful? Part of its success is its specific details; you're not just in any aisle, you're by the gnocchi, and gnocchi remind you of your trip to Italy; the woman by you isn't just a stranger,or is she?

Another reason the game is fun is that the endings contradict each other; the story of who you are and what your past is actually changes based on your decision, so that your one action generates an entire past.

The third reason I think many people enjoy it is the wide variety of moods in the endings, from pathetic to hopeful to violent.

This is a game that everyone should play at least one time.


3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting and short, but kinda boring, November 29, 2015

I didn't feel very invested in the characters. The behavior and insanity of the protagonist doesn't help with this. I don't feel like I can really figure anything out because the narrator is unreliable, and I don't really feel like the personal experience of the narrator has any relevance to me because I'm not insane. But, most of all, I found the absence of challenges to be the biggest reason for not enjoying this very much.

I play games to have fun, and one of the biggest sources of fun for me is being engaged in solving problems and overcoming challenges. When you take that away from a game, you'd better have a really darn good case for me to want to play this game as opposed to the many, many other games out there that DO have that engagement. This game doesn't provide a good enough alternative to that.

After playing without a guide and figuring out enough of the story, I went through and tried all the commands in the walkthrough. There's certainly some fun in that, with how many different commands are implemented, but it's just not structured in a way that makes it interesting. The lack of a goal makes it particularly problematic.

This game reminds of Her Story. You have to piece together what is going on by watching short video clips. I think Her Story is basically a better version of this game because it actually has a goal and actually has a flow and pace to it. Stuff changes in the "meta" game as you discover important bits of information. Having, at the very least, a meta layer might've made Aisle more interesting for me.

All of that aside, it's quite short and you can play it in the space of an hour. This, alone, is it's most redeeming quality (and I don't mean that in the sense of "it's great it's short because it SUCKS"). It gives you a complete, fully-realized, unique experience all in the course of an hour.

I give this three stars because, despite my lack of engagement with it, it was short and unique. I would recommend this, because what do you really have to lose with a game this short?


4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
An Incredible Piece of Experimental Game Design, March 23, 2015

Aisle is such a simple and well executed idea that absolutely everyone in the IF community must have been kicking themselves when it came out that they'd not have thought of it sooner.

Basically, Aisle was the first "one move" text adventure. The game gives you a very simple set-up - you are standing in the aisle of a supermarket, then asks you to perform one action at which point the game will end. This may seem like it has the potential to run into gimmickry but the way it "plays the player" works so well that I can only refer to it as a one of the most inventive games I've ever played.

The endings range from the absurd, funny, mundane to the moving, some of which are exceptionally well written and others which aren't so, but it's the way the game forces the thought process in finding the endings which is what makes the game so great.

At first while thinking of different actions and endings to take, the game seemed rather cute and I began by thinking of pretty standard things, but as I went on I began to think of darker and darker things (not necessarily in an "immoral" way, just in a "wow, did I really think that?" kind of way), some of which I was hesitant to even type in to the interface not only in anticipation of how the game would react but also because I didn't want to admit I'd thought of anything so disturbing. It also becomes hard to drag yourself away from the game. In one session in this game I spend about an hour and a half thinking of endings and came out feeling emotionally drained and guilty about the way my mind works.

Aisle isn't the cute, gimmicky game I originally pinned it down as at all. It's a way of letting you explore how your mind works in a completely innocuous situation within the anonymity and detachment of the artificial world and that is disturbing as hell. I spent my time afterwards wondering whether or not that's how I would really react with no social inhibitions and whether or not the human condition does have these repressed natural thoughts about both ourselves and others which games allow us to enact out in a safe space. And the beauty and/or blunt callousness of which some of the endings are written only made this worse.

Either way, Aisle is such a fantastic experimental piece and a remarkable artistic achievement. Despite it's seemingly simple concept, it's a far deeper and more nuanced piece of game design than I originally thought on hearing about it. In fact, it's one of the most ingenious and creative pieces of game design in any game I have ever played.


5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Curiously Enchanting, May 24, 2013
by octofuzz (Trondheim, Norway)

I am in the middle of a 'home exam' and fancied half an hour of IF.

I found this title on a 'One Room' poll on the site and thought "why not?"

The game is not winnable, unless you really decide to 'call it a day' on the ending that you feel your character deserves. I probably tried out ten or so endings before I felt I had seen enough, but I am sure that curiosity alone will bring me back to it later today.

It really makes you feel the significance of how one action can change the moment, the day, or even your life.

Less a game. more a social experiment in IF.

It is shame in some respects that there is no end goal, but I suppose that take away its charm.


2 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Ricemans view, October 23, 2011
by Riceman
Related reviews: Aisle

When I saw this game many of the reviews made it out to be amazing though you only give one command.So I played it and I absolutely hated it.

The game consist of doing one thing in an aisle (Spoiler - click to show) mainly to impress the woman next to you but The game last about 3 min. beacause there are only a handful of actions and there is no way of winning. (Spoiler - click to show) unless you consider getting a hug winning.


4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A Neat Little Game, September 3, 2011

This is a fun game that'll definitely be worth your time. You make one action. The story ends. And then you start again. Although I was a bit apprehensive when I heard about the premise, this was actually quite an entertaining game. Through different actions you slowly get a view of your past and your present. The author seems to have accommodated for almost anything you'd want to do. Like Plotkin's The Space Under the Window, you begin with very little information but learn more and build off of that knowledge.

Although a relatively simple game, it's employed beautifully.


1 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A Novel Approach, June 5, 2011

The only one-turn game i've seen so far and the approach is very novel! I love how every single action unravels part of the story and lets you learn just a bit more about the main character and the woman.


4 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
We'll always have Rome..., November 10, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)

Gnocchi. A brunette (Clare?). Violence, remorse, longing. Or maybe plain old penne. The beauty of this game isn't in the story it tells. The beauty is in the story that exists between the lines. What happened in Rome, and why does it stir up such emotions? You have only an aisle, some pasta, a woman and a trolley, and one turn in which to do something. But, as the impressive breadth of unique responses indicates, there's an awful lot you can do in a single moment. Play with it for at least ten minutes before writing it off as a novelty.


4 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Wonderful Interactive. , November 2, 2010
by tggdan3 (Michigan)

So now I understand what the big deal was with phone booth and aisle.

This is a one-turn game. You are inserted in one moment in a man in the supermarket. You decide his next move.

The writing has a more serious tone, and it explores how small choices can have a big consequence. Each action leads to a new ending. What's cute here also is that each choice then takes you back to the beginning to try another choice, instead of that RESTORE, RESTART, UNDO option.

Most actions are accepted. I wouldn't call it a joke game, it seriously lets you choose your ONE action and gives you legitimate responses. This really inspires me to try to create a similar game, as I'm sure it has for others.

The beginning really draws you in- you are playing only part of this man's story, and with each action, you are invited to try ANOTHER story (the same story, with a new option). Definately worth a try. It's very short, but if only all IF could be this interactive, but on a bigger scale, what a wonderful genre it could be.


2 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
The definition of replayability, July 26, 2009
by Dark-Star (Nebraska)

An island of quality in a desert of its genre's mediocrity, this intriguing little game arouses one's curiosity in a unique manner - by giving the player but a single turn in which to act. While such a thing might seem shallow at first glance, the author has managed to weave enough detail into the myriad endings that you will soon find yourself trying all manner of actions just to see what the outcome might be.

Extensive replayability value aside, the very limited game length makes it quite simply impossible to provide much of an 'adventure' in and of itself. Regardless, Aisle is a very pleasant diversion and a successful experiment.


4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Great / not so great / moving, August 22, 2008
by Maze (Rome, Italy)
Related reviews: one move

Gotta give it a try, absolutely. It will take you just a few seconds. And then maybe some more seconds. And then more...
The simple idea of this game is quite intriguing and fascinating. And very creative. The outcome instead...
...well, initially i thought: "Wow, this is great. I didn't think it might be this interesting. Some ending - if ending is the right word - has great writing."
...after some time: "Mhmmm, the writing is not that good after all. It's somehow too rhetoric and over-sentimental and simplistic. And i don't like the protagonist."
...then i "did" something and: i was touched. Touched like in "moved". Moved like in "i got shivers". And suddenly I loved the writing again.

You have only one turn in Aisle. And you have no goal. For once, YOU are the goal. And whatever this game might be, it fully reaches it's ambitious goal.


4 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Good for newcomers, July 31, 2008
by Tetsuo (Taipei, Taiwan)

Having only just returned to IF after a brief and fruitless attempt at Zork a couple of years ago, Aisle is an excellent welcome. It's not as involved as many other games, but the writing and concept are great, and for a beginner like me it's an excellent counterpoint to the misperception that IF is all about "take sword" and "kill orc". The range of possible actions is also quite a surprise, and kudos to the author for that.


26 of 27 people found the following review helpful:
Romantic Isolation, July 30, 2008
by Jimmy Maher (Oslo, Norway)

Most discussion of this work begins and ends with its central gimmick: that it plays out over a single turn, in which you are allowed to choose just one action that will determine how this little vignette concludes. For me, though, that's not the most important thing.

If Aisle was just an exercise in trying random actions to see what results, it might be fun and intriguing, but hardly heartbreaking. And make no mistake: for me, Aisle is heartbreaking, oozing the same sort of neon-drenched romantic loneliness as a Wong Kar Wai film. You'll find some of the finest writing in IF here:

>x trolley
(your trolley)
The trolley is a small cage of steel with bent rubber wheels. Full of your shopping: meals for one, drinks for one (well, drinks for several, but hey, who's counting?).

Gnocchi for one wouldn't really work. You settle for spaghetti and continue on to the next aisle.


As you play again and again, the backstory -- or rather, several possible backstories, but each drenched in the same melancholic longing -- gradually reveal themselves. One or two endings even hold out the promise of an end to the PC's isolation...

Truly, a great piece of work.


1 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Freedom and intensity, July 28, 2008

By turns funny, affecting, and disturbing, this one-move game hits hard with the help of great writing, intense themes and unparalleled freedom.

This is head and shoulders above anything I have played in terms of the number of ways in which the player can logically and significantly affect the world. The necessary tradeoff is that there is only one decision to make, after which the game ends.

Aisle is outstanding on its own terms; if I had to name a flaw, I would say only that it can be hard to put the pieces that the game gives you together into a clear picture.


11 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
Nothing Quite Like It, December 1, 2007
by Matzerath (West Coast, Salty Smell)
Related reviews: Matzerath's Favorites

What a wonderfully successful experimental piece. As has been well documented, the game ends after your first action, but the results are myriad and compelling. I played late into the evening, and it was some time before the true story hidden in the simple dynamic finally revealed itself (and after I'd already thought I'd figured it out). Beneath an illusory simplicity is a very funny, scary, and ultimately moving game -- if you're willing to try as many possibilities as you can. It's weirdly cathartic to be presented with a recurring moment in time in which you can try whatever action (within reason) is at hand.
Also, there are some amusing twists based on IF conventions that are quite unexpected and funny.
Literary and fun: what more could one ask for?


3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
More than just a gimmick, November 9, 2007
by Kake (London, England)
Related reviews: Sam Barlow, ****

Aisle is rather unusual in that the game ends after a single command; the command you choose to type determines any or all of the story, the backstory, the other characters, and your own personality and motivation. I rather enjoyed it. It's certainly worth a go, since at minimum it demands only a few seconds of your time.


11 of 15 people found the following review helpful:
Amusing as well as deep, October 22, 2007
by robkun (London, UK)

The BAF review almost says it all. The only thing I'd add is how funny it can be as well, and yet even in these wickedly surreal moments, there is still that depth that makes you realise how much thought has been put into the design.

I'd say these's about an hour of non-stop enjoyment in this title - and I haven't yet gone into the walkthrough to see what I missed.



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