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About the Story
You are Max, a beloved golden retriever, and you have to find your bright blue ball with only your sense of smell and your wits amidst danger and peril.
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022
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Number of Reviews: 4
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I tend to find IF with animal player characters very charming, especially if the author really sells the idea that the characterís perception of the world is different from that of a human. The Bright Blue Ball does a good job here Ė I like that the PC experiences the world mostly through smells, as many dog breeds do. The descriptions of scents were simple, but well chosen, and since smell is a sense that IF usually does not do much with, it gave the game a fresh feeling. Parlaying this into a game mechanic of tracking objects by scent was also a fun and unusual idea, if a little under-used here. I also appreciated the hint system Ė something a lot of first-time authors donít think to include.
(On a side note, I was delighted that ďbarkĒ was a recognized command, but my childhood dog would have been disappointed that ďchew [noun]Ē was not.)
Unfortunately the game does have a lot of the problems common to first-time parser authors, such as under-implementation, missing descriptions, and accidentally unlisted exits, the latter of which led to a few instances where I had to figure out how to progress by repeatedly bumping into walls (which, to be fair, is not out of character for many Golden Retrievers I have known). But these things are fixable, and I think the fun concept and endearing writing speak to the authorís potential.
I didn't get to look at nearly as many Spring Thing games as I'd hoped, but all the same, I'm glad I got to The Bright Blue Ball. It's surprisingly cheery for something with the topic BBB has, and I don't think I was the only one who needed that. I'm more a cat person than a dog person, but I wound up being quickly invested in the protagonist, who escapes from their safe home to look impulsively for, as the title suggests, a bright blue ball. It's their favorite, and they know they should know better, and they feel bad the moment they're out the door, but they have to find it. And they have quite an adventure before coming home.
It's no spoiler to mention that, yes, you do find the ball, meeting people along the way and solving the mystery for you-the-player without you-the-character fully understanding what's going on beyond their own needs and the needs of humans they meet in a deserted town. This is hardly new, but here it doesn't feel forced, and so I had the impression the author had good command of the story side of things. For instance, if you went back home too early, your family would say different things based on how far along you were in the game. As to why they can't or won't go outside, while others are, that makes a good deal of sense quickly. The constraints, such as being able to carry only one thing at once because you are a dog, aren't just there as a nuisance. They add to the realism, and here the inventory limits are complemented by not having a lot of useless items.
As an example of the strength of the game world, I ran into a game-state problem where I was locked out of a win (I took a circuitous route that missed a few clues and thus stress-tested things rigorously,) and it was pretty clear, because a room description conflicted with the narrative built up. But it was easy to remember what to do, and I enjoyed seeing clues I'd missed, and so forth. When something potentially disastrous like that works out okay, you know you have something good. And if this is fixed in the latest release, so much the better!
While it's dreadfully unfair to compare a first-time author's work to something like Toby's Nose in detail, I think it carves out emotions and story that Toby's Nose doesn't, and it offers promise that there are others. I'd like to see more games where SMELL is a prominent command. And I think the technical mistakes I saw were that of a first-time author, so if they have something else to share, I'm looking forward to their next work. They seem to have the important and harder-to-teach things right.
Most of the Spring Thing games Iíve played so far have been relatively intense, so it was kind of nice to get another low-key entry after finished Orbital Decay. The Bright Blue Ball is a short, cute parser game pitched at IF beginners, and while its slightness, and slight wonkiness, means that itís probably less suited for that purpose than other, more robust efforts to create a parser-IF gateway drug, nonetheless itís a pleasant way to spend 15 minutes, with a few darker notes around the edges reinforcing how nice it can be to spend time in a safe place like this one.
Those darker notes are primarily about the situation that kicks off the action: this is the second Spring Thing game Iíve come across where you play a dog (the other of course being Custard and Mustardís Big Adventure), and as the story opens youíre with your human ďparentsĒ as you flee your home due to a bombing alert Ė the resonance with the war in Ukraine seems entirely intentional. Thankfully, you quickly reach safety, but along the way you wind up losing your favorite toy, the eponymous ball, and the game consists of solving three or four small puzzles to retrieve it.
Itís always fun to play as an animal, and BBB does a good job of providing smell-centric descriptions and a robust SMELL command to allow for olfactory exploration. The protagonistís canine nature also makes some traditional parser limitations more reasonable, like a one-item inventory limit thatís fair enough given that you have to carry things in your mouth. At the same time, I felt like the game sometimes didnít go far enough to commit to its conceit: the first puzzle, for example, requires you to find a key and unlock a door, which is a good introduction to a common IF situation but makes for a bizarre mental image.
Speaking of the puzzles, theyíre pretty much all of the medium-dry-goods variety, with one guess-the-action challenge thrown in on top. Theyíre all very heavily signposted, which is appropriate for the target audience, and feel satisfying to resolve. I did struggle for a bit with the first one, possibly due to some small bugs: I could smell something metallic in a table drawer, but after opening it the smell seemed to go away. I guessed that there was a key somewhere, which proved correct after I tried to TAKE KEY, but it hadnít to that point showed up in the description of either the room, the table, or the drawer. Similarly, I was briefly stymied once I started wandering the cityís streets because one location had an unmentioned exit (for anyone else who hits a similar barrier: try going north). I also worried Iíd made the game unwinnable when I solved the puzzles related to the little girl outside of the intended order, but despite the text seeming a little off-kilter it all eventually came right. As a final small niggle, X TABLE in the newsstand didnít result in any output, indicating a missing description.
None of these bugs did much to impact my enjoyment Ė I usually wouldnít list them all in a review, but since I donít have a transcript Iím doing so in case itís useful for the author. BBB is a fun, small game with a positive vibe that acknowledges that even when big scary things are happening in the world, small bits of kindness are important Ė maybe more important than ever (would that this message didnít feel especially timely, given the state of the world). I enjoyed my time with the game, and would happily play (and test, if thatíd be useful!) another game by the author.
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