Red Door Yellow Door

by Charm Cochran profile


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Like a David Lynch film in its most unsettling moments, September 3, 2023
by Jim Nelson (San Francisco)

Looking over my review of the last Charm Cochran game I played, You May Not Escape!, I now think I may have lowballed it: While I maintain that the maze navigation was a bit of a slog, as the months have passed I’ve found myself thinking back on the striking imagery found in the labyrinth. There’s the patronizing LED signs, for example, and the grim gravesite markers, not to mention the “off” dialogue between the player and the maze-keeper at the start.

So, I’m not surprised to have experienced a similar set of odd resonances and striking imagery in Red Door Yellow Door.

The game launches into the thick of things. You are teenager Emily, older sister to Claire, and joined on the living room floor with friends Jen and Tiffany. The sleepover centers on a game, something like Ouija but more invasive. After you’ve explained the “rules” to Claire, you rub her temples and send her into a lucid dream state. From there, the game places you in a liminal space between the reality of the suburban living room and the netherworld Claire explores at your behest.

From a narratological perspective, RDYD operates much like the superb Closure. In that game, the command parser acts as text messages between you and your friend. In RDYD, you are feeding instructions to sister Claire, who reports her dreamworld to you while bored Jen and Tiff look on and check their phones.

RDYD operates on a more symbolic and psychological level, though, approaching something like a David Lynch film in its most unsettling moments. Much like science fiction’s acts of defamiliarization, Lynch’s horrors often work by his characters mildly accepting something utterly unsettling to the viewer—or, his characters being devastated by an image otherwise plain and unremarkable to us.

RDYD has a number of these moments, including a character speaking in voices, moments of calm suddenly turning to terror, and—weirdest of all—activating a device in the dream world causing one of the real-world teenage onlookers to speak gibberish. The rules offered at the start are equally strange and Lynchian (“Avoid any room with clocks, because they can trap you”). And, of course, there’s the power dynamics of an older sister guiding her younger sibling down this rabbit hole. (There are moments when the other girls urge you to end the session. It was unsettling as I talked them out of it so I could keep playing.)

Part of me wishes the dreamworld was described in a voice more unique to Claire, but I admit, the matter-of-fact tone IF is so famous for (“A sturdy door is to the north, while the kitchen is to the east”) plays well against the heightened sense of terror that pops up at you. The hoary problem of dark rooms requiring a light source is here, but unlike Zork et al., bringing a light into those spaces is used to devastating effect.

I had to stick with this one; there were long stretches of exploration where I felt untethered from any sense of forward motion or purpose. I played through to two endings, one horrible (and a little sudden—I’m still unsure what happened), one mundane and happy, if unsatisfying. I’m certain there’s at least one more ending, but I ran out of time and need to move back to the Spring Thing list. Perhaps I’ll get back to finding that third path.

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