Let Them Eat Cake

by Alicia Morote

2022

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Number of Reviews: 6
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Bend and Snap Bakery, December 12, 2022
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review

Students of comedy and interested rubber-neckers like me are aware of a joke comedians tell each other called “the Aristocrats.” If you’ve never heard of it, do yourself a favor and watch the documentary about it (on AMZ Prime if that’s your garbage billionaire of choice). Ancillary to my reason for bringing it up, there was so much to Bob Saget most of us didn’t get to see. To the point here though, the joke hinges on the insanely wild disconnect between setup and punchline. Not just conceptually but narratively as well. However long and meandering the setup goes, the punchline is a whipcrack of two words. Thanks to Legally Blonde we can now call this the “Bend and Snap” effect. (I am loathe to dive deeper into “the Aristocrats” than that for those that haven’t seen the doc.)

There is another comedic tool, one we’re all familiar with: repetition. This has a lot of forms - escalation, recontextualization, deadpan emphasis, and its most overworked form, the callback. You’ll see all these variations a lot in televised comedy once you are sensitive to their use. It is tried and true. The callback in particular is the wobbly prop on which improv is built. I’m no statistician but 86.224% of improv skits end with a callback. SNL skits may be higher.

Since I’ve taken the time to steer the conversation this way, you may now be asking, “Reviewer, what if an IF work were to somehow put the two of those comedic devices together?” To which I would coyly touch the corner of my mouth with my pinkie and reply “Perhaps bake them together… IN A CAKE?” And now it is clear to you why I explain comedy instead of DO comedy.

LTEC presents as a vaguely-medieval or renaissance small village bakery setting. Your task is to assemble ingredients in a cake, with the gentlest of “and don’t be too nosy” as a caution. The author knows full well neither the protagonist nor player gives that advice a moment’s consideration. So off you trot, probably whistling, I’m pretty sure whistling, to the miller, farmer, neighbor and church. The presentation, in screen layout, in use of font and illustrations is I’m going with pastoral. It is nicely evocative of the Canterbury Tales of it all. The language is slightly formal but light and breezy, also of a piece.

Until you let curiosity get the better of you and SNAP (Spoiler - click to show)you are treated to an over-the-top horrific excess completely divorced from the pastoral amble you started with. Kind of like a David Lynch movie, if those didn’t start by telegraphing the utter creepiness of their seeming banality. And also played for laughs. So, nothing like a David Lynch movie. (Spoiler - click to show)And you probably die horrifically too. It’s fine, you can restart.

Then the piece builds on itself, echoing, recontextualizing and escalating, so that somehow it gets funnier each time as you try to anticipate where your why-can’t-I-just-resist curiosity pokes free. That’s the game: go fetch the flour! Bend… and Snap. Now the eggs! Bend… and Snap. Now the milk, sugar! Bendbend… and Snapsnap! Fine! you say. I’ll put my blinders on and just make the damn cake! At which point, the finale finally breaks down and invokes a callback that ALSO rockets into a whole new level of narrative leap. BEND AND SNAP M-FER!!! Repetition!

I really liked my playthrough, I thought it built on itself marvelously, and had me trying things I DEFINITELY didn’t want the protagonist to do just to see what would happen. (Spoiler - click to show)I died a lot, learning stuff as I went. Comedy is super-precise though. I couldn’t help but wonder if the building effect that was bouying me along so actively was really just a happy accident of my choices. If I’d made different choices would the repetition not have felt like escalation at all, but deflation? Is every judge getting the same potent dose of comedy? Seems like they wouldn’t have to?

It’s not seamless. There are some screen layout issues where the illustrations (just lovely - also pastoral with an unsettling edge to them) corrupt the choice prompts and make them hard to click. There are narrative paths that reconverge and reuse text in a frictiony way. (Spoiler - click to show)And the restart after dying mechanism. After you’ve experienced the worst of a particular sub-quest, had a good laugh at it, then just want to get your ingredients - it was a fairly clicky prospect that no longer had any surprises for you. And God forbid you (Spoiler - click to show)die after having collected 2 or 3 ingredients. You have to do it all over again! A much better design decision would be to introduce a “Just collect X option” after you’ve managed it one time. It really introduced a drag into the experience.

Lastly a note about Engagement. From an IF perspective, the Achilles’ Heel of these two comedy tropes is that they are appreciated at a Meta, not Immersive level. This is not gentle character-based comedy or acerbic personality driven comedy. These are metajokes which work best when NOT engaged. So Sparks for me!

Quick shout out to that cover picture, btw. Chef’s kiss.


Played: 11/6/22
Playtime: 20min, 1/8 endings; 3/? bonus endings
Artistic/Technical rankings: Sparks of Joy, Notable
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless